Fabien Baron

“I like beauty, but it needs to vibrate. I like the slap in the face,” says Fabien Baron, who has been in the business of making beauty vibrate for over twenty years now, imbuing fashion images with just enough tension and feeling that the viewer may indeed feel struck in the face.Over the course of more than two decades, the Paris-born, New York-based Baron has reinvented five magazines, including Italian and French Vogue, and set the aesthetic benchmark for countless others, which have emulated the Frenchman’s signature style, characterised by generous expanses of white space, elegantly punctuated with bold black typefaces, a visual language he first introduced as creative director of Harper's Bazaar in the 1990s.

Currently, Baron is the editorial director of Interview magazine and runs his own design and branding agency, Baron & Baron, through which he has shaped the visual identities of global fashion brands like Calvin Klein, creating iconic print and television campaigns, packaging and, in recent years, digital work, including web films, a medium Baron has called “the future of branding.”Baron grew up in the 12th arrondissement of Paris in an artistic family. His father was an art director too and Baron’s early exposure to his father’s métier gave him a rigorous foundation that continues to inform his work today. “My dad was doing more of the journalistic side of art direction, for newspapers, and I was really intrigued by the machine of it all, the pace. There were no computers at the time, just huge linotype machines that weighed tons and used metal plates. There was an adrenaline rush about it all.” 

Baron went on to work with his father. And if there’s a certain journalistic clarity to the younger Baron’s famous layouts, it’s thanks to Baron senior, from whom the budding art director learned “a very structured approach, really how to organise the information, to say, ‘Ok the title needs to be like that, then what’s the subtitle, captions, etcetera.”From an early age, Baron was also fascinated with fashion magazines. “When I was 13 or 14 years old, I was looking at French Vogue, amazed by Helmut Newton and Guy Bourdin’s images. I was going crazy. I fell in love with photography really early on and got my first camera when I was 17. Art direction is how I make my living, but photography remains my personal love.”Baron came to New York in 1982, at the age of 20. “Anything that was interesting or new — whether in music, painting or pop culture — came from here and I wanted to be where it was happening, I wanted to be on the frontline!” 

“In the 80s, New York was a totally different city than it is now, it was dangerous, it was cool, really harsh, really raw. My first years in New York were tough. It was hard. I knew only one person [Veronique Vienne], an art director at WWD. She was my way in. I arrived with only 300 dollars in my pocket and bad English.” But the young Baron was hungry. “The day after I arrived I was going around the city with my portfolio, looking for work.”A meeting with Condé Nast editorial director Alexander Liberman changed the course of Baron’s career. “I went to see him, he spoke to me in French, looked at my portfolio and bought some pictures I had taken of the Brooklyn Bridge on the spot for $600.” Apart from putting some cash in his pocket, the meeting resulted in Baron’s first serious publishing job, at GQ, where he worked under Mary Shanahan, one of three critical mentors.

Courtesy : Fabien Baron