PRINT March 1996


I FIRST NOTICED David Sims’ work six years ago when his vignettes of young Brits in thrift-store clothes, captured in slack, half-conscious poses, showed up in The Face and British iD. Shortly thereafter his images found their way into Harper’s Bazaar. But it was the photos Sims shot for Fabien Baron’s 1993 Calvin Klein ads that propelled him (and model Kate Moss) to international prominence. Sims’ images for the minimal, precisely composed Klein ads, like his subsequent work, retained the immediacy that marked his defiantly casual earlier style; indeed, the quirky expressions and unselfconscious off-camera gestures of the models quickly made Sims’ style a ’90s signature. In more recent work, the stark mise-en-scène in his photos has taken on an even harsher, more abstract quality—he often employs monochrome backgrounds, frequently in supersaturated colors—that separate his photos not only from his vérité-style early-’90s images, but also from the glamorized version of grunge packaged by his peers.

The photographs reproduced here (selected from the two catalogues he shot for Yohji Yamamoto) exemplify Sims’ recent style. The images from the first catalogue (Fall/Winter ’95–’96) divided industry insiders—some found them distasteful; others hailed Sims as a decisive innovator. While admittedly disquieting, these photographs are not, as some have suggested, entirely toxic; despite a kind of brutal directness, they reveal a bemused, even playful side to his sensibility: as a child he wanted to become a cartoonist, and the goofy facial expressions and heroic postures of the models seem at times to echo those of comic-book idols. Regardless of how one comes down on these pictures, they achieve an astonishing conjunction of seemingly irreconcilable visions: the monasticism of Yamamoto’s designs and the proud rebelliousness of Sims’ images.

The black, lacerated universe of Yamamoto’s Spring/Summer ’96 collection, featured in Sims’ second catalogue for the designer, is a perfect foil for the abstract quality of Sims’ photography. Both Yamamoto and Sims elaborate their work around a certain absence. Yamamoto’s clothing underlines the unbridgeable gap between black (the mixture of all colors) and white (the absence of color), between fabric and skin. It is around and out of this gap that he sculpts his designs, infusing them with a sensuality specific to his signature fabrics—gabardine and thick wool. In this collection, Yamamoto lacerated the entire length of certain garments, further probing the space between body and clothing.

From the moment artistic director Marc Ascoli orchestrated their initial collaboration, Sims’ vision seemed an oddly natural match for Yamamoto’s stoic rigor. Sims’ head-on approach lends his models a heightened corporeality. His camera embraces imperfections: curves, boniness, dark roots, and the tired look of skin that has been made up too quickly. The brute presence of the body in his shots complements the sculptural solidity of Yamamoto’s clothing, a quality emphasized even in the less brash, more playful, predominantly black and white photographs for the second catalogue. In both of his collaborations with Yamamoto, Sims injects the postpunk edginess that so markedly informed his earlier esthetic into the realm of high fashion. It is the attitude of brash self-sufficiency in his photographs—conveyed through the corporeal intensity and quirky postures of the models—that proves a curious match for the spartan elegance of Yamamoto’s designs, and lends their collaboration its bite.