the flamboyant fashion editor
photography by ANUSCHKA BLOMMERS and NIELS SCHUMM
style and talent ROBERT RABENSTEINER
interview by OLIVIER ZAHM
OLIVIER ZAHM — Despite the fact that you are known for being the man behind L’Uomo Vogue — one of the most important men’s fashion magazines — we still don’t know that much about you. Why is that?
ROBERT RABENSTEINER — I try not to talk too much.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Where do you feel you’re actually from?
ROBERT RABENSTEINER — Austria. Well, my first language is German. I feel Austrian, but I’m also Italian. I come from a country where many people are both. But I love to travel, and when I’m in New York I feel American. When I go to Russia, I feel Russian. I’m always in flux. I want to say I’m Austrian, and maybe I have learned to use the old-style Austrian things. But Italy is where I created my style.
OLIVIER ZAHM — So, you’re not Italian?
ROBERT RABENSTEINER — Half-Italian, half-Austrian! I was born on the border between Switzerland, Austria, and Italy, two hours north of Venice, where they speak German and Italian. It’s where I live, in the forest. To get to my house, I have to take a chairlift and then walk half an hour.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Is it your family house?
ROBERT RABENSTEINER — My grandfather gave it to me. But we have a house in the city and another outside of it. My house in the mountains is where I stay with my boyfriend, with friends, and with my dogs, but mostly by myself. You can ski in the winter and take walks in the summer. I love nature.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you read?
ROBERT RABENSTEINER — Yes, I read a lot.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you have a telephone in this home?
ROBERT RABENSTEINER — No. I have a computer. I can work there.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Is it like your secret life?
ROBERT RABENSTEINER — It’s my private life. Only my close friends know about it.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Except that now you’re a fashion icon, and we’re telling the world about it.
ROBERT RABENSTEINER — Fashion brought on a big change. All the photographers at the shows shooting this and that. Scott Schuman started everything for me.
OLIVIER ZAHM — His Sartorialist blog made you a public face.
ROBERT RABENSTEINER — Which is good.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Were you surprised?
ROBERT RABENSTEINER — Very. But I don’t think I’m a fashion victim. I love fashion, and I love to dress in special pieces my grandfather gave me. I like to put a designer jacket together with something from my family. That makes it special. I think people like it. But I honestly don’t know why they see me the way they do.
OLIVIER ZAHM — How did you go from the mountains and the forest to the glossy high-fashion pages of Vogue?
ROBERT RABENSTEINER — I studied art history, and I loved photo-graphers like Helmut Newton, David Bailey, and Francesco Scavullo. It was interesting to create a world around photo-graphy. That’s why after I studied art history I got into fashion photography. I started going to New York and Paris, and I read Italian and American Vogue. But for me it was the photographers, their books, and their images that really brought me into fashion. But I always loved dressing up, and creating looks with my grandfather’s old suits and then adding something Chinese or Moroccan to it. It became a game for me. I put a kaftan or a Japanese kimono over a suit. I added different worlds around the suit.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Is that one of your techniques?
ROBERT RABENSTEINER — Well, I have only one style. I don’t do a lot of different things. But this style is what I am. After that, it’s really the man who makes the silhouette. I mean, give me a suit and I’ll make it into something different. You can always see my touch, see how I interpret a suit.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Could you have been a fashion designer?
ROBERT RABENSTEINER — I could have, yes. I also like to create suits, and I do a lot of consulting for Roberto Cavalli and Moncler — I’ve been working with them for six or seven years. I bring different designs to their projects. I do consulting for a lot of companies.
OLIVIER ZAHM — You went from styling to consulting.
ROBERT RABENSTEINER — Exactly.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Let’s talk about your style. It looks like you mix the past and the present. Would you say that you have a classic style?
ROBERT RABENSTEINER — Absolutely, yes. It’s classic, but eccentric. My inspiration comes from movies and fantasies. If I want to dress in kimonos, I’ll go in that direction. I don’t go to fashion shows for ideas — I bring my dreams to them.
OLIVIER ZAHM — What exactly is the classic wardrobe? And what’s the classic part of your style?
ROBERT RABENSTEINER — A classic wardrobe is what a man needs: a tuxedo, a frock, a suit for the day, and a sporty outfit. This is what I wear and what I use in my styling. I think it’s important to have a role model for dressing up. When I go to a wedding, for example, I wear a tie. When I go to a dinner, I wear a suit — I need to have a jacket. That’s the key. Maybe it comes from my education. When I was a kid, I always wore a jacket and a bow tie to Christmas dinner and at Easter. For birthdays we had to be dressed up, too. That education gave me a code. I’m not going to wear a tuxedo — which I love to wear — on the street. Fashion people sometimes like shiny shoes. I wear them only on special evenings. Everything is about the role.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Is this kind of knowledge about dressing and dress codes disappearing?
ROBERT RABENSTEINER — Yes, I think so. I have simple suits: one in blue, one in black. It’s always the same, but I always put a different shirt with them, or I wear a pajama or tuxedo shirt with them.
OLIVIER ZAHM — What makes up your eccentricity?
ROBERT RABENSTEINER — My egocentricity and my dreams. I like to eat at beautiful tables with beautiful settings. I like to have beauty around me. I like to see a beautiful woman or a beautiful man. It’s a dream. I make this dream real. You and I are lucky that we can live with such beauty and eat such special things. It’s a gift in our lives. The egocentric part comes from that dream. I play with it, and it has become a reality.
OLIVIER ZAHM — So a kimono is a travel element that you use in your style?
ROBERT RABENSTEINER — Yes, but in the end, it, too, is a traditional piece. The Moroccan style and kaftans are traditional, too. It’s like Paul Getty: in LA he wore a kaftan, sitting by the pool. When I travel by boat, I live in my kaftan. When I go to San Siro outside Milan, I wear Lederhosen and my Tyrolean jacket. It’s the game of style. I mix classical and traditional pieces. I might have used a kimono even if I’d never been to Japan.
OLIVIER ZAHM — How does traveling inspire your styling work?
ROBERT RABENSTEINER — I love the East and the West — Mongolia, Russia, Prague, Budapest, Mexico, Guatemala. I have three rooms full of clothes in my house. They’re my archives. I don’t use them for myself.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Is it like folklore?
ROBERT RABENSTEINER — Folkloric, I’d say. Say I’m in Istanbul, and there’s a man making traditional outfits. I might order a robe de chambre, jackets, pajamas — everything. I’ll buy tons of them and use them for the fashion stories. It’s that dream thing again.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Traveling with you must be entertaining.
ROBERT RABENSTEINER — It can be boring for people who don’t care about fashion. I can stay ten hours in a store, a souk, or a market. I go to auctions and flea markets. I buy a lot of furniture for my house in Milan, my parents’ house, and my mountain house.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Do a lot of your ideas come from films?
ROBERT RABENSTEINER — Yes, absolutely, from films and stories. Visconti’s movies, or De Sica’s, or Pasolini’s — like Teorema — have a special elegance to them. From beginning to end, they always dressed their characters beautifully. Everything was perfect. For example, Visconti movies always have the same style. He was my inspiration. I read a lot of books, too, which create verbal images you can visualize. The
writer gives you the words, and you create the image around them. A movie gives ready-made style that you can play with. But books are sometimes better.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Have you ever styled for movies?
ROBERT RABENSTEINER — No. But I think my next step might be to make a movie. That’s what I want, but I have to learn more about it. But I have a lot of ideas. I love to create images.
OLIVIER ZAHM — I guess you’re ready for Hollywood now.
ROBERT RABENSTEINER — I hope so! I have met a lot of producers. I went to Bob Evans’s house in LA. He’s another person who makes me dream. He loved the most beautiful women. He had the most beautiful women. He’s still the best friend of Jack Nicholson. When I entered his house, he made me dream. He wore a yellow turtleneck with a black suit and a long gold necklace with a big diamond on it. He said I should do a movie!
OLIVIER ZAHM — When you style a fashion shoot for women, is it different from one for men?
ROBERT RABENSTEINER — When I style for Italian Vogue, it’s always haute couture, and I do it with Deborah Turbeville. I’ve been working with her for 12 years. We’ve done a lot of traveling together for Vogue and L’Uomo Vogue, to Russia, to Mexico. I live a bit like she does. She’s melancholic and dramatic, so we have a related style and way of seeing the world. She reads a lot, too. We both love Russian writers. With her, I do women’s styling, always haute couture, and I come back to the classics, to an evening dress, for example. Then I create a look with the photographer so that it’s not just about the dress. Deborah and I create a world around the model.
OLIVIER ZAHM — But you also make it modern — and it’s not easy giving a modern edge to couture.
ROBERT RABENSTEINER — It’s not difficult to create a world. With haute couture, you have to stay with the classics. It can be modern, but it must be of a tradition.
OLIVIER ZAHM — How do you approach styling men?
ROBERT RABENSTEINER — I love to style for men. For the story I did for this issue of Purple with Sven Schumann, I had Salvador Dalí in mind. Last summer I read a book about his life. I love the way Dalí dressed. He was so egocentric. When I saw the picture of him standing on a table, it gave me the idea for a fashion story.
OLIVIER ZAHM — How do you choose which men you want to shoot?
ROBERT RABENSTEINER — The men I shoot have to be an inspiration for me, someone who makes me dream. I don’t choose somebody who doesn’t attract me.
OLIVIER ZAHM — I feel that when you style a man, you push the boundaries of his own personal style.
ROBERT RABENSTEINER — I’ll give an example. I love Jeremy Irons as an actor. I was working on a shoot with him, in a house. We stayed there for two days, and I said to him, “I don’t want to put you in a suit. I want to create a dream around you.” I dressed him in a kaftan, and I put a jacket over it. He said he wanted to wear it every day. And he did — not in the street, but in his house. Now he reads at home in front of the fireplace in his kaftan. You see? I created a dream for him, too.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you have any favorite designers?
ROBERT RABENSTEINER — Of course, I have my favorite designers, others whom I like, and others whom I don’t like at all. But my job as a consultant is to help the designer I am working with. Sometimes new designers need help. If I do a story for a magazine, I have to bring a lot of different designers to it. I’m always able to find a special piece from each designer’s collection.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Are you optimistic about the evolution of fashion?
ROBERT RABENSTEINER — Yes. I think thenew generation has a quick way of working, and they’re more confident about their style. And I love people who are sure of themselves — who create their own world.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you have an example?
ROBERT RABENSTEINER — The Turkish designer Umit Benan is now doing Trussardi. He lives in Italy. He’s an interesting man and a really interesting designer. He was in “Who is On Next?” in Vogue, and we became friends, and I saw how he creates clothes. He makes me dream. He takes me somewhere else with the dresses and outfits and jackets he makes.
OLIVIER ZAHM — I think that recently there’s been a surge of creativity in men’s fashion.
ROBERT RABENSTEINER — I think so, too.
OLIVIER ZAHM — New men’s magazines, young new designers — but there’s a good and a bad side to it. The good side is thatthere’s more creativity. The bad side is that sometimes it’s a bit trite. They copy the creativity in women’s fashion and try to break rules by creating useless details, weird colors, or strange shapes. What’s your opinion of it?
ROBERT RABENSTEINER — I don’t see it like that. But let’s give a name to it. Gareth Pugh did a fantastic men’s show. It’s not my world, but I think it was great and really creative. He made me dream. A lot of new designers have direction, but sometimes it’s too fashion-y, which I don’t like.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Gareth Pugh is at a higher level. He has almost created a new abstract space for men’s fashion. It’s a new proposition.
ROBERT RABENSTEINER — Exactly. He’s at another level. But I’m speaking about the dream world he created around the show. Still, I’m not skeptical about the new designers. Some are really good.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you always find what you’re looking for in a collection?
ROBERT RABENSTEINER — I see it right away. I don’t need to see every single jacket or every single pair of trousers. As soon as I see the first look, I already know the whole collection. That’s where I’m really quick. Like sometimes when I read a book, after 20 pages I already know the story. That’s also a little bit of a problem for me. But I can see a collection’s direction right way.
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