2 Fashion Bigwigs, 1 Mohawk: Our Chat With Joan Smalls And Mario Testino

If you want to see the best use of a sunroof since Prom ’99, look no further than Mario Testino’s new fashion film for the Mercedes-Benz CLS Shooting Brake, which sees Joan Smalls — clad in vintage Mugler and playing the part of an “other-worldly” beauty — using the car feature to create some extra space for her towering Mohawk.
Running into the twosome at — where else? — Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin, Refinery29 sat down for a chat about cars, crazy hair, and going with your gut.
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Joan Smalls
Obviously, you’re having a huge moment right now. You’ve got Fendi, W, the spring '12 Chanel campaign. Have you gotten to enjoy it, or does it just seem like a whirlwind and then it’s on to the next project?
"I try to stay grounded, and I think every job I do is an accomplishment and a goal that I’ve wanted for a long time, and you get to enjoy it for a short period. But, because I’m kind of an overachiever, as soon as that’s done, I’m asking and bothering my manager, 'What’s the next one?' [laughs]"
Mario was saying that Grace Jones was an image that he had in mind for your shoot. Was she a muse for you? It also seemed very Catwoman-like with the Mugler suit.
"I think for me it was a superhero and Catwoman and seeing all of those empowering women that have these supernatural powers — this super-strength. I think that's where I drew my inspiration from, and Grace Jones is part of that movement, as well. "
What was it like wearing the mohawk?
"My first mohawk ever. [laughs]"
Do you think you’ll adopt it? It could be a new trend.
"I don’t know if that’s going to work for my job. They pinned all my hair down, and I think it was actually a necklace or something. I don’t know if it was horsehair or what, but they put it in that way. "
Do you actually drive in real life?
"Yes, I do. I’m from Puerto Rico, so you learn to drive there from a very young age — around 14."
Have you ever been in a car accident?
"Oh. I’ve been in fender benders, yes. Two. But one was not my fault! The guy in front of me was slowing down and he was going to make a turn, but he didn’t put his blinkers on. I mean, what do you expect me to do? Read your mind or something?"
But no fender benders on the Mercedes-Benz set, right?
"No, I’m very careful with that one!"
Check out our exclusive chat with Testino and the full-length Mercedes commercial on page two.
Photo: Via Mercedes Benz
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Mario Testino
These days it’s all about fashion films and blending art with advertising, and print ads that run as editorial content for online media. You seem to be at the forefront of it all. Is that liberating to you?
"It’s because of online that we’ve all gone into film. I don’t know about other photographers, but I immediately made the change, started a film company, and went head-on into it."
Tell us about working with Mercedes-Benz.
"You know, it’s funny. I’ve used cars in my photographs for so long, that it seemed only natural when they came to me. I mean, I find it a different thing, but I think that everybody today sells everything through fashion. So, it’s almost like doing what I do, really. It wasn’t like I went out of my comfort zone. It wasn’t a classic car photograph where I had to light the car. It was more about the idea and less about the object itself. It was very easy for me. And it’s funny, talking about how I’m a photographer and I do film, it was all gut, the whole process. When I finally said I would do it, my immediate reaction was what I ended up doing. People always ask me, 'Where does it come from?" and I never really know....It comes from inside."
And why was Joan the perfect person to play this role?
"Because she’s modern and she has a certain other-worldly thing. One of my inspirations was Grace Jones. And I was like, 'I want to do Grace Jones, I want to do Grace Jones,' and I didn’t even know why. Maybe because I had just seen her when I was given an award by amfAR, and Grace performed that night. I was like, 'Wow! This woman is not a young chicken.' And, she was on stage like [stretches out arms and makes a face] on heels like this. I liked that idea of 'out of this world,' and I think Joan has that."
Was the move with the sunroof your idea?
"It just happened. You know, I think that in life, you have to be very careful to listen to life. My father said to me once years ago, 'In life, there is what you want, and there is what life wants.' Maybe it’s a bit like what I was saying about the gut. Most of the magic is there, you just have to be conscious and grab it. We’re all so scared about everything, and sometimes, we think that 'easy' is too easy and we have to make it difficult. "
Do you have anything big coming up?
"I’m opening my foundation next week — a big thing. I just have to do two more days of couture, and then I fly to Peru. I open it on the 12th, and it’s going to house my work, and it’s going to be a platform to showcase Peruvians outside of Peru and to bring things to Peru."
Do you have a favorite piece that’s going to be housed there?
"It’s interesting because I did a show at Kensington Palace of [Princess] Diana, and all of those pictures are going to live in Peru."
Photo: Via Mercedes Benz

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