President’s in conversation with AW15/16 artist-in-residence, Tag Christof

Above: New Mexico, 2015. President’s A/W15-16 Campaign photo.

Much of your work focuses on America. How do you square that with being appointed for the campaign of a proudly Made in Italy brand such as President’s?

It’s funny, because I’ve actually lived much more of my adult life in Europe than in the states. I spent a year at a French university, I lived in Florence and Milan after that, and I did an MA at Central Saint Martins in London. Europe really became my home and the time I spent in Italy had a huge impact on the way I see America.

How did you first come across President’s? What was it that first attracted you in the brand, and what did you think when being asked to enter the private collection as the artist for the Autumn Winter 2015-16 campaign?

I have a few pieces from different past seasons that are staples not just in my wardrobe, but in my life. One is a beautifully made leather portfolio that I carry around every single day—I use it to hold my sketchbooks, film negatives, prints, when I’m on the road, stamps and postcards. The other is a super casual oxford shirt made of a rich, strong English textile. I wear it at least once a week and it still looks brand new. I just love the way the brand does clean, easy, modern men’s style in excellent materials.

When I was asked to be the featured artist for this campaign, I don’t think I fully realised at first what a huge honour it was. It wasn’t until later that it sunk in that I was following in the footsteps of Peter Sutherland, Ari Marcopolous, Joseph Szabo, and Hugh Holland. Those guys are absolute legends whose monographs I have pored over for inspiration for years.

President’s private collection is a long-term project, combining the world of fine art photography with fashion – we never show products in our campaigns. What do you think about this use of alternative imagery to convey a certain message?

The images in these campaigns are so much more authentic than staged, studio shoots with brand new clothes on beautiful models.

Your campaign photograph shows “Maude,” your 1973 Pontiac Grand Prix, being fueled up at an old Standard Oil petrol station. What do you think it is in that photo that represents President’s as a brand, and moreover the collection?

I’m someone who was very much caught up in the world of fashion and image in my teens and early 20s. I studied industrial design in college and I worshiped all the same style gods as the cool kids. But over time, the artifice really began to be something I grew tired of—cool is so transitory. When I began to take photography more seriously, I just naturally gravitated towards subjects that were as far away as possible from the world of stylists and image consultants.

Maude is a huge, garish car from a time when American car design was not at all subtle or pretty. Pontiac was a legendary old American car brand that went out of business a few years ago. Standard Oil was a mythologized, evil old corporation that was very consequential in the early history of the automobile in the U.S. – it was broken up in antitrust lawsuits almost a century ago, but its brand survives in strange ways. I read somewhere that Chevron Corporation, which currently owns the “Standard” trademark must use the brand name on a certain number of its petrol stations in order to maintain control of the trademark. So, every so often out on the road, you come across a “Standard” station, a zombie brand from a dead company that somehow feels slightly magical because of its rarity and because it was immortalised by one very famous Ed Ruscha painting and tons of iconic photographs from the 20th century.

In the photo, the giant old Pontiac is drinking gasoline from a dead corporation. It’s a complex set of relationships, but there’s something disarming and beautiful about the scene—it appears to come from a simpler time, even though it was shot in the present.

I think that sort of juxtaposition between honest, simple forms and complex layers of meaning is a good approximation for the way President’s does fashion. It’s a very refreshing thing.

Photographer, art director, editor—what do you define yourself as? How do you think your 35k+ Instagram followers think of you?

Everybody in the world today is an artist/DJ/beekeeper/sommelier… That trendy need to force multiple labels upon ourselves has begun to feel like insecurity or pretentiousness or presumptuousness. I don’t know what I am in one word, but I know I’m a keen observer—I would have made a great anthropologist! I am somebody who is in search of meaning in the strange things humanity does, in the strange forms it gives to cities and buildings and products, and in the strange stories we tell ourselves.

Instagram is a fantastic community. I’ve met so many amazing people through it. My followers are funny, though: the more bleak and more desolate the photos I post, the more likes I get. Recently someone called me an “economy class William Eggleston.” Even though it was probably an insult, I’ll take it as a compliment.

Five years from now: where are you? Is ‘America is Dead’ still alive?

I really think the project will be a lifelong quest for me. I don’t know what form it will take in the future—I’m working on a book starting this year—but I just hope that in five years, or ten or fifty, I will still able to be out on the road, looking.