Simon Foxton's i-D archive
The seminal stylist and former Fashion Director of i-D in conversation with Elgar Johnson.
This story originally appeared in i-D's 40th Anniversary Issue, no. 361, Winter 2020. Order your copy here.
The story of many stylists is tied up with the formative decade of i-D in the 1980s, but few have had such a lasting impact on both the magazine and the wider fashion world as Simon Foxton.
He graduated from Central Saint Martins and started a label and then fell into styling, working at i-D under Terry Jones after the recommendation of some of his friends who were also working there. Terry paired him up with a young Nick Knight, who’d also recently started shooting for the magazine, and together they started creating the visual aesthetic that helped define the era. Their partnership created some of the most iconographic i-D covers – Sara Stockbridge in a crown and Corinne Drewery in a heart-shaped eye patch – and crafted a fashion language that is still hugely influential. Not least because Simon was a continual champion of eclectic style, diversity of casting and personality, and attitude above the boring tyranny of the latest trends; ideals that have only become more accepted over the decades since Simon began working.
Simon eventually became the Fashion Director of i-D and then one day on the tube he discovered a very young Edward Enninful, and cast him as a model in an editorial. Then Edward began assisting him – he was, according to Simon, not a particularly good assistant – but Edward too eventually became Fashion Director of i-D, among other jobs he’s held. One of Simon’s other assistants was Elgar Johnson, who then became Fashion Editor of i-D in the 2010s, before moving on to work at GQ.
So as well as being an incredible stylist, Simon has also nurtured generations of talent, constantly pushing a new generation forward. Here Simon and Elgar discuss the changes in fashion they’ve seen over the years, from the rise in diversity in magazines to the changing modes of fashion and styling.
Elgar: Tell me about when you first started working with i-D.
Simon: I’d just left Saint Martins and I had my own label called Bazooka. Caryn Franklin, who was then Fashion Editor at i-D, well, I had known her at college and she got in touch with me. I think that was the first shoot I did. It was shot by Mark Lebon and Bazooka was featured alongside BodyMap, Ray Petri, a few others, we all had a page in the magazine. That kind of got me interested in the concept of style and styling.
How did you meet Terry? Did he reach out to you because he’d seen your work?
Bazooka wound up. It was a fun thing but we never made any money. It was pretty useless. My friend Steve Male was working in the art department at i-D as well as Caryn and so I think one of them maybe put me in touch with Terry. I went to see Terry and said, ‘You know, I’d be interested in doing some styling’. He put me in touch with Nick Knight, who was just starting out at the same time.
You’d never met Nick? Terry introduced you two?
Exactly. Terry put us together. We clicked immediately. Terry was really good at getting lots of new young people involved. It was quite irreverent, it didn’t have to be perfect at all. Certainly, that’s the way I work. And i-D was just where I felt at home.
The imagery you created with Nick has stood the test of time but it was quite provocative when you created it, you used a lot of diverse models during a time when a lot of people weren’t doing that.
It was never done with a political aim in mind. It was a no brainer. We cast the people that we thought looked good, white or Black or Asian or whatever, you know. When I left Saint Martins, in my degree show, I used all Black models on the runway. That caused a sensation, which surprised me at the time because I didn’t think it was that big a deal. I’m not sure any of it was done with provocation in mind.
I’ve written recently about some of my experiences around race within the industry. And I was wondering what you think from the outside looking in as a white man. Do you think it is harder? Well, it has been harder for people of colour to get forward in this industry. Do you think it feels like it’s changed or is changing?
As you say, it’s hard for me to answer that. I haven’t had firsthand experience.
You have had Black assistants though.
Certainly, but with Edward and yourself, I’m not sure that race or colour has impeded you in any way. I don’t think you would have gone any higher or faster had you been white. But, ‘I don’t know’ is the answer, because you look at the top of a lot of magazines and there’s not many Black faces. I’m sure that there must be institutionalised racism within a lot of these places and people make decisions and they might not even realise they are being racist. Hopefully things will change, people will start to question their own biases.
Do you have a particular shoot that’s your favourite shoot or something that stands out in i-D that you’ve done with various contributors?
I never can think of a favourite shoot. A couple of things stand out though. There was a shoot I did with Nick Knight in the mid-80s, called Superbad. It was one of the first big things we did together. We shot it with some friends in London and Paris and a lot of the styling was inspired by blaxploitation films. At the time it had a huge impact. People really noticed it. And I seem to remember it was actually good fun to shoot. We shot it over a few weeks, mostly at night and in the streets and in the clubs. It was a good one. I look back fondly on that shoot. I also think the shoot that got quite a lot of press over the years is the one I did with Jason Evans in 1991.
Is this the one that features a young Edward Enninful?
Exactly. Edward modelled. He was assisting me at the time and he helped with the casting; they’re mostly friends of his. We shot in Ealing around where I live. It’s now in the Tate and in the V&A collections and I’m very proud of that shoot. It felt like we’d done something important. I mean that sounds pompous. We didn’t feel important at the time, but…
Like I said before, your work really stands the test of time. When you see people referencing it how does that make you feel?
I would never take offence. If they want to reference me that’s great. It’s tricky once you start getting into ownership of ideas because we all pick from all over, that’s what fashion is about, what art is about.
Do you remember when I first met you? It’s really weird, when you’re starting off in the fashion industry and you hear these names of people and you think they’re like superheroes. Just something untouchable…
I remember when we first met, doing a shoot at ShowStudio, but actually saying that I can’t remember which shoot it was.
At the time everyone was like ‘Ooh, wow, you’re doing that for ShowStudio with Simon Foxton?’ It was the best thing that could have ever happened in my life. I remember, after the shoot and I’d finished modelling, I emailed you about possibly assisting and you responded saying you were in Paris and you’d get back to me. You never did and I emailed again and you said something about how busy you were and that you had to go to Paris again. It was always Paris, Paris, Paris. And now, knowing you for so long, it’s like, I don’t think I can recall you ever having been in Paris! So it’s because you probably get inundated by people asking to assist or ask questions and whatever. And you’re very private so…
I am and I’m a liar as well.
And a liar, which I now know.
I get a bit blurry about when you started assisting me.
It wasn’t actually massively a long time ago. That’s the thing. I did my first cover for i-D in 2011. So, I reckon it was around 2008. I remember thinking, ‘he’s so relaxed and not horrible’ – it was actually quite overwhelming!
After many years in the fashion world you realise most people are fairly ordinary.
But back then there were all those horrible stories about people who were just awful and you were terrified of them, but you weren’t that. You know what? Life’s too short.
What’s the point of terrifying young people in fashion? Where’s that going to get you?
You had a lot of assistants who’ve gone on to work in various magazines, do you have any sort of memories of any of those assistants doing crazy things or funny things, things that stand out?
Edward was probably the most useless assistant I’ve ever had. You’re a close second. Edward was great to have around and he was fantastic on shoots with the models and the photographers but if you wanted things boxed up or sorted at the end of the day he wasn’t interested. But he was, and is, completely charismatic and he’s very much a people person. From day one that stood out.
So it goes to show you don’t need to be the best assistant to become a success.
You were very good and… what can I think of that’s nice to say?
I think we laughed a lot.
It shouldn’t be drudgery and terror.
Is there a moment during your time working in the fashion industry, especially working with i-D, that you really felt like it intersected with popular culture?
I don’t want to keep harking back to the 80s because everyone does and it’s tedious, but that early 80s club culture thing, with hindsight, you realise how important and how amazing it was. It was like the big bang. It was such a lot of amazing people and interesting ideas coming out all at the same time. Things changed from week to week. I was at Saint Martins, which was the epicentre of all of that as well. That has kind of coloured and informed everything since. But I try to be one of those people who have done things since then as well.
I remember you saying that you brought hip-hop to the UK!
I know and I get no credit!
So it wasn’t Malcolm McLaren?
He was on my coattails. I used to listen to hip-hop and I used to make clothes that I thought were right for it. I had these baseball caps and the peaks were over a foot long. We’d dance around in these huge floppy peaked hats.
Do you still have them?
No. Goodness. I don’t have any of them. It would be worth a fortune. I doubt it.
Do you have any of the Bazooka stuff?
No, I haven’t got it. What did you do? Throw it all out? It probably fell to bits to be honest.
Have you been influenced by the work that you’ve done for i-D through the change of leadership? Because obviously there’s been different editors over different years. Do you feel like you had to…
You’ve just done your own thing?
My styling has never really been about fashion. It’s about ideas and clothing is the tool that I used. I’ve never been interested in what’s fashionable. I’m not very good at that. I realise now how lucky I was to be working at the time I was, and for a magazine like i-D, because Terry allowed us to do work about ideas rather than making sure that the advertisers were satisfied. Back then, you didn’t even think about that. Increasingly, that’s what curtails some of the freedom that you have.
You hear so many people go, ‘Oh, no, there’s no creativity anymore’. But well, actually, maybe you just have to try a bit harder.
It’s pointless getting all hot and bothered about it. That’s how it is now.
Do you think people were more creative then?
It’s equal. I don’t think we were more creative then, or there were more interesting people, just that the scene was set then for a lot of new ideas to come out at once. And now I think it’s a harder environment to be creative in. Certainly, there’s less money, or at least it’s more expensive to be in London. I don’t know how kids survive with the rents they have to pay now.
People would make an argument that it’s because they’ve got rich families. I’m not sure they’ve all got rich families.
But if I was starting out now there is no way I could have afforded to go to art school and live in London.
Why do you think i-D has sort of stayed around, I guess? How come it’s still about? Still relevant. People still love it.
I think because it’s always been about new ideas and it’s always been about youth and that’s always going to be appealing and exciting.
When I was at the magazine, if you made a mistake, Terry would be like, ‘That’s fine. That’s good’. He’d always applaud your mistakes.
That’s the one thing I love, have always loved about it. You’re allowed to make mistakes. When I teach, that’s one of the things I try to instil in students is to make good mistakes. That’s how you learn. And something new can come out of the errors. The print was illegible in i-D most of the time or pictures were put in upside down or back to front or whatever, but, you know…
I remember when I was there, there was a feature where all the Ss or something were missing in the print. It was a big feature on a certain designer and they all went missing. It was quite a lot. So, if you could shoot your dream cover star for i-D now. Past and present. Who would it be? or have been?
I never did many covers, I was never asked to.
Are you still a bit bitter about that?
How many did you do?
Maybe about four or five.
God, I did 12. I did loads more than you.
It’s not a competition! And well, I never really shot women.
My first cover was one of the first male covers in a very, very long time.
My last cover was the Sara Stockbridge one.
Well, we all know it’s one of the most iconic covers of all time!
It is quite an iconic cover, I think you’ll find. That was me.
It’s not a competition!
I would like to have seen Amy Winehouse on the cover. I think she would have been really great.
Was she ever?
Yeah, that seems to be kind of an obvious choice in a way that…
No, I don’t mean a boring choice.
But I would have had you style it and Nick Knight shoot it.
I’m so rubbish with celebrities. I don’t know who anyone is anyway. I’m useless. I don’t really look at that many fashion magazines any more.
Do you look at any?
And that’s where we’re going to leave it. Thank you, Simon Foxton!
Below, see all the covers Elgar has styled for i-D.