model and muse nicolle meyer shares her fond memories of fashion photographer guy bourdin
From 1977 to 1980 the pair were inseparable, and to this day, he holds a special place in her heart. As Somerset House opens its doors to Guy Bourdin: Image-maker, the largest exhibition of his work to date and which contains a room solely dedicated to...
Despite being described by Alber Elbaz as the "Phantom of Guy Bourdin… She was his canvas. She comes and goes, appears and disappears - always different but always the same" French-American model Nicolle Meyer never thought of herself as a muse. But after her first encounter with legendary photographer Guy Bourdin aged just 17 that's exactly what she became.
How did you and Guy first meet?
I was a young model and didn't even have tear sheets, I just had a couple of test shots and had done some runway shows. One of the people at the runway shows told me I should hook up with an agency, then that agency sent me to Guy, which was the nicest thing they ever did!
What was your first encounter with him like?
He was very sweet and gentle and really looked at my work, which I later realised didn't happen at other go sees. Then he asked to see my ID card, which I thought was to see my picture, but I found out later that being a very superstitious man, he wanted to see what zodiac sign I was.
And what are you?
Leo. Which obviously worked as shortly after I was booked and that's when I started my work with him.
What was your first impression of him?
I didn't know he was famous, I wasn't in the fashion world so my first impression was just that I liked him; I got a good feeling from him.
What was it like seeing yourself in one of his pictures?
I was thrilled. For a young girl seeing something so glamorous, it was fun. I was quite taken aback by the first images I saw. They were for French Vogue, and you didn't see my face, I was just a body part that people were pouring water over. But then I had a feeling later on that it was his way of testing me to see how I reacted and, in fact, I really enjoyed working with him. It was like working in this really creative capsule. I quickly came to love the atmosphere and just being a part of the whole creative process. Regardless of what he asked me to do, whether I was the lead part or just a bottom or prop, I really enjoyed working with him, which is what led to a truly prolific time with him.
Did his approach change when using you as a prop to when he was using you as the main subject?
It was the same intensity. He's very passionate about his work. That's what he lived for. I felt that it was the same. I mean obviously when you're looking at the man next to or behind the camera it's different, because I could actually see his face, and see his reaction when he really liked something. He was also very vocal, which made you feel great. It was thrilling.
Were you aware that you were a muse?
Absolutely not. I was just aware that I worked with him a lot, which in a strange way was to the detriment of my other modelling jobs. A lot of editors would see me as Guy's girl and they couldn't envision seeing me as more natural looking. But, no I had no idea.
How did he make you feel as a model?
He made me feel good, actually. Even though there are some racy photos, he never made me feel insecure. I felt quite beautiful; I had a good relationship with my body, which came from dancing. He was never lecherous or anything, just very respectful. There was music blaring in the studio, which I found exciting since I loved to dance. It was different from working with any other photographer; it wasn't just a pretty girl jumping around in pretty clothes. It had a real intent, he elevated the model to a different level, even if you were just an element; you were a part of this cinematic scene, almost like an actress in a film, that's how you felt.
What was the most magical moment you had with him?
I think probably the San Sebastian shoot, which was at Karl Lagerfeld's chateau; we were there for a week. The chateau itself was incredible, devoid of furniture, it was stunning. All the curtains and doors were open as it was so warm. It was just magical. Guy had a post put out in the garden, and he was composing Audrey and I almost as if we were a still life, like a painter. It was a great feeling, very romantic. I can't say all of the photographs we did were romantic, but this one was. The whole trip was like that, we stayed in character the whole time.
How do you feel today, seeing a whole room dedicated to images of you?
I'm really honoured. It's also strange, I look at these pictures, which were taken over 30 years ago, and I recognise that it's me, but it's almost like it's a different person. I can remember the shoots, but it's like there are two different people and I'm looking at somebody else.
What do you think Guy would think if he could see this exhibition, given that he always said he wanted his work destroyed after he's gone?
He'd be proud. It's very tastefully done, it's absolutely beautiful, and it shows many different facets of his work. I think he'd be thrilled, otherwise we'd have some sign from above!
Text Tish Weinstock