Still photography leads helmer to high fashion

To hear Brett Ratner tell it, he’s more excited about “taking pictures” for Vanity Fair than he was to be the subject of an eight-page profile, dubbing him “the Golden Boy,” in the mag’s March Hollywood edition.

“It’s so cool because they always have the best photographers,” enthuses the lensman, who reports he’s just finished shooting two stories for the magazine. “I just shot Gustavo Santaolalla, the Academy Award-winning composer for ‘Brokeback Mountain’ and ‘Babel’ for the music issue. For their September issue, I did a huge story on ‘The Tabloid Boys,’ which is about all the guys being written about in the tabloids — all the boyfriends of girls like Paris Hilton, which is weird because I’m grateful not to be in that story.”

Aside from being one of the most bankable directors in the industry, Ratner has amassed some impressive credentials as a still photographer and has become something of a darling of the fashion set, having shot a cover of French Vogue and ad campaigns for Kimora Lee Simmons’ line Baby Phat (“I’m best friends with Russell. I’ll never do that again because it was too close for comfort”).

But it’s Ratner’s film noirish ads for Jimmy Choo — his fourth campaign for the London-based luxury accessories house will debut this fall — that has generated the most buzz and touched off a trend that has top fashion and beauty houses looking to Hollywood directors to create eye-catching print advertising.

“They were interested in doing something cinematic rather than straight fashion,” says Ratner of the company’s decision to have him replace famed fashion lensman Mario Testino on the campaign. “Tamara (Mellon, Jimmy Choo’s president) is a cool lady who knows what’s happening out there in the world. I think she just wanted something different.”

“We worked really well as a team,” Mellon says. “Brett’s cinematic sensibility gives a real storyline to our campaigns. There is always a sense of glamorous suspense, which lends itself perfectly to the brand image.”

Charged by Mellon to make Jimmy Choo’s ads “stand out in a cluttered environment of fashion magazines,” Ratner delivered.

His first campaign in February 2006 with Nicole Richie as a mystery woman besieged by the paparazzi garnered lots of attention for the company — and the starlet.

Ratner explains his vision for the images this way: “I was inspired by a story that Richard Avedon did with Mike Nichols years ago. … (Avedon) was re-creating when Liz Taylor and Richard Burton were in their prime. They would go out and get in fights with paparazzi — they were so ahead of their time because that’s what is happening now.”

He followed up his debut effort with ads starring Molly Sims and Quincy Jones (who worked for free as a favor to Ratner).

The striking images of Ratner’s third campaign featured model Jessica Miller as a glamazon in mile-high stilettos fishing her Jimmy Choo bag out of a pool with a dead body floating nearby. “Very ‘Sunset Boulevard,’” he says.

The new campaign, which will debut in the August issues of W and Vogue, shows a model (Heather Marks) seemingly stranded after landing her plane in a blizzard. Ratner says he’s “gonna keep doing the campaign until they fire me” since he and good pal Mellon never inked a formal contract.

“Using a director like Brett Ratner gives these ads a narrative quality that elevates the product,” says Linda Wells, editor-in-chief of Allure magazine. “It’s a strong, new trend that gives the ads much more of an editorial quality.”

Wells says upscale brands have increasingly looked to Hollywood directors to “make the product sexier,” and points to Baz Luhrmann’s commercial for Chanel starring Nicole Kidman along with Wong Kar Wai’s work with Eva Green for Dior and Clive Owen for Lancome as recent examples. The newest permutation of this trend has extended into print ads, and includes Joe Wright’s new campaign for Chanel with Keira Knightley, his “Pride & Prejudice” and “Atonement” star.

For Ratner, who recently shot Heidi Klum for Jordache’s new ads, his photography gigs have helped validate his passion (“Maybe I am good”). But there’s one job he’d turn down — and one gig he’d love to land.

“I’d never shoot the poster for my own movie because I’m too close to it, but I’d shoot someone else’s for sure,” he says. “My dream job is to shoot the Pirelli calendar. That would be the ultimate.”

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