For decades President of IMG Models, Ivan Bart, vision for a beautifully diverse face of fashion has made waves in the industry. With a roster including Kate Moss, Alek Wek, Karlie Kloss and Joan Smalls, fashion’s wingman has ensured both quantity and quality with IMG Models’ innumerable successful talents. The Impression’s Chief Impressionist, Kenneth Richard, caught up with the global influencer to chat about films and what influences him.
So Ivan, how is your trip to Rome going?
It’s Stunning. But I have to tell you, Kenneth, I took this long walk in Rome today and was thinking about what I wanted to chat with you about and films, and there’s no way I can narrow down my favorite films for us to talk about. There are so many!
Well, let’s break it down to the first steps. Were you always into film?
I’ve always been into it. I was a television kid in the ’70s and ’80s. A latchkey kid who, while my mom worked, would come home to television – which was amazing then. You could see amazing films on daytime television. Films from the ’40s, ’50s… I don’t even know what film I saw first. I just saw them all. They’re all in my head.
Being in the fashion industry, we all are so inspired by films. Like Roman Holiday, as I’m speaking to you from Rome. Here I am recreating every step of the film. Thinking of movies like Funny Face or The Eyes of Laura Mars or Bonnie and Clyde. I think those are films that anybody in fashion would be like, ‘Whoa!’ [laughs] I love storytelling. Storytelling stays with you.
One of my most memorable experiences was in college. I saw a poster of Meryl Streep surrounded by a very handsome Kevin Kline and Peter MacNicol. That poster struck me and made me wonder, ‘What is this film? It must be a ménage à trois.’ I assumed it’s some bohemian film and went into the theater, and am just mesmerized with this creature, this delightful, luminous beauty who is a film star. Isn’t that interesting, how a film can take you by total surprise? I thought I was going to see a ménage à trois and it was anything but. It was a tragic story of The Holocaust and survival and making a choice. Nobody knew what Sophie’s Choice was until they saw the film. How Streep acted and how many languages she spoke in that film… I get chills.
It took you somewhere else. It took you to the deepest, darkest depths of despair and the ability to survive it. To have to choose between your children, to have to make that choice… it absolutely resonated with me. I can’t believe we’re so far away from that now, that there might be a generation that may not know that story. But the great thing about film is that you can always go back to these stories. Film is eternal. I’ve seen films from the ’20s, ’30s, ’40s, ’50s, whatever, and other generations will discover Sophie’s Choice – that’s breathtaking. That, to me, is as perfect as it gets.
You have an eye for talent.
Well, what I’m most surprised about every day as the leader of IMG Models is the talent. I had never seen an actress [like Streep] this good in my life. I had seen a lot of films by that point, but I had never seen somebody take a character and be as real as she was. To perfect German, Polish and English in both accents and in dialect – I was like, ‘Who is this woman?’ That’s a nice thing about what I do: when I’m standing in front of great talent, and when it’s good, I know it’s good.
Do you see a lot of models that you think should be acting?
All the time. You’d be surprised because the majority of them aren’t famous. They are usually the models who make a very good living, but aren’t as well known. The whole point of acting is assuming characters, so will the public accept you as different characters in different roles if you are well-known as yourself?
Good acting definitely transcends that. At this time, clients certainly have an opportunity for growth outside of being a fashion model, especially if they remain open-minded. I can spot it. One great example is Mackenzie Leigh. She modeled with us and had endeavors beyond just modelling. In fact, it was our strategy to not box her in, because she really wanted to be an actress. So she veered away from the limelight in fashion and took the classes and did the work. It’s interesting that now that she has some work under her belt, such as the last Ang Lee film, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, fashion has taken notice!
I think if Bonner Bolton plays his cards correctly, he would be interesting on film! Some of these people really are movie stars. They just ignite the camera, and it’s a great marriage. Whether it is a still or moving image, you can’t take your eyes off of him.
You had Bonner in mind from the get-go, when we started talking about the issue. Tell us about that choice.
I was thinking about IMG Models’ core values: diversity, representation of icons and rising stars, inclusiveness, and the ability to help our clients tell unique and powerful stories. We’re in an era right now about redefining the modern male and how men react in a feminist society, where women can grow and achieve, and how one behaves as a male. Bonner is a guy who had a great opportunity to define a modern male.
We also drew on the idea of inclusiveness and how it felt right for an interracial love story. Different worlds colliding is a great connector of what we need right now. I really truly believe in ‘United we stand, divided we fall.’ We’re living in an era right now where the divisions are louder than our commonality. I wanted a story that will get us talking about the complex racial and societal dynamics at play in America.
You and Grant Greenberg chose Philly for the location. How did the city play into your story?
The night I introduced Grant and Bonner, Grant said, ‘You know, I just love the idea of this great American hero and breaking down stereotypes, like that of cowboys.’ Grant went on to tell me that one in four cowboys in America were African-American. But they’ve been forgotten in our history or rarely visible, and their stories have barely been told. Then, a couple of weeks later, when Grant told me about this neighborhood in Philadelphia where the largely African-American community have kept horses for generations, I knew we had the beginnings of a really unique story.
The love story between Bonner and Joan Smalls evolved from there. Grant made multiple visits to Philadelphia, built up trust with the local horsemen, and got them excited about participating in a fashion story. They were especially excited to meet a pro bull rider and bona fide cowboy. The way Grant and his team connected with this community and built their trust is an astonishing story. There’s a lot of division in America right now, but we can connect. The community, Bonner, and a superstar like Joan Smalls… everybody came together to create a story that’s about the connectivity. It was Grant’s vision to connect those worlds, and thanks to The Impression, there is an opportunity to share that story.
Our pleasure. On the subject of different worlds, you’ve often spoken of fashion and ageism.
Oh, I have a film for that! Sweet Bird of Youth. What an amazing film that is – with Paul Newman at his sexiest and hottest, and Geraldine Page. I like to break down the barriers of age, and aging, aging gracefully, and beautifully, being the best you could possibly be. It’s a story about the negativity of aging in Hollywood with Ms. Page playing a movie star. She made a film and she thought it’s a bomb, then goes off on a bender and ends up with Paul Newman. She’s at the depths of despair and with the hottest guy in the world! Then she finds out that her movie is a tremendous success, and she puts on her sunglasses and leaves. It’s a story of fleeting youth and holding onto success, and the acting is insane. It’s all about the acting. For me, it’s always about the actor.
I like storytelling with change and evolution. Norma Rae – great story. That whole film is about evolving, the factories and the garment workers unionizing and creating fair wages. Sally Field having this incredible moment is something that I’ll always remember.
The Color Purple is another. Steven Spielberg, Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey. Great story about how lives can be separated, how two lives that are connected are living separate lives in separate continents, and then come together for this emotional ending. Incredible film.
Network! How reflective and how ahead of its time was that film about the media taking over our lives? The more insane it gets, the higher the ratings. Somebody literally having a nervous breakdown on television and people wanting more. Yet, there is Faye Dunaway, looking her most glamorous self. What a great film that is!
Now you’ve got me talking film! Saturday Night Fever! There was an indie film made for about $3 that became a cultural phenomenon. The opportunity for film to change perceptions and then usher in disco. Everybody is trying to make it and be a star in this Brooklyn disco dance floor. It takes your breath away.
Then there are modern pieces like Precious. Seeing a film like Precious, with real, raw acting. That’s just a great moment. I love film. I love film. I get so inspired by it.It makes sense that you are in the talent field as acting draws you in and you’re drawn to underdog stories, with people who feel like outsiders. There’s courage, diversity.
And worlds coming together. I saw a film when I was very young, from the ’60s, that was very brave and affected me: Guess Who Is Coming to Dinner. That was another story about age and different generations. Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, Katharine Houghton, and Sidney Poitier looking his most handsome self.
There is a statement that Spencer Tracy makes at the end of the film that gets me. He plays the father who cannot accept the relationship his daughter has chosen, but comes to an understanding that, ‘It doesn’t matter a damn what we think. The only thing that matters is what they feel, and how much they feel, for each other. And if it’s half of what we felt – that’s everything.’ The ‘we’ was referring to his wife in the film, played by Katherine Hepburn. It wasn’t far from reality since they had a real, off-screen relationship. It’s so emotional. Spencer Tracy wasn’t well when he made the film, so imagine him looking at Katherine Hepburn and saying that line: “If it’s half of what we felt, that’s everything”!
That’s movie magic. When you look at Katherine Hepburn and you see what her face is doing in that moment, it takes you to a whole new plane. I could watch that movie 15 million times and learn something new every time. Maybe that affected me early on in my life. I don’t know. It didn’t register until a few years ago that through fashion imagery, we have the same opportunity as we do in film. So what I wanted to do is redirect the conversation to the things that I believe in and go back to the films that touched me. I could continue to listen to people telling me who and what they wanted, or I could take the opportunity to change what the conversation was all about and where it should be. I’m fortunate enough, and have stuck around this long, to be in a position where I have the authority to do that – and now I get to do what has been inside me all along.
Interview from The Impression biannual magazine – The Film Issue, Vol. 3, Fall 2017
Creative Director | Ivan Bart Photographer | Grant Greenberg Stylist | Nick Nelson Models | Joan Smalls, IMG Models & Bonner Bolton, IMG Models Producer | Amy France Fraher, Goodblu Assistant Director | Carol Powley Photo Assistant | Christopher Harth & Dave Londres Capture Tech | Clint Hild Location Manager | William Carducci Location Assistant | Thom Zynwala Props Stylist | Laura Galindo Retouching | Bitfire Inc.
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