The Innovative Stylist and Photographer Talks Her Latest Project and Leaning Into the Democratic Power of Social Media
By Mark Wittmer
A stylist and photographer with over a decade of experience working across runway, magazines, and more, Natalie Tauger recently switched gears to embark on her own project – LOOK ONE. Living exclusively on social media, LOOK ONE sees Natalie style and photograph a different look on a different model every day, teaming with casting agents, makeup artists, graphic designers, and models to bring the bite-sized fashion moments to life. A small photo series is released on Instagram each day, while video interviews on TikTok introduce us to the personalities behind the looks.
While the concept behind the project is simple – one look on one model, every day – it has grown into a uniquely deep and exciting document of contemporary fashion and the diverse points of view that shape it – and it’s still just getting started.
As LOOK ONE reached its hundredth day and entered an exciting new chapter while continuing steady onward, The Impression’s Mark Wittmer caught up with Natalie to learn about the inspiration behind the project, the unique collaborative community that has developed around it, and how it is leveraging the democratic power of social media like nothing else today.
Mark Wittmer: To start off, I was wondering if you could just tell us a bit about your background as a stylist?
Natalie Tauger: I really started by interning my way up at a time when you could just basically work as an employee and not be compensated in any way shape or form. I was first at this designer that doesn’t even exist anymore, kind of like a garment district thing but it was in New Jersey. And from there I worked at Us Weekly – they had me be in charge of Who Wore It Best; I would just pick which one I liked and say that I asked a hundred people and then I would go to Barnes & Noble or something and hang out for a few hours then go back.
Mark Wittmer: That’s hilarious.
Natalie Tauger: Then I worked at Narciso Rodriguez, and then at Interview Magazine. From Interview Magazine I got an internship with Karl Templer, and then I went on to work with him for 12 years. And I recently have gone off on my own and started LOOK ONE. Oh and also in there I went to college; I went to NYU and studied photography, art history, and visual culture.
Mark Wittmer: What was adding the role of photographer to your experience as a stylist like?
Natalie Tauger: Even though I did take photography courses in college, it was not my intention to be a photographer; it wasn’t something I obsessed over or expected. I didn’t know, or still don’t know, that much about the technical aspects of what I’m doing – but I’m really enjoying taking the pictures, and I’m really having fun with it. To see a vision that I had in my head come to life is a really exciting, rewarding process.
I think that I’m a control freak, and I’m a Virgo, and I’m type A, and I just wanted to not have to compromise if I could avoid it.
Mark Wittmer: So did starting LOOK ONE kind of come as an extension of that thought – that it was time to start doing your own thing?
Natalie Tauger: When I think about my friends, my peers, everyone I know is looking at fashion photography on social media. If you buy a magazine it’s quite likely that you’ve seen at least the cover story and some of the inside on Instagram before you even went to the store to pick it up. And Instagram has become this great equalizer in the way that a Kylie Jenner selfie lives right next to a Steven Meisel ad campaign – and one likely gets a lot more interaction than the other. It’s quite interesting to think about a home that can combine most of those things. And that was kind of my intent – how can I make pictures that feel specifically for Instagram, or TikTok, and to be viewed first and foremost and finally on your phone.
And there’s that immediacy of it being a machine that constantly needs to be fed. You know, when you have a magazine, maybe you come out once a month, increasingly that’s less and less likely, maybe you’re coming out a few times a year, and that’s your moment in the sun. And then in that in-between phase you’re kind of repurposing other people’s content, you’re reusing old shoots. And I wanted LOOK ONE to be that every single day you get this little snack, you get this little treat.
Mark Wittmer: That’s cool. I feel like that’s totally right about the project totally tapping into the democratic aspect of social media, and this new reality that anybody can be a photographer.
Natalie Tauger: I’ve always been really interested in what has more value, something that’s popular or something that’s considered “high art.” Even when I was in college, that was a huge fascination for me in photography, and how little the actual hand of the artist can be involved in the product and still be called their work.
Mark Wittmer: In some senses the boundary between those two categories is being taken down. And all the biggest contemporary artists have like, the Jeff Koons factory where they make his sculptures for him.
Natalie Tauger: That was literally my example – there’ll be a Jeff Koons painting that he’s never touched, but it’s his painting. I find that really captivating.
Mark Wittmer: How does the collaboration happen for LOOK ONE? I know you’re working with makeup artists, casting agents, and of course many different models; what has that process been like?
Natalie Tauger: Working with the makeup artists, hair stylists, casting agents has been a really exciting process for me. I’m coming up with all these characters or concepts.
As I continue to roll out LOOK ONE in the next few months you’re going to start seeing more, almost editorials within the platform. Earlier on, every single day was almost a different fashion POV, while more recently those are extending over maybe six different people, so it’s six days of a similar point of view told consecutively but on different people, body types, ethnicities, gender identities. It’s a really exciting way to build a narrative and build a world.
Those concepts are really coming from me, but then working with the hair team and the makeup team to ask how we can make it modern, how can we take it in a surprising direction or do an homage to something we really love. There’s a lot of freedom in that. As a stylist creative, you sometimes want to flex how clever am I that I put these clothes together in some way, but there’s also a lot of power in saying it’s really just a T-shirt and jeans because I love a T-shirt and jeans, and a T-shirt and jeans can be just as major as an insane Comme des Garçons outfit.
The models bring it completely to life. I have a background of working on fashion shows all the time, and working with the designers over the course of months to visualize a collection and have it come together. And then in the days leading up to the show it’s like watching your child go off to college, eating food that you never ate in your house, and they’re making friends that you maybe don’t agree with or whatever, it’s out of your hands. But in that process when each different model comes in and tries on the clothes there’s this Cinderella slipper moment where you’re like “no this is the one,” because they’re bringing it to life.
And that is also an experience I’m having with LOOK ONE. Sometimes in my head I’m like “is that really newsworthy, is that really so exciting,” and then you put it on the right person and it’s like – take my breath away! And it really has been so inspiring. One of the great pleasures of the project has been meeting so many different people from all different walks of life.
Christina Sulpizio and I worked together for many years at Karl’s studio, and she’s been a partner in crime with me on LOOK ONE. She came up with the logo and all the layouts. It’s a very exciting process with all the new images, on the street, the colored backgrounds, and the versatility of it all. As a photographer now you’re kind of putting your images in the hands of someone else, and she’s not on set with me; she’s not so much in the concepting of the ideas, so she has the freedom of neutrality. Sometimes it’s quite humbling but also very enthralling to see your work through the lens of somebody else. A lot of this project is my own megalomania, but no matter what you’re still collaborating with people, and that can be a very political thing – but it makes the work better.
Mark Wittmer: It sounds like it’s really exciting to be part of that little team. But then it’s also blossomed into this whole community because there’s so many different people that have been involved.
Natalie Tauger: That’s exactly right. One of the makeup artists that I’ve been friends with for many years did that just makeup for me for a couple days a few weeks ago for the first time after following the project was like, “Wow, the most unspoken about part of this is how incredible and exciting it is to be around all these people.” And he told me I need a camera crew here filming all the behind-the-scenes, because of all the conversations everybody’s having. And it’s all happening in my tiny little apartment. It’s very creatively invigorating.
I’ve been so fortunate to work with Anita Bitton and Richard Nguyen from The Establishment to cast such amazing people. They’ve brought this whole thing to life in a way that makes me so humbled that so many people want to be a part of it.
Mark Wittmer: Along with the photographs and Instagram presence, there’s also a video side of the project on TikTok, which sort of have bite-sized interviews with the cast that feel complementary to the photos. How do you see the two sides working together? Why was it important to have an interview element in addition to the still images?
Natalie Tauger: When I was brainstorming what this project looks like and what this project means to me, a lot of people in my inner council, my friends in fashion, the people I go to get advice reminded me that people are craving authenticity, and people are craving a sense of value. Part of the genesis of the entire thing was that I think the way we put ourselves together – the way we dress ourselves, our hair, our makeup, the shoes we choose to wear – is our marketing for ourselves in the world. Especially in a city like New York – you walk down the street and have unspoken communication with sometimes thousands of people. The way that you’re dressed is telling people: “don’t fuck with me,” or “I’m friendly,” or “I don’t live here,” or “I’ve lived here my whole life.” And I wanted to have a chance for each of these people where, you know, my idea is being projected onto them, but I also wanted to hear what they’re about, and their point of view.
Mark Wittmer: Looking at the latest set of imagery for the project, it seems like you’ve kind of just reached an exciting moment of transition – you’re shooting out on the street as opposed to the same studio background you’ve been using up to now.
Natalie Tauger: The way it works is I’ll shoot like five days and have ten looks each day. This last time I was excited that the weather’s been getting nicer, I can beg and plead with people to come outside; I wanted colored backgrounds. Each time I’m trying to step the project up, wondering how I can challenge myself further, how I can elevate it further. The blessing and the curse of being a creative sometimes is I can get really bored – not bored, but I’m not complacent. I’m someone who, if I do something, I’m putting my everything into it. I’d rather not do something than half-ass it. So each time I’m wondering what else I can do: can I build a studio? Do I need a set? Am I going to take them somewhere else that’s not in the vicinity of Chinatown where I’m based out of, where else can I bring people?
It’s almost building a mini editorial each day between the look and the model and the character, in all these different spaces. When you get the model on the street, they come alive in a lot of different ways. It was really fun to be able to start to work in that process. I feel a real elevation from where I’ve been before. Day 100 is tomorrow, and that marks the end of the way I was doing it before and the start of a new format, a new size, new playing with layout. It’s so exciting for me to not have to answer to anybody – the sky’s the limit in so many ways. The internet is the wild wild west and you can kind of do whatever you want. There are no rules, so if all of a sudden we want to change it up, we can go for it.
Mark Wittmer: In some ways it seems like the project almost lends itself to a magazine or a book, like a retrospective kind of format. Is that something you think you could ever end up exploring, or is the digital, social-media aspect an essential part of it?
Natalie Tauger: I love the idea of that – but I’m also not one of those people who gets nostalgic for nostalgia’s sake. I’ve been reading books on the iPad for the last ten years; I don’t need to have this tangible thing. But there are lots of possibilities for different ways to do that, especially as I think about how I can challenge the way we’re viewing fashion pictures on our phones. I am wondering what this can look like if it were a tangible object – is it a newspaper I’m printing all the time, is it almost like postcards are collectible in some way, is it a gallery show with the pictures. It’s about thinking of different ways to display the work and share the work that aren’t necessarily traditional ways that you would roll something out.
Mark Wittmer: If your wildest dreams were to come true for the project, what would that look like?
Natalie Tauger: It would be a huge media empire to rival Condé Nast…
Mark Wittmer: Oh of course, that makes sense.
Natalie Tauger: I think there are a million different ways that this can expand; I can focus on beauty, I can focus on home. There are so many different things that I’m passionate about and excited by, so I feel really like the sky is the limit. In the short term, I would love to put a book together, I would love to take it on the road and do shoots in other countries and other places. It really does feel like a blank page.
There’s a lot of anti-social media discussion happening, but I also want to point out how wonderful it is that each of us has this corner of the internet that we can curate in a way that is completely our own. Especially as a woman, when I think about the history of art and the depiction of women over time, it’s really only been over the last ten years that women have so loud and proud been able to say this is who I am, this is what I stand for, and this is how I wish to be depicted, because we’re given space that was traditionally not always given to women.
I want to celebrate that everybody has this space and they can say or do whatever they want with it. That wasn’t always the case – especially in an industry like fashion which is notoriously very gatekeepy. A big inspiration as well for the project was how artists like Justin Bieber or Shawn Mendes just put their music up on YouTube and blew up based on that. Why aren’t people in fashion doing that?
People in life are a lot of the time waiting around for an opportunity to arrive on their doorstep rather than creating that opportunity for themselves. Social media has given everybody the space where they can make that opportunity come alive – and I think that’s something worth celebrating.