Omi
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We read that you’re an avid wine collector, so Two Zero There is bringing out a bottle of the William Fèvre Chablis.

A little Chablis in the morning, why not?

You’re a world-renowned fashion photographer who has been in the industry 20+ years. If we were to look in your phone right now, what supermodel would we find a text from?

I have a text from Anne V from just a couple of days ago. You know, I’m in touch with many of these ladies just for work more than anything, but socially we are friends with many of them too. I’ve become good friends with Christy Turlington.

In your new book, “Models of Influence: Fifty Women Who Reset the Course of Fashion”, you spotlight legendary supermodels. Can you pick a favorite?

I narrowed it down from almost 200 women that I originally picked to the 50 who were the trailblazers and pioneers for me over the past 75 years, from the 1940s onwards. We highlight certain women from every decade who really helped shape the way we see fashion and beauty, changed pop culture and helped direct us. From Naomi Sims who was the very first African-American woman on the cover of a magazine and on a commercial in the 60s to people like Christie Brinkley who depicts the 80s and her incredible healthiness and body in the Sports Illustrated covers she did, we go through the decades. We talk about Elle Macpherson, the very first model to sign a license deal in 1989 with Elle Macpherson Intimates that is now a $65 million business, and how she helped shape the business model for supermodels.

Is there a common thread between all of the leading ladies? And why was this story so important to you to share?

When you think of fashion you think of models. Often times models get a hard wrap, “Oh, you’re born pretty. Born lucky, everything was easy for you,” but the story for many of them—and this is [my view from] working with Naomi Campbell, Tyra Banks, Twiggie, Janice Dickinson, these extraordinary women—is that it isn’t as simple as you think. It didn’t just happen overnight. There were struggles or there were issues or there was criticism from the press. People can be tough, especially when you’re up on a pedestal as many supermodels are. People are often there to try to knock you down, so this book was really a tribute to the extraordinary women who I had met and really to these wonderful ladies who I feel in many respects don’t always get the respect that they require. When you really realize what they did for the women’s movement, for women’s liberation and for beauty all around [it’s incredible]. There are full-figured beautiful women like Sophie Dahl in the book to the Kate Uptons of the world. Sophie was the very first full-figured model to do major high fashion. We talk about social media and the impact of that on fashion as well. We try and hit on all of those elements in each era.

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If you could have a drink with any of the supermodels in your book, who would it be?

If I could go back in time… I am good friends already with Christy Turlington and Naomi Campbell, but to get Linda Evangelista, Naomi and Christy back together—the trinity as they were known in the early 90s—and to witness that moment of the fun, the craziness they had… Let’s see if we can find the shot from that moment because it really depicts [their friendship]. Look at those ladies, the fun that they were going to have at a bar!

I’d like to join that drink. I wonder what their drink of choice would be?

We all want to. Speak no evil, hear no evil, see no evil. These ladies, they weren’t evil but they were a little devilish once in a while. I’m sure champagne was in their glasses once in a while.

How did you research for a book like this?

Twenty-odd years in the business, right? Much of it is my life experience. I was a model. I modeled with some of these ladies myself back in the late 80s, early 90s. My mother was a model, my wife was a model. I’ve been surrounded by this business for a long time. It’s everything I breathed and lived. I felt it. I’ve worked with so many as I mentioned: “America’s Next Top Model” with Janice Dickinson, Tyra Banks, Twiggy even people like Paulina Porizkova who is in this book as well to Coco Rocha, Alek Wek and now with “The Face” I’m working with Karolina Kurkova, Lydia Hearst, Anne V and Naomi Campbell. When you get to spend not just a day with someone, but weeks, months, years you [learn a lot]. [I spent] a decade on “Top Model,” so when you spend several years with Twiggy and you’re sitting there having lunches and dinners in foreign locations, all of a sudden these stories come out and you hear about what really happened.

How did you go about obtaining the iconic photographs?

I sat down to write this book about two years ago. It took me about a year to write it and about a year to go through the archives of Condé Nast and Hearst. I called up the [Richard] Avedon Foundation, the [Francesco] Scavullo Foundation, Irving Penn Foundation and found the right pictures that are pivotal for the moment, when [the models] were discovered or what was a great moment for them. It was very, very special working with [Peter] Lindbergh. He gave me the cover shot. The picture with all of those supermodels on the cover, it was epic for me to have that. I thought it was going to be difficult. I thought the photographers might make it hard, but they were very generous. For Scavullo’s [photos], they had to send film over because it wasn’t digitized yet, so there I was going back to my old days with my loupe looking through contact sheets with the hair on the back of my neck standing up on end as I’m looking back at these moments.

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You have two young children with your wife, Crissy. Who is the more lenient one between the two of you when it comes to parenting?

We play good cop, bad cop every now and then with the kids. You have to, but I think that generally speaking I’m probably a little bit more lenient than my wife. Especially with my daughter, she has me wrapped around her little finger as I think most daughters do to fathers. My son is my first born. I think there is a special affinity you always have with your first child no matter what. As a man too, you don’t have any experience with children and you don’t go through the pregnancy process so there’s the bonding aspect. You don’t know what it’s going to be like, so your first one you think, “What is this creature, this alien? Who is this person who is now in my life who has my wife’s attention more than mine?” You then realize in many respects he’s your immortality, he’s you reincarnated and that’s the most powerful thing you’ve ever experienced and it’s a miracle. It’s amazing.

Scariest part of that first year of being a parent?

Keeping them alive. I think when you have the first birthday for a child, it’s really a celebration for the parents who are like, “Yes! We kept you alive! We’ve managed to feed you when you needed feeding.” They can’t talk, they can’t do anything. You don’t know what to do. You’re sort of like, “Okay, he’s crying. What does he want? Is he hungry? Has he gone in his diaper? What is the issue here?”

What’s the last romantic thing you did for your wife?

I think just simple things like buying flowers and cooking dinner are important. I think the big gestures are always wonderful and exciting, but I feel the important thing about romance is that it’s not something that you turn on and turn off. Romance is a part of your life. I feel that after 21 years of being together, I am more excited every time I get to see her. I’m glad when she comes back from the gym, I’m excited at the end of the day and for me the romantic times are when I wake up in the morning, or when I’m coming back from the gym and I see her asleep in the bed. Seeing her at that quiet peaceful moment, that’s the most beautiful thing and just to give her a little kiss on the cheek to wake her up with a cup of tea, that moment is special for me.

Would you say you two have grown together since your 20s?

Absolutely. I think we were very lucky. I think that one of the secrets to our success is that we did meet young, and we became the best of friends. We didn’t rush into it. We took five years before we married and five years again until we had children. So we’ve been together a decade without kids; we grew up together and are great friends. Another thing too… the whole time before we got married we never lived together. We met in Milan. She had an apartment, and I had an apartment. We went to Paris. She got an apartment; I got an apartment. We went to New York because she wanted to go back to the States. She got an apartment, and I got an apartment. I understand the financial issues with people needing to move in, but if you can afford not to, the space it gives you, especially as a young person [is nice]. We’d spend almost every day together, but the fact that we had our own places to go to meant that there was that breathing room and I think that’s another reason why I am here 22 years later more in love with my wife than ever before with two beautiful children.

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You’re in Chicago to celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month at Macy’s. How has your Sri Lankan heritage helped define you?

It’s interesting how a place can help define who you are as a person. There weren’t many of us growing up in England in the 1970s as a child of mixed heritage. English kids would look at me and say immediately, “Where are you from?” because I didn’t look English, you see. So my heritage of my Sri Lankan mother meant a lot to me because I would always say to people, “Well, my mother is Sri Lankan.” This small little island in the Indian Ocean, the pearl of the Indian Ocean as it’s known, all of a sudden has a lot of significance for me. I grew up with my granny in the house, my aunt in the house and my mom. We’re a very close-knit family. Your elders live with you; they don’t go to homes. My granny lived with us [as a child] until she died. When I think about my heritage, I do think of my mother, my grandmother, my aunt and these extraordinary powerful women who came from a tiny little island and decided to make a big change in their life by coming to England.

How do you make sure to pass your family values to your children?

Well, granny, my mum, is a regular at our house. She comes and stays with us for weeks at a time and she is there with us every Christmas and spring break. We do FaceTime now, so it’s wonderful. Also by encouraging the children to cook. My mom is a big cook.

Favorite home-cooked meal?

Curry. Funny enough curry is now the number one food in England on a Sunday. So it used to be Sunday lunches we’d roast this, roast that, very English. Now the number one food in England is a curry. I grew up cooking it myself. I love to get the kids involved in making it and preparing it. They get a real sense of the kitchen and all of the herbs and spices. I think that’s fun and that’s a big part [of your heritage], when you think of a country you think of the food.

So you are good in the kitchen, too?

I like to think I’m good in the kitchen!

Would your wife agree?

I think she would agree. My wife happens to also have Asian Pacific heritage as well, she’s Chinese. She’s a Chinese Alabamian, so there aren’t too many of those in the world either. It’s somewhat ironic that we found each other. I met my wife in Milan, Italy. She’s Norwegian, Russian, Irish and Chinese and I’m Sri-Lankan, Portuguese and English.

Favorite song?

Led Zeppelin is my favorite band. It depends on the mood I’m in. That’s the thing, a band like Led Zeppelin has it all. This morning actually as I was getting up I had my iPod plugged in and on came “Tangerine” which is such a great song. It’s classic, beautiful and romantic too. “Going to California” is another crazy song I love. “Communication Breakdown”. You name it. I love Led Zeppelin, but also love some other bands from that era.

If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be?

Aren’t we having one right now? I heard you were the lady to have a drink with when I’m in a Chicago and I’m doing it … It would probably be Mother Teresa, an extraordinary women who I have idolized since I was a child. The fact that she gave up her life to help others, and the impact she had as a nun to become a global figure and yet to be as humble and as modest as she was, that for me is something that is spectacular. If anyone can achieve any level of stardom or celebrity with actions and almost silence is magical. I’d love to have her ear for a moment just to hear her voice.

Nigel Barker

SEE MORE OF THE ACTION AT VIRGIN HOTELS ON “THE VIRGIN VOICE”

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Omi