As the Men’s Fashion Director at T, the New York Times Style Magazine, Bruce Pask is the chief in a tribe of fashion’s cool hunters. His rakish styling of Hollywood stars and fashion editorials for the magazine, for Vanity Fair, Bergdorf Goodman, and others, has created some of the most recognizable (and imitated) images of our era. Out of the office, Pask’s affinity for timeless menswear staples has made him a kind of street style celebrity, and a magazine cover boy himself. He even (as you’ll see) answers interview questions impeccably. Here he is on his process and individuality.
Oliver Peoples has its roots in Hollywood and Hollywood glamour and you spend much of your time styling the glamorous of Hollywood today. I am curious: when you are plotting for a shoot, are thinking of the subject within the context of Hollywood history and glamour? Is that ‘it-ness’, that glamour, something you can create?
The goal of a shoot is certainly to create an evocative image, a memorable image, and I think that the most effective images are those that have some element of timelessness. Of all the images I’ve styled and helped create over the years, the ones I keep coming back to, the ones that hold up wonderfully today, are ones taken by Annie Leibovitz in the early nineties for Vanity Fair. Adrian Brody in a rumpled tweed suit leaning back in a chair, for example; there was a distinct glamour to the styling of that image, an intentionally artful carelessness. Yet the casual nature of the pose, the expression and the naturalism that Annie created made for such an iconic image. In a case like that I do go into the shoot with a well thought out plan, with imagery in mind and references. But then the work is to take all that visual information and preparation to create a photograph that is right for this moment and not trying to recreate history, but trying to look forward. I was on set for a menswear campaign not too long ago and the art director brought out that specific image as the mood-setter for the shoot, not knowing that I had styled it. It made me so proud that the work still has power today, that it served as the epitome of glamour for this contemporary shoot. And then we went off to interpret the mood of that photo in today’s context. Always moving along.
Are there any iconic images, or an aesthetic from the past you are particularly inspired by (or in some way competing or communicating with) in your work? Or, are you, as you might for an actor in a play, imagining a character and dressing them accordingly?
There will always be classic images that will serve as inspiration for photographs, especially for men. The very mannered black and white photographs of George Hurrell are very Hollywood. James Dean in New York City. Any photo of Steve McQueen. These are quite standard references and are often appropriated for contemporary photo shoots. My interest is less in the recreation of classic imagery. I am more intrigued by stylistic tics that one can see in old photos: the way they wore the clothing, the sometimes idiosyncratic choices they made that, because of who they are and their level of fame, became accepted and imitated at the time. And certainly character always informs the photographs I style. It makes a photo shoot much more of a visual story we are trying to tell rather than just some model or actor wearing a bunch of outfits that have no relativity or continuity. Creating a character always makes it easier for me to make the styling choices for a shoot, and also gives a model something the delve into, a role to inhabit that can create some kind of honesty or truth, or at least attempt to.
You are a staples kind of guy (from Clark’s to Levi’s, etc.), and I don’t think I’ve ever seen you in anything but a square-frame, tortoise-shell specs. How did you come by this style and shape?
This may be a bit of a ‘gotcha moment’, I’m afraid. I was desperate to wear eyeglasses when I was in school. Almost to the point of trying to fake an eye exam in order to necessitate them. I just thought glasses were the coolest thing. I did ultimately get a very light prescription which I’m sure was quite unnecessary, but my folks relented. My first frames were quite basic, maybe a bit larger than they should have been, but in college I suffered a severe lapse in taste and bought a pair of marbleized black and white frames. I mean it was the (late!) eighties. I escaped that vortex of bad taste and ultimately found the horn-rimmed pair of eyeglasses that I wear today at Brimfield, that giant antique fair in western Massachusetts. They’re getting a bit fragile, but I’m sticking with them.
As a twin, were you ever been compelled to do things (whether in dress or behavior or whatever) to differentiate yourself from Scott?
The only thing that visually differentiates us is my beard. I grew it about fifteen years ago and its intention was not about my identity and trying to distinguish myself visually from Scott, but it has had that added effect. That being said, though we are twins and certainly look a lot alike, I think as we’ve grown up we’ve become more reminiscent of each other rather than mirror images.
– photo by Ari Michelson