From the Hedi Slimane suit she wore in her most iconic image, Self-Portrait in a Single Breasted Suit with Hare, to a pair of nearly-nude Prada briefs in which the artist seems to hover above her studio floor, held aloft by helium balloons, the meaning and symbolic magic of clothing are a constant thread in the work of photographer and director Sam Taylor-Johnson.
Courageous, candid and self-deprecatingly funny, Taylor-Johnson’s Pieces of Me is revelatory; a brave testament to the resilience of this 53-year-old mother of four and two-time cancer survivor.
An early snap, in which she wears threadbare jeans with a battered customized leather jacket, is a reminder of her punkish, hard-scrabble beginnings; before the momentum of the Sensation artist scene catapulted her into the vertiginous world of ’90s Cool Britannia London. Meanwhile, a stolen moment from her friendship with the late Alexander McQueen sees her modeling one of his magnificent gowns – “he was sort of directing how I stood to show off the dress… but this is as much about our friendship and our love”. A testament to hope and survival.
The leather jacket from my punk, art-student look
“I took it from my then-boyfriend Jake Chapman, who’s an artist, one of the Chapman brothers. It had a painting on the back of Conflict, who were a punk band. That jacket was such a symbol of a very specific time in my life. I often wonder, Where is it? Who’s got it?”
“My Leica camera is a big part of my daily uniform. I have it with me all the time… As soon as I finished art school, I just wanted to pick up a camera. I felt like I was a photographer without knowing or particularly understanding where I was going to go with it.”
The Hedi Slimane suit from Self-Portrait in a Single-Breasted Suit with Hare, 2002
“It was very much about having had a mastectomy and having been through chemotherapy… I guess I do try generally to deal with most adversity with humor. It has been the way that I can get through it. And I’ve noticed it helps other people get through it with me.”
The silver and black dress Alexander McQueen gave me
“I have so many outstanding memories of McQueen. The most outstanding one was his laugh. It was so infectious… In this [picture] I remember him saying, ‘Turn around, be proud, look in the camera’, sort of directing how I stood to show off the dress. But this is as much about our friendship and our love for each other…”
My pink Prada briefs in The Escape Artist (Multicoloured) series, 2008, self-portraits with helium balloons
“Coming out of illness is an incredible, euphoric feeling. But the darkness always looms, and I’ve got helium balloons trying to lift me out of this dark, emotional mental state that I was in.”
The dress Sarah Burton created for me to accept my OBE in 2011
“That was a moment in time where I felt really empowered – eight months pregnant, beaming with a big smile and happily discussing with Prince Charles whether I was going to give birth then and there!”
Wearing a Stella McCartney dress for the premiere of Fifty Shades of Grey in Berlin in 2015
“It was a rough journey, but at the same time – hindsight being a wonderful thing! – I definitely learned a lot. And this moment in Berlin [wearing Stella McCartney]… I just felt like I let everything go, and I could just smile.”
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