Few in the imagemaking business wield the kind of power that photographers have when it comes to getting a message across. In turn, one ad campaign or magazine cover can put a photographer on the map and lead to coveted multimillion-dollar editorial contracts and ad campaigns, such as the ones that have made Steven Meisel and Patrick Demarchelier household names. This season Louis Vuitton's ubiquitous Jennifer Lopez ads have catapulted a young duo from London, Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott, to the top of fashion photography's short list.
Both born in 1971--Alas in Istanbul and Piggott in Bangor, Wales--they met in England in 1994 after stints in the worlds of classical music and graphic design, respectively. "Marcus was a photographer's assistant, and I had a little design shop," says Alas. "We did some tests, and some were cool, so we showed them to [the London cult fashion magazine] Dazed and Confused, and next thing you know, they had published them." Alas and Piggott now count among their credits some of the fashion world's most influential advertising campaigns, including recent ones for Lancome, Hugo Boss and Missoni as well as Louis Vuitton.
Lopez from the block, with her mass-market appeal, may not at first be an obvious choice for a high-end luxury-goods brand, but Alas explains, "We were thinking of every big-name model, and no one had the right persona." During a meeting with Vuitton's artistic director Marc Jacobs, it happened that all three had thought of the same woman, and when they contacted her, Lopez said yes. "We wanted to do something where it's not about the little details; it's about a strong, powerful yet charismatic woman. She's pretty, but not pretty in a sweet way," says Alas. "She was very involved, very into it. She's definitely one of the hardest-working ladies I have ever met."
Known for their glossy, airbrushed style, Alas and Piggott's images bring a Vargas-like perfection to the billboards they grace. "The difference between us and other photographers, honestly, is that we care a lot about fashion," says Alas. "We are in the makeup room, working with the hair, involved in the look much more than working on the lighting, the cables, the gels. The technical side is only 50% of what makes the image."
Alas and Piggott cite Guy Bourdin's 1970s-era advertising for Charles Jourdan as inspiration. "The secret of a strong campaign is a great image and a great character," says Alas. "You have to communicate an essence without words, without touch, without sound or smell. Obviously, we are here to sell a product--you can't disguise that fact--but the trick is to say that message in an unconventional way, where it doesn't become just about that sale. You need to maintain the identity of the message and feelings and emotions of the designers. At the end of the day, the greater the image, the greater the character you associate with it. You see J. Lo's bag in Times Square or on the Avenue Montaigne, and if you have the same one, you feel special, part of the gang. That's when the image works." --By Camilla Morton