“It is tits and ass, a little bit,” admits Antoine Verglas, describing his enviable career photographing the world’s most beautiful women wearing little more than a pout. “And I enjoy it.” Ah, the naked truth. The multitasking French photographer has had his hand in everything from Calypso to iPad apps, and just so happens to be the first to shoot Claudia Schiffer sans Miracle Bra. Here, he discusses his background in Paris, his big break in New York, and the unique beauty of St. Barths.
BlackBook: Other than the obvious perk of being around beautiful women, why did you choose that type of photography?
I like the sensuality of the women. Everyone wants to do Vogue, Elle, Bazaar, so the competition was much harder in the women’s fashion magazine world than with men’s magazines. So it was a market, and there was less competition. I’d rather be a leader in one market than a follower in another.
I’ve been working for certain companies, like French lingerie brand Anti-Flirt and Victoria’s Secret, for years. My biggest regret is that I never did Guess. I thought I would be great for it. They picked up Carré Otis, Estelle, Laetitia, and Claudia Schiffer, which was their biggest get. I worked a lot with Claudia in the early ’90s. I was the first to undress Claudia, actually, for French Photo. I was young, you know.
Photo was well known because they were always doing great reportage on models, and they were always getting sexy pictures from photographers like Patrick Demarchelier and Steven Meisel.
You started on the other side of the camera.
I was born and raised in Paris. When I was studying at business school, I met a young girl who was the face of the ‘80s at the time and we started dating. Her name was Catherine Ahnell and she was a model with Ford. I was also occasionally working as a model, doing TV commercials, and ended up hosting a TV show called Cinq sur Cinq [Five on Five] for teenagers, presenting video clips and movie trailers and interviewing celebrities. I had Sharon Stone on, before her Basic Instinct days. I did that for almost a year.
I kind of liked TV, but I really liked the fashion world, so I started to take pictures of my girlfriend. She had to move to New York so I followed her there. I wanted to do a reportage on the top models of New York, with interviews that touched on their hobbies, beauty tips, astrological signs, and candid pictures of them in their bathrooms, bedrooms, and kitchens. The Elite agency helped me a lot, along with a famous French model named Estelle LeFébure.
So I did that story with Stephanie Seymour, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, all the major girls. French Elle published it and it was featured in all the international editions of Elle. I started to work for different magazines in New York and became known for lingerie, sexy, sensual portraits of women. I did a lot of work for GQ and an assortment of ‘lad magazines’ like Maxim and FHM as that market exploded.
Of all the beautiful woman you have shot, who stands out?
Not that I want to be a patriot, but Estelle [LeFébure] was a gorgeous woman for many years, and Laetitia Casta.
What were your early days in New York like?
While I was enjoying life as a young French photographer in New York, I met Frederick Lesort, who asked me to partner with him to open Frederick’s restaurant. I was a partner at Frederick’s for a few good years, and at Buddha Bar on Varrick and Vandam as well.
I stopped being involved in the restaurant and nightlife industry when I met Christiane Celle in St. Barths on one of my many trips for photography. We had our first child pretty quickly. At the time she had a tiny shop in St. Barths called Calypso, and she decided to come to New York. In 1995 I helped her develop the concept of Calypso. We are no longer involved with Calypso, but started a new concept called Clic Gallery a year and a half ago.
What’s St. Barths like?
St. Barths is a very unique island. For me it’s like a mini St. Tropez in the Caribbean, and photographers love to go there. A lot of companies and brands go there, like David Yurman, and tons of magazines are going there. I think it’s the beauty of the island. It’s tiny, it’s easy to get around. Models love it, stylists love it, everybody’s very comfortable there. In order to take great pictures, it helps when everybody’s happy.
Maya’s is the classic restaurant in terms of good food, but I would be lying if I didn’t say I love Le Ti St Barth, because I love good music and I have a young son who is crazy about dancing on the tables. My younger son is worse than me. He has nightlife in him. He wants to DJ now, and he’s 13. I love Le Tamarin for lunch.
I’ve been visiting St. Barth’s since 1988. It’s always been trendy. It was high-end jet set in the late ‘50s, ‘60s, and ’70s, but then photographers came with famous models and it became much more popular and mainstream. The island has changed a little bit, but I think St. Barths will always be a jewel of nature. Unfortunately, the success of the island has made it so expensive that the young, artistic, good-looking crowd has a hard time affording it now.
Did you and Christiane get married in St Barths?
You know what? We never got married. I guess we like the idea of being engaged. We had a son, and then second one, and then Calypso. We never had time.
Tell me about your home in Napeague Dunes in the Hamptons.
I love the ocean. My biggest pleasure is to get up and walk on the beach in the morning and watch the sun rise. It’s really beautiful. I love the Napeague area because it’s so remote. It’s next to a nature reserve. You don’t see many houses, you’re in the middle of the nature, it’s very quiet, and I love that. I also love Montauk because it’s like an authentic fisherman village. My favorite place in Montauk is Joni’s, and in Amagansett it’s Mary’s Marvelous.
Now that you’ve undressed all the supermodels, what’s next?
I’m back working in photography, doing a lot of different projects, including working on an artistic book on bodies for the Clic Gallery. I opened a Burlesque club in Miami called “Le Fée Verte” [“The Green Fairy,” née absinthe] with a partner, which is a burlesque, cabaret club. It’s true I love burlesque. I did I series of pictures with masks…
And I developed an app for the iPad called FlexFolios which helps photographers, models, make-up artists, stylists, and even real estate brokers organize portfolios.
And finally, we opened Lafayette Espresso Bar + Marketplace at 189 Lafayette. It’s a juice bar, cafe, and sandwich shop.
Why do you guys have so many projects?