Alex Slater aka Carmen Gafa at the time she worked with Guy Bourdin, was on hand to witness him spray painting hedges green and tree branches silver
I was sent on a gosee to see him.”They said tomorrow you see Guy Bourdin” I asked how to spell his name. When I got to his studio in La Marais, I fumbled through my bag for my appointment book & opened it & said “Um Yes I am here to see Uh Let’s see Um… Guy (pronounced like American ‘guy – BORE-DIN -as in Elsie the Cow.) They all chuckled in amusement at my ignorance. He looked through my book asked what my astrology sign was (Gemini) & I heard him say “Elle est belle” Even with limited knowledge of French every model knows what those words mean so that put a smile on my face!
I wasn’t really familiar with his work. I didn’t get much opportunity to see his work in NY. I knew it was colourful – that’s about it. Aside from any magazines I’d happen to see at the agency or any studios or offices, Le Drugstore was the best place to leaf through worldwide publications 24 hours a day and they never complained about people not buying anything in there either. So all I got to see of his work would have been from the time of my arrival in July.
When I was told I was booked to go to Cannes for a Vogue shoot of course I was happy but everyone else was ELATED! My ‘Boy Wonder’ kept repeating “Your gonna be a STAR – Your gonna be a STAR” At the Thanksgiving dinner the agency had for the American models my booker, Elianne came to my table & announced to everyone that I was going on a trip with Guy Bourdin. I was sitting with Ed Fry and Andie MacDowell and Elianne was going on and on – “Andie- she is working with Guy!!” I don’t remember if Andie ever worked with him. Andie did not eat, she’d already had dinner with her sisters who came to Paris & cooked Thanksgiving dinner for her. She was very fortunate to have such supportive ties with her sisters. I didn’t know at the time but read later on that Andie’s mother died of alcoholism when she was a teen, which would have still been a very raw loss at that time for her & her sisters. I was to loose my mother the same way some 20 years later but I didn’t have any support, just chaos & responsibilities to shoulder; well except for my husband I suppose and it was the same when I was young – I had nobody, I had to try to figure out everything by myself. But back then Andie was doing well but her sisters were very practical & she benefited from their advice. She said to the agency “Look don’t waste my time – If you don’t get me working within a certain time frame I’m outta here & back to North Carolina to start nursing school like my sisters who make money.” Hence she became a movie star! And so she should! She is gorgeous & talented. But I digress…
Everyone was making such a big deal of this that my expectations started to grow & I was becoming VERY excited about this trip, anticipating WONDERFUL tear sheets that would make my career take of like a rocket!!
Well – the day finally arrived November 25,1979 to be exact.I was spouting all the hype that everyone was feeding me to her about what an important photographer Guy was. Melissa Mosich & I got along so well together, she was a Gemini too. She was a little older than me & had already been around the modelling block. Her attitude was ‘What can they do for me?’ She was so down to earth – her boyfriend lived in a teepee in the states! She said maybe Guy booked us together because he knew that we would be on the same wavelength. Even though I started to parrot all the hype about Guy that everyone else was feeding me, she was unfazed. We were told another girl with the agency would be there but we weren’t told who.
When we arrived it was dark. Guy was waiting for us with some others in a large old American car. (Guy loved all things American!) In the car Guy was speaking in his very sloooow, drawn out way. There were no street lights, everything was dark. We turned into he driveway to the villa. There were tall hedges on either side. We drove up a slight incline. Suddenly the headlights illuminated the leafless winter tree branch in which a blonde was swinging from her knees, flailing her arms around, gleefully calling “Guy ~ Guy!!” Guy stopped speaking mid sentence to say “Qu’est-cest que…..?” “ELLEN!!” I Shrieked!!! – It was Ellen Von Unwerth whom I had worked with before! I was so happy to see her! She ran away from home & joined the circus ~ I adored her!
The next morning I woke up and Ellen [Von Unwerth] was gone… “Ellen- No No – We Do Not Speak From Her! Especially in front of Guy!”
This is what I wrote in my journal that night….
“I Can’t believe I’m here. Cannes. In this villa. With Guy Bourdin. He’s very gentle, unassuming. I like the vibes he throws off.
This is a big house on a mountain. My room is so feminine. White lace curtains and a flowered mirror.
Downstairs the sounds of laughter. Dinner cooking & it smells so good.
Classical Music. All these people – so friendly – so funny – such good company- I feel so good here. Could I be dreaming?” — at 1980 French Vogue – Cannes.
The next morning I woke up & Ellen was gone. Hey Where’s Ellen? Where’d Ellen go?’ ~ “O, tsk tsk tsk’ ( In that French way) ” Ellen- No No – We Do Not Speak From Her! Especially in front of Guy – You MUST NOT speak of her!!”
“Why?? What happened? Is she OK?” “Oui CaVa CaVa- She go back to Paris and do not speak from her ANYMORE??!! Tu Comprends??”
No one on the the crew is getting answers. She didn’t say she had already spent time shooting there, she didn’t say she was leaving.Everyone was totally bamboozled by her departure & it wasn’t like we could text to find out. Making a long distance phone call – from the villa- forget it – What was I going to do -call the agency & ask something that wasn’t my business? Back then you didn’t know someone’s history from 5 or 10 years ago! So lately, online I found this article by Anthony Haden-Guest published in the New Yorker Nov 7, 1994 ~ ‘ In the summer of 1969, after Eva had pursued Bourdin for several months, she died in an accidental fall from a tree. “She jumped out of the tree because she thought she was a bird,” Bourdin said when he was told. His reaction was at once poetic and unfeeling-that of a child ‘ I now feel very strongly that seeing Ellen on the tree branch must have unnerved Guy so much that he sent her home. I mean – what else could it possibly have been?
So here we all were- not speaking about ‘the unspeakable’. And the jovial ambiance has now turned to something of a big bummer. Guy is now skulking around, not to be seen, addressing everyone as ‘vous’ especially the models – in fact he’s asking someone else to speak to the models on his behalf, even though we are standing right next to him! And we’re not shooting. No one knows what’s going on…..
FINALLY around 3 am November 29,1979 as everyone is sleeping, Guy is racing through the halls – clapping his hands – banging on walls- “Je L’Idee!!! Reveille Tous le Monde!!!”So we all wake up (whether we needed to or not!)
He proceeds to cover the entire room in that heavy,construction mortuary thick, plastic that he managed to get in rolls & sheets.Then covers the couch in silver lamé. Arranges lights around with star covered gauze . After a couple of hours Melissa & I went back to bed & said wake us when you are ready for us. — at 1980 French Vogue Cannes.
And so they did wake us around 10 that morning & started doing hair & makeup. Guy tool this Polaroid of Guillaume doing Melissa’s hair & started to etch it with a bobby pin. I asked him what he was doing – I had never seen that before & didn’t know it was possible. Guy was surprised. He showed me these others he did during the night. I was amazed! He was planning the shot by drawing the figures on the Polaroid!! The figures looked so old fashioned, such intricate detail. I was so impressed! I said these are so good – so beautiful!! Like from another era!!! “Oh Is Nothing” he said. “No It’s Something!!” I said, “I could never do that such detail on such a small area!” I told him about the ink etching I did in high school of a baby seal. I had to charade what a seal was & then a baby seal. I said it got a little award & it hung on on a wall, but that I just copied it- it didn’t come out of my head like this did.. He positively glowed… He said. “You Like? For You – You take All the Polas from last night – my Gift.” I thanked him & said they were beautiful. I read he was a painter at heart and I have never seen any of his paintings. I would love to see them.
It’s amazing how many details in his shots I missed & noticed only after so many years passed. Perhaps because I was fixated on the pose.I was not happy with a shot. When I saw the outfit I got excited. I could really do something with this!! I was standing there swaying my hips working that chiffon while throwing my head out the opposite way so the hairpiece flew way out there. Elongated neck, perfectly arranged legs. When he tells the assistant to tell me (while he’s standing right there) to turn around & around in a small circle like a little kid. Here I am in heels on these glass tiles & he’s going “plus vite, plus vite – faster” – I’m going – “No No plus vite I’m getting dizzy..!”There goes my idea for this pose out the window while I’m worrying that I might fall on my ass & break my head.
That was my taste of Guy’s personality. He’s not open to ideas even if it’s not flattering to the model or the clothes… In fact I got the feeling that he was disappointed that I DIDN’T fall on my butt – might have made an interesting shot too….
The last time I saw Guy was in 1984. I had a graduated bob that had been temporarily tinted red for a hair job. He stood there in the Vogue office with Patrick & told me that I used to be so beautiful but now I just look ugly with that hair. I told him the color will rinse out I can put brown on it again. ” But you are so skinny & pale ~ No eeze a shame but you are just ugly.” Yeah.Well. Uh- Nice to see you too Guy!