Laurent Elie Badessi has developed an informed sense of human nature through his work and life experience. With an effervescent sociological imagination he plans out every aspect of every image. We sat down to talk about luxury in fashion and, like the intellectual that he is, he quickly opened my mind to a concept (or two) beyond that.

By Lauren Chan



Looking to jostle some feathers, I was quick to insist that some of his work seems to follow the social stereotypes that make women look fragile and men look strong. Before I could finish my sentence, Badessi interjected, “I wouldn’t agree everywhere.” Which likely meant, “You’re completely wrong.” He tells me, “Featuring a sexy woman or a powerful hunk is not really a problem to me. I think that the real problem is when the woman is depicted as an object because she is too sexy, she has too much of everything…too much is tacky. I like to push boundaries in my imagery but I always make sure to stop at the right [point].”
Badessi has that proof in his own story Dreaming Marilyns and in advertising, with a mythology-inspired Charles Jourdan campaign. “For the Jourdan campaign my motto was, ‘You are a strong Jourdan woman who is powerful.’ In the images, the woman was taking control of the situation. She was changing the cours d’histoire. The woman caressing the eagle is in control of the bird—she’s basically making love to him.”
What about the macho men? In American Dream, his subjects are soldiers with perfect uniforms and strong jawlines. Before I was able to judge them, I noticed a few points of interest: their American flag blindfolds and a cryptic message, “Ceci n’est pas un rêve.” Badessi reassured me, “The soldiers are strong, but they’re blindfolded. That’s what they do when they capture you at war. They won’t kill you, but you’ll become a prisonnier. When they lose sight, they become totally vulnerable. The men are very strong, but they can’t see with the blindfolds…that represents the politics.”
Though my view of American Dream was quite ethnocentric, Badessi makes sure to point out that he has experience in world outside of these stereotypes—other worlds besides the West. His work with other cultures helps his audience to understand the Western notion of luxury and material culture. “I was exposed to this reality 10 years ago when I went to Dubai for my first exhibition in the [United Arab Emirates], entitled Ethnological Fashion Photography. When in public places, restaurants, malls, and cocktail parties, already then, I could spot women wearing designer shoes and pants under the traditional burqas.”
That sparked my interested. I thought about how and why that was the case: Western supremacies have colonized and imperialized enough people throughout the world that the West’s worldview has been shared across the globe—and it can’t be taken back. As Badessi puts it, “They have introduced the Western way of living to the local populations.” To my understanding, his ideas hinge on the fact that these people see Western power and want to attain some feeling of it—whether through designer handbags or American television programs.
The West’s cultural diffusion into Dubai obviously fascinated Badessi, but his true point of emphasis came from his time spent in Niger, where he performed his final project for his Master of Photography from l’Université de Paris VIII. The people of Niger had no American television to learn from, but still, they showed an interest in Western material goods.
A quick summarization goes as such, “For this project I had sponsors, so I had brought little things like lighters and Bic pens, and when the people saw them, everybody wanted one. One person put it in their hair—instead of using it properly like we would use a pen—and it became an ornament. Then it became so trendy in the village and everybody had a Bic pen in their hair.” This is Badessi’s theoretical punch line, “I noticed that inside of us the human being has a sense of fashion and newness. Something new.”
Just like a lecture, Badessi wraps up his delivery with a precise argument, “We all have that sense of wanting something new. This point introduces the growth of extreme luxury [across the world]. Luxury is a way to feel different, more special, and close to Western culture.”
With that message, our interview was over. I left our conversation with a deeper appreciation for Badessi’s body of work and a new analytical view of global fashion and commerce. An hour with Badessi showed me that whether he is interpreting what it means to be an artist, figuring out how to make designer shoes appeal to powerful women, or trying to understand the desire for material goods, his work is aimed to make his audiences think—and that, it does.