23 September 2009
Born in East Africa, raised in Canada and now dividing his time gracefully between Athens, Bali and Paris, the fashion stylist Al Giga is truly a gentleman of the world. With the passion and flair to follow his gut instincts rather than those of the crowd, he still manages to retain an insouciant perspective that allows him to knowingly accede the ephemeral nature of fashion. It is easier to list the publications around the globe his work hasn’t been published in rather than those it has, he is rarely home long enough to have the pet he’d to love to Love and he is a secret slave to ginger beer. Pandorians, we present Mr Al Giga.
PP. You have a great name. Where does it come from?
AG. I was born in Tanzania but I grew up in Toronto, Canada. My actual name is Al-Karim Giga. It’s a Muslim name, one of the 99 names of Allah. It means generous, noble, friendly, precious and distinguished.
PP. Do you think that these characteristics describe you well?
AG. Yes! What does your name mean? I went to Serbia a few months ago and Serbian people are beautiful.
PP. The “dearest” is the meaning of my name, but we must concentrate on you here. You travel a lot. Where do you call home?
AG. Home for me these days is in Athens, though I go to Paris regularly.
Bali is my home away from home. I live in Athens in the center on Lycabitos Hill, the highest point in the center, higher than Acropolis.
Circus Tales: Artistic direction & styling Al Giga, photographer Erricos Anreau
PP. So you are in the neighborhood of Greek Gods. I trust you see them passing by! Lets talk about your career in fashion and styling. How did it happen? How does one decide to become a fashion art director and stylist?
AG. Well I started to work in fashion from the age of 15, working for designer boutiques of Armani and Polo Ralph Lauren in Toronto. That’s where I got my first taste of fashion and decided to make a career out of it.
I studied marketing and merchandising at the International Academy of Design and Technology in Toronto and Montreal. My first job was a fashion director and buyer for a big chain of shops but I soon realised that I wanted to be behind the scenes, not selling the fashion but creating it.
I always had a fashion sense, when I was young I would go to school with bow ties, always styled up to the max with whatever I could do within my parents budget.
Deciding to be a stylist or creative director can be an easy decision but to suceed you really have to have it in you; to be able to foresee trends and styles, using your vision and instinct and know how to create and interpret them into trends and finally to sell fashion. But what I sell is ideas about style.
I started out working for Elle Quebec, and one of my first jobs was a trip to Greece. I ended up loving it and moved there a year later. I have lived in Greece for 17 years now. Since I have been working as a fashion director and stylist for Elle, L’Officiel, Esquire, In Style, Cosmopolitan, Votre Beaute…
Artistic direction & styling Al Giga, photographer Katerina Tstsani, for L’Officiel
PP. Where do you look for inspiration?
AG. My life, I suppose. My work is an expression of my life, my feelings, my view, and the way and how I live. I don’t follow trends I follow my instincts.
My work is an extension of my life. My philosophy is that a picture is worth a million words, so I express this in images.
PP. You have been working with some great photographers. Who are your favourites?
AG. I have worked with many photographers over my 20 year career as a stylist, and I enjoy collaborating with each one of them, for their personal style and character. I absolutely admire Katerina Tstsani. Two of us are in each others minds and hearts especially while working. And there is Jannis Tsipoulanis. I love his style, his sense of humor and his personality that he gives to each picture. A photographer’s character as well as a new talent inspires me. It really isn’t the final image that excites me, but the journey that takes me there.
Summer In The City
Artistic direction & styling Al Giga
photographer Jannis Tsipoulanis, model Andres Ziehe, for Cigar Magazine
PP. Does it take a long time to get ready for a fashion shoot? What does it involve?
AG. Yes a shoot takes quite a bit of preparation. It starts first with the visualization of an idea, which then leads to the concept, a way to interpret a vision. Many different things can inspire the concept: art, cinema, music, architecture, dance, a trip, a person, even a word.
Then the more complicated part begins, organising a team to make it all happen There are a lot of people involved behind the scenes of each picture, involving many pre-production meetings: with a photographer, assistants, make up artists, hair stylists, drivers, couriers, catering, location scouts, agents, designers, retouchers, art directors, copy editors, travel agents. The list goes on…
From the initial idea to the final product it takes a lot of energy and co-ordination with the team, time-table as well as the budget of course… the key is to have the right blend of people that can make it all happen.
Yet still no matter how organised you are and how much time you spend in planning, you always have to be prepared for the unexpected. Bad weather, the model missing a flight, the lights burning out, someone gets sick, the clothes that never arrived. It takes a lot of nerves and a creative mind to handle the unknown, and of course the day of the shooting is a creative expression of many different artists, so you really have to have an open mind and positive energy, attitude and be prepared to improvise if necessary. The final product is always a mystery.
A good production takes at least one month to organise. For example the Summer In The City story I shot with Jannis Tsipoulanis took almost three months in discussions and preparations. It may seem a bit time consuming for just a few pictures… but once you see the final images, that’s when the satisfaction sets in. And no time to smirk with glory because the next production is already on the go.
Also most of pictures made today, usually come out in three months, so by the time one sees them you are already bored with it. Fashion is a fickle business, by the time your pics are out, the fashion is already out of date.
But a great image can tell 1000 words, and each picture is a historical documentation of that moment. Just like history, which is in the making every single day. So a single picture can also last forever in a persons’ mind, reminding them of that moment.
The key to fashion is being ahead of the game as well as freedom in artistic expression.
Presidential Suite with Helena Paparizou
Artistic direction & styling Al Giga
photographer Katerina Tstsani, for Nitro Magazine
PP. What are your favourite fashion accessories?
AG. Shoes! I am absolutely crazy about shoes! Men’s and women’s. I have quite a collection. And I love anything made by Yves Saint Laurent. He was the greatest designer of the 20th century.
PP. Which designers do you admire today and why?
AG. I find Martin Margiela a very inspiring designer. He is brilliant and I love the way he thinks. Most of all I love that he has never been photographed. I admire the anonymity of his work. He is not about models but rather the philosophy that he stays true too. He is a pioneer and a historian.
PP. Do you have a pet?
AG. No pets, though I am an animal lover. Unfortunately I am never at home.
PP. What is your favourite drink?
AG. Water. I don’t drink alcohol, but I am a ginger ale freak.
AG. Indian, Thai, anything with coconut milk in it.
AG. Blue in all its tones including purple.
PP. Do you know by heart lyrics of “Over the Rainbow”?
AG. I love Judy Garland and I believe that dreams can come true!
PP. If you can start all over again, would you be a fashion stylist again?
AG. Yes, I love my work.
PP. Have you enjoyed this interview?
AG. Thank you so much Predrag, for taking the time to get to know me and appreciate my work and efforts in the world of fashion. Communication and expression are fundaments of my life and I see that you have an appetite for it.
Thanks again. It was a real pleasure to meet you. Keep up your spectacular site and share the knowledge and light to all. Peace!
Text: © Predrag Pajdic