Michael Marson on Behind the Blinds

Fashion stylist and co-founder of clothing imprint Sandrina Fasoli Michael Marson talks to us about his new online magazine Behind the Blinds, giving us a crash course on self publishing, opening up about his love for grunge and erotic culture of the 90’s, and what gives his webzine its edgy and erotic tone.

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Can we start by talking about your background and why you began this new project, Behind the Blinds?  

I went to La Cambre and then I made my own collection. But fashion photography is my first love, before clothes. They work well together, but I was always more focused on the visuals. I worked a lot with Ruben Tomas, a photographer now based in New York. We did photo shoots where he took the pictures, and I did the art direction & the styling. After, I thought about creating something to show and share, and have the opportunity to work with different people. I first thought of building a platform to show the work I like from different people. I really like to collaborate with people and give a carte blanche, whether it’s with a photographer or artist, etc. I give them total liberty to express themselves. I tried to be not very selective, but I did want to keep an editorial line.

What were some of your influences for the project, and for the work you do in general?

As for influences, I have a lot of them. I also love books and I have a lot of them. They are like a drug for me, so I spend a lot of money on them. There are lot of people who influenced me as a child and teenager.

Perhaps we can talk more about the concept, in terms of content, and the general image you aim to maintain?

As for the editorial line, I wanted something sober and graphically basic, just black and white. I wanted just to give place to the articles and nothing more complicated. As for the subjects and the interviews, I decided to choose people that inspire me, but it is not all about famous people, it can be about someone I ran into on the street, or about an actor in America, or a singer in France. For instance in September I had a big issue on portraits called Faces, with people on Brussels. Next September it will be in different cities. Then for October, November, and December we decided to have a big issue with more erotic, raw subjects. For instance, we had an interview with a porn star in America. Now I am working for January and February – it’s a lot organizing, contacting, and convincing people. It’s not easy because it’s new and I have a lot to prove. But it’s a challenge, and I like that. The most important thing is to have met a lot of people. I like this exchange between people, which is the idea behind the platform. I also like putting people in contact with each other- finding a good match for the interviews. For instance for a portrait I did with two models, a gay couple from New York, Jon and Carlos. I contacted them and asked Bruce LaBruce to do the interview. I think the interview is interesting, although the questions were a bit strong, or a bit confronting, but the answers were pleasantly surprising.

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How did it go about contacting the guys and arranging the interview?

I contacted Jon and Carlos via email, we had an exchange and they accepted to do it- I was fascinated. I am really fascinated by social networks like Facebook and Instagram. They are really part of our culture now. I use them maybe a bit too much, but you have to accept or reject them.

Broadly speaking, how do you go about making the selection of people to feature?

The idea is not to have a sole focus on Belgium. I am from Brussels, but people from outside of Belgium have always attracted me. I like Brussels, and although Paris or London are better for jobs, I decided to stay here because I like this city, and Belgium. But there are already a lot of good platforms like The Word Magazine or Recto Verso, that focus on Belgium, and they are doing very good things for this niche. As I don’t have a budget I don’t spend a lot of money, and so lot of interviews are done via Skype. It can be hard at times to organize, but I don’t just give, I continue to push and I get it done. People are very positive, and they’ve always agreed to collaborate, that is why I also decided to start.

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The types of questions you had for Jon and Carlos were a bit shocking to read, is that the style you plan to keep for the website – this daring and raw approach, or like you said, not necessarily confronting, but rather intimate?

I want to keep that. In this case it was my choice to ask Bruce LaBruce to do the interview, and I don’t want to censure. I want to give people the liberty to be open. We also had an interview with a young porn actor, around twenty-two years old, who stopped a few months ago. He also works in fashion, and I like the confrontation between porn and fashion. We are working on the interview and for the photographs I asked the photographer to keep a certain mood, to not have a commercial portrait. I want something natural, also a bit sexy, not porn …

Sexy is not necessarily porn…

Voila. So I like this idea. I know I can’t put all of these pictures on Instagram, but I like this approach. I am also a bit influenced by Madonna’s ‘Justify My Love’ period and the book she did with Fabien Baron. That period is very emblematic for me – it was not like now, where you open Instagram or a magazine and there is sex everywhere, at that time it was edgy. I also think of Corinne Day, a famous photographer in the 90’s who shoot a lot with Kate Moss during the grunge period. At a time it was not too commercial, now we have too many images. I am not the kind of person to say I don’t have any influences, which is a lie because you are always influenced. All of those people built me with time.

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On a slightly different note, the website seems to speak to queer or gay culture. Is that a conscious choice?

It is not conscious, it’s just part of me. Although I am not the type to go to parties every weekend, I have always been attracted by this particular style, or mood. It is very interesting to see what is happening now with the media, with things like the step father of Kim Kardashian. It’s too much publicity, and we know that, but it’s still interesting because these kinds of people can open up the minds of many others. We also had an interview and photo shoot with Hari Nef in Los Angeles, a transgender American model who is news for transgender culture. I also don’t want to have clichés in my website, although I know it will happen. I don’t necessarily want to push queer culture, but it’s a part of me, just as I like photography fashion and music. I think that in these social circles, in art, cinema, and photography, there are always little things about queer culture.

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Who did you work with to create the visual identity? Such as the logo, for instance.

For the logo I worked with my sister because she works in advertising. My idea was very simple and the name is just the title of my last collection at La Cambre. I decided on it because I like the idea of the backstage and what is hidden. I don’t want to have the typical interview, there are a lot of good magazines and blogs that do that. I wanted to do something else, and find something more personal, not secrets, but something that is more in the shadows.

What do you hope Behind the Blinds will be, or where it will go, in the following years? 

I just want to continue like this and have the opportunity to contact people and have exchanges. I don’t have a vision for the next five years. It is not just a hobby, because I do it very seriously and with a lot of energy, but it’s like my baby, and I want the best for it. But I just think about what is going to happen in one to three months, and that is enough. Maybe if it works well, I can expand the team. I want to have a budget for journalists, and pay people. Now they work for free and with passion, but well everybody needs money. But I do want to keep an editorial line and I don’t want to begin to promote something I don’t like just because they pay.

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As for the current sections and features you have in the magazine, will they change or remain the same? And do you have a favorite?

I really like the idea of the BBF interview, and that I want to keep. But it’s too soon to speak about what my favorite things are. I also like the encounters we have with artists, as it is part of the reason why I started the platform. For instance, for the first post I contacted Italian designer Alessandro Dell’Acqua from Numero 21, and who is also the art director of Rochas in Paris. He was very nice, and we exchanged a lot of ideas. I then decided to organize a special photo shoot, a fashion story about the brand, then we had an interview. This guy was the first push for the website, and it gave me the opportunity to continue…

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All images courtesy of Behind The Blinds (credit image / Michael Marson / Ruben Tomas).
 
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