In the 80s, he contributed to Artforum, Flash Art, Art Press and Texte Zur Kunst. He's curated exhibitions for PS1, MoMA, and Centre Pompidou. He's shot for "it" publications read by the cultural elite. He founded Purple Prose magazine in 1992, which gave birth to an entire brood: Purple Fiction (1992), Purple Sexe (1998), Purple magazine (1998), Purple Journal (2004–present), the bi-annual Purple Fashion (1995–1998; 2004–present as EIC), Purple Books (a publishing house) and even a think tank/art direction "society" and consultancy, Purple Institute.
Suffice it to say that Olivier Zahm is cooler than you. Me. Pretty much everyone. Plus he was born in Paris, which seals the deal.
And along the way, he documented all this relentless hipness with photography, an offkilter but engaging mix of witty, goofy, puerile (think Beavis & Butthead) and downright cool.
His Purple crusade was a reaction to the high and hard brand of 1980s glam, inspiring Zahm to channel the global counterculture of the period through the "anti" fashion aesthetic of fellow photographers like Juergen Teller, Terry Richardson, Wolfgang Tillmans and Mario Sorrenti. “Olivier leads a sort of heroic life," observes Glenn O’Brien, the author of How to be a Man (Rizzoli) who pens the popular syndicated column The Style Guy, a style "bible" for guys of all ages. "Like Chuck Yeager pushing the wildly shaking X-1 rocket rocket plane to the edge of space in The Right Stuff," continues O'Brien, "he’s the test pilot of the night. He pushes the envelope of joie de vivre."
Fortunately, just in time to up your own holiday joie factor, Rizzoli just released O.Z. DIARY by Zahm. He selected and organized hundreds of images showcasing daring models, counter-cultural artists and performers - all the hip denizens of Paris, New York, LA. - into a wildly adventurous visual autobiography. “Photography is Olivier Zahm’s conceptual tool," adds art critic Donatien Grau. "His way to interject ideas into the world.”
And while Zahm was busy reacting to the 80s, hipsters eventually began reacting to him by embracing the joys of being...normal. "The basic idea is that young alternative types had devoted so much energy to trying to define themselves as individuals, through ever-quirkier style flourishes like handlebar mustaches or esoteric pursuits like artisanal pickling, that they had lost the joy of belonging that comes with being part of the group," notes NYTimes.com. "Normcore is about dropping the pretense and learning to throw themselves into, without detachment, whatever subcultures or activities they stumbled into, even if they were mainstream."
Possibly, or more likely, probably not; rather a big in-joke perpetuated by the trendsetters of the 718 area code, this idea that dressing in normal clothes is worthy of fashion headlines. However, beneath the buzzword-hype, I think there's something more interesting at play. "As envisioned by its creators [NY-based brand consultancy K-Hole]," the Times continues, "normcore was not a fashion trend, but a broader sociological attitude."
Whether or not normcore is a trendy reaction to too much trendiness doesn't really matter. The fact it is, it's hit enough of a nerve to generate almost 20 inches worth of text (I measured on my screen using my thumb while I scrolled down and counted). And I think Andy Warhol would agree that when it comes to media chitterchatter (and hip, socio-cultural diaries), that's the only thing that does matter.
OLIVIER ZAHM: Diary by Olivier Zahm (Rizzoli New York, 2014) is available at Amazon.com.
- Lesley Scott
(images: © Olivier Zahm)