Welcome to the wild, wild world of French Cowboy.
Mia Macfarlane and Julien Crouigneau own a magazine; they live in Paris, work alongside Christian Louboutin and received a bouquet of flowers from Jean Paul Gaultier. They are inspired by American cinema, shoot in San Tropez, and are so cool that even a real cowboy would aspire to be them. Together, the couple gave life to their love child, French Cowboy, which steamed from the duo’s shared passion for photography. French Cowboy’s photos are more than images, they are stories, which Mia and Julien showcase across the pages of IRK Magazine, their second love child, in which they are both Co-Creative Directors and Co-Editors-in-Chief. What else could possibly go on in the wild wild world that is French Cowboy’s life? Magazine caught up with this iconic duo to find out:
How did the idea of French Cowboy first come about? When did you decide to take the plunge and launch into fashion photography?
Julien: We always make the most important decisions on holiday. We created the character of French Cowboy on our first vacation together. Our French Cowboy was a fictitious Cowboy who scared all the men in town not because he was dangerous but because he seduced all the women. We fell in love creating this character together as we realised that we both had the same creative sense of humour, so after that, the name stayed with us.
Mia: Fashion is just a tool for us to tell stories. We really consider ourselves artists, and we use fashion the way a painter would use colour.
Tell us how you both work together? Is one of you the photographer and the other art director?
Julien: I am happy you asked this question as most people assume that I take the photos, but Mia and I both shoot at the same time with two cameras.
Mia: We really do everything together from the mood board, location scouting, lighting, styling, and even retouching. Maybe it is all our preparation before the shoots, but we work seamlessly together, and our vision is pretty much identical.
Tell us why you label your shoots as ‘stories’. Do you believe a photo has the ability to ‘speak 1000 words’?
Mia: We start with an idea then we write a scenario with a story, and the result is that the photos we take all tell a story, but they are separate and every viewer can invent what happened before and after the moment. We also try to charge the image with emotion. What was she thinking before? What will she do after? It’s not only where she came from but who is she.
Julien: Every spectator has a different story, so they will invent different beginnings and endings. Unlike a movie, where everything enables the viewer to put themselves into that image. So yes, we do believe that a picture is worth 1000 words or more.
Mia, you shared how, when you were younger, you used to play dress up in your mum’s sparkly clothes and high heels. Today, playing with glitter, makeup, and high heels are a regular part of your job. How do you believe that your South African roots have assisted you in where you are today?
Mia: Both Julien and I have lived in several countries growing up following our parents where they lead us. We think it’s more the voyage that has assisted us. Obviously, we have taken things from each country we lived in; me the US, Sweden, South Africa, France, and Italy and Julien grew up in Madagascar and lived in Algeria, and all over France. I really think that when you are used to change, and different cultures, you are more open.
So, on a similar note, Julien, how do you believe that your French roots have impacted your work?
Julien: Obviously, French cinema, design and the beauty of France impact our work. We live in France, so France is often our inspiration, but we love American cinema, Japanese culture, African masks, Indonesian art, and every place we go, we are enriched.
You have both lived in various cities across the world, from New York to London and Florence, but what has made you settle in Paris?
Mia: We love having access to amazing fashion, models, and locations, but we are more and more open to location shoots. We shot several shoots in Miami this year and also in the south of France. Paris is a good base.
Julien, I understand you designed for Louboutin. Please tell us more about what the process involved? How did it feel to work alongside Christian Louboutin to create something so iconic?
Julien: First, I should mention that I am also a product designer, and for the last several years, I have been working at Mazarine as the product design creative director. We had the opportunity to work for Louboutin when he was launching his cosmetic brand. It was an incredible experience to be inspired by such an iconic brand and to create the Louboutin Nail polish. The difficulty was to do something stunning in his crazy circus universe.
Tell us more about what your role as Editor-in-Chief at IRK involves? What is the secret to the success of IRK, and why do you think it is so important to promote artists and other creatives?
Mia: IRK exists to inspire and to promote artists. Our success is really due to our strong themes and our ability to both choose the best artists for each theme and to inspire artists to create work within the constraints of the theme. It is not easy for most artists to think outside of their comfort zones, but I think we have been very successful at getting creatives to expand their vision. We have also over time grown a great team of talented writers, stylists, and other contributors that make IRK such a strong magazine.
Julien: It is important for us to support artists and to share their talents in IRK. We are not closed off to our regular contributors and are always looking for new talent.
Of all the shoots you have created for IRK, which has been your favourite, and why?
Julien: Our NEW DAY shoot in the BLISS issue is probably our favourite. It’s about a woman who is between two lives running from the first one to the unknown. We shot it in a rundown area of Miami. It is her courage to change her life that we love and the location was an incredible inspiration.
You choose to publish the print editions of IRK during Paris Fashion Week, but what do you think makes PFW so special? Can you share your favourite memory from PFW?
Mia: We choose to release our IRK issues during Paris fashion week because it is a remarkable moment in Paris full of creative people from all over the world. Plus we feature a lot of amazing French brands, and we are happy to celebrate our issue with them during PFW.
Julien: Our IRK parties at the famous night club L’ARC are always a highlight of Paris fashion week. It is a moment we can celebrate all the hard work we have put into creating the issue with our contributors and friends.
Tell us about the process behind working with Jean Paul Gaultier for your A Circus in Paris’ shoot. How did this collaboration come about, and what was the most memorable thing about working with him?
Mia: It was by far the greatest honour of our careers, and when Gaultier gave us a huge bouquet of flowers to thank us, we could not be happier. Greg, who runs the press department for Gaultier, told us that our circus theme was a great surprise. He said It was such an obvious choice, but they had not thought about it. We are lucky to be able to get Jean-Paul Gaultier looks whenever we want for our shoots now.
You once shared that teal is your favourite colour and that most of your photos include an element of blue. Of all your shoots, which location allowed you to use blue the most? Why do you think the colour works so well for you?
Mia: Not all our images are blue, but we do sway towards the cool tones. We just finished a nature series that is in gold tones. All rules are made to be broken! I think it is the calmness that blue provides that attracts us and it is definitely moodier too.
What is your favourite photo of all time, and why?
Julien: It’s really too hard to choose one photo as there are so many great images. Maybe we can choose two that we both agree on. One would be the photo of Florence Owens Thompson by Dorothea Lange called the Migrant Mother that captured the strife of a mother in the Great Depression. The mother is both beautiful and brave.
Mia: We really like that the children are turning away from the camera as it shows the strength of the mother who is confronting the world to protect her children.
Another of our favourite images is Helmut Newton’s Central Park West. Unlike the first image, we mentioned this image is built by Newton. First, the photo is taken as a voyeur. Helmut Newton is on the floor above, capturing a New York scene. There is a woman in distress that needs help, but instead, he takes a photo. It is very disturbing, and yet the image is captivating.
Julien: Why did such a beautiful women overdose? The photo is full of strong choices such as the splash of shocking red as the model lies naked on a red towel as if her blood were spilling out. As the viewer, we imagine so many scenarios as to what may have happened. It’s really an incredible photo.
You once shared that you own over 100+ pairs of shoes, but which pair tells the best story?
Mia: Maybe not 100 yet. We do love shoes and often buy them for shoots. Sadly not all of them are my size as we often buy shoes for our very tall models who wear a size 43. The PR firms usually only have 38 or 40 size shoes for us to borrow. I don’t understand this as most models have larger feet. I think it is a conspiracy to torture models.
My favourites are probably my Louboutin pumps as they are classics, but I also love my butterfly cowboy boots.
Finally, what is next for French Cowboy? You shared that you plan on shooting in Ghana, will this still be going ahead?
Mia: We are still hoping this will happen. A lot of our plans were put on hold because of COVID-19, but I hope we can still make this happen, but we are no longer focussing on it.
Julien: As we were in the south of France this summer, we shot a lot of nudes and also nature photos. We will have a lot of post-production to do when we get back to Paris, but we are excited to share the photos. We also have a crazy space inspired editorial that was just released on IRK Magazine.