Born in Sète, France in 1985, Julien Boudet moved to New York in 2008 after graduating from business school. He went on to study at Parsons, the prestigious art and design school in Greenwich Village. It was here that his duel passions for photography and fashion merged into a clear calling. Starting out as a street style photographer, his camera handling skills and feel for timing and perspective gave his work a stand-out look. This aesthetic, along with innumerable sleepless nights, saw him ascend to the highly coveted world of editorial fashion photography. Shooting with the compact Leica CL and it’s older sibling the Leica SL, Boudet has worked for Louis Vuitton, Jimmy Choo, Thom Browne and Burberry. We spoke with him about his rise to prominence under the guise of Bleu Mode, his visual signature and love of not fitting in.
What did you discover first – your passion for fashion or photography?
I would say fashion, even though I was more into “style” than “fashion” originally.
Up until I moved to NYC in 2008, my knowledge of the fashion world was very limited; I only knew about big European fashion houses, such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Dior, Chanel. Most of the pieces I’d see back then in my hometown were knock-offs from markets in Paris or Marseille. I owned a fake LV bag, which was the first fashion item I ever had. At the age of 17, I was pretty proud of it.
6 years later at the age of 23, I moved to NYC and quickly discovered avant-garde designers and then photography. I was into Rick Owens, Margiela, Rei Kawakubo, and Alexander McQueen (I went to that now legendary Met exhibition). When I attended Parsons in 2011 I learnt an awful lot more. 2 years later I dropped out. I felt like I knew enough to get myself out on the market and started freelancing as a photographer.
I guess New York opened my mind and I discovered my two passions (fashion and photography) at the same time.
How did you break through into the world of fashion photography?
My way in was through street style photography, as it doesn’t require a backstage pass or invitation. It all happens on the street. At fashion weeks (shows, events, private parties) I met a bunch of people from the industry, some of them hired me for different jobs, which lead me to travel more. This led me to meeting more people from all over the world and it’s pretty much been that way to this day.
It is not as simple as that but I think this is a great way to sum it up; no need to talk about all the hard work or the days and nights spent at the 24/7 computer lab at Parsons. I ended up sleeping there (on a couch hidden on the top floor) because my place was too far away in Brooklyn to go back and forth.
Basically I was lucky enough to meet some people, who put me on the right path at the right moment. That being said, I am still very far from where I want to be. I still have a lot of work to do.
You work under the name Bleu Mode. What is the importance of the color blue for you?
I grew up by the Mediterranean Sea – or I could almost say in it actually, since I was swimming and playing at the beach from May through September every year for 22 years. The sea has always been a source of inspiration for me, staring at it would captivate me and I would dream for hours. It was also a place to relax and think about life in general and all the things that keep one calm.
Bleu was the first thing that came to my mind for a cool name for my work. I did not want to use an English word as it is not really representative of myself and I wanted to remain true to my roots, so I just used bleu instead.
You shoot street style at the various fashion weeks and high-profile events around the world. Can you describe your process?
Shooting street style is pretty simple in terms of preparation; you just need to get your hands on the fashion week schedule and show up to fashion shows. Then you have different options; either you find your spot and you wait for people to come there or you walk around in the crowd and look specifically for people/styles to capture. This is my process but to each his own.
How is this different when you’re working on a shoot for a specific client?
The main difference is a very important one, it’s the time; street style happens right away, once you spot a subject you only have a couple seconds to think, frame and shoot. This is the reason why I believe street style is a great way to train your eye and to develop your camera skills as a photographer – at least that’s exactly how I found mine.
I guess this is why my clients always tell me that I’m really fast at shooting an editorial or a look-book, simply because I’ve learned to shoot that way.
This series combines both street shots and images from fashion shoots, yet there is a consistent aesthetic throughout. How do each of these ways of shooting inform and influence one another?
My approach remains the same whether it is an editorial or street style at a fashion show. I just shoot according to my vision, which comes from street photography originally. My street work has influenced my editorial work and has taught me how to frame a photograph and to pay attention to details.
On the other hand, my editorial work has taught me how to use different lenses (I used a fixed 85mm lens for years at the beginning for street) and, most importantly, how to use different angles and perspectives that I use a lot now for my street work.
Basically I want my audience not to be able to tell if it’s a street style image or if it’s an editorial. There should be no difference anyway since they are both shot through my eye. In an editorial the photographer has the freedom to create the mood they want. There are no aesthetic rules and this is my personal vision. People should be able to tell it’s my work just by looking at the images.
What else influences and inspires your work?
Well, thanks to my unusual lifestyle, I get to travel to so many countries that I would have never been to if I were not doing the job. One great example is Tbilisi in Georgia that I discovered through Mercedes Benz Tbilisi Fashion Week. They invited me once in 2015 and since then I have been going twice a year. This place really inspires me – the brutal architecture, the culture, the people and their traditional style.
In fact, to answer your question without being specific to one country, I believe my main source of inspiration is life in authentic places, especially in non-touristic areas. I love finding inspiration where other people don’t go, where it’s too “weird” or people are afraid to go. I like it when the locals look at me with confusion because they think I don’t belong there. This means I’m in the right place.
There’s a famous phrase from this underground 90s French rap group called Scred Connexion that pretty much sums up my vision:
Jamais dans la tendance, mais toujours dans la bonne direction / Never following trends but always on the right track.
When did you first start shooting with Leica? And what do Leica cameras offer you that other cameras might not?
I started working with Leica about 2 or 3 years ago, first with the CL then the SL. What I liked at first was the design. It’s very different from other brands on the market and the design of anything – even a camera – is important.
I also really like the menu. It’s very simple and efficient, easy to understand. For once there was no need to read a 30 page manual to get started. The grip is perfect for me, and the variety and quality of the lenses really fit my style. Lastly, I love the colors with the SL and that’s essential for my fashion shoots.
There’s something about Leica that makes you fall in love with the camera. It’s hard to put into words, you just have to experience it yourself.
How does your choice of set-up differ, depending on what you’re shooting?
Since I travel a lot, one of the main things I have to consider is weight. If I don’t have a big commercial shoot planned, I only take the CL. It’s smaller, lighter and easier to carry around while exploring. In this context the 35mm lens perfectly fits my needs.
When I go “on tour” for commercial purposes, I bring the SL with my 24-90mm lens. It’s ideal for any situation in my professional life. The fast autofocus and wide aperture are great to shoot street style.
I like to experiment and shoot a bit wider sometimes, so I shoot at 35mm or even 24mm when the subject is close. Naturally I can also zoom in to 90mm to capture someone further down the street or walking among the crowd. Its versatility is really useful for this kind of work.
What can we look forward to seeing from you in the near future?
A new book for 2019, more exhibitions and possibly more collaborations.
I’m also planning a pretty long and exciting road trip this summer, so stay tuned.