Richard Phibbs didn’t set out to be a photographer. Until the early Nineties, he was an art director at Carlson & Partners, the advertising agency headed by the late Sandy Carlson that had Polo Ralph Lauren as its single account. After several of his friends died of AIDS in 1994, Phibbs, trying to cope with the losses, stepped behind the lens.
“I got myself to therapy, and one day, my therapist said that creativity can be a healing thing,” Phibbs recalled.
A native of Canada, Phibbs, camera in hand, went to the beach to take some photos. Carlson, his boss, liked the pictures so much she encouraged him to take more, the results of which made their way into the Double RL campaign. The rest, so to speak, is history. Since then, Phibbs has shot portraits of such luminaries as Pedro Almodóvar, Hillary Clinton and Bernard-Henri Lévy, and campaigns for Giorgio Armani, Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren.
When Alfredo Paredes, Polo’s executive vice president and chief creative officer for retail who also oversees creative direction for Ralph Lauren Home, suggested that Phibbs, his friend of almost 20 years, do a book of his best work, Phibbs agreed under one condition. “He said, ‘I’ll do it if you art direct it with me,’” Paredes recalled.
Over the next three years, the duo went through Phibbs’ archives, which range from portraits to nudes, nature and objets d’art. They laid out the physical prints to study their flow, and the result is “Chasing Beauty,” which will be published by powerHouse Books next month with a foreword by Michael Cunningham.
“Sandy would always say that we are beauty chasers,” said Phibbs, adding that he dedicated the book to his former boss, who died of cancer in 2003. “You can see beauty everywhere, it’s all interconnected,” Phibbs offered. “My hope is that people are inspired by it.”
Phibbs’ work is on display in Lauren’s Paris flagship. Paredes and Cunningham will celebrate the $50 book on Thursday at the Ralph Lauren boutique at 379 West Broadway, followed by similar events at Ralph Lauren stores in Los Angeles and Paris. The designer’s boutiques and ralphlauren.com exclusively sell the $200 limited edition boxed version of the book, which features Phibbs’ embossed signature and a signed print. All the proceeds from the sale of Phibbs’ book will be donated to various animal rescue charities such as Humane Society of New York and the Bali Dog Refuge, as well as Children of Nowhere, which funds medications and supplies for Romanian children with HIV/AIDS and was co-founded by Phibbs.