Photographer Danielle Levitt has become synonymous with the downtown scene: She broke out shooting what became the hipster crowd and then moved on to magazine covers, GQ spreads, and work in Rolling Stone and The New York Times Magazine. Now her own book, We Are Experienced, comes in November. But Levitt’s equally known for her camera work as her personal style, with white tees and layered jewelry. We sat down with the shutterbug to find out what made her pick up her first camera (a Kodak 110), what she can’t live without, and what bag she’s carrying. Trust us, you’ll be surprised.
So when did you start shooting?
I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. I moved to New York at a ripe age, the right age to pursue my dreams of becoming a famous photographer.
When did you get into photography?
When I was 10 years old, which was just two years ago.
How did you get into photography?
My aunt gave me a 110 camera, a Kodak, and I would carry that with me everywhere. I thought it was so fabulous. I’d take pictures of my friends modeling. We’d come across old-lady depositories of old gowns and so we’d clear a space in the bedroom and we’d take modeling pictures. And after that my father gave me this 35-mm camera and that’s when I really started because it had multiple lenses and it looked fancy. But I have no idea why I started to take those 110 pictures because I didn’t discover fashion photography until I was 18. So I don’t know what we were doing at 10. Maybe it was instinct.
Did you ever want to be a stylist?
I never wanted to be the model, and I never wanted to be a stylist. I was always the photographer. I mean, think about it. I take the picture, I can remember the picture. My memory is so poo these days, it’s a way to keep everything embedded and there.
How’d you get your first gig?
I had a street-fashion column in the New York Post. In 1998, the Post decided they wanted to appeal to a more feminine demographic so they started a women’s section. So they gave me the column and I was hanging out downtown. I was hanging out on Ludlow like at the beginning of Ludlow. I would go photograph all the downtown kids — those were my contemporaries, those were my friends, that’s where I went, that’s where I partied. My thing was the downtown set. And I did that for a long time. That was very integral to my growth. I met loads of people. I started to understand more about the industry. It was really something else. Then I started in Nylon and that was a big thing for me.
Was that your first magazine job?
Actually my first mag job was Out magazine. It was like an author a hundred years ago. But Nylon was really the beginning. They were all very supportive, and I shot a lot of celebrities for them and I did weird kids and I shot real people. I stopped shooting models as the main thing basically early on in my career.
Do you prefer shooting celebs or models?
Celebrities. It’s fun because typically celebs aren’t as forthcoming, and I get to meet them, interact with them. On the day of the shoots, you collaborate, and the difference is with models, there’s potentially less collaboration.
You were on America’s Next Top Model, season three. How was that?
How hilarious was that? You saw me? I barely met Tyra, which was a bummer. You can’t do ANTM and not meet Tyra. She barely showed up. She just dropped in. It was actually a lot of work. The thing was that I work in a commercial capacity, but if I have a model who doesn’t know how to model, I work with them, I show them how to do it. But it was thirteen of them. It was a long day. I treated it like it was a real job.
Did they at least pay you?
No, they didn’t pay me. And I’m so embarrassed. I looked at it the one time, and I’ve never looked at it again.
So we have to ask, what’s up with the bag?
I got the bag in Boca. It’s a QVC original, by Sharif. It’s a signed piece.
Most people wouldn’t carry a QVC bag.
I think it’s from QVC, but I knew it was from Boca. It’s got a jewel-encrusted snake head. I have to say that I refuse to be limited by confines of expectations when it comes to fashion. It’s too much. It’s too much pressure to own everything properly. It can be trendy, that’s fine. If a look is too expected, if you can surmise somebody’s look based on what they’re wearing, I don’t want to be that simple.
Your book’s coming out in November and is about teenagers. Why them?
I love kids’ style, I love the way they express themselves. I love that teenagers are sort of influenced and clued in by what’s going on all the time. They’re influenced and care about impressing their friends. I love the way they express themselves, and I love to watch the commitment to that expression. It feels so passionate and real and hard-core. And there’s room for experimentation. I like watching kids separate themselves from the pack. I love that kid who wants to be independent from the norm.
How would you describe your style?
There’s a little Florida in me. And there’s a little eighties in me — but not in a Danceteria sort of way. A late-seventies high-waisted, belted skirt and tank, really simple. I wear Hervé Léger…
High-end disco maybe?
High-end disco! I am high-end disco, yes!
Do you wear all the same jewelry every day?
I change them. I vary them. Sifting through the bins to find something exciting, so it’s a matter of collection. I love a necklace, I love a dangle. Brand-wise, Lia Sophia and Noir make me feel glamourous and Crumley jewlery is beautiful and so unexpected in its design. At night, I don’t change up the jewelry, but I do try to amend it. I took off my earrings — I thought it was too much. The gold hoops were a little much.
What should every woman have in her wardrobe?
Chic shoes, girl, chic shoes. It does change quite a bit, but I love a shoe that gives me a skinny leg. I love a height, I love a platform, and I love being able to wear a messy outfit and a chic, complicated shoe.
What trend do you love right now?
The white T-shirt, leather jacket. The most trendy thing I do is my leather jacket. And I bought it in Paris ten years ago at a thrift store for $5.
What do you wish would just go away?
I don’t need to see leggings. There’s also a certain slouchy-boot aesthetic. I don’t mind a slouchy boot, but there’s a certain aesthetic that I don’t like. It’s too definable, cheap.
Who are your favorite designers?
I get a kick out of Escada, Hervé Léger, at the same time, I like Marc by Marc, a Chanel shoe, I like a Chanel jacket, I like a Burberry classic skirt. I’m not really defined by a specific designer because it’s about a feeling that I’m exploring and hopefully I come across it in my travels.
What designers or labels do you actually wear the most?
I do wear some high-end designers, but for me, those lines become more interesting when you mix in younger lines, like this cool surf T-shirt line called Warriors of Radness or a knitwear line called Spring & Clifton. And who can live with out Grey Ant? Marc Jacobs is the shoe brand I own most. I seem to only wear J Brand jeans. But it’s all in context to build an overall look. But my favorite shoe is Azzedine Alaïa. I love Alaïa. I have some hot pants and a miniskirt!
Where do you shop?
I go to consignment shops a lot like Tokyo Joes. A lot. I like the shoes at Barneys and Jeffrey. But for me, I like sample sales. You know a lady’s got to save, be responsible to her budget. Ina also.
What are you lusting over right now?
I’m lusting after gladiator sandals from like last year or whatever. The ones with the metal on them. Oh my God. Give me more platforms, give me more height. I’m always lusting after a shoe, and I’m always seeking more white T-shirts, the perfect white T-shirt.
What in your wardrobe can’t you live without?
Honestly white T-shirts and tank tops. I’m a huge tank-top fan, something about my shoulders. I’m sort of cut. If I wear a square tank top, it works for my back. —Amina Akhtar