Interview with Lee Osborne

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Silvio Fiorello talks to photographer and creative storyteller Lee Osborne about his great passions for menswear and travel.

How and when did you become interested in photography?

I’ve always had a passion for photography, but I guess it started when I began going on foreign holidays with my family as a teenager. I used to play around a bit with my mother’s Olympus Trip compact camera initially, until I got my first proper camera, an Olympus OM10 back in the days of film – digital hadn’t even been invented. I then got really into processing my own images in the dark room at art college in Colchester, before specialising in photography as one of my chosen paths during my degree at the University of the Arts (formerly the London College of Printing). Initially I was an art director who directed photographers, but I gained a wealth of experience over the years working with some of the best photographers in the business. It inspired me to get behind the lens myself and take it up professionally.

How were you first introduced to the fashion/style/luxury industry?

Working for Condé Nast exposed me to these areas – I was creative director on CN Traveller for over 10 years – but I like to think I’ve established myself as a menswear expert largely off my own back, through my enthusiasm for the subject, networking and the content I produce. I’ve been commissioned to write and shoot articles off the back of the success of my blog ‘Sartorialee’, by luxury brands from Canali to Harrods,The Rake, Plaza Uomo as well as being Barroco Italia’s new Sartorial Know-How columnist.

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Lee Osborne on the banks of the River Arno in Florence during a summer edition of Pitti Uomo

What do you love most about creating your photos?

Meeting people. I would have to say portraits are among my favourite subjects to shoot simply because they always spring surprises. Sometimes you have preconceived ideas of how a particular person will behave in front of the camera and sometimes it’s completely the opposite to what you’d imagined. Some people who exude confidence aren’t always the best sitters. I’ve had quite a few people say I have a relaxed persona and they feel very at ease with me in front of the camera, which is flattering. Above all I want people to be themselves, not feel like they have to put on an act or try and be somebody they’re not. The camera never lies.

What do you think of the relationship between fashion and photography?

It was there before I was born and will live on long after me for sure. Photography is an inseparable part of the fashion industry. No matter if it’s captured by professional photographers or fashion lovers on their smartphones at catwalk shows, it allows the world to have an instant view on the latest fashion trends which can so easily be shared on social media. Fashion has never been as available as it is today and the advancements in photography over the years have come to play a very important role in this. I’ve long admired the work of the photographer Norman Parkinson who featured heavily in British Vogue from the 50s onwards – he dazzled me with his sparkling array of inventive fashion photography capturing it with great energy, mood and spirit. My all time favourite shot Woman Under Airplane Propeller, a black and white capture of model Wenda Rogerson, who Parkinson later married, about to board a private plane in South Africa. It’s wonderfully evocative of the Golden Age of Travel – and very pertinent at a time when we’re locked down and can only dream of venturing off to far-flung places.

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How would you describe your style?

I’m a classic menswear guy, so typically lean towards a Tweed sports jacket and grey flannels. I rarely wear full suits, my inbuilt factory settings mean I lean towards separates and invariably brown suede shoes. Ultimately for me though it’s about timeless style, not fashion. Taking the finest elements of well-made British and Italian tailoring and fusing them together. I’ve assembled a wardrobe which will hopefully see me through most sartorial scenarios. I hope I can continue to take good care of the timeless garments I’ve assembled, and indeed inherited, so that I myself can pass them on to the next generation. If a picture could vouch for this it would have to be this fabulous portrait of actor Paul Newman captured on board a vaporetto in Venice in 1963. It looks like it could have been shot today. Timeless style, see.

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What is your favourite accessory?

I have ties for days, so it would be a toss up between the tie and a scarf. I’m very rarely seen without either.

Is there something in your wardrobe you couldn’t live without?

I’m particularly fond of a navy blue vintage Harrods double-breasted cashmere blazer I own. I try not to over wear it but it’s simply one of the most comfortable and stylish jackets I own. The fact that it’s crafted from cashmere often means I can wear it without a coat either with a collar and tie or polo neck sweater. It’s a bit of a ‘menswear uniform’ cliché I admit but it pairs seamlessly well with grey flannels (or if I’m feeling particularly rakish then Prince of Wales checked trousers) and my trademark brown suede shoes.

What are your future art projects?

I recently began a photography collaboration with you guys at Silvio Fiorello – conceptualising ideas for product and campaign shoots, which I hope will result in an ongoing partnership. I was first introduced to the brand at Pitti 2 years ago before heading out to meet the team in person while I was producing an article for Plaza Uomo (the Swedish menswear magazine) on the Sartorial hotspots of Palermo – of which Silvio Fiorello were of course included. They are a wonderful family with great principals, so charming and inclusive. Although we’ve yet to meet in person, I’ve really enjoyed collaborating with Nancy Fiorello, daughter of the owner Silvio who is based here in the UK. I think we work really well together and she allows me the freedom to dream up creative ideas, so I thrive on that trust. Something which is rare nowadays.

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As well as adding as many travel images to my online photo library as possible (I shoot a lot of travel besides menswear), another thing I’m doing during lockdown is preparing images for a future exhibition which I hope to stage in Portugal. I’m really enjoying going back through old hard drives and cd’s (yes they were a thing once and not just for storing music) and editing together what essentially is the culmination of 15 consecutive years (and counting) of shooting in my favourite wine region, the Douro Valley in Northern Portugal. Watch this space.

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Winemaker Filipe Madeira dwarfed by the contoured vines of his CARM vineyard in the Upper Douro

What is ‘Sartorialee’? Tell us more about it.

Sartorialee is my men’s style blog which I put together in my spare time. ‘Dressing the globe-trotting’ man is its mantra, and is basically an outlet for me to both shoot and write about my other great passions in life, travel and menswear. I file impassioned copy and imagery, well-curated postings on sartorial-relevant content that I like, from product launches, designer and company profiles, sartorial destination pieces, behind the scenes in the production process and interviews with interesting sartorial players – in a nutshell, how to be the best dressed version of yourself wherever you (are able to) travel.

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Who is the photographer who most influenced you?

When I was younger I was in awe of the Brazilian photojournalist Sebastião Salgado – I went to see his show at the Royal Festival Hall while at University in London, and was left spellbound. A friend of mine, the photographer Andy Morgan bought me a copy of his book ‘Genesis’ for my 40th birthday. The imagery is jaw-dropping . Nowadays it would have to be the street style photographer Scott Schuman, AKA The Sartorialist, who’s fabulous fashion portraits of New York inspired me to set up my men’s style blog Sartorialee. I met him at Pitti Uomo a few years ago and found him to be a very humble guy. His notoriety behind the lens has led to many a collaboration designing his own menswear lines with leading brands in the industry and I guess that’s a dream of mine at some point. 

Where can readers follow you on social media?

My blog, ‘Sartorialee: dressing the globe-trotting man’ can be found at: www.sartorialee.com. My Instagram handles are @sartorialee for men’s style and travel, while my business, Osborne Creative, which showcases my creative work in art direction, design, photography and words can be found at www.osborne-creative.co.uk; @osbornecreativelondon

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