Grand Rapids-based fashion designer Pamella Roland and celebrity photographer Nigel Barker observe the rehearsal before the Pamella Roland fashion show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Fall 2014. (Larry Busacca / Getty Images)
The first time celebrity fashion photographer Nigel Barker — a former longtime judge on the hit reality show “America’s Next Top Model” — met furniture mogul Art Van Elslander at a resort in Bay Harbor in northern Michigan, he had no idea who Elslander was. And vice versa.
They started talking about their passions — Barker’s being fashion and Van Elslander being furniture — and sparked a friendship.
Now, more than four years later, the two are forging a working relationship. Art Van Furniture has tapped Barker to shoot pages including the cover and back cover for the chain’s upcoming spring catalog. It’s Art Van’s most ambitious catalog yet with scenes that will be shot in four different locations, including Chicago, Miami, High Point, N.C., and of course, Metro Detroit.
“We are just absolutely thrilled to have him with us and to have him be a part of it,” Van Elslander said during a press conference Wednesday at FPI Studios in Auburn Hills, where Barker will shoot the cover Thursday.
Barker and Van Elslander on Wednesday had both just returned from New York Fashion Week, where they ran into each other at designer Pamella Roland’s show. Roland, who is married to Dan DeVos, is a Grand Rapids-based designer.
Barker said when Van Elslander first asked him if he’d consider shooting Art Van’s catalog, it was “one of the most charming questions” he’d ever been asked.
“He said, ‘Would you shoot for us?’ and I said I’d be delighted. That’s what I do,” Barker said. “For me, it was where can I help, what I can do.”
His goal is to bring a sense of authenticity to the catalog.
“There’s something about the life behind every piece of furniture that he (Van Elslander) talks about with such passion that was contagious for me,” said Barker. “When I shoot for you, I want to inject that sense of life, sense of family, sense of personality, sense of fun.”
It’s about “giving the picture a narrative, versus just being a still-life,” said Barker, who is now a judge on “The Face,” a reality show on the Oxygen Network.
Hearing that, Van Elslander joked, “I think we ought to put him on the furniture floor. Maybe he could do some sales training for us.”
The cover will feature a model in a gown made entirely of upholstery fabric from Art Van’s Thread & Feather collection, standing next to an Art Van tufted linen sofa. The gown was created by Shelby Township designer Katerina Bocci.
“It’s got a sense of whimsy to it, a sense of fun,” Barker said. “... The most important thing about any cover is that I want to see it, I want to pick it up, I want to hold it.”
Even after the catalog shoot ends, Barker and his wife and two kids, based in New York, likely won’t be gone from Michigan for long. He said he and his family are “huge Michigan fans,” and they’ve come every year to northern Michigan, including Bay Harbor, Harbor Springs and Mackinac Island, for the last eight years.
The people are “very warm, very fun,” said Barker, who also is a big Eminem fan. “They love their state. They absolutely love their state. They’re one of the proudest states I’ve ever met but in a great way, a patriotic way.”