Lenny Kravitz Fought For Respect In The Design World Before Kanye West

The rock legend talks paparazzi payback time, his new Leica collab, and Drake.

March 11, 2015

Lenny Kravitz is quite the multi-tasker. In addition to playing at the Super Bowl halftime show this year, he has his own design company, he's a photographer, and he just designed a camera for Leica. And, of course, he makes the grind look chill. The FADER caught up with Kravitz about his photos of people taking photos of him, how he got respect in the design world, and Drake's shoutout to his daughter Zoe on If You're Reading This It's Too Late.

Kanye's doing fashion, you're doing design. Why do you think it's important for musicians to branch out into other realms? I don't know that it's important. If you have the talent, that's one thing. I started a design company 14 years ago, Kravitz Design, and I started very small and very humbly. Over the years I've built my company to where I'm doing hotels and condominiums. I did a 48-story condominium tower in Miami. I've done two hotels with Philippe Starck. I'm doing my own furniture, I'm doing accessories, and all kinds of things. These are things that I [used to do] on my own time for myself, and eventually I wanted to have a company because I got to the point where I couldn't do it for myself any longer. I couldn't keep changing houses, and redoing them and redoing them, so I said, you know what? I love design, let me start my own company. But I just think it's important if you have the desire and you have the passion. I've been very fortunate to be able to do music and acting and design and photography—I have my photography show opening tonight actually.

Tell me about the camera you designed with Leica. What's unique about it? With the cameras Leica is designing, you have very fancy ones by Hermes and other designers, and they're all very clean and beautiful and reflect the style of the designer. So I thought, why do another luxe version? Why not do something that was a tribute to the camera that my father had in Vietnam [instead]? Because that was the first camera that I had played with as a child. It was slightly beaten up, so on the camera I designed, the brass is coming through, and it's showing some wear, and has a beautiful sort of black cobra skin on the body.

What kind of stuff to do you take pictures of? I do a lot of different things, but this show, which is my first exhibition, is called Flash, and the book is the same. TeNeues published it. It's basically a book of me shooting people who are shooting me. I was out on tour, and on my days off, I wanted to go shoot. And every time I started to go shoot, I got chased down by fans and paparazzi, and it was always a hassle. I couldn't just go out and shoot and be at peace. So, after being frustrated for a while, I eventually just said, oh well, this is the situation. So I started shooting back at the people that were shooting me.

Kanye has talked about his struggles getting recognized in the fashion world—have you had any negative experiences trying to break into design and photography as a musician? No, you have to be real, and you have to respect it. People have a thing where, if you do one thing, they think you can't do something else. Oh, he's a musician, oh, he's a writer, oh she's a painter. They can't be doing something else. Well, there are a lot of people that can do many things. So, for instance, with my design company, Kravitz Design, I had to take it slow. I had to respect the people within the community. It took me years. It took me time—going to Milan, and being in the community, showing products and designs, to the point where they took me in, and they respected it, and they said, "This guy's got the talent, he's real." You just can't go in there thinking you're gonna take it over and be respected. You have to show your work, and you have to be diligent, and just keep moving. So that's what I did. After 14 years now, Kravitz Design is doing extremely well. But I took it slow.

So do you feel like you paid your dues over time? Absolutely, just like you have to pay your dues in music, or anything else. And you have to win people's minds over, too, because people have perceptions.

Have you heard about the Drake song "Star67" where he name checks your daughter? No, I didn't know. I'll have to ask her about that. I mean, I don't know, I've gotta check it out. But, you know, Zoe knows a lot of people.

Lead image credit: Mathieu Bitton

Posted: March 11, 2015
Lenny Kravitz Fought For Respect In The Design World Before Kanye West