Rolling Stones, September 30, 2004
The PHOTOGRAPHS. The Fifty Greatest Portraits & the Stories Behind Them
Lil’ Kim, photographed by David LaChapelle, New York, May 1995

I knew she was little, but didn’t realize she was that little,” says artist Erni Vales, who was hired to paint dozens of Louis Vuitton logos on the naked body of rapper Lil’ Kim for her shoot with David LaChapelle in 1999. “I cut out stencils, but when I got there they were too big, and I had to use smaller ones.”

LaChapelle and Lil’ Kim had worked together in the past and were already good friends. “He’s wild and crazy and likes to do daring stuff, and so do I,” says Kim. The two met prior to the shoot to discuss the concept. “I wanted to photograph her as a high-priced luxury item,” he says. They tossed out a few ideas before arriving at the perfect one. “At first, I was supposed to have a whole bunch of tattoos on me that were names of my friends,” says Kim, whose rhymes often name-check high-end fashion lines. ”Then David came up with using a designer logo. Originally, I was supposed to be put in the storage part of a plane, and we were gonna have a whole lot of Louis Vuitton luggage around me. But Lois Vuitton wouldn’t let us do it.”

LaChapelle and production designer Kristen Vallow supplied Kim with books of Fifties pinups to give her a sense of how to pose. “She took the books home, and when she came to the shoot, it was clear she had actually practiced those poses,” says Vallow.

Kim, who was working on her second album, Notorious K.I.M., remembers showing up at LaChapelle’s New York studio at six o’clock in the morning. “Painting those logos on me took at least seven hours,” she says. “I couldn’t sit or they would have rubbed off.” Vales swears it took barely two hours to airbrush more than 100 stencils using regular acrylic paint. Two hours or seven, both agree it was a hell of a task. “I got the two makeup girls to help me,” says Vales, “because David wasn’t sure exactly how Kim would be posed, we had to cover every inch of her – front, back, sides, under the arm. I’m a straight boy, but after forty-five minutes, I was like, ‘This isn’t even exiting anymore.”

And Kim, who at that time was the raunchiest female rapper in the world, admits that being naked in a roomful of strangers isn’t easy. “I was a little uncomfortable,” she says. “I can get shy, but when I have to, I break loose.”

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