Valentino’s Languid Brazilian Lion

In the heyday of New York society, a guy could appear out of nowhere with no income and no trust fund and in no time know all the right people and be invited to all the right parties.

It was a tricky Rubik’s Cube to solve—you had to be very attractive, well mannered, sexy, extremely fun, and have at least have one connection to get you going. Then you made your own luck. 

Carlos de Souza was born in the 1950s in Sao Paulo, Brazil, the son of a lawyer and wonderful housewife. 

“I used to do some modeling stuff in Brazil for local newspapers, advertising and things like that,” said Mr. de Souza over a recent lunch at Nobu. “The young guy kissing the girl. And I met Valentino through friends in carnival. I was 16. We are in a nightclub and friends of mine say, ‘Listen, Mr. Valentino likes very much your looks; why don’t you come around and do a fashion show?’”

This was the early 1970s. Valentino was huge. But Mr. de Souza wasn’t ready to abandon his schooling. “I wanted to work in diplomacy,” he said. 

Across the table at Nobu, Mr. de Souza indeed looked like a former male model: perfect nose, beautiful head of hair, a deep tan extending down to his chest, several glinting gold chains. He wore a khaki suit, pink shirt, black handkerchief with white polka dots, and pointed brown suede shoes, all Valentino. (When he worked as a big shot for Valentino in New York, he was awarded the biggest clothing allowance because the clothes looked good on him.) I sniffed him, but could find not even a hint of cologne.

“Anyway, two years pass and I meet another friend that was in that time,” he continued. “And he say, ‘Listen, Valentino is still wants you to come. Why don’t you come around and do a collection for him?’”

He must have made quite an impression.

“There you go,” he said. “I arrive in Italy and right away I work with L’Uomo Vogue, it was a David Bailey shooting, and after that I also did some shooting with Helmut Newton as a model.

“When I arrive in Paris there was three guys—we were the three young kids in Paris at the moment—it was Jerry Hall, Tom Cashin and me, and we used to sit together, we all very young,” he continued. “And Tom Cashin became a Broadway star, a dancer, and Jerry Hall, Mrs. Jagger. I remember vividly we’re sitting in the sidewalk eating little yogurt and honey. It was a good time in Paris.…And I have a lot of traveling experience in the Orient and all that, because at the time when I was a model—Oh! this is another very good thing—”

He had remembered that Andy Warhol, after seeing a photo of Mr. de Souza in a swimming pool, had made him a centerfold in Interview magazine. And then again, for a second time, “because of popular demand!” The Japanese designer Issey Miyake liked the pictures and asked him to come do a campaign. Because of this, he said, “the car Nissan got me under contract and for three, four years. I was twice in Japan every year.” 

Things must have gotten pretty wild? 

“But anyway right after doing a little bit of modeling, I get interested in the other side of the camera.” 

(Mr. de Souza is not the sort to talk about wild nights; that the nights were wild is a given.)

Behind the camera, he started taking pictures of people like Bianca Jagger, and Interview commissioned him to cover parties and fashion shows. That’s how he came to know so many editors, many of whom are “super-editors today.”

“When I meet Andy, I say, ‘Andy, hi. But how come you ask me for those pictures? I mean look at us, we are working together, you give me a great break.’ And he say, ‘Listen, Carlos, my mode, my thing in this world, is to discover people. You are good-looking, charming, you do great pictures, I’m here for you.’ And I still have the first check. This is the experience that I have, and I always have a very good luck star, showing me to good friends.” 

Harper’s Bazaar hired him as a men’s wear editor. He had an office uptown on the East Side and would bring trunks of clothes from Italy to New York to shoot. “We used to look at models. And many models came around with those incredible black-and-white pictures. And we would say, ‘Who did this.’ ‘Oh, it’s a guy downtown called Steven Meisel.’ And I say, ‘Do you have his number?’”

And so he more or less discovered Mr. Meisel, the most in-demand fashion photographer today. He also worked with Patrick Demarchelier, Bruce Weber, Albert Watson, and Herb Ritts. “It is in a time not to be repeated,” he said, “and we are in the right spot at the right moment?” 

“Next step I got married in ’83 and I went to Brazil, and we have our first son he was born there.”

Valentino’s Languid Brazilian Lion