Listen to this article
By timely coincidence, two very different photographic happenings took place in Paris this month, events that neatly highlighted the changing role of the fashion photographer – from artist to entrepreneur.
At the Palais Galliera, Papier Glacé: A Century of Fashion Photography at Condé Nast opened to the public – more than 150 prints charting the Vogue publisher’s creative relationship with fashion photographers, from Baron Adolf de Meyer, the first photographer to be employed by the publishing group, through to present-day snappers such as Steven Meisel, Miles Aldridge, and husband-and-wife team Inez van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin, alongside names such as Horst P Horst, Irving Penn, David Bailey and Helmut Newton.
Meanwhile, concept boutique Collette hosted something of an entirely different nature, unveiling French fashion photographer, blogger and illustrator Garance Doré’s range of stationery and smartphone covers. As Doré announced on her blog: “Today I am launching my brand!”
Doré is not alone. A handful of photographers have stepped from behind the lens and into the marketplace. In fact Scott Schuman, Doré’s boyfriend and best known as the Sartorialist blogger and photographer, was ahead of the curve when he curated “pop-up” menswear boutique (under the name “the SartoriaLUST”) at Barneys in 2009. And just a few months ago Lamsweerde and Matadin declared that they wanted to become a “lifestyle brand” with the launch of their Inez & Vinoodh jewellery line and a perfume called 1996. Mario Testino, too, has a collection of clothing inspired by his native Peru on Net-a-Porter (a charity line in aid of his Mate foundation) and Bailey launched a limited edition of printed T-shirts at Selfridges in London in January.
Leading fashion names such as Karl Lagerfeld and Saint Laurent’s Hedi Slimane have crossed the divide to become both designer and photographer – could this be the start of the trend in reverse?
“It sounds weird but, yes, photographers can become brands,” says Sarah Andelman, Collette’s creative director. “Because of what they do, they are very sensitive to style and design so it seems only natural, after a while, that they would want to create some products of their own.”
But is there a market for names that are relatively unknown? “Some of these photographers are very close to their public through the internet and social media, some others talk to a high-fashion crowd,” Andelman says. “But one thing is certain – all of them have fans who will be happy to ‘wear’ them.”
Judd Crane, director of womenswear at Selfridges, agrees. “We are always looking for one-of-a-kind products so to be able to buy a piece of David Bailey’s work for only £70 is just amazing,” he says of the cotton T-shirts printed with Bailey portraits of Mick Jagger, John Lennon and Grace Jones, among others. “A T-shirt is the most democratic fashion item out there, so there’s something fun about making it an art piece. Bailey is inherently cool and quintessentially British, and the final product is a clever mix of the commercial and the niche.”
Bailey himself says his range of T-shirts had been in the pipeline for about eight years. “But it wasn’t until these guys from the East End called the Bleach Room turned up that I thought it could work. I wanted them to come up with better graphics for my images than I could come up with myself. They did, but it took them a year to do it.”
Surprisingly, it was by chance that the launch of the T-shirt line coincided with Stardust, Bailey’s exhibition at London’s National Portrait Gallery, which runs until June and features many of his familiar images.
“Printing a T-shirt is no different from doing a silk-screen print, so it made sense,” the photographer says. “You don’t want to sell your prints too cheap or you screw your market, so this was another way of making my work more democratic. But we are only doing a limited run of the T-shirts so, in the end, they will become collectors’ items.”
Does Bailey think that the nature of fashion photography has changed since he started shooting for Vogue in the early 1960s? “You have to be an entrepreneur now,” he says, “or at least it’s going that way.”
As for the next generation of photographers, the art schools agree with Bailey. “Entrepreneurship is in the DNA here,” says Natalie Brett, head of the London College of Communications, which counts Rankin and Jefferson Hack among its alumni. “Students have the opportunity to cross boundaries and subject areas and collaborate on amazing projects. The advantage of a creative education is that you don’t need to wait for a certificate to practise like a doctor or a lawyer. Many of our students are taking commissions before they graduate. They put forward business ideas and they constantly look for opportunities.”
Jackie Dixon, Elle magazine stylist-turned-photographer, doesn’t believe in pigeonholing artists. “Why is there such a fascination with Inez and Vinoodh launching a perfume? Is it really any stranger than a woman [Sarah Jessica Parker] famous for playing a neurotic New Yorker who has a penchant for Manolo Blahniks releasing a scent called Lovely? An entrepreneurial streak should be commended as much as a creative one.”
Does Bailey see himself launching a perfume? “One of those big cosmetic companies did approach me to do a David Bailey perfume once but it never came off,” he says. And just what would it smell like? “A brothel most likely.”