Backstage fashion photographer Robert Fairer shares stories from the past and present

ByDavid M. Conte

Oct 13, 2021

The heckling behind the scenes isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

This is exactly what is reflected in the first solo exhibition of London photographer Robert Fairer. “Backstage pass: Dior, Galliano, Jacobs and McQueen ”debuts Wednesday at the SCAD Fash Museum of Fashion + Film in Atlanta. The artist has cultivated a career that has often captured the frenetic moments behind the scenes before, during and after parades. Unlike now, where behind-the-scenes moments are often broadcast around the world via social media, Fairer had the rare and coveted job of often being the only goal behind the scenes, nabbing top designers, models, stylists, hairstylists and more. make-up artists and other creative people quite frankly.

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Images in the exhibition were shot behind the scenes and feature drawings by Dior, Jean Galliano, Marc Jacobs and Alexandre mcqueen between 1998 and 2010. In an interview on Tuesday with his wife and longtime collaborator Vanessa, Fairer said that seeing the photos that are featured in the exhibit is almost like looking at a past life to which he is still loosely attached. , and it brings back “wonderful memories.

Much of the work had been put away for years. Fairer and his wife selected hundreds of thousands of photos. Over the past few years, they’ve revealed some of his behind-the-scenes footage from “Unseen,” a book series published by Thames & Hudson. The one from Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel years will be released in the fall of 2022. A huge tome on makeup artist Pat McGrath is scheduled for April 2023.

Alexander McQueen: Exclusive / Retrospective, 2004. The design is modeled by Caroline Treniti, with hair by Eugene Souleiman and makeup by Val Garland.  - Credit: Robert Fairer / <a class=Photo courtesy” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/xw3Q.4TUZXujPiU6m4h88w–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTEyNTk-/https://s.yimg.com/uu/api/res/1.2/07sCi7gytPK66HqYRHwdtw–~B/aD0xMDI0O3c9NzgxO2FwcGlkPXl0YWNoeW9u/https://media.zenfs.com/en/wwd_409/209518c093ffc406d636d1bc6b902554″/>

Alexander McQueen: Exclusive / Retrospective, 2004. The design is modeled by Caroline Treniti, with hair by Eugene Souleiman and makeup by Val Garland. – Credit: Robert Fairer / Photo courtesy

Robert Fairer / Courtesy photo

In recent seasons, Fairer has worked with Kim jones To Fendi. “Fortunately, with Fendi it is a family business to a certain extent. They control everything, so behind the scenes is as I would like it to be. We are able to create a backstage similar to what I was able to do in the early 2000s, ”said Fairer.

Recalling her early freewheeling days behind the scenes, Fairer said that Sally Singer (the former Vogue Creative Director who is now at Amazon) captured this scene better, calling it a “Gone World.” When he started out in the 1990s, Fairer was often one of the few behind-the-scenes photographers, with the exception of Bardo Fabiani or Roxanne Lewitt. Initially there to photograph the pre-show beauty, Fairer would then run to stand at the end of the podium to photograph the show with a group of other people. He changed tracks after realizing that behind the scenes could be shot in a more intimate way and more like a fashion shoot.

Around 2004 or 2005, designers began to realize the potential appeal of sharing behind-the-scenes images.

“The Internet was dawning. It is a hungry beast and it needs to be fed. The designers decided that could be a good thing. They started inviting people backstage. Magazines needed content. The internet needed content. The designers wanted exposure, ”said Fairer. “Some of the designers were really good at it, getting a lot of traction with these behind-the-scenes footage. He transformed into this organized monster in a certain way. It suddenly became expected. And it was filled with photographers. Often times you could have 30 or 35 models in a show, and you could actually have more photographers than models backstage.

Having all of these photographers jostling for the same shot made it cumbersome and very difficult to get a slightly exclusive image, Fairer said. More recently, some designers have implemented stage and rehearsal type backdrops for models to take “those neat photos of behind-the-scenes events that are very much controlled by the designers,” he said. “But at first it was the Wild West. You would fight to stay. Anytime you could be kicked out [if] the designers didn’t understand what you were doing, why you wanted to do it. Why were you there? Why were you on the way? It was for hair and makeup, and only for designers.

He continued, “These were really glory days. They were fantastic days of [having the] freedom to roam and do virtually what you wanted to do rather than what everyone expected.

The shift to a more manufactured behind-the-scenes approach has used up some of the magic and consumers are somewhat aware that it is being staged, Fairer said. “It has become so ubiquitous. You have to do something very special to make yourself stand out. Fashion has come out of imagery. The spontaneity is not there.

He spoke of the prevalence of the standard red carpet pose that many have adopted – one leg extended in front of the other, pointing toe, standing further back and with shoulders back, and hand on hip. “There was almost a backstage modeling school photography,” he said.

Although Fairer hasn’t spent as much time photographing behind the scenes as before, the photographer has worked with Calvin Klein, Tom Ford, Versace and last week with Fendi. Welcoming Fendi’s decision to recruit a few ’90s models, he said, “They are able to give themselves a little. Their character shines through. Shalom [Harlow] create these amazing lying poses, whatever they are [trying to be] and looks like a million dollars. For the younger generation of models arriving, I just noticed that all you have to do is stand up, look at the camera, get into that default pose, and click. Your photo has been taken. You have fulfilled part of your contract. Now it’s time to get out on the track and walk like a robot, ”he said. “It has become pasteurized, unromantic and a little stereotypical. “

John Galliano, spring 2002, seen on Mariacarla Boscono.  Hairstyle by Orlando Pita and makeup by Val Garland.  - Credit: Robert Fairer / Photo courtesy

John Galliano, spring 2002, seen on Mariacarla Boscono. Hairstyle by Orlando Pita and makeup by Val Garland. – Credit: Robert Fairer / Photo courtesy

Robert Fairer / Courtesy photo

Chanel’s most recent runway show, which featured models smiling and looking around and photographers positioned around the catwalk as they might have been in the ’80s or’ 90s, got high marks from Fairer. But societal changes have also created a new atmosphere.

Recalling being the only photographer behind the scenes at a Tom Ford show, he said, “I’ve been doing this for a long time. I know all the girls. The locker room was totally off limits. Of course, this is due to the #MeToo movement and the various incidents that have happened over the years, not necessarily behind the scenes but just generally in the industry and the world. They are very protective of everyone’s modesty, which of course I understand perfectly. But what he does is remove that opportunity to create those wonderful images of a girl adjusting her dress, putting on her boots, putting on her gloves as a finishing touch, or being helped in an outfit by a dresser.

With McQueen’s shows, it all happened until the very last second a girl stepped out on the runway, according to Fairer. “The girls were sewn into their dresses an hour or an hour and a half before the show. There would be a tailor’s post with all the sewing machines. They would work on those elaborate, feathered, sequined, or shell dresses until the very last minute, ”said Fairer, adding that shows could start half an hour or even sometimes a few hours late due to things that happened. were happening at the last minute. “McQueen checked every detail. He would run backstage like a sprinter from glance to glance, making sure everything was attached perfectly.

While some might see it as disorganized, Fairer saw him as “a master at work – nothing is over until he’s on the trail.”

In Galliano Dior’s day, however, it would have all been finished “with everything done to the last detail” a few days before the show, Fairer said. “He would be dressed in his marvelous look from the season as an astronaut or pirate swashbuckling. He would be at the front of the catwalk giving words of encouragement and physical direction to the girls on how to pose, who they were, what their dress and character story was, and how to make full use of their minute. on the podium. effect. But all the adjustments and making sure the dress was perfect were already made. It is very similar to Marc Jacobs also. It was a very well organized machine.

With millions of images in his archive, Fairer and his wife hope to digitize and categorize them all so that universities, museums and foundations can use them to spread the word, educate and share the experience. Busy with filming and work, the couple decided they were going to have to bite the bullet, grow bigger and work hard to get there. Some have “smelled” the idea of ​​acquiring or investing in the photographer’s archives, a perspective to which the Fairers are open. But the McQueen portion will likely be given as a donation, Vanessa Fairer said.

“Everything else is an entirely different scenario. The McQueen is the thing that pulls every chord of the heart, and always will be, ”she said.

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