American Vogue’s renowned backstage photographer, Robert Fairer, takes us behind-the-scenes of one of the most influential fashion houses in the world.
How did you become a fashion and backstage photographer?
From early childhood I always had a camera with me, especially when travelling with my parents, so as I grew up I got used to documenting everything that I saw. My father always showed interest in what images I had taken, even making me do mini screenings for them, to showcase my photographs. At 18 I met a girl in fashion… my wife, Vanessa. So, when we went to the London and Paris fashion shows in the 80s and 90s, or hung around with our artist friends, I was always the guy taking their photos whilst everyone else chatted each other up and looked cool. One thing led to another, and I allowed my curiosity to take over.
What was it like to revisit your archive when compiling images for Marc Jacobs: Unseen?
It’s always a pretty fast and furious time for me! The Unseen book series I create with Thames & Hudson are an extra bonus in my life, but a challenging one to manage, time-wise. Luckily Vanessa constantly works on maintaining the archive, meaning that the collections are easily available for us to review. Mainly, we all cannot believe the length of time that has passed, as the start of shooting for Marc Jacobs all feels very recent – rather than 25 years ago!
What was it like shooting for Marc Jacobs in the early days?
I loved the behind-the-scenes New York vibe. It was a crazy cool time for the fashion world. Marc’s style communicates this moment so well with his free approach to dressing in a “street natural” way. This Marc Jacobs tome kicks off post grunge 1994, which was the new narrative we all witnessed in the early 90s. It was the beginning of a much fresher be-yourself, don’t-wear-tights-or-make-up era. For me, the models were themselves and their personalities shone through into the photographs – it was the beginning of the Kate Moss youthquake. Editing this book brought it all back and how, at the time, it was a break through moment for the fashion world.
Was there anything surprising you discovered when looking through your old photographs?
I am amazed by how uncomplicated it all was, and how few people were there. We all knew each other and it was a big family. I love my early work because the girls we so generous with their time, and they enjoyed being photographed. Today with the new models that does not exist so much. It has all changed and is much more controlled, but back then it was fun, nobody felt threatened, and people trusted one another. Fashion was far more about being incredibly creative and taking risks.
Which is your favourite Marc Jacobs collection, and why?
Spring Summer 2003 because it defines the Marc Jacobs moment precisely.
Marc Jacobs: Unseen is one in a series of books that record the preparations backstage at fashion shows, along with Alexander McQueen: Unseen and John Galliano: Unseen. How is shooting backstage for a Marc Jacobs show different from shooting McQueen and Galliano?
Shooting Marc Jacobs in New York was either boiling hot in September, or freezing cold with blizzards in February. Immediately that changes the mood if you compare it to the usually drizzly late night London for early McQueen shows, and the hectic full on fashion schedule of Paris, for Galliano.
London with McQueen was always impossible to get into, difficult to stay and edgy because of the unbelievable clothing that the girls changed into. McQueen was never just about the clothing – it was about the hair, make-up, Philip Treacy Headpieces, Shaun Leane Jewellery. As a photographer, you couldn’t afford to miss a beat because there was a potential photograph in every single square metre of backstage.
John Galliano shows were much the same. This was fashion theatre at its most extravagant and beautiful.
With Marc Jacobs, the shows are ready-to-go and more about being in control, cool and relaxed, in an everyday way. There is no intimidation – it’s young, directional, inclusive and fresh.
With this in mind, where do you see backstage photography heading?
To survive, it needs more intrigue, less quantity and more quality. When I shot for American Vogue, I was lucky if I had 50 photographs a season make the magazine edit or stories. 99% of my work was never published, not because it wasn’t fantastic, it was, but because there was a strict code on magazine space and editors only wanted to fill their pages with the very best. I think this says it all.