The way in which a fashion label presents itself to the world can be just as important as the garments it makes. Before a customer gets anywhere near the clothes, chances are they’ll have some impression of the brand’s broader image, and that means any designer’s work has to be backed up with a strong advertising campaign in order to reach an audience.
Yet creating a unique and original image is not an easy task, and this is when the world’s top-tier fashion photographers rise above the rest. By being able to capture the spirit of a brand along with the designer’s vision, they present the clothing in a way that’s both inspiring, enticing and recognizable over a prolonged period of time.
Following on from our recent piece on the history of fashion photography, here we take a look at how the "magic touch" of some of the world’s top fashion photographers can turn a little-known brand into an instantly recognizable icon. Examining 10 influential brands and the photographers that became synonymous with them, the following is a breakdown of how personal style can develop into a signature look over time.
Willy Vanderperre for Raf Simons
Vanderperre and Simons began collaborating in Antwerp during the mid ’90s as mutual parts of the city’s thriving creative scene. So, with a collaborative relationship that spans over 20 years, it’s no surprise that the two are on the exact same aesthetic page. Both are influenced by (and almost obsessed with) outsider youth and subcultures, and Vanderperre’s minimal yet compelling style has become the epitome of the Raf Simons brand — a perfect representation of the underground values from which Simons’ designs draw their inspiration.
Jürgen Teller for Marc Jacobs
As one of the most significant and long-standing collaborations in fashion, it’s hard not to think of Marc Jacobs and picture one of Jeurgen Teller’s witty, colorful advertising campaigns.
Shooting his first Marc Jacobs ad back in 1998, Teller’s legendary over-exposed style combined with his unusual choice of models and bizarre shoot concepts has played a vital role in establishing Marc Jacobs as one of today's most distinguished brands. Even now, so many years down the line, the influence of both the designer and photographer can be spotted all over the fashion world.
Terry Richardson for Supreme
Terry Richardson is certainly one of the more controversial photographers on this list (both for his work and his choice of methods), yet it’s hard to deny his huge influence in the world of fashion photography. As someone already known for his gritty, racy and unashamedly in-your-face aesthetic, all shot against that unmistakable white background, Richardson applied the same point-and-shoot techniques and edgy themes to his work at Supreme, and the results seemed a perfect match.
His most notable output for the brand has been his photos of celebrities — ranging all the way from Lady Gaga and Kate Moss to Neil Young and Kermit the Frog — all wearing the famous box logo T-shirt. Thanks to Supreme’s notorious flypostering tactics, Terry’s work has become inseparably tied to the brand, and no one can deny that has proved to be an unbelievably shrewd marketing tool, regardless of your opinions on the man himself.
Hedi Slimane for Saint Laurent
Since taking the reigns as creative director at Yves Saint Laurent in March 2012 (and dropping the “Yves” part), Hedi Slimane has made his presence very apparent. Following his momentous appointment the brand underwent an almost entire re-branding, with his rock ’n’ roll influences and signature slimline silhouette becoming an aesthetic cornerstone for the new wave of the storied house.
Serving as both Saint Laurent’s primary photographer as well as its creative director, Slimane relocated the headquarters from Paris to LA and instantly began tapping into the blossoming underground rock scene that Southern California is so famous for. Today, his fingerprint is all over the brand.
Whether it’s his fondness for using musicians in his marketing campaigns, the rakish and rebellious look of his models or his unwavering commitment to black and white photography, these days there’s very little to separate Slimane’s personal photography with Saint Laurent’s own advertising.
Ron Leighton for Stüssy
California natives Ron Leighton and Shawn Stussy began working together way back in 1982, when the Stüssy brand was just finding its feet. Part of the original IST (International Stüssy Tribe), Leighton is responsible for the low-contrast, high-grain adverts that appeared in the pages of magazines such as Thrasher and Surfer magazine during the mid ’80s. Using friends, local skaters and surfers as models, Ron’s campaigns featured Shawn’s own signature handwriting and represented the DIY punk mentality that Stüssy was born from.
These adverts have become a classic piece of streetwear (and advertising) history, representing an entire era of hip-hop, surf and skate culture — one that helped Stüssy gain the cult status it holds today.
Bruce Weber for Calvin Klein
Bruce Weber burst onto the fashion scene in the early ’80s with the photograph seen above of Brazilian Olympic pole vaulter Tom Hintnaus wearing a pair of Calvin Klein’s famous white briefs. The sexualization of the male body was pretty unheard of in advertising at the time, so when Weber’s iconic campaign featuring an almost-naked, muscular man appeared looming over Times Square in 1982 it kicked up some fuss and controversy with the American public.
Despite this, Klein and Weber sparked a change in the world of underwear advertising, breaking down the bland and prudish attitude of the time and setting a new standard for what was considered to be the face of masculinity. In turn, both the photographer and the designer have become bonafide symbols of American culture, and it’s almost impossible to think of CK without Weber’s images springing to mind.
Mario Testino for Gucci
Gucci went through some tough times back in 1994. Sales had dropped and the luxury fashion brand was on the verge of bankruptcy. In an effort to turn things around they reached out to Tom Ford and put their faith in him as creative director to turn things around.
One of Ford’s first steps was to enlist the help of renowned photographer Mario Testino to give the label a new image. With Testino’s stylish, sexy photography and Tom’s creative vision, the two created some of the most groundbreaking campaigns in ’90s fashion. Far ahead of its time, by 1996 the newly sophisticated, yet still rebellious face of Gucci had managed to increase sales by 90%, and pushed the label to the forefront of fashion.
As a pair, Ford and Testino have been widely credited for bringing glamour back into fashion during the days of “heroin chic."
Craig McDean for Jil Sander
Widely regarded as one of the first photographers to bring the “anti-supermodel” to the mainstream in the ’90s, British photographer Craig McDean’s work was a sophisticated yet gritty contrast to the glossy campaigns of the previous era.
Beginning his career working for London magazines The Face and i-D, his editorial work soon caught the eye of German designer Jil Sander, and the two began collaborating on a series of advertising campaigns. Sander’s designs set the standard for ’90s minimalism; her feminine and modern approach combined with McDean’s grungey aesthetic made for some truly timeless advertising. Traces of their collaborative influence can still be found in today’s fashion landscape.
Steven Meisel for Moschino
As one of the world’s boldest luxury fashion brands helmed by one of fashion’s loudest personalities, it seemed entirely fitting that Moschino reached out to New York-born photographer Steven Meisel to shoot their first advertising campaign under Jeremy Scott.
One of the most prolific photographers working in fashion, Meisel is known for his sometimes controversial shoot concepts, and his perfectionist eye has been employed by almost every major name there is: Prada, Lanvin, Versace, Valentino, Luis Vuitton, Dolce & Gabbana – the list goes on. However, with his recent work for Moschino, something really clicked.
Enlisting the immortal face of Linda Evangelista, the contrast between Meisel’s delicate, undeniably classic black & white portraiture and the bold, inescapably kitsch clothing created a suitably ridiculous contrast. While the partnership is currently only two shoots old, we can only hope it continues to define this latest era of the outrageous House of Moschino.
Mark Borthwick for Margiela
London born, New York-based photographer Mark Borthwick’s avant-garde photography gained notoriety throughout the ’90s, appearing in the pages of emerging magazines like i-D, Purple and Self Service. Such early acclaim singled him out as him one of the key photographers of the era.
Blurring the lines between art and fashion, Borthwick’s experimental approach to photography was noticed by the now much-mythologized Belgian designer Martin Margiela, although back then he was still in the formative stages of his career. A collaborative editorial in i-D’s "Outlook" followed in ’97, and soon the pair were working together regularly.
Borthwick’s blown-out, light-filled work is a perfect complement to Margiela's deconstructed, raw approach to fashion design. Together they shoved the glossy, polished face of fashion aside and opened up a world of experimentation, allowing avant-garde art mediums and fashion to collide in one image.