Picturing the fashion industry

SPRING is here, did you know?

Have you looked in a shop window lately?

And when spring clothes hit the rails, next autumn’s fashion hits the catwalks.

Jason Lloyd-Evans, backstage photographer extraordinaire, is gearing up for Thursday, when the women’s wear circus begins. You have probably admired Jason’s work in this paper or in Grazia, Harper’s Bazaar, The Sunday Times Style magazine or, if you’re a hardcore fashion addict, 10 Magazine.

Designers and luxury brands have trusted him to capture the magic that precedes a show for over a decade. He’s been to Beijing with Armani and Taormina for Dolce & Gabbana’s first couture show. He’s leapt aboard an industrial lift with Galliano models en route to the catwalk and documented Raf Simons’s rise from Jil Sander purist to saviour of Dior. Shooting up to 150 shows a season with a discerning eye, he shapes how we see the shows and influences how new trends are interpreted.

“Jason’s work gets better and better,” says Sarah Rumens, picture editor for Grazia UK, which has published his backstage images since it launched. “He is such a fantastic guy. All the models give him the biggest smile, the cheekiest air-kisses and right-in-there eye contact. He knows everyone, and manages to keep a level head behind the scenes despite the whirlwind of drama which can exist backstage.”

The Buckinghamshire native began experimenting with Polaroid cameras as a child and also took an early interest in fashion. As a teenager, when most of his friends collected posters of The Smiths, Lloyd-Evans was ripping his sister’s fashion magazines apart and wallpapering his room with images from different shoots. He also staged his own, taking female friends to the park for test-shoots and photo stories.

After studying media at university, Lloyd-Evans assisted a photographer who shot fashion shows from a reportage perspective. This is how he was first exposed to the energetic backstage environment and quickly became more interested in that world than what was happening out front.

Then he took a job with Harper’s Bazaar US photographer Sean Cunningham. His wayward assisting style turned out to be a great way to develop his photography skills. “The whole time I was meant to be assisting Sean, I’d be shooting,” explains Lloyd-Evans. “I was very lucky to work for him because usually an assistant spends a lot of time setting the camera up and doesn’t get to take many pictures. With Sean, I was just so keen to get on with it that we’d arrive, I’d set him up for the show, say ‘There’s your camera!’ and then run off to do my own pictures. He let me have the freedom to do this and my pictures soon looked good. Through assisting and doing my own thing I was able to build a portfolio and take it to magazines I really wanted to work with.”

One of his early career highlights was his first time backstage at Versace. “I wasn’t established at the time and somehow found a way to sneak in there. It was especially memorable because I was taking pictures alongside [Vogue Italia photographer] Bardo Fabiani, who’s been in the business at least 50 years and gave me advice and was very encouraging. It was very special to be in Milan, at Versace, working beside a guy whose work I really respect and admire.”

10 Magazine is a quarterly created by Sophia Neophitou-Apostolou. The former fashion director at Harper’s Bazaar is famous for working only through “relationships” with the industry’s crème-de-la crème. Lloyd-Evans’s images can often be spotted on the 10 Magazine website hours after a show has happened. He tells me one of the first stories which felt like he’d “made it” was a 20-page spread of his backstage images in 10. “It just built from there. That was the aesthetic I really enjoyed when I started doing the shows.”

Lloyd-Evans benefits from our voyeuristic interest in all things behind-the-scenes.

“Backstage photography has gotten bigger and bigger since I began. There are more magazines that want access and more photographers backstage and the environment has changed. It’s gone from fly-on-the-wall sessions to the whole scene being a show. The girls are used to performing and posing, which works for magazines like Grazia, which want energy and fun. If you want to do something a bit more fly-on-the-wall now it is more difficult because not only are there a lot more people around jostling but the girls automatically start performing.”

Models do seem to love Lloyd-Evans, probably because he makes them look so amazing while under pressure.

“I am always impressed by his ability to convince even the more reluctant supermodels to pose for backstage pictures and the fact that, even after weeks of shows and such little sleep, he manages to light the girls in such a way that even when he’s grabbed a shot in line-up they look so chic and rested,” says Sophie Forte, beauty director at Harper’s Bazaar UK.

Catwalk shows as we know them are a relatively recent phenomenon and fashion weeks have only been happening for two decades. It wasn’t until the 1990s that designers began to move away from individual shows, understanding that they could have more impact collectively. In 1993, New York staged the first ever fashion week. Today, a show during fashion week in Paris, New York, London or Milan can begin an international career. Lloyd-Evans documents these moments, letting the rest of us sit front row and go backstage.

“We are fascinated by Jason’s ability to — in a split second — capture the essence of the Jil Sander collections in the chaotic environment backstage during the runway show,” says Jonas Falk, head of communication at the Jil Sander group. “Surrounded by make-up artists, hairdressers, designers and assistants, he manages to picture the subtle details and refinement that make Jil Sander such a unique brand.

“Jason’s work is vital to our visual communication: his pictures breathe luxury, sophistication and innovation, in harmony with the Jil Sander brand’s values.”

Backstage, designers rely on a small army to make the show succeed. Stylists, models, hair stylists, make-up artists and producers all play crucial roles. A photographer’s work, ultimately, determines what is available to the media to reproduce and they can make stars of industry heavyweights that might otherwise remain under the radar.

“Tom Pecheux, Guido Palau, Pat McGrath ... you see them all,” says Lloyd-Evans. “One of the things that got me hooked on the job is that I can go to six shows in a day and, by the end, I’ll have shot four of the world’s top make-up artists and three of the world’s top hair stylists, all working on different looks together. I’ve shot all of these people collaborating on a show by 10am, and then an entirely different one at 12pm.

“You do this again and again and when the fashion circus ends you’ve taken everything in, and know all about what people will be wearing in six months’ time. That’s what makes this job amazing and why it will always continue to be.”

He has first-hand experience of the best and worst aspects of working the shows. “New York is a very commercial fashion week with a few names that are big internationally, like Ralph Lauren and Michael Kors, though there are a few creative brands like Rodarte and Michael Kors that I always look forward to.

“London Fashion Week is unique; there’s creative talent in London you don’t get anywhere else. Milan is so full of fashion powerhouses that you don’t get many small designers. Milan is quite tough because you’ve just finished New York and London and you’ve been working flat out. Paris is my favourite city. That’s the big one; it combines commerciality with fashion powerhouses, history, amazing creativity and locations.”

Lloyd-Evans lists Alexander McQueen among his favourite shows. “Even without him being there, there’s always an edgy atmosphere and the sense that anything could happen. Sometimes the fashion’s so romantic and theatrical, others it is spiky and dark. The preparations always make for an amazing shoot. I’ve also shot backstage at Jil Sander for years and really like it. I love the cleanliness and simplicity there is to the clothes.

“Paris will be especially interesting this season because there’s been such a big shake-up at three of the biggest brands. You have Raf Simons at Dior, Alexander Wang at Balenciaga and Hedi Slimane at Saint Laurent de Paris. They’re all fantastic creative talents surrounded by incredible couture heritage, so I’m really looking forward to shooting those shows.”

He trains for the shows by practising yoga and walking daily. “I try to be in the best shape possible, as from the beginning of New York Fashion Week to when Paris finishes, I don’t have one day off. The last day in New York I do Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein, then a couple more before flying to London that evening. Then I shoot for four days in London, go to bed at 2am and sleep for three hours before flying to Milan and heading straight to Gucci. After five days there, I shoot for a week in Paris. It’s never just a case of turning up and shooting a show, either. You must process, sort, re-touch and upload each image.

“There are also huge shifts in environment every couple of hours. I can go for a garage in the north of Paris to the Grand Palais in a morning. The energies are all completely different, too. There used to be a party mood at Galliano and then I’d shoot a quiet, moving mood at Jil Sander, where I’ve seen [former creative director] Raf Simons in tears while taking his bow.”

But what of the fashion industry’s work hard/play harder reputation? Did he sample the margarita fountain backstage at Jonathan Saunders’ last show? “When I started, I would go to a lot of parties and get drunk but now I’m like a saint! I don’t drink, which is hard when there’s so much champagne backstage. But when you’re shooting nine shows a day and then need to edit them, you must be up for the workload.”

Lloyd-Evans’s advice to aspiring fashion photographers is to start researching and to focus on developing an individual style. “You need to appreciate all the different styles of photography you can, both to get a good general knowledge and to help develop a style of your own.

“Photography school helps with background knowledge but doesn’t guarantee anything in practice. It is all about capturing the right image and you can’t necessarily develop that through being taught. In terms of equipment, try a bit of everything and work out what’s right for you.

“The work is extremely hard and the hours are long, but it gives you such an adrenaline rush, you soon feel there’s no other way of doing the job. If I were to leave this bar and go straight to a Chloé show, I wouldn’t be able to do it. You have to be in the zone, you have to be a little bit wired.

“You can’t be surrounded by 250 people and able to focus on work without feeling that way. You feed off the crazy pace and that gives you the energy to keep at it. Even when you’re in an environment when someone’s screaming and shouting, you’re able to filter it.”

Zoolander-style hissyfits are just the stuff of parody and Lloyd-Evans is impressed by the work ethic of some industry greats. “When Tom Ford was at YSL and Gucci he would inspect every detail of a model’s appearance, right down to the state of each fingernail.

“Karl Lagerfeld has such presence. Everyone working at a Chanel show, no matter how famous or experienced, will treat it as an event of great importance. The atmosphere backstage isn’t stressed but you can sense that respect in the way they work.

“Donatella Versace is wonderful, she’ll always try to have everyone laughing and in a good mood backstage and make a point of speaking with everyone. People outside fashion might see the big designers as figureheads and somehow disconnected from reality, but from what I see they all have a great sense of humour, work incredibly hard and are involved with their collections at every stage.

“With the models, it is not all about looking great. The best work hard, get on with people and get into the character and concept of a show. They don’t just walk up and down for a living. One thing I really like about fashion is that hard work is something everyone at the top of their profession has in common.”

These images alone tell you Jason Lloyd Evans is one of the hardest working photographers in fashion.

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