The pioneer of backstage photography, Roxanne Lowit has been covering fashion since the 1970s. Over her illustrious career, she has been a a trusted friend and photographer to designers and artists including Andy Warhol, Halston, Yves Saint Laurent, Karl Lagerfeld, and Salvador Dalí, to mention a few. Her gentle approach, quiet strength and keen eye make Roxanne fashion’s most powerful fly on the wall. This November marks the launch of her fourth book, Yves Saint Laurent, a behind the scenes record of the legendary designer.
Did you always dream of becoming a photographer?
No. I dreamt about being an artist and I wanted to paint portraits of people I admired and capture their soul. Antonio Lopez gave me an Instamatic camera. I started taking photos of people I wanted to paint and realized I could capture their soul with a camera.
How did you move from the Instamatic to a real camera?
I went to Paris to cover the shows for Soho News and my editor, Annie Flanders asked my to buy a real camera. Never owning a camera before, I had to learn on the plane, and the rest is history.
You are renowned for creating the backstage scene, how did this happen?
In the seventies, I was part of Antonio Lopez’s entourage and they got me into the YSL show. I did not have credentials for the front of house so I stayed backstage and that is where I first met Yves Saint Laurent and started photographing backstage. It’s hard to believe but at the time there were no backstage photographers. I realized it was so wonderful to be backstage that when I had finally had credentials to cover the shows, I still went backstage.
What was it like being backstage in Paris in your early career?
The late seventies was an amazing time for fashion. Designers weren’t stars and models weren’t supermodels yet so it was a more intimate time. YSL, Jean Charles De Castelbajac, Karl Lagerfeld for Chloé, Marc Bohan at Dior, and Sonia Rykiel all allowed me to photograph very freely. Being backstage, standing next to the designer, and watching the process was fascinating, interesting, and energetic.
Why do you think designers such as YSL and Dior put tremendous trust and faith in you?
I think it’s the way I take photos, not imposing, not loud, very nice, go with the flow. Karl Lagerfeld’s quote in my book Moments explains it nicely, “One whose absence is felt, whose presence merely sensed.”
We saw the YSL movie recently. Do you feel it was an accurate portrayal of his life?
The actor was incredibly good as Yves and looked just like him. For my time backstage, I never saw Yves get angry or rage like that. He had an aura about him – quiet and gentle. He was passionate but not angry passionate. He always thanked the models, and thanked me.
We are excited about your upcoming book Yves Saint Laurent. What was it like backstage at his shows?
It was always very exciting to watch the show unraveling and see all the models. Yves would touch every model before they went out – tie bow, ruffle skirt, loving ever moment of it. There was such strength and vision there. Yves did everything first: the pointed bra, see through blouse, models of color. He was a leader and inspiration to other designers. His art was his work.
What are some of your favorite YSL memories?
In 1983, I was his photographer of record for the “YSL: 25 Years of Design” exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We spent lots of time in New York going to parties and events at the French Embassy, Fashion Institute of Technology, and the MET Gala. He just makes you fall in love with him.
You have covered such an amazing range of personalities. What do you feel is a common thread in your work?
The je ne sais quoi attitude, energy, beauty, and power.
What have been some of your favorite celebrity photo shoots?
One of the most memorable was a BAAFTA photo shoot in UK for British GQ. They had celebrities from Anthony Hopkins to Tilda Swinton lining up to see me in little room, the size of closet. I was so blown away by the important people who kept coming in and I had about 3 clicks with each of them.
What was it like photographing Salvador Dalí?
He loved the camera and I love taking pictures of people who love the camera. So, we were in heaven.
If you could host a dinner party for anyone, dead or alive, who would you invite?
Matisse, Picasso, Marlyn Monroe, Marlon Brando Miro and Salvador Dalí. I’ve met only Salvador and he was so fascinating I would like to meet the rest of them.