Meet the man on fashion's front line
For half a century, the photographer Chris Moore has chronicled life at the cutting edge of fashion. Here, he unveils a selection of favourite images
Monday 05 November 2007
Born in 1934, Chris Moore has been a fashion photographer for over 50 years, and is known as the "King of Catwalk", due to his extensive fashion-show coverage. His work will be shown in a new exhibition entitled Chris Moore: A Catwalk Retrospective, at the London College of Fashion.
It was in 1967 that I first went to Paris to photograph the couture shows. Or rather, photograph outfits from the shows. In those days we weren't actually allowed inside during the event because the couture houses were paranoid about copying; anyone caught sketching would have been frogmarched out. Instead, the photographers were allowed to see three outfits on a model posing outside afterwards, and we would pay her 400 old francs, because that was how the models made their money.
It was only in the early 1970s, when the ready-to-wear market exploded, that couture houses started to open their doors to photographers because they were worried about losing business.
The house models at the couture shows were often terrible. The important thing was figure and height, more than face. "Interesting" is how I'd describe a lot of them. They would often be older than they are now - well into their thirties, even - because they might stay at a fashion house for 10 years. These days, they are younger, but they've always been thin. I don't know why people make such a fuss about "size zero" models - I've seen girls who are thin as rakes, but eat like horses. Slenderness and youth tend to go hand in hand.
Models used to smile more - now there are notices backstage saying, "don't stop, don't smile". Christy Turlington was the best catwalk model ever. She would often give photographers a second bite of the cherry, by pausing more than once. The first time I saw Kate Moss, she was electrifying: more girl-next-door than an incredible beauty, but she just had something about her. Am I immune to seeing beautiful women? Funnily enough, no.
Before the advent of digital photography, I used to set up a darkroom in my Paris hotel room during the shows. I would shuffle past reception with an enlarger and a stack of chemicals, and print the pictures in a wardrobe because it was nice and dark. There was one classic time when I managed to stain a hotel bath from developing photos in it. Because I didn't know the French for "bleach", I couldn't clean it off. I got away with it in the end, though.
I didn't use FedEx in those days because it wasn't quick enough. I'd find someone who was going back to the airport and send the pictures with them.
It was a lot more civilised in the early days. Paris couture would take two or so weeks, and there were only two or three shows a day, leaving time for dinner and socialising. Now, the net and digital photography means that everyone wants their pictures immediately, and there are so many shows that you might not get to bed until 2am. The shows also run over because of waiting for celebrities or key journalists. The last Marc Jacobs show was meant to start at 8pm but didn't start till 11pm. The PR said the clothes hadn't arrived. Lots of the photographers went out for fried chicken, and washed it down with whisky in the pit.
It's intriguing to see how hot under the collar people can get if they aren't in a seat they deem to reflect their importance. They'll hassle the PR until she reshuffles the front row, and even storm out if they are really annoyed. Having said that, I've resorted to desperate measures to get into shows. My technique if the security guard just won't let me in is to turn round and back in, bottom first. They don't know how to respond so they just let you go past. I got into Gaultier like this. The number of photographers at each showed peaked in the late 1980s, but now at shows such as Miu Miu and Balenciaga, there might be only 10 or 20. The designers are trying to recapture that exclusive feeling.
In terms of my favourite shows, the Dior couture show at Versailles was spectacular, and, of course, the setting was so grand. Hussein Chalayan's "before minus now" show at Sadler's Wells in 2000 was so beautiful - he's a real artist. McQueen is always wonderful as well. It's a real shame he doesn't show in London any more.
We fashion photographers are like a mafia. We might be rivals, but we'll help each other when the chips are down. We employ girls to mark our spot beside the catwalk, and increasingly they have to go the previous night to get a good spot. There is an unspoken rule that your mark is respected.
Having been in the business so long, I've got a few nicknames. Suzy Menkes has referred to me as "the box man" because I used to position a little box by the side of the catwalk then spring up for photographs. I'm also called "The Reverend", which is quite ironic given that I'm currently buying a church in which to store my photo archive.
Chris Moore: A Catwalk Retrospective, 8 Nov to 21 Dec, Fashion Space Gallery, London College of Fashion, 20 John Princes Street, London W1 (Mon-Fri) www.fashion.arts.ac.uk
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