On the 31st of March, coveted fashion photographer Patrick Demarchelier passed away at the age of 78. Renowned for his photography featuring the likes of Princess Diana, RuPaul, and Kate Moss, Demarchelier could always be relied upon to produce an iconic magazine cover.
Born near Paris in 1943, Demarchelier received an Eastman Kodak for his 17th birthday from his stepfather, kickstarting his interest in photography. He first learned how to develop film and retouch negatives and began photographing weddings and events soon after.
When speaking about how he got into photography, Demarchelier said that he had no formal qualifications, just the “school of life”.
“I learned most by just taking pictures, a lot of pictures. I made plenty of mistakes, but it’s often from your mistakes that you learn most. Being a photographer is like being an athlete. You must practise every day”, he said.
At 20, Demarchelier made it to Paris, working as a printer of news pictures. He then became the house photographer for a Paris model agency and the assistant to Hans Feurer. It was this connection that gave Demarchelier the gateway into magazines. Condé Nast’s editorial director Alex Lieberman hired Demarchelier after being attracted to his style of editorial photography, which captured models visibly having a good time and as more of a character study.
Demarchelier described his photography style as a “half second accident” as he had to work quickly to get the shot he desired.
From here, Demarchelier shot covers for nearly every major fashion magazine from British, American, and Paris Vogue to Rolling Stone, Glamour, Elle, and Newsweek.
In 1989, Princess Diana, a huge fan of his work, asked Demarchelier for a private portrait session. She then hired him as her personal photographer. He made history as the first non-British photographer hired by the royal family.
One of his most famous shots of Princess Diana sees her posing with a tiara on top of her head, hair styled by stylist Sam McKnight similar to that of model Linda Evangelista, and smiling into the camera.
When speaking of his relationship with Princess Diana, he said:
“I remember when she first contacted me. I had done a picture for Vogue in which a model was opening her coat to show a little, laughing boy tucked into the inside pocket. The boy was, in fact, my son, and Diana, maybe because of her little boys, loved that picture so much that she got in touch. We became friends. She was funny and kind— but, fundamentally, she was a very simple woman who liked very simple things.”
In 1992, Demarchelier shot his first campaign for British Vogue, which was the start of his 12-year collaboration with the magazine. At the time, he worked closely with Grace Coddington, whom he credits greatly for helping him launch his career.
Some of his most notable cover images include the heavily referenced Rolling Stone cover of a topless Janet Jackson, Vogue’s 100 anniversary special cover featuring a collection of supermodels all in white, and a young Kate Moss for Harper’s Bazaar.
Alongside shooting countless celebrities and supermodels, Demarchelier also worked with numerous fashion brands such as Calvin Klein, Giorgio Armani, Chanel, Gianni Versace, Dior, Louis Vuitton, Celine, TAG Heuer, Yves Saint Laurent, Lacoste, Ralph Lauren, and many more.
Demarchelier was also referenced and made numerous appearances in TV shows and movies, most notably the 2006 movie The Devil Wears Prada. In one of the movie’s most famous scenes, Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) asks Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway), “Did Demarchelier confirm?”, leaving her utterly confused. However, towards the end of the movie, there is a full circle moment where Andy says, “I have Patrick.”, proving how far she has come. Demarchelier also appeared in the 2008 Sex and the City movie, photographing Carrie Bradshaw for Vogue magazine. He also made appearances in Cycle 15 of America’s Next Top Model and the 2009 documentary titled The September Issue about Editor Anna Wintour.
Speaking of his talent, Anna Wintour said Demarchelier “takes simple photographs perfectly, which is of course immensely difficult. Working without ornate settings, often in black and white, he makes attractive women look beautiful and beautiful women seem real. In Patrick’s kingdom, Cinderella could have arrived at the palace wearing Dior- or she could have worn nothing at all”.
Demarchelier released a coffee table book titled Dior Couture Patrick Demarchelier in October 2011.
The book was a collection of photographs of Dior Couture dating back to Dior’s first collection in 1947.
He also won numerous accolades throughout his career, such as the CFDA Founder’s Award in Honour of Eleanor Lambert and the French Ministry of Culture’s officier dans l’ordre des arts et des lettres title in 2007.
However, in 2018, Demarchelier’s reputation was tarnished after the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team surfaced sexual misconduct allegations against 25 industry professionals, Demarchelier being one of them.
Though he completely denied all of the allegations and any wrongdoing, Condé Nast severed ties with him.
On March 31st, the news of his death was announced on Patrick Demarchelier’s Instagram account. Sharing a picture of Demarchelier, the caption read, “It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Patrick Demarchelier on March 31st, 2022, at the age of 78. He is survived by his wife Mia, his three sons Gustaf, Arthur, Victor and three grandchildren.”
Admirers of his work, ranging from supermodels and celebrities, took to social media to share their condolences and memories with the late photographer.
Gisele Bundchen shared a comment on Instagram saying “RIP #PatrickDemarchelier @patrickdemarchelier probably one of the photographers Gisele shot with the most in her career. He will be so missed.”
Amber Valletta said “I’m so sadden by this news. Patrick was one of the first photographers to work with me. He is fashion history and legendary photography. We will miss him. I am sending love and good thoughts to his family.”
Whilst the cause of Demarchelier’s death is unknown, his legacy will live on through the iconic images he left behind.
You can read more of Lucy’s work on Instagram @lucyzbrown. Images via @PatrickDemarchelier on Instagram and cover image via Rizzoli International Publications.