Michel Arnaud: Capturing the Catwalk
By DANIELLE GILLESPIE
As a fashion photographer for Harper’s Bazaar and British Vogue, Michel Arnaud brought haute couture into homes around the globe, giving everyday women inspiration for their wardrobes.
From the early 1970s through late ’90s, he photographed runway shows in Paris, Milan, New York and London featuring legendary fashion houses like Chanel, Versace and Dior. His images of the models on the catwalk, backstage and at the after-parties helped bring worldwide fame to them and the brands they wore.
His now-historic photographs can be viewed at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in downtown Los Angeles through July 7 as part of the exhibit “Capturing the Catwalk: Runaway Photography from the Michel Arnaud Archive.”
“He has a great story to tell, and I was truly glad to capture it and bring it to life,” said Meghan Grossman Hansen, who curated the exhibition for FIDM.
To do that, Hansen highlighted the changes in camera technology and fashion during Arnaud’s 30-year career. She also showcased the actual garments worn in his photos.
Hansen and a team of volunteers spent hours searching through the museum’s permanent collection to find pieces that matched those featured in his photos.
“If we could find that Versace dress in a photograph, then we would consider it for the exhibition,” she said. “From there, I had a whole group of images that I could use, and I chose the best images and pieces.”
The exhibition features more than 40 garments from FIDM’s collection, including a stunning red Dior evening gown and a sleek black Versace dress with yellow and red flowers alongside Arnaud’s photos. Arnaud donated over 200,000 images to FIDM; of those, more than 100 are featured in the exhibit.
In 1964, Arnaud began photographing fashion. He had just moved to London from France, where he studied journalism.
“Someone asked me to take some photos of a runway show, and I found it exciting, so I did more, and a little bit more, and I got into it, and then eventually it became a job,” Arnaud told Palisades News.
In 1970, he began working for British Vogue as a runway photographer. He would later become the exclusive runway photographer for Harper’s Bazaar. There, he worked under renowned fashion editor Elizabeth Tilberis. Arnaud now lives in New York and specializes in interior, architecture, lifestyle, portrait, still-life and fine art photography.
During his career as a fashion photographer, camera technology changed from film to digital, and runway shows grew in popularity and size.
Arnaud started his career with a film camera, a Nikon F-1 Single Lens Reflex (SLR) with 50mm and 125mm lenses, which is on display at FIDM.
The choreography of each fashion show determined how he photographed it, and the lighting conditions were not always optimal. Lighting was usually low and changed abruptly. This made photographing fashion shows difficult.
The Nikon had its limitations, so Arnaud was excited when Canon asked him and other professional photographers to collaborate on a new camera.
As a result of that collaboration, Canon developed Electro-Optical System (EOS-1) Single-Lens Reflex (SLR), which is semi-automatic. The camera, also displayed at FIDM, could be adjusted quickly for changes in lighting and movement, which improved Arnaud’s ability to take photos with more accurate focus. “It was a great tool,” Arnaud said. “I loved it.”
No matter what type of camera he used, Arnaud’s goal with his photography was always to create an intimate moment.
“It’s really about timing and being able to capture the model looking at you,” Arnaud said.
For those who miss the opportunity to see these captivating photos at the exhibit, Hansen is in the process of making Arnaud’s 200,000 images available on FIDM’s Web site.
“We’re super-excited to have the archive,” Hansen said. “We are really trying to get it out there and accessible to anyone who wants to study it.”
The public can view the free exhibit at the FIDM Museum, 919 S. Grand Ave., downtown, Los Angeles. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Information: 213-623-5821.