Like their clothes, Dolce & Gabbana’s first campaign to be shot by the two, is hugely inspired by Sicily. The Italian label’s Spring 2013 advertisement sees Domenico Dolce, 54, playing photographer and Stefano Gabbana, 50, as stylist. It’s also a hark-back to a film by Luchino Visconti where the celebrated filmmaker shoots on-location using locals; Dolce & Gabbana places actor Monica Bellucci and socialite Bianca Brandolini d’Adda among a bunch of dark-faced locals.
Ever since fashion advertising began, designers have exerted a major control over what their advertising campaigns look like. Many have formed memorable associations with photographers. Calvin Klein used Steven Meisel to make young models look like sex kittens. Marc Jacobs has, for long, been using Juergen Teller’s famous faded Polaroids. Closer home, Wendell Rodricks and Farrokh Chothia are old friends who work together. Chothia turns the Goan designer’s seemingly simple garbs into ghost-like figures in motion.
Karl Lagerfeld, who has over 20 books as a photographer to his credit, is arguably as great with the shutter as he is with his sketchpad. His latest book came out earlier this year — a mesmerising coffee-table oeuvre called The Little Black Jacket — that revisits the Chanel classic. The tome has no text, just over 100 photos in black-and-white of celebrity-models, actors, singers, socialites, designers and assorted fashion folk shot wearing the black tweed in different and interesting ways.
Dolce & Gabbana join a growing list of designers who shoot their own campaigns. Gabbana says of his new turn, “We didn’t have to teach anyone what we want to do. I didn’t have to explain what I feel.” Tom Ford shoots both his men’s and women’s adverts. Hedi Slimane, who fronted Dior Homme’s slim suits, left the megawatt fashion house only to move to California and pursue a career in photography. He returned to helm Yves Saint Laurent’s rechristened Saint Laurent Paris this year and shoot his debut collection.
On one hand, this is excellent as it brings photography back to the mainstream. Fashion is a highly profit-making business and this renewed interest in photography can actually boost it as a commercially viable art and not just an indulgence for the sake of Facebook uploads.
Shutter-happy clothes-makers can also be seen as one step forward, two steps back for the industry. Especially in India, where designers are CEOs as well as creative heads of their labels, this interference with another art can mean they don’t want to cede control. Internationally, designers are also beginning to oversee everything from the shape of their perfume bottle or the interiors of their store.
JJ Valaya has been taking pictures for his fashion editorials for 20 years. It’s only last year that he stepped into photography as a fine art. Valaya has an agent in Paris and is being represented by the American Peter Nagy in India, who also manages Dayanita Singh, Subodh Gupta and Bharti Kher.
“I’m only pursuing a passion,” says Valaya, 45. “Someone may be painting or creating furniture; it’s only an extension of a designer’s creativity,” he adds.
On another level, this makes the business more personal. God knows, post-China, this is something we all need to look forward to.