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Focus

The Sexy, Secret, Sometimes Sordid World of Fashion Photographers

“Does not skimp on the gossipy goods. There are descents into madness, prolific drug use, orgies, blackmail photos and suicide attempts…But this book…is also smart, well-researched and written with an insider’s eye…engaging and on point.” --Kim France, New York Times Book Review

"A delicious read. Sweeping...thoughtful..."--The Daily Beast

"Tightly written, exhaustively researched...skillfully juxtaposes the idiosyncracies, peccadillos, and debaucheries of his protagonists... with the shifting cultural and economic milieu in which they functioned."--Barnes & Noble Review

“I thought I knew practically everything about the fashion industry, but Michael Gross has corrected me. His thoroughly absorbing narrative dazzles with the most profound investigation and research. Focus is an enthralling and riveting read!” --Tim Gunn

"Important…clear and thorough." --National Post (Canada)

"Gross has deftly woven an intricate web of fashion, photography, and magazine publishing that is simply unrivaled... Focus is a sensation... [It] brilliantly blends the wild histories of seemingly disparate lives... Gross is a modern day Vasari, giving us The Lives of the Artists in no small measure." --Sara Rosen, craveonline

"An often-shocking tale rife with bed-hopping hotties, rampant drug use and cut-throat antics. Gross knows his stuff, delving deep into the fascinating rivalries and wicked manipulations that take place behind the cameras."--Larry McShane, The Daily News

“Highly critical of the current moment, in which advertisers and large corporations have taken the reins of the publishing business, [Gross] doesn't see fashion as dead--just in intensive care…In an account through which models, editors, art directors and photographers pass, personal anecdotes intersect with key events in fashion history, allowing a close-up experience of a period Gross considers unique."–Estel Vilaseca, El País (Spain)

"a behind-the-scenes view of fashion photography’s apex. Gross shows us the humanity or lack there-of in all these real life figures that he chooses to represent as the epitome of the art at its peak. Focus provides fascinating insight into the lives of these fashion icons [and] shows us the freedom, individuality, self-expression and experimentation in an industry that has long since lost those values, chasing money now instead of dreams…An exciting read, full of anecdotes and whispers of a fashion era long gone, a must for photography enthusiasts, magazine historians, fashionistas, and lovers of haute couture gossip.." --Tal Yaron, Musée Magazine

"It covers the lives of fashion photography’s masters, detailing their creative spirit and technical skill alongside their egos and vices. It shares the stories of the men and women behind the legends, what made them, what broke them, and why we must remember them today.." --Elyssa Goldman, thebreed.com

"A juicy history of scandalous lives." --Booklist

"A sizzling, gossipy read...Relentless reporting."--Hamptons Magazine

"Deep-diving...groundbreaking."--DuJour

“It is a phantasmagoria of gossip, history, fabulous times, terrible times; the men (and a couple of women) who turned their creative lenses onto runways, clothes, models and (as in the case of Richard Avedon) onto America itself. If you love fashion and/or the art of photography, this book is for you. But even if you couldn’t care less about the skirts swirled or the fabric bunched, or how Bert Stern or Irving Penn or David Bailey or Bruce Weber or Corinne Day or Bob and Terry Richardson or Helmut Newton or Bill King achieved their effects, Focus gives us page after page of down and delicious dish….Michael Gross captures the bizarre hot-house intensity of an industry that is both ever-changing but eternally the same….Michael also conveys the genius (sometimes tortured) of the photographers…This is a big, intelligent, exhaustively researched, lovingly written book….Focus finds the fire beneath the ice of glossy magazine pages, and does it without burning down the house.” --Liz Smith, New York Social Diary

“Tales of famous shoots and industry backstories during the ‘glory days’ of the genre…of the sexual promiscuity and recreational drug use of these (mostly male) photographers. The subject matter will be historically significant to those who are concerned with the photo artist’s role in the golden age of modern fashion photography. VERDICT: Recommended for enthusiasts of fashion and fashion photography.” --Shauna Frischkorn, Library Journal

“A gossipy exposé … of the talented, arrogant, philandering, combative, self-aggrandizing photographers whose work appeared in, and defined, such iconic fashion magazines as Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, Glamour, and Elle from 1947 to 1997 … sometimes-tangy, often scurrilous … Not a pretty picture.” --Kirkus Reviews

“I loved reading all the juicy details that Michael uncovered in this fast-paced—and clearly insider—look at the rarefied, sexy world of fashion photography." --Lauren Weisberger, author, The Devil Wears Prada

"Focus is the ‘House of Cards’ of fashion." --Nino Cerruti, designer

“Michael Gross‘s FOCUS is that rare thing: an equally delicious and deeply informative book, a news-breaking romp through the world of fashion photography, from its beginnings early in the last century to the recent controversial exploits of super bad boy Terry Richardson. Richard Avedon, Bert Stern, Deborah Turbeville, Helmut Newton, Steven Meisel: these and so many others whose work I’ve enjoyed in VOGUE and BAZAAR are given context and smart analysis, and magazine editors and owners appear, too, revealing an industry of art and commerce. An outstanding work of cultural history.” --Sheila Weller, author, Girls Like Us

“Michael Gross takes us on a compelling journey through a hugely desirable culture – a culture which sometimes destroyed its most brilliant children and which is now slipping as irretrievably into the past as Versailles or the Swinging 60s.” --Anthony Haden-Guest, author, Bad Dreams, The Last Party, True Colors

In this rollicking account of fashion photography’s golden age, the New York Times-bestselling author Michael Gross brings to life the genius, ego, passion, and wild antics of the men (and a few women) behind the camera.

Focus probes the lives, hang-ups, and artistic triumphs of more than a dozen of fashion photography’s greatest visionaries: Avedon, Penn, Schatzberg, Sokolsky, Stern, Bailey, King, Turbeville, Newton, Bensimon, Weber, Meisel, Day, the Richardsons, and more. From Avedon’s haute couture fantasies and telling portraits to Weber’s sensual, intimate, and heroic slices of life, and from Bob Richardson’s provocations to his son Terry’s transgressions, Focus takes readers behind the scenes to reveal the revolutionary creative processes and fraught private passions of these imagicians.

Tracing fashion photography from the late 1940s to today, Gross weaves together candid interviews, never-before-told insider anecdotes and insights born of his three decades of front-row and backstage reporting on modern fashion. An unprecedented look at an eccentric and seductive profession.

September 28th, 2020

What Goes Around Returns for Gerald Marie

Gerald Marie, formerly the head of Elite Models in Paris, a husband of Linda Evangelista, and one of the villains in my 1995 book Model, is back in the news, charged with raping young models, according to the Sunday Times of London. Its story is locked but today’s New York Post includes a synopsis. If the ick factor doesn’t put you off, you can read all about Marie (who once threatened this reporter, saying that if I ever wrote about him I’d “never take another step” in Paris) in Model. These charges are new, but they date to a time when many similar tales were told in the modeling business–and recounted in the book. UPDATE: The Guardian’s Lucy Osborne advances the sorry story here.

May 13th, 2020

Need a Good Book?


With containment, isolation and quarantine ongoing in much of Ameeica, I’m shacking up with a diverse batch of good books in May. I abandoned Hilary Mantel‘s The Mirror & the Light despite having devoured the first two books in her Thomas Cromwell trilogy, but loved Julian BarnesThe Man in the Red Coat. Now I’m onto Jesse Kornbluth‘s JFK and Mary Meyer: A Love Story, and I have Sam Wasson‘s The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood on deck. It’s not easy to read as I’m writing most days, at work on my own next book, about some very old and very prominent American families. But may I suggest one of the diversions illustrated here for you as I rush to get that done? You can order on each book’s page on mgross.com. 740 Park, in particular, seems to be pandemic-popular, its sales doubling in recent weeks. Could that be because Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin owns an apartment there? As it happens, it’s been in the market since 2018, despite its price dropping $5 million from the original $32.5 million ask. And now, it appears, the listing has expired. That’s understandable, perhaps, under the circumstances, though it’s tempting to think there’s some kind of stink attached to the place. #Staysafe #Stayinside and #read a book.

April 20th, 2020

Peter Beard, R.I.P.

Peter Beard, whose death at age 82 was confirmed yesterday, was an iconoclast as well as a photographer, artist, adventurer, and nightlife iron man. These two brief excerpts from Model and Focus illustrate the same bracing candor, humor and unchecked honesty he brought to both his life and his work. Click to magnify.

April 14th, 2020

Christy and Naomi Have Model on Their Minds


My 1995 book Model came up on today’s episode of No Filter With Naomi, model Naomi Campbell‘s streaming YouTube “chat” show, an hour-long talk with one of her fellow members of the supermodel Trinity, Christy Turlington, both of whom are characters in the book.

Some back story. In early 1992, I was asked to write a feature profile for New York magazine on one of the supes. Not long before, late one night at Azzedine Alaia’s atelier, Naomi had wrapped a leg around me and asked, “Why don’t you write a story about me?” So I started with her but after several weeks of futile attempts to reach her, learned she’d chosen to cooperate with Time Magazine, instead, as they’d promised her a cover. Alas, her Time cover only ran on the magazine’s foreign edition.

Meantime, I contacted Turlington who agreed to cooperate, and over a three day shoot with photographer Steven Klein for some Anne Klein ads at Industria studio, I learned that the infamous threesome had broken up when Linda Evangelista, the third side of the triangle, who was shooting with the Trinity’s Svengali Steven Meisel in the studio next door, burst in, crying “Turlie, I ain’t seen you for so looong.” One section of the article that resulted told the story of the Trinity’s ascent and splintering from Christy’s point of view. It included her account of a dream she’d had in which she clapped her hand over Evangelista’s mouth before she uttered her famous line about how neither she nor Christy would get out of bed for less than $25,000.

I was in Paris covering the fashion shows the week the story came out and at my first show, model Veronica Webb wagged a finger at me from the catwalk and motioned me backstage, where she told me I was in deep shit as I’d caused a scandal: None of the main characters were speaking to each other–and it was all my fault. Turlington was gracious about it. Not so, some others. Later that week, I ran into Evangelista who also wagged a finger at me and said “You’re evil, you’re evil and you’re gonna get it.” Later still, at a party for Vogue, her then-husband, Gerald Marie, who ran her Paris agency, threatened that if I ever wrote about her again, I’d never take another step in Paris! Which caused an amused Anna Wintour to observe, “I hear you had a moment.”

Three years later, Model was published to considerable attention from, among others, some of the same models.

“I don’t speak to Michael Gross because I don’t believe in him,” Evangelista was quoted saying.

“Who’s Michael Gross? Who is he?” Naomi demanded of a reporter who asked her about it. I guess she found out.

You’ll find my latest model moment–and learn what Christy and Naomi think about me now–at 36:00 minutes into the show. One correction: Contrary to Turlington’s recollection, I didn’t invent the term supermodel, though I did discover that it first appeared in print in the 1940s. You can read about that, the Trinity, and lots more in Model. Click this link to buy a copy.

April 9th, 2020

Please Support Independent Booksellers

I support the newest online bookseller, bookshop. Won’t you please click the link and support your local bookstore, too?

November 27th, 2019

All About Avedon

Photographer Gideon Lewin‘s highly anticipated book Avedon is out this week after a long delay caused by a legal tussle with the Richard Avedon Foundation, which sought to claim ownership of images Lewin shot in his many years as Avedon’s studio manager, and to claw back pictures the generous Avedon had given him. It’s an important companion piece to Focus, my book on postwar fashion photographers, in which Avedon plays the most prominent role, with Lewin as one of the chorus of voices telling the great one’s story. I used no Avedon images in Focus because the foundation insisted on approving any text about him–and they’re easy enough to find. Now, we can all see Lewin’s images, too. I, for one, can’t wait.,

November 16th, 2019

The Night of The Hunter: Jeffrey Epstein and Jean-Luc Brunel

Jean-Luc Brunel (pictured) is like Lay’s Potato Chips to the French media. They can’t get enough of him–even though he’s bad for you. FranceTV just aired the latest piece on Jeffrey Epstein’s rabbateur and asked me to describe my experiences with him. Watch it here (but you need to understand French).

January 19th, 2018

Bradford Dillman, widower of supermodel Suzy Parker, RIP

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Actor Bradford Dillman has died, says The Hollywood Reporter. Dillman was the long-time husband of the late supermodel Suzy Parker, a central character in both Focus and Model, along with her older sister and fellow model Dorien Leigh. Parker became Richard Avedon’s muse and unofficial studio manager during his heyday as a fashion photographer in the Fifties and Sixties, even assisting when he photographed America’s Mercury astronauts (in the photo, which is from my collection). While she continued to work with Avedon after meeting Dillman on a movie set, Parker eventually settled into life as a wife and mother in Montecito, California, where I interviewed her for those books, and Dillman lived and died.

January 19th, 2018

Correction: We’ll always have the West Village

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A keen-eyed reader writes: “On page 61 [of Focus] you wrote [of the film Funny Face, based on Richard Avedon and his brief first marriage]: ‘Audrey Hepburn plays Jo Stockton, a bohemian bookstore clerk who [Dick] Avery [the Avedon-like figure played by Fred Astaire] ‘discovers’ in the background of a Parisian photo shoot….’ The photo shoot … takes place in a bookstore in the West Village,” where Avery finds her. The error will be corrected in future printings.

December 14th, 2017

The Rise of the Superspawn

book-modelIn today’s New York Times, lead fashion critic Vanessa Friedman writes an (overdue) obituary for the overused term supermodel, name-checking MODEL: The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women along the way, and coining the term superspawn (which I may have inspired) for fresh-faced second-generation models like the lovely Kaia Gerber. It and its companion book, last year’s FOCUS: The Sexy, Secret, Sometimes Sordid World of Fashion Photographers, would made a super gift for a fashion lover’s holiday.