Alex Chatelain knew America better than any of the Frenchies who formed the infamous French Mob of fashion photographers in the ‘70s. The son of an American correspondent for Le Figaro, he’d come to New York straight out of boarding school to be a painter in 1963, but mostly chased models and went to parties at clubs; he even gained entrée to Jerry Schatzberg’s studio fetes. He quickly decided it might be more satisfying, both sexually and financially, to work as a fashion photographer than a painter, even if, “I didn’t really like photography.” A model, Alberta Tiburzi, introduced Chatelain to a Bazaar shooter named Jimmy Moore. Moore “helped me so much,” he says. “He’d take me on weekends to the studio to show me how to do still lives with an eight by ten. I baby-sat his daughter.” Then, he got a job assisting a New York-based French photographer Roger Prigent and “start[ed] to think I like this job. I’m getting ambitious.”
Chatelain called every photographer he admired—“probably the only organized thing I ever did,” he says—and got a job building a new studio for Hiro, who had to move his Bazaar-centric operation to a floor above his old one when his studio partner Avedon went to Vogue. Chatelain shuttled between the two, assisting the former and printing for the latter. “I was impressed and intimidated,” he says.”Everything in that studio was glorified. It was silently magic. Dick was in love with what he photographed.” But he didn’t want to have sex with his models. “He fucked aesthetics,” says Chatelain. “He was mad for his subjects. I never worked so hard in my life. He’d say, ‘Make me a great print,’ and you’d make three, one hard, one soft and one your way.’” But he didn’t like Avedon. “I felt he’d step on his own mother to get ahead.” When Chatelain left to go to work for an advertising photographer, Avedon argued that he still had a lot to learn. Chatelain says he replied, “I’ve learned what I don’t want to do.”
Back in Paris in 1967, he’d met Demarchelier and Reinhardt at a party hosted by Dorian Leigh. “Patrick was working for Marie France,” he says, “and we’d run into each other at the lab. I started working for French Vogue when Bourdin had a fight with them and a spot opened up. I got it, so I was the one they looked up to. Patrick was always showing me his pictures. Then, all of a sudden, they were in New York.”
Chatelain left the Atelier, but stayed in Europe, where he worked mostly for British Vogue, edited by Beatrix Miller, who’d started her career as a copywriter on Jessica Daves’ American Vogue, then returned to her native England to edit Queen, and make it a window on the Chelsea set in London. Miller returned to Vogue to edit its British edition in 1964, and made its editorial content as lively as the photographs of the stable of lensmen she’d inherited. They worked out of the two big and two small studios in its Hanover Square offices. “On any given day, Parkinson, Bailey and Clive Arrowsmith would each be in one,” remarks Willie Christie, who assisted the last in the Sixties, and had his own career a few years later, when British Vogue’s stars were Barry Lategan and Peter Knapp during his hiatus from Elle.
The fashion photography scene in London was no longer the source of heat and light it had been in the days of the Terribles, but it wasn’t boring, either. In the late Sixties, Christie had met Grace Coddington, the pale, red-headed, ethereal model who epitomized the British Vogue look, and they would briefly marry in the Seventies after she had affairs with Just Jaeckin’s agent and Duc, Bourdin’s assistant, marrying the restaurateur Michael Chow in-between. In the meantime, Coddington’s first career as a model ended after a car crash. Lady Rendlesham had already suggested she become a fashion editor, and offered her a job on Queen, but Coddington’s sights were set on Vogue. Lady Rendlesham’s successor as Young Idea editor, Marit Allen, arranged an interview with Beatrix Miller. Coddington joined the magazine in 1968. (Coddington 2012, 89)
“In these early days a photographer like Helmut Newton or Guy Bourdin was very strong and came up with all the ideas for a Vogue photo shoot,” she recalled in a memoir. “I merely brought along the clothes.” In 1975, David Bailey reacted badly when Coddington dared suggest he shoot a Hawaiian/Japanese model named Marie Helvin. “Bailey’s reaction was ‘I don’t want to work with any fuckin’ girl you suggest,’” she recalled. But he did, and made Helvin his third wife. (Coddington 2012, 109)
Coddington would become a pioneer as fashion editing evolved into fashion styling, developing narratives for shoots just as Avedon and Marvin Israel had done, collaborating with photographers to realize them. (Coddington 2012, 96) Location shoots could last as long as three weeks then, between waiting for the models to get tan and waiting for perfect light. But studio sessions could last almost as long. “One day, Mr. Penn was in the tiny tiny studio doing flowers,” recalls Willie Christie. “He’d arrive in a suit and change to jeans and Topsiders. People would be in awe. He was in there a week with one rose!”
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