Kate Moss. Photo by Arthur Elgort for Vogue Italia, October 1992



“Tous les jours de la semaine
En hiver en automne
Dans le ciel de Paris
Les cheminées d’usines ne fument que du gris
Mais le printemps qui s’amène, une fleur sur l’oreille
Au bras une jolie fille
C’est le nom de la fleur
Le surnom de la fille
Elle n’a pas de grand nom
Pas de nom de famille
Et danse aux coins des rues
A Belleville
A Séville
Valse des coins des rues
Et les beaux jours sont venus
La belle vie avec eux
Le génie de la Bastille
Fume une gitane bleue
Dans le ciel amoureux
Dans le ciel de Séville
Dans le ciel de Belleville
Et même de n’importe où
C’est le nom de la fleur
Le surnom de la fille”

Jacques Prévert




“Every day of the week
In winter and autumn
In Paris skies by day
The factory chimneys smoke only gray
But springtime arrives, a flower over his ear
On his arm a pretty girl
Sunflower Sunflower
That’s the name of the flower
The nickname of the girl
She has no first name, no last name either
Dances on the street corners
At Belleville and Seville
Sunflower Sunflower
Waltz of the street corners
And the sunny days come in
The sweet life with them
The genii of the Bastille smokes a blue cigarette
In the amorous air
Of the sky of Seville of the sky of Belleville
And even anywhere
Sunflower Sunflower Sunflower
It’s the name of the flower
The nickname of the girl”


V.I.P.’s (Very Important Portraits) by Roxanne Lowit

Roxanne Lowit is one of the pioneers of behind-the-scenes fashion photography as we know it today. “For the first 10 to 15 years I was the only one shooting backstage at all the shows. I had no credentials to begin with but quickly realised that that was my métier, that’s what I found most fascinating.”

The revelation came when she was gifted an Instamatic camera while still attending the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York studying Textile Design. At the time Lowit was a keen painter, but with this new tool discovered a more efficient way of capturing the spirit of her subjects. “I wanted to paint the people I admired but nobody had the time, so I thought I’d take a photograph of them and work from the photograph,” she says. “However, once I took the photograph I realised that I didn’t need to capture the whole soul in a painting. So I traded in my paintbrushes for a camera.”

Her background in textile design became her backstage pass when she was invited by the designers who worked from her patterns to photograph the completed garments before their shows. Eventually word got out that Lowit’s images were something worth publishing, and in 1978 she was contacted by Annie Flanders from the SoHo News. “She heard that I was going to Paris so she said ‘if you get a real camera I’ll use your pictures when you get back’. I learnt how to put film in a real camera on the plane on the way over. Next thing I was on the top of the Eiffel Tower shooting with Yves Saint Laurent and Andy Warhol. It was all downhill from there because how could it get any better?”

But things did get better, much better. After that first trip to Paris doors flung open for Lowit and her career as a backstage fashion photographer gained swift momentum. As industry insiders came to know and love her, the invitations to the parties flooded in, which was where much of the magic happened in front of Lowit’s lens. The 80s were heady times for fashion and she was always there, stationed in the fray, ready to catch the fanfare, frivolities and outright excess as it happened. “It was phenomenal,” she recalls. “We had the Supermodels and all those designers who loved the Supermodels. There were great parties – Elton John was always there and all sorts of celebrities started coming to the shows and parties.”

These days Lowit finds the more homogenised collections produced by contemporary designers as a result of an increasingly commercialised fashion industry much less inspiring, but revels in rising to the challenge all the same. “I usually play a game with myself, how good can I make this look?” she laughs. “But really it’s just about taking a great picture and finding a great moment. It’s always exciting to think, where am I going to go and what am I going to shoot next?”For the fashion designers themselves, as Lowit recalls, it was a time of tremendous creative freedom, where their unique artistic vision was nurtured by the industry and experimentation was encouraged. The shows, it seems, were less about selling clothes and more about the artistry, theatre and spectacle of it all. “It was so much more creative back then. You didn’t need a name at the end of the runway to know who it was you were watching,” she tells me. “When you saw long red nails with vampish clothes and great big hair you knew it was Thierry Mugler. When you saw flower dresses and a girl on a horse you knew you were at Kenzo. Stripes and knits, you were at Sonia Rykiel.”

Lowit gets a kick out of shooting just about anyone who gets a kick out of being shot. “All the pictures I’ve taken are important to me. They’re all like my children. It’s always the next image I look forward to. But looking back I think my favourites are the ones where the people just enjoyed having their picture taken – they were just having a good time. That’s really when I can capture something great.”


Roxanne Lowit, Andy Warhol, Jacqueline and Julian Schnabel, Kenny Scharf, Jean Michel Basquiat


Andy Warhol


Yves Saint Laurent


Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld


Helena Christensen, Karl Lagerfeld and Anna Wintour


Diana Vreeland


Ralph Lauren and Diana Vreeland


Salvador Dalí, Janet Daly and the recipient of a kiss


Helmut Newton


Richard Avedon, Irving Penn and Helmut Newton


Peter Lindbergh, Arthur Elgort and Patrick Demarchelier


Robert De Niro and Al Pacino


Patrick Kelly, Iman, Grace Jones and Naomi Campbell


Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington and Linda Evangelista


>Manolo Blahnik and Anna Piaggi


Lauren Hutton and a chauffeur


Elton John in concert wearing the Donald Duck costume, Central Park, New York


Shalom Harlow


Amanda Lepore




John Galliano


Annabelle Neilson Rothschild and John Galliano


Backstage from Dior Show, Paris


Kate Moss and John Galliano


Kate Moss


Ellen Von Unwerth and Mario Testino


Herb Ritts, Christy Turlington and Steven Meisel

McQueen and the Dancer

Flights of Fancy. Caroline Trentini wearing Alexander McQueen outfits from 2008 Fall/Winter collection. Photo: Arthur Elgort



Billy Elliot‘s (Stephen Daldry, 2000) original title was Dancer, but when they took the film to the Cannes Film Festival, there was another film called Dancer in the Dark (Lars von Trier, 2000), which won the Palmes D’Or, prompting confusion; indeed, Universal Studios called the directors, producers and writer up and congratulated them. They then realized they had to change the name and settled (‘rather lamely’, joked the writer) on ‘Billy Elliot‘.


“Younger Billy (Jamie Bell) and Mrs. Wilkinson (Julie Walters) are crossing a river. Billy plays a tape and they listen to the finale of Tchaikovski’s Swan Lake. This music has a yearning quality that suits Billy’s quest to move into the world. A policeman sits behind them as Mrs. Wilkinson tells the story of Swan Lake. The policeman is a reminder that the wide-spread concern of Billy’s community is still in the background and has yet to actively impact his move into a new world. The story of Swan Lake is a tale of the less powerful person being subject to stronger forces. The “heroes” of Swan Lake do manage to escape the forces that strive to overpower them, which suggests that Billy will do the same. The music reaches a crescendo as Billy looks up to the powerful frame overhead.”


The final scene of the film Billy Elliot shows the lead character, Billy, played by Adam Cooper, as an adult about to perform in Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake as the lead Swan.


Matthew Bourne’s Swan Ballet (1995). The plot of the ballet revolves around a young crown prince, his distant mother, and his desire for freedom, characterized by a beautiful swan. This scenario is an unofficial interpretation as Matthew Bourne does not believe in scenarios for his productions and prefers the audience to interpret the story for themselves.The ballet is based loosely on the Russian romantic ballet Swan Lake, from which it takes the music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky is taken along with the broad outline of the plot. Stylistic inspiration also came from the Alfred Hitchcock film The Birds. The ballet is particularly known for having the parts of the swans danced by men rather than women. According to Bourne, “The idea of a male swan makes complete sense to me. The strength, the beauty, the enormous wingspan of these creatures suggests to the musculature of a male dancer more readily than a ballerina in her white tutu.”


Pas De Deux

Boris Zhurilov, 17, in Gianfranco Ferré, and Darya Elmakova, 17, wearing Alexander McQueen, in front of the Maryinsky Theater, in St. Petersburg. June 11, 2006. Photography by Arthur Elgort. Keepers of the Flame article. Vanity Fair, September 2006.


Swan’s Way


For the Countess of Peralta


The snow-white Olympic swan,
with beak of rose-red agate,
preens his Eucharistic wing,
which he opens to the sun like a fan.


His shining neck is curved
like the arm of a lyre,
like the handle of a Greek amphora,
like the prow of a ship.


He is the swan of divine origin
whose kiss mounted through fields
of silk to the rosy peaks
of Leda’s sweet hills.


White king of of Castalia’s fount,
his triumph illumines the Danube;
Da Vinci was his baron in Italy;
Lohengrin is his blond prince.


His whiteness is akin to linen,
to the buds of the white roses,
to the diamantine white
of the fleece of an Easter lamb.


He is the poet of perfect verses,
and his lyric cloak is of ermine;
he is the magic, the regal bird
who, dying, rhymes the soul in his song.


This winged aristocrat displays
white lilies on a blue field;
and Pompadour, gracious and lovely,
has stroked his feathers.


He rows and rows on the lake
Where a golden gondola waits
For the sweetheart of Louis of Bavaria.


Countess, give the swans your love,
for they are gods of an alluring land
and are made of perfume and ermine,
of white light, of silk, and of dreams.

Ruben Darío


Photo: Bruce Weber


Carmen Dell’Orefice by Norman Parkinson, 1980


Swaroski logo


Bathyllus in the swan dance, Aubrey Beardsley


Henri Matisse making a study of a swan in the Bois de Boulogne, c. 1930


Advertisement illustrated by René Gruau


Illustration to Garcia Márquez’s short story Bon Voyage Mr. President, by Josie Portillo


Still from The Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky, 2010)


Anna Pavlova


Still from The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 (Bill Condon, 2011)


Helena Bonham Carter


Laetita Casta. Photo: Mario Testino


Uma Thurman and Mikahil Baryshnikov as The Swan Prince. Photo: Arthur Elgort


Truman Capote styled his beautiful and wealthy female friends “swans”


Accompained by Lee Radziwill and Jane Haward


With socialité Babe Paley in Paris


Escorting CZ Guest


Capote and Gloria Vanderbilt Lumet arrive at New York’s 54th Street Theatre for the opening performance of Caligula., 16 Feb 1960


Gloria Vanderbilt ad campaigns


Ludwig II (Luchino Visconti, 1972). He was sometimes called the Swan King


Mirror, Mirror (Tarsem Singh, 2012)


Robert Redford and Mia Farrow in The Great Gatsby (Jack Clayton, 1974)


Leonardo di Caprio. Photo: Annie Leibovitz


Madonna. Photo: David LaChapelle


David Bowie


Ad campaign featured in Vogue, January 1997


Tory Burch swan-print wedge sandalias


Swan Evening dress by Charles James, 1951


Kate Moss wearing a Givenchy gown by Ricardo Tisci, Spring-Summer collection 2011


Giles Deacon Spring-Summer 2012 collection


Erin O’Connor wearing a gown by Alexander McQueen. Photo: Tim Walker


Eglingham Children and Swan on Beach, Tim Walker, 2002