Some say photographer Roxanne Lowit has become almost as famous as her subjects. Dubbed “Fashion’s Historian” by none other than Karl Lagerfeld, Lowit is known to have pioneered the art of backstage photography, capturing the pre-runway chaos long before any other photographers had caught on. Lowit is also well known for her innate ability to capture portraits of some of the world’s most high profile names, including Kate Moss, Salvador Dali and Yves-Saint Laurent.
Roxanne Lowit studied Art History and Textile at the Fashion Institute of New York before becoming a photographer. She was gifted her first ever camera by fashion illustrator Antonio Lopez. It is said that during her time as a textile designer she would paint people who sat for her, but they didn’t always have enough time to sit for long, so she preferred to photograph them and use the image instead. This led to the portraits she is famous for today. Despite this switch in career paths, Lowit’s brief stint as a textile designer is not to be forgotten as she worked with the likes of Donna Karan and Scott Barrie. After leaving the textile design career behind, becoming a photographer, and establishing an encapsulating portrait style, Lowit added backstage fashion photography to her repertoire in the 1970’s. Lowit much preferred the art of capturing the backstage chaos over the poised and perfected looks that would glide down the runway. Roxanne befriended super models like Jerry Hall and Billie Blair who would sneak her backstage with them during shows. According to Lowit, Blair once snuck her backstage by telling people that she was her hairdresser. At the time, Blair had a shaved head, to which Lowit said “couldn’t you say I was your makeup artist?!”.
Lowit is well known for her ability to capture candid moments in the most natural and unpoised way. Of her work, Lowit has said ‘I think there’s enough misery in this world that I should add a little bit of joy and fun and tongue in cheek’. When Lowit was taking a portrait of famous American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, she knew it would likely be her only chance to capture him as his health was rapidly detioriating due to AIDS. With this heartbreaking thought in mind, Lowit made the bold decision to ask her assistant at the time to strip naked and pose behind Mapplethorpe, resulting in a bold black and white portrait. Another famous face to be the subject of Lowit’s camera was designer Yves Saint Laurent. The paid met a-top the Eiffel Tower and Saint Laurent always welcomed Lowit backstage. In 2014, 6 years after Yves’ death, Lowit released a book filled with images she had taken of the designer over the years from 1978 when they met, to 2002, when Yves presented his final collection with his brand. The foreword of the book was written by Yves’ business partner Pierre Bergé and included memories shared from his closest friends including Grace Jones, Jerry Hall and Paloma Picasso.