‘Fashion Faux Parr’: Martin Parr on taking the sheen off fashion photography

Martin Parr talks to Wallpaper* about his new Phaidon book, ’Fashion Faux Parr‘, which documents his distinct approach to fashion photography – from shooting Gucci on Cannes sunbathers to a Vogue shoot in New York’s Katz Deli

Martin Parr fashion photograph in Katz Deli New York from New Book
Katz’s Delicatessen, New York, USA, 2018. Commissioned by Vogue USA
(Image credit: © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos)

‘I was surprised when Amica asked me about it,’ says the esteemed British photographer Martin Parr, recalling his fashion industry inauguration. ‘But Ic thought I will take on the challenge, and have never looked back.’ While today Parr shoots several fashion stories a year – from high-end brand campaigns and portraits to magazine editorials and backstage imagery – that first shoot in 1999, for the Italian women’s monthly, was the earliest example of Parr’s distinctive, oftentimes humorous, and aesthetically deliberate way of navigating the world of fashion.

Martin Parr: ‘Fashion Faux Parr’, published by Phaidon

Martin Parr Gucci Woman in Sunglasses

(Image credit: © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos)

Recently published by Phaidon, the joyfully titled Fashion Faux Parr is an exhaustive survey of the subsequent fruits of this relationship. High colour and boldly executed (it was designed by frequent collaborator Melanie Mues), the new fashion book serves to remind fans of how this unique partnership has played out over the past 25 years.

Alongside the well-documented campaigns for Gucci under former creative director Alessandro Michele – including the now-iconic image of a silver-haired sun enthusiast wearing bright white sunglasses at Cannes – is a queue of models pictured at New York’s famous Katz’s Delicatessen, part of a wider tourist-style portfolio commissioned by Vogue USA in 2018, and at Versailles, a backstage project for Jacquemus shot last year. Earlier street-led scenarios in Senegal, Cuba, Bristol and Broadstairs also feature, as well as accessories specials and British designer portraits.

Martin parr fashion photography book cover Fashion Faux Parr

Fashion Faux Parr, available now from phaidon.com and waterstones.com

(Image credit: Courtesy of Phaidon)

While style has long been a core strain of Parr’s documentary work, organically acting as a signifier of a season, place, era or society, his fashion work more closely observes trends and particular moments, largely realised in tandem with art directors, stylists and beauty teams. ‘It varies,’ he notes, reflecting on the collaborative nature of the work. ‘With editorial fashion, you have more freedom and I enjoy bouncing ideas around with the art director. With commercial the script is pretty much established by the client, so it is a much tighter shoot.

‘I enjoy doing fashion and of course it brings in income, which helps me keep the foundation going,’ he continues, alluding to the Martin Parr Foundation, the gallery and archive space he opened in Bristol in 2017. ‘So my relationship [with fashion] is a good one.’

Martin Parr fashion picture

(Image credit: © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos)

Indeed, while Parr maintains his own universe is very much still that of a documentary photographer – and it’s this work he’s best known for, as the designer Patrick Grant illustrates in the book’s introduction, identifying that he ‘takes pictures of old blokes staring at walls, socks and sandals, bottles of ketchup…bad weather and sunny tennis matches, Christmas dinners, chic interiors’ – the fashion world has been particularly positive of the match. Fashion Faux Parr might be his first fashion volume proper, but Gucci (which also collaborated with Parr on its Gucci ArtWalls series in 2020) and Louis Vuitton have also both co-signed monographs, and in 2005 Parr published a more tongue-in-cheek title, Fashion Magazine, in which he appeared on the cover.

As in his documentary work, there is plenty of charm and a certain richness in Parr’s fashion pictures; a particular warmth that gives the images, and perhaps the wider industry, a sense of accessibility, closely tied to his frequent practice of involving real people in his shoots. His approach is also often fairly straightforward – his perspective is what he offers – and he employs his surroundings to shape the narrative, rarely shooting in a studio. In previous interviews, Parr has spoken of the societal changes he’s observed in his decades-long career (mainly, the arrival of mobile phones), but what about the challenges he associates with fashion photography?

Martin Parr picture in Dakar Senegal

Dakar, Senegal, 2001. Commissioned by Rebel

(Image credit: © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos)

‘If there are a lot of models, it's tricky to get everyone looking good and in position,’ he explains, relaying a hurdle similarly common to anyone instructed to take a family portrait. ‘You have to persist in shouting out instructions.’ Inevitably this perseverance pays off, and as the designer Tabitha Simmons remarks in the book, recounting a shoot day with Parr, he’s left ‘an indelible mark on the fashion industry’.

’Fashion Faux Pas’ is published by Phaidon, and available from phaidon.com now. Also available from waterstones.com


Martin Parr Amina Muaddi Image

London, UK, 2023. Commissioned by Amina Muaddi

(Image credit: © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos)

Zoe Whitfield is a London-based writer whose work spans contemporary culture, fashion, art and photography. She has written extensively for international titles including Interview, AnOther, i-D, Dazed and CNN Style, among others.