Martin Parr photographs fashion without moderation

Globalized tourism, colorful fairs, dripping ice cream cones, parties where alcohol flows freely, ruddy guests laughing out loud, overly tanned, wrinkled or body-built bodies… British photographer Martin Parr has been documenting, for more than four decades, a Western world full of excess. How fashion has become the big consumerist 8 of the 21ste century, could she have resisted him?

For the first time, his fashion photographs spanning twenty-five years have been compiled in a beautiful book published by Phaidon. Its title, cleverly chosen, immediately raises the question of good and bad taste, inherent to his work: Fashion Faux Parr, a reference to the “fashion faux pas”, this sartorial slippage that some people think is worth pinning down.

The work mixes photos commissioned by magazines (Vogue, Elle, Vanity Fair, Jalouse), series produced for brands (Balenciaga, Jacquemus, Zara) and a few shots taken on the fly during fashion week. Here and there, we recognize industry figures in scenes that trivialize and humanize them: Giorgio Armani and Valentino Garavani in backstage, the model Stella Tennant (1970-2020) gardening, Anna Wintour with her eyes glued to her smartphone, Paul Smith in his office in great disarray, Vivienne Westwood (1941-2022) posing in the toilet… In an environment that stages fashion shows and advertisements intended to impress ordinary mortals, Martin Parr poses by resisting decorum and pomp, always keen to bring fashion back to reality.

A demystification approach

“In most of Martin’s best fashion photographs, real people occupy the same space as the models,” points out Scottish designer Patrick Grant in his preface. From his first report, for the Italian magazine Amica in 1999, Martin Parr propelled his thin, red-haired models into the middle of a beach in Rimini, near a nonna who wants to escape the lens, a tourist sitting precariously on a mooring post or a hairless young man flexing his muscles in swimming trunks…

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The public spaces where the middle class consumes and relaxes will therefore become their best settings. Throughout the pages, his fashion photos show anonymous people, surprised or delighted to be there, in changing rooms, at the gas station, at the laundromat, at the dentist, at McDonald’s or in the frozen food section of a supermarket.

“Kat's Delicatessen, New York, United States”, a commission created by Martin Parr in 2018 for “Vogue”.

A demystification approach that he similarly applies to still lifes: Gucci glasses in the cacti, Jimmy Choo clutch on a garage sale stand, Dior bag worth several thousand euros thrown into a crate of cabbages. Martin Parr, ironic but not mocking, does not like fashion so much for its luxurious attributes. He rather takes pleasure in embracing his debauchery, his garish prints, his excess of sequins, to better push the silhouettes from the latest collections to their limits, on the verge of the costume ball.

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