In the early 1990s, fashion shows were still quite a rough and ready business. Things weren’t quite as closely managed as they are these days, especially if you scratched beneath the surface. Jo Jones, now the Observer’s fashion editor, then a student at Central Saint Martins, managed to get access for herself and her fellow student Gavin Bond to go backstage at a Vivienne Westwood show in Paris.
It was 1993 and they were there on a student trip. Somehow, the ever tenacious Jones had managed to negotiate access to ‘all areas’ through Vivienne Westwood’s mother who was working as part of her daughter’s team to prepare for the show. For her student magazine, Jones worked the room, interviewing Westwood’s mother and then Kate Moss’s, who was there to chaperone her teenage fledgling daughter. Meanwhile, Gavin Bond set about photographing the scene, chatting to the models, enjoying some cheeky banter, focusing his lens on the atmosphere, the chaos, the hair and makeup.
The resulting images, shot on film, ended up not just in Jones’s final magazine project but in the pages of The Times. Bond was in the right place at the right time, as he would be for the next decade. His backstage photography documented the early 90s in all its unretouched raw glamour. Bond became friends with the hair and makeup teams, the models, the dressers, the DJs, the designers, the assistants, the editors and journalists, even the security guards. He was so at home backstage that he was allowed to remain alongside Naomi, Kate, Cindy, Linda and Helena when other photographers would be thrown out before the show. These exquisite creatures were more than happy to pose, pull cheeky faces, lark about and be themselves, despite the ballgowns, elaborate makeup and extraordinary hairstyles. These surprisingly candid pictures have an unselfconscious honesty about them. In her foreword to the book, Christy Turlington describes them as ‘sweet, stolen moments’.
Gavin Bond: Being There is a new book published by Idea which started during lockdown when Bond was forced to stay home, probably for longer than he has at any time since that Paris trip as a student. He began to look through his early work, a unique archive which includes boxes of negatives, contact sheets, scrapbooks, Polaroids, cuttings and letters from designers. The access and trust he managed to build with his subjects resulted in frame after frame of pure magic, in a style he developed out of necessity using the available light, and a choice of just three apertures, depending on whether he was shooting full length, figure or face. This simplified approach meant he didn’t miss anything.
Looking at the photographs now, which are on display as part of Bond’s first solo show at Hamiltons Gallery in London until 29 October, you get a sense of being in the photographer’s shoes, in close proximity to the whole scene, the excitement, the laughter, the lipstick and the champagne. You see the clothes in close up, the flawlessness of the models’ skin, the impossible lacing up of a corset, the cigarette smoke (imagine, smoking backstage!) and those all important finishing touches – a spritz of hairspray applied by Karl Lagerfeld, a stressed looking Gianni Versace looking over the final running order.
There is a real sense of nostalgia for anyone who was part of the fashion industry at this time, a feeling of innocence, however misplaced. ‘If you were there, you would feel the same,’ writes Turlington. ‘If you weren’t, and you love fashion and culture, you will be wanting to time-travel back to “our time”.’
All photos © Gavin Bond, courtesy of Hamiltons Gallery.
Gavin Bond: Being There is at Hamiltons Gallery, London until 29 October, hamiltonsgallery.com Accompanying book at £75, ideanow online and doverstreetmarket.com.