The big picture: London Fashion Week, February 1998

With the 2018 event now in full swing, we revisit a telling Martin Parr shot from 20 years ago

British Fashion Week, February 1998






Photograph: Martin Parr/Magnum Photos

Martin Parr is the kind of quick-witted photographer who catches life on the run, his shutter clicking faster than the human eye can blink. To coincide with London Fashion Week, which began last Friday, here is a deft act of espionage from backstage at the same event 20 years ago. Parr probably didn’t know what he’d snatched until he developed the film and saw that the flustered accidents of a moment had come to rest in a parable, showing how the beauty industry goes about its tortuous, tormenting work.

Makeup has already transformed the model into a doll: the waxen complexion, with a sickly jaundiced tone around the eyes, and the pursed, painted lips that are smaller and more infantile than her own. Now the hairdressers take over, knotting and coiling and pinning and teasing, with a can of eco-unfriendly aerosol spray ready to freeze her mane. They are technicians, busy on the assembly line; she is their manufactured product, as glassy-eyed as the lens of Parr’s camera.

What makes the photograph so piercing is the intrusion of that grasping, prehensile hand, ready to do some stern manipulating if the subject doesn’t consent to being reduced to an object. This detail makes the scene faintly scary: the bride of Frankenstein is being prepared for exposure to a battery of cameras on the catwalk, and at the end of all this cosmetic primping she will be a blank-faced, strutting mannequin. That’s what fashion does: it refashions our bodies, and turns human beings into dress dummies.

The big picture: London Fashion Week, February 1998

With the 2018 event now in full swing, we revisit a telling Martin Parr shot from 20 years ago

British Fashion Week, February 1998






Photograph: Martin Parr/Magnum Photos

Martin Parr is the kind of quick-witted photographer who catches life on the run, his shutter clicking faster than the human eye can blink. To coincide with London Fashion Week, which began last Friday, here is a deft act of espionage from backstage at the same event 20 years ago. Parr probably didn’t know what he’d snatched until he developed the film and saw that the flustered accidents of a moment had come to rest in a parable, showing how the beauty industry goes about its tortuous, tormenting work.

Makeup has already transformed the model into a doll: the waxen complexion, with a sickly jaundiced tone around the eyes, and the pursed, painted lips that are smaller and more infantile than her own. Now the hairdressers take over, knotting and coiling and pinning and teasing, with a can of eco-unfriendly aerosol spray ready to freeze her mane. They are technicians, busy on the assembly line; she is their manufactured product, as glassy-eyed as the lens of Parr’s camera.

What makes the photograph so piercing is the intrusion of that grasping, prehensile hand, ready to do some stern manipulating if the subject doesn’t consent to being reduced to an object. This detail makes the scene faintly scary: the bride of Frankenstein is being prepared for exposure to a battery of cameras on the catwalk, and at the end of all this cosmetic primping she will be a blank-faced, strutting mannequin. That’s what fashion does: it refashions our bodies, and turns human beings into dress dummies.