Backstage Pics from Yves Saint Laurent's Personal Photographer

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In 1978, a young Roxanne Lowit—fresh off her graduation from FIT and escorted by none other than famed fashion illustrator Antonio Lopez—stepped off a plane from New York and directly into the taffeta folds of Parisian high fashion. Her first assignment as a newbie photographer was to capture the backstage mayhem at Yves Saint Laurent’s show where famous faces such as Jerry Hall and Pat Cleveland were busy primping. Through this artistic pursuit, not only did Lowit set off a chain of events that has impressively morphed into an epic 36-year career, but she also befriended one of the world’s most legendary designers for years to come. Her new book, Yves Saint Laurent (Thames & Hudson, $50) is a tribute to this time and the wonderful characters that were around to experience it.

Yahoo Style: How did you first end up in Paris in the ’70s?
Roxanne Lowit: Annie Flanders (from the Soho News) saw some of the pictures that I did of the American designers. I would shoot them in their showrooms. She said, “go to Paris and do the best that you can.” She made me get a better camera, so I bought a small 35mm with a flash. I never had a real camera before. I remember that I was reading the instructions on how to load the film on the plane.

YS: And how did you find your way to Yves Saint Laurent show?
RL: Well of course I knew of him. I had graduated from FIT. I painted and drew. But, I needed to make money to support myself. One of the friends that I made at school was Antonio Lopez. I went to Paris as part of his entourage. I went in and met Pat Cleveland and Jerry Hall who were doing the show. I was just backstage taking pictures. At the end of the night, we all ended up at the top of the Eiffel Tower—me, Antonio, Yves, Pat, Jerry, and Andy Warhol. I thought, ‘This is fun, this is magical. This is unbelievable.’ The realization of it all was amazing. I was so encouraged that by the end of the night I said, ‘I’m a photographer now.’

YS: And what was your relationship like with Yves?
RL: When we met he was so sweet and loving and adorable and charming and a genius. And I loved what he did and how he did it. That’s why I think I did the book, as a way of sharing those times because they were so special. This book was a labor of love. It takes everybody back. Stephen Burrows, Fern Mallis, and Pat Cleveland all had tears in their eyes when they looked at it. They were there.

YS: Do you think his Saint Laurent’s effect on fashion has transcended throughout the years?
RL: Oh yes, of course. He was the first to do sheer, the pointy bra, safari jackets, the Russian look, traditional Moroccan. And before everyone else. Where would I be without my tuxedo jacket and pants?

YS: What did you love most about his work?
RL: If your name didn’t appear at the end of the runway, you still knew what you were looking at by the design. His art was his fashion and his fashion was his art. There was a time when manufactures on the business end didn’t tell designers what do and when. Also, he was first to work with models of color.

YS: Of course all of this paved the way for your own very impressive career.
RL: I’m interested in people and parties and fashion and nightlife. If it wasn’t fashion, it was a party, and if it wasn’t a party, it was a nightlife thing. I like celebrities because they have a certain je nais se quoi. It was a pleasure to have a camera and be out and about. It still is.

YS: What was the last party that you photographed?
RL: Halloween. I went to Susan Bartsch’s party at MoMA PS 1. I go to all her parties because the kids have great energy and they’re creative and it goes nice and late. I love shooting; it gives me more energy to go out. I don’t sleep a lot. Anyway, it was raining and it was a crazy night. I went as myself. And three others went with me. We checked in as Roxanne, Roxanne, Roxanne, and Roxanne. It’s a pretty easy costume of all black, especially for me. Though some of the boys didn’t want to put on lipstick so they wore waxed lips.