Interview by Filep Motwary
A true gentleman who produces beautiful images by choice, Bruno Rinaldi has been photographing fashion in the most sincere way for more than 40 years. Because everybody respects him, designers always greet Rinaldi warmly, and he always gets prime placement right in the central front row of the pit (a complete contrast to the wonderfully glamorous catwalk). As he is a person that has witnessed the changes in fashion: the replacements, incidents, revivals, downhills and breakthroughs. There is a lot to learn from Rinaldi’s experiences, and as this interview shows, he is always eager to share his stories and opinions.
Motwary: Bruno, your career in fashion spans more than 40 years. What it is that you find most fascinating about fashion?
Rinaldi: You know, fashion is a very special world that everybody wants to belong to but only a few people can get in, and I always feel privileged to be included in it. Fashion shows have changed a lot since I first started. The way fashion is presented changes every 10 years, but each decade has worked out well for me. The barometer is always based on what goes on in the world and the way you dress reflects the period you are in: your personality, the good or bad days. Fashion is a definitive language. It’s a scuola di pensiero.
Motwary: You left Italy at a very early age and came to London in the 1960s. How did you find London?
Rinaldi: In the 1960s I found myself in London because I wanted to learn English and stayed there for three years. London was so incredible at that time. It had a magic way of life. That’s when I started photography, at first for fun. I was working at this coffeeshop in South Kensington where everybody frequented, and I made my own living. At the time, there was this club called Cromwelian that was very near to South Kensington. Jimmy Hendrix used to play there every night when nobody knew him. I only realized later how big he was. I was around 18.
Motwary: When did you decide to become a photographer?
Rinaldi: It was not a matter of making a decision. It happened. Back then, you could easily rent a good camera and lens for one pound and keep it for a whole week. That’s how I started: taking pictures until the day a journalist came to the coffeeshop I worked in at the time and asked if I could take some pictures for this magazine. That’s how it all started.
Motwary: You assisted Helmut Newton and Irving Penn!
Rinaldi: I returned from swinging London to Rome, my hometown, wanting to continue being a photographer, so I tried to put a little book together. At the time, haute couture was in Rome and it was fantastic. I went to Vogue Studios and showed my book. They said: “there is no job position at the moment, but since you speak good English you can be an assistant photographer, because we work with very big names and it might be good for you.” This is how it all started. I was an assistant to all these big names who were shooting couture in Rome at the time.
Motwary: Is it important for someone young to assist someone established?
Rinaldi: It’s like the tree of life, somehow. In my career, I only met one or two people who were never assistants, but they were so perfect in their own technique! When I was given the chance to work with Penn, I was so happy, like a little kid. With Newton, it was the same. Being next to these men, one could learn a lot. The way they moved the models: simple, not complicated. Working with them was like a journey through a great book by Dostoyevsky. But it is not a matter of being a good observer. You cannot copy the work of a master. You have to go beyond the ability to copy and get away with it. You can’t just “do it”. In the beginning, being with these amazing photographers made me feel lost. But then I slowly found my own way and my own interests, actually through prêt-a-porter and couture shows. Of course, I did editorials for Condé Nast, but it was the shows that intrigued me, as simple as that.
Motwary: Do you need to be patient in this business?
Rinaldi: Patient…I don’t know. I’m always happy with what I am given, but my pleasure comes first and then my client’s. My pictures are what matter to me the most: I always choose my lens and my position on the podium. Sometimes, other photographers tell me: “Oh Bruno, you can do that, but we can’t.” But if there’s something you want to do, you should do it. Why not?
Motwary: What is it like working with Vogue Italia. Why is Vogue Italia so different to the other Vogues?
Rinaldi: Because they treat everyone equally. Let me tell you a story. Many years ago, I was in New York for Fashion Week and everybody was talking about this young designer named Marc Jacobs. I asked around about this Jacobs guy and everybody was saying good things. So I said to myself, I must go to his show and see his work. The magazine didn’t ask me to be in New York, I was there because I wanted to be there. Then, I arrived at the show and I saw my editor and the first thing she said to me was: “Oh Bruno, thank God you’re here. I need pictures from Marc Jacobs.” At Vogue Italia everybody does his or her job right!
Motwary: A large part of your career focuses on the runaway. You have attended many great shows and have witnessed the extravagant 1980s, the frivolous 1990s and the minimal 2000s, and beyond. If I asked you to give me names that stimulated your interest and changed your point of view, who would those names be and why?
Rinaldi: There are a few Americans that I think are very good. I love Rodarte. I like Thom Browne as well. Both brands give something different. Today things have changed. Yes, McQueen was incredible and cherished by everybody. Now, there are ideas but the shows are no longer that special. Although Rodarte is always a small show, there is something strong about it.
Motwary: Isn’t it strange that the avant-garde of fashion belonged to Europe and Japan, yet now it seems the Americans are in charge? Why are the Americans much more daring than they used to be?
Rinaldi: Well, before the French it was the Italians. The problem with the French, I think, is the fact that they opened their doors to the stylists and the stylists swallowed them. There is of course the commercial part that took over, too. Nicolas Ghesquière is a true artist, for example: an amazing talent. Now that he is moving to Vuitton, if he doesn’t fulfill the market’s needs he will have to go. To survive commercialism, one needs to have ideas. Before, it was easier. The industry is now enormous and I really don’t know how they function now. There are so many shows that I lose track. Only Yamamoto and Kawakubo have remained the same for all these years. They continue as they started, going the opposite direction than everyone else and still managing to stay on top of the game. They are ahead of everybody by far.
Motwary: Runway photographers, in my opinion, are the best fashion critics, simply because they attend every single fashion show in all the big cities. Why do you think nobody really asks for their opinion?
Rinaldi: Only a few people dare to ask us questions. The big journalists know perfectly what is going on: Cathy Horyn or Suzy Menkes, for example. We are mostly asked for advice on a show, such as questions about lighting. A show that is fantastic in every way is Prada. I go crazy for Prada. The atmosphere, the lights, the clothes and the casting are always perfect. In other shows, some stylists manage to create an atmosphere, but there’s nothing after that. There are so many examples of fantastic dresses presented in the wrong way. I must say, when the show is right, even after 40 years, I can get emotional.
Motwary: What what would you say are the differences compared to how things functioned in the fashion industry 10 to 20 years ago, compared to now?
Rinaldi: One thing I consider a major change is that I don’t see many people that I know anymore. Twenty years ago, all the buyers came to the shows. Now you see one or two. Also, shop owners where invited to the shows. I guess all these people only visit the showrooms these days. I heard stories of people buying tickets to attend haute couture shows.
Motwary: And of course we have moved to the digital era in the last 10 years. How different is it from the analogue film era?
Rinaldi: I switched from film to digital five years later than any other catwalk photographer. I was very late! The only reason I switched was because it was very difficult to find film! It’s much more easier with film. You would print your slides on one page and in 10 minutes you could make the choice so easily on the light table.
Motwary: How has menswear changed?
Rinaldi: There is a new interest. The stylists, who used to do women, now do men as well. It was classical then. There is so much to say for menswear, still. Womenswear is much more ahead. Men still need to be explored.
Motwary: What about the photographer’s place on the podium. Why is it so important and how does one maintain it?
Rinaldi: There is someone who is paid to go and mark the spots. In my case, I always have a place because people respect me. Were you at the Armani show?
Motwary: Yes, I was.
Rinaldi: You remember when Armani came to me and shook my hand at the Armani Privé show? This is what pleases me. The fact that people, like Mr. Armani, know what I do. Fashion shows are like a visit to the museum. They are educational. The more you see, the more you understand. In this business, one becomes a citizen of the world. But you have to be polite and try to do your job the best way you can.
Motwary: When we were in Paris, you told me about a story that took place just before a Claude Montana show many years back. And I thought it was worth sharing this with the readers of this interview…
Rinaldi: There was a security guy, a very strong man, who shut the gate in the face of the CNN cameraman. He was so aggressive. All the photographers were furious. We said “basta” and left the show.
Motwary: Do you think catwalk photographers are not well respected?
Rinaldi: In the past few years, we have staged three or four important strikes solely for respect. But you can’t stage a strike these days. You could stay outside in the rain for two hours but nobody would care about it, and from our side, nobody dares to say, “lets go”. We staged strikes outside Prada, outside Missoni, a big strike at McQueen and Gaultier. They came out begging us to go in. By the next show, the word was out and everybody was polite to us. They allowed us to do our job correctly. They changed their attitude. In the past, each magazine had its own photographer and each of us was responsible for our position. Now, it’s all about organizations that have 100 magazines and sell photos for nothing.
Motwary: In your opinion, what does it take to have longevity in this business, for example for a designer or a photographer?
Rinaldi: Take Armani. He will last forever. He cannot grow more as a company. Then there are others that come and go. It all depends on what you do. For example Michael Kors has been around for a long time but he never exploded. Now he works with leather goods, I think. Or take Isaac Mizrahi. In the 1990s, only six or seven privileged photographers were able to attend his show, then seasons passed but he never exploded.
Motwary: What makes a perfect runway photograph?
Rinaldi: Everybody can take a good picture if you have a good position, a good camera, and know what you are doing.
Photo courtesy of Bruno Rinaldi ©
Bruno Rinaldi is one of todays most experienced fashion photographers, with more than 40 years in the fashion business. He has learned from Helmut Newton while being his assistant, worked for Vogue America and today working for Vogue Italia. He is lining up at all the biggest runway shows worldwide. It is not just his experience that makes him interesting but “an ensemble” of his outstanding and sincere character.