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GÉRARD UFÉRAS the fabric of dreams


52 • 53


copyright Š 2010 by stemmle first published by rhode island school of design in 2010 in the usa

2 college st providence, ri 02903 isbn: 3908162858 distributed in the united states

+ canada by stemmle publications zurich, switzerland all rights reserved

no part of this publication may be reproduced or used in any form or by any means (graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping, or information storage and retrieval systems ) without written permission of the publisher.


GÉRARD UFÉRAS the fabric of dreams

Christian Lacroix Sarah Mower

edition stemmle


shakespeare

the tempest act iv scene i


“These our actors, As I foretold you, were all spirits and Are melted into air, into thin air... We are such stuff As dreams are made on...�


p r e fac e by Christian Lacroix

g é r a r d u f é r a s asked me to write a text as a preface to the photographs in this book. Looking up the word preface in the dictionary, I found a cross-reference to preamble, from the Greek “to go before”. I was also informed that, in liturgical rites, the preface is the introduction to the central part of the Eucharist, and that a preamble serves to outline the fundamental principles in a treaty or other formal document. Clearly, these two words and the work of Gérard Uféras go hand in hand. When I, as a couturier, write a preface to his work as a photographer, it is surely his eye that has preceded mine and that of others, presenting, prefacing, and capturing the penultimate phase of our collection at close quarters. It is that magical moment at which the collection enters the limelight, as though finally passing through the looking glass, the moment when the models are reflected in a no man’s land of nervous flustering, emerging from a kind of limbo into the glare of light —the moment when the collection becomes a reality.

It is a moment frozen in time, a slice of life an image arrested in which the lens transforms the dress — which was not the same a second ago and which will be different in a moment—like a super-eye revealing the inner workings, its geometry cutting across a bust, sweeping against a leg, suggesting the movement of a shoe that has yet to play its role, like glass slipper. It is a moment of fragile balance, of risk, of danger; an in-between time, almost meditative, just before going out to face the crowd. Waiting in silence, as though in a perfect void, staring into space, or eyes closed, or giddly seeking the solace of the mirror. Wracked by doubt, reassured by the seeming nonchalance of those who stand quite still, and by those who panic. Playing at being someone else, looking without seeing, like school children standing


in line, like the nameless heroines of some unknown legend, acting out precise scenarios, unwritten but for the curve of an arm, a certain shade of make-up, the texture of a fabric. Histories, geographies, literatures are invented here for twenty minutes. Self-absorbed spectators weigh up a scene that is about to absorb them, too, hypnotizing them with the specter of a fleeting life; gothic figures and ancient apparitions sculpted in fabric, penned in fading ink; the drama of a photo-novel whose protagonists strut and stroll, enigmatic at times, like icons unaware of the anonymous hands reaching out to grasp them, a veritable army behind the scenes, busily and attentively fashioning masks and forging finery in rites that verge on banality, for all their esoteric attire. They swarm out like insects caught upon a line of flight. A vibrant, living structure of architectural precision, hieratic to the point of rigidity; a magnificent composition of flesh and bone, bringing the garb of summer to the depths of winter. Just one more step, a moment of hesitation, them taking the plunge with the determined assurance of the catwalk veteran, with the partly lyrical, partly athletic gait of powdered little robots, rhythmic, relaxed, occasionally stumbling or awkward. It is a ballet of statues, of dolls; the dance of a chrysalis finally liberated. And back again. The rite is over. It has run his course in black and white, in chiaroscuro. The light abstractly outlines the essence of a seasonal detail; a stolen image that reveals nothing, yet, at the same time, is more telling than the entire show. The alchemy of a bone structure or make-up, a cut or a pose; the sorcery by which extravagant gestures take on the six month truth of a supple photographic haiku that captures the ultimate modernity of current taste, the look of today, which is already passing, and which is nothing but a sign, a greeting.


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waiting for the viktor

&

rolf show

haute couture, spring-summer ‘99 paris jan ‘99


08 • 09

making m ag i c o u t of mayhem

How difficult it can be to spend your working life watching models walking up and down catwalks in spectacular clothes—and be paid for it?

The millions who watch snippets of fashion shows on television and consume daily information in women’s magazines, in newspapers and on the Internet might well imagine it as a job made in heaven. From a distance, the world of the fashion show looks like a charmed parallel universe where everyone is exquisite and no one invited has anything more arduous to do than make small talk, flirt with paparazzi and doodle a few notes. But ask anyone who travels in the women’s fashion caravan from New York to London to Milan and Paris over ten weeks every year to describe the scene and you’ll hear a very different story. For everyone involved — the editors, journalists, photographers, designers, and models, hairdressers and makeup artists–the truth is that the fashion industry in the 2 1 st century is a vital, explosively energetic, but intensely grueling place to earn a living. Fashion is a system which is regulated by a relentless calendar of shows scheduled to fit into insanely compressed weeks during which more than a hundred designers in each city will jostle for the attention of visiting international press and buyers. In a single ready-to-wear season, shows will run from 9 am until midnight over twenty-eight days in four cities. Designers fight between themselves for models — the biggest, the newest, the most hyped girls— the handful of multi-million dollar faces and bodies who are anointed to reflect all our longings at any given moment— will be worked until they drop during those weeks. Sped from show to show on the back of bikes, booked to pose for magazines and advertising campaigns throughout the night and called for fittings at 6 am, they’ll often be seen snatching sleep, like refugees, under tables and propped up in makeup chairs backstage, or huddled unconscious on studio sofas and corners of designers’ cabins. By the end of the insane four weeks of the ready-to-wear season, even these inhumanely fresh and angelic faces are marked with exhaustion and acne: a fact that gives the stressed professionals in the audience, who have watched those same girls walk up and down six hundred times in the past twenty days, one small, bitter consolation for the state of their own wrecked appearances.


haute couture, spring-summer '99 paris jan ‘99

thierry mugler

haute couture, spring-summer ‘99 paris jan ‘99

christian lacroix

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roberto cavalli

prêt-á-porter, spring-summer ‘00 milan sept ‘99


prêt-á-porter, spring-summer ‘00 milan sept ‘99

gianfranco ferré

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But what if the clothes and the girls aren’t enough to guarantee a designer headlines? Never mind, if you have the money. If a designer is still anxious about whipping up the razzmatazz, there’s always the possibility of packing the front row with celebrities, and getting attention that way. The collection? The clothes? Who cares? In the frenzy to grab next-day publicity, heavy-hitting designers compete to lure actors and actresses, pop stars, film directors, “IT” girls, soap stars to their shows–almost everyone, it seems, will do, as long as someone will take their picture. Who benefits most from the paparazzi’s shouting and shoving competition to get the best picture of the biggest star? The designer or the celebrity? In what sense are these relationships real? Is that Hollywood starlet truly a friend and admirer of the designer, a muse, or a long-time supporter? Fine, if everyone believes it. But what if she’s merely been paid to show up for the night? How is she being bought, in clothes or in cash? And how many journalists will dutifully rush forward to play their part in the conspiracy? Many of those who sit through these pre-show commotions are so inured to the spectacle that they don’t even ask these questions any more. Surprise and delight do not flicker on their stony faces as the celebrities parade by. The tedious hold ups caused by celebrity traffic is just another kind of occupational hazard to be endured by the professional audience; and one more reason for the sense of barely suppressed general exasperation that hangs in the atmosphere during the interminable waits for the show to begin. Whether they like it or not; however, everyone in the house is resigned to the reality of the bigger deal. The fact that sometimes during the last decade, fashion—or rather, the glamorous photo-opportunity that fashion provides—became amalgamated into a new branch of show biz. This is fashion as entertainment, and it’s here to stay. In the midst of this protean melee, journalists and buyers scramble, commando-like, from show to show to reach any far-flung, difficult and even dangerous venue in their competitive drive to be there to witness the birth of the next big thing. Despite the huge number of established designer names on the catwalk, such is the allconsuming relentlessness of this industry that there’s always room for novelty and change—and with it, a huge snob value attached to recognizing rising talents before anyone else. The first qualifications for tracking the avant-garde is instinct, and the


chanel

haute couture, spring-summer ‘99 paris jan ‘99


14 • 15

second, the willingness to slum it. Anyone entering the business under the illusion that covering the collection is a luxurious pursuit can quickly forget it. As they struggle from trade-fair auditoria and slick showrooms, to derelict warehouses, open-air car parks and run-down nightclubs and back again, what do the press and buyers talk of amongst themselves? It’s rarely an intricate discussion of the amazing cut of a new jacket, the transporting genius of X’s new collection, or the ravishing prettiness of that model. Far, far more familiar is the Greek chorus of exhaustion, moans about food deprivation, complaints about stolen seats, cat fights to get into the shows, the cold, the rain, how our feet are killing us, and the lateness. Always, the lateness. But if journalists and buyers complain about the pressure of the collection, consider the photographers. Catwalk photographers, who must stake out their spot ahead of time in every show, and then stand in it, crushed body-to-body amongst a hundred and fifty other men with their metal cases and bristling armories of equipment and long lenses, complain less than the journalists, but work in far worse conditions. Crammed upright, unable to move a muscle, often for over an hour before a show even begins, and sometimes perched perilously on windowsills or three-inch ledges, this posse of men (and they are mostly men) will go to almost any length to get their pictures. Such is the insatiable hunger of the monster they feed–the world’s news media–that these photographers will often work late into the night e-mailing their digital images around the globe from laboratories, hotel rooms, and cars, so that Dolce & Gabbana, Dior, Versace, and Calvin Klein can be seen the next morning in color splashes on news pages and dissected in outfit-by-outfit detail on the internet.


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prêt-á-porter, autumn-winter ‘99-00 paris mar ‘99

keita maruyama


nina ricci

prêt-á-porter, spring-summer ‘00 paris oct. ‘99


prêt-á-porter, spring-summer ‘00 paris oct ‘99

benoît meleard

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...the thing that keeps the committed coming back over and over again to the shows is the eternal hope that, at any time, something miraculous will happen before their very eyes.

And so here we have it: take the lid off the fashion shows, and it’s easy to feel that you are staring into a stewing cauldron of commercialism, cynicism, discomfort and complaint. This is all true. In some ways, fashion now has degenerated into a shocking and ugly system—if degenerate is the word of an industry that has been sped up to such an insane pitch by advancing technologies. And yet, this mad, unpretty view of fashion is only one way of understanding the motives and the energy that drive it on and make it… wonderful. In spite of all the pressures, the ruthless and blatantly bad behavior, there are still ideals, inspirations and individuals in fashion that are, for want of a better way of putting it, pure. For those who are truly obsessed, the driving, sustaining interest in fashion is not the balance of sales figures, the spectator sport of the gladiatorial corporate contest to control brands, and certainly not the thrill of meeting celebrities face-to-face at shows. No: the thing that keeps the committed coming back over and over again to the shows is the eternal hope that, at any time, something miraculous will happen before their very eyes. At their very best, fashion shows; not just the clothes but the whole mis-en-scène dreamed up by a troupe of collaborators— can be as transcendent, profound, disturbing, moving, and as joyful as theater or film. issey miyake

prêt-á-porter, autumn-winter ‘99-00 paris mar ‘99

The trouble is that there’s a problem in communicating this fragile vitality to an uncomprehending world. To begin with, fashion shows are also briefer, and more ephemera—and, in general, far more poorly reported, described, or critiqued than plays, opera, or movies are. The language of fashion journalism today is almost comically impoverished. On the one hand, the blunt vocabulary of hyperbole is so over-used as to be meaningless. On the other post-modern sensibilities so ridicule the old-world terminology associated with female beauty and clothing that it’s impossible to use the words elegant, chic, and mystique without embarrassment. The old words are laughable, and the new words crude: it’s difficult to commit any words to a page that don’t sound over-done or clichéd. Fashion people know amongst themselves when something special has taken place, though. There’s a code for it, a single catchall phrase that passes from one to other: “That was a moment!” we say, awed, as we emerge, smiling and bright-eyed, from a brilliant show. A moment. Even as it’s said, there’s the acknowledgement, the wistfulness—that it’s already over. IS there anyone here who can seize, preserve and crystallize a fashion moment? Even ten minutes later, the hope has all but evaporated.


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It takes someone who literally sees it all from a different angle to grasp the magic that the others fail to capture — and to seek it out in places where the others are not looking. Thus, Gérard Uféras arrived silently on the fashion scene—in 1999—and began taking pictures that, innocently perhaps, ignore the edifice of rigid conventions that have been erected around fashion shows —the very conventions that produced such uniformity uninteresting pictures from hundreds of photographers. Crucially, Ulféras is an outsider in the industry, a photojournalist, not a fashion photographer, or even a catwalk photographer. To begin with, he is not one of the guys with the long lenses. He never stand to take his picture in the herd at the end of the catwalk. Because he is not a specialist in the field, he simply follows his own eye to what interests him—calmly walking through the hype and the noise towards the small incident in the background, where he captures something spellbinding happening. Uféras never photographs celebrities. He rarely even focuses on supermodels—not out of any deliberate policy of exclusion, but because all models are equal in the eye of his camera, just girls. Girls laughing, girls concentrating, girls waiting; girls submitting to be pinned, painted, primped; girls about to make their grand entrance; girls just being girls.

philosophy di alberta ferretti

prêt-á-porter, spring-summer ‘00 milan sept ‘99 Because here’s the other part of the problem: catwalk photographs are often as inadequate as new reports in communicating the essence and energy of a uniquely fantastic show. The conventions imposed by magazine editors and the crowd-control regulations enforced by the fashion house Press Officers means that the visual representation of the catwalk show is as riddles with banalities as most fashion writing. Essentially, the photographers with the long lenses, who are herded together in a single, sweating, aching mass at the end of every catwalk, are all getting the same shot. The girl is walking towards them, doing here stock flirty twirl and professional flash of the eyes, and she’s triggering all the photographers to take the same picture of her, from exactly the same position, at the same moment.


yves saint laurent

haute couture, spring-summer ‘00 paris jan ‘00

haute couture, spring-summer ‘99 paris jan ‘99

ji haye

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And that is the other thing that is so appealing, delicate, and moving about Gérard Uféras’ photographs: his almost awed, and totally unintrusive respect for his subjects. Many photographers work backstage at fashion shows—it’s another specialist branch of the industry that feeds the beauty pages of the world’s magazines. Conventions have grown up around this speciality, too, in the past decade: what a backstage photographer snaps are girls with rollers in their hair, talking on mobile phones, chewing gum, petting their dogs, half-dressed–in color. It has been another convention, a slice of "reality". Except this is not the reality which Uféras captures. To begin with, he shoots in black and white, not color. He doesn’t try to catch the girls off-guard, topless or in any vulnerable positions. The remarkable aspect of this photographer’s mental filter is that it appears almost old-fashioned— the “moment” which he captures could be from an earlier era, a time when people still believed in the absolutes of elegance and femininity. Through Gérard’s eyes, modern models are not the skinny teenage waifs, pin-ups or hellraisers of popular contemporary imagination. In his reportage, there girls are full participants in the endeavor of fashion, role players who bring their own intuitive talents and professional expertise to the performance. Typical of Uféras’ work is the view from behind the curtain. Shots of girls about to make their entrances and exits are poignant in the way they record a moment in their fleeting areas of the occasion they are participating in. In one shot, you see two girls crouching behind a curtain, their little faces lit with anticipation before they go on. As a woman, you catch your breath to see there images, almost believing again, as you did as a child, that an enchantment world of beautiful princesses does exist.


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—the —the “moment” “moment” which which he captures he captures could could be from be from an earlier an earlier era,era, a time a time when when people people stillstill believed believed in the in absolutes the absolutes of of elegance elegance andand femininity. femininity.


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marc le bihan

prêt-á-porter, spring-summer ‘00  paris oct ‘99


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prêt-á-porter, autumn-winter ‘00-01 paris mar ‘00 john galliano

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christian dior

haute couture, autumn-winter ‘00-01 paris july ‘00


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Uféras’ obsession with fashion has taken him far further afield than most catwalk photographers will ever even bother to go. Often—in exactly the opposite was from other story-chasing photographers—he will ask to shoot at the least hyped shows in town. That could mean the most traditional haute couture house which struggles on with their faithful clientele when high-speed fashion has mostly passed them by. Or, it could mean making an effort to show up at student shows or responding, out of courtesy, to the invitation of a designer that no-one has ever heard of. The things that are important to fashion editors—capturing the latest style, or being ushered to a front row seat at the show of the most lauded designer of the moment—are never of any importance to him. In a strange way, Uféras doesn’t even see fashion collections as episodes in the story of contemporary trends, or regard models as the demi-celebrities their agents and magazines project them as. His angle on the whole transient scene; however, archives something else that is remarkable in the context of such a ruthless fast industry. By not being involved in any of the busy agendas and the hype, Uféras’ images of fashion have a quality of timelessness that, unlike last season’s fads, will remain undated. In their rare celebration of beauty, they also transmit something else that is scarcely ever glimpsed in this most hard-driving of commercial worlds. Gérard Uféras captures happiness, and maybe that is his greatest gift of all.

Sarah Mower editor-in-chief, the fashion

christian lacroix

haute couture, autumn-winter ‘99-00 paris july ‘99 Bypassing the commonplace, brassy glamour that has somehow attached itself to the business of fashion shows, Uféras’ sensibility both sophisticated in its aesthetics and humane in its respect for his subject. He is not looking for a sensational shot, a front-page splash or setting up a paparazzo ambush. Perhaps his Frenchness also for his fascination for the detail of the craft he documents. In the Paris haute couture ateliers, the woman who work such wonders with tailoring, draping, embroidery, and fitting the exquisite made-to-measure clothes are called the petites mains. In Uféras’ photography, those expert hands figure everywhere, pinning, cutting, sculpting fabric, and fitting girls into the couturiers’ team at a racing pit stop.


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valetin yudashkin

haute couture, spring-summer ‘99 paris jan ‘99


haute couture, autumn-winter ‘99-00 paris july ‘99

yves sait laurent

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gianfranco ferré

prêt-á-porter, spring-summer ‘00 milan sept ‘99


aletier chardon savard paris, may '00

fashion school

34 • 35


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hervé léger

prêt-á-porter, autumn-winter '00 paris mar.'99


haute couture, autumn-winter '99-00 paris july '99

christiophe rouxel

haute couture, autumn-winter '99-00 paris july '99

christiophe rouxel

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haute couture, spring-summer '00  paris jan '00

michel harcourt

sonia rykiel

prêt-á-porter, spring-summer '00  paris oct '00

38 • 39


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fashion school

la chambre brussels june '00 prêt-á-porter, autumn-winter '99-00 paris mar '99

dice kayek

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52 52 •• 53 53


haute haute couture, couture, autumn-winter autumn-winter '99-00  '99-00  paris july '99 paris july '99

c ca ar rv ve en n

52 52 •• 53 53


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anna molinari

prêt-á-porter, spring-summer '00  milan sept '99


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haute couture, spring-summer '99  paris jan '99

jean-paul gaultier

haute couture, spring-summer '99  paris jan '99

jean-paul gaultier

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benoît meleard

prêt-á-porter, spring-summer '00  paris oct '99

benoît meleard

prêt-á-porter, spring-summer '00  paris oct '99


50 • 51

a.f. vandevorst prêt-á-porter, autumn-winter '99-00  paris mar '99


prêt-á-porter, autumn-winter '99-00  paris mar '99

keita maruyama,


christian dior

prêt-á-porter, autumn-winter ‘00-01 paris oct ‘99


prêt-á-porter, spring-summer ‘00 paris oct ‘99

yves sait laurent

prêt-á-porter, spring-summer ‘00 paris oct ‘99

yves sait laurent

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prêt-á-porter, spring-summer '00  paris oct '99

thierry mugler

prêt-á-porter, spring-summer '00  paris oct '99

thierry mugler

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olivier theyskens

prêt-á-porter, autumn-winter '00-01  paris mar '00

olivier theyskens

prêt-á-porter, autumn-winter '00-01  paris mar '00


haute couture, spring-summer '99  paris jan '99 jean-paul gaultier haute couture, spring-summer '99  paris jan '99

jean-paul gaultier


56 • 57

adeline andré

haute couture, spring-summer '99  paris jan '99


chanel

haute couture, spring-summer '99  paris jan '99


timelessness that, unlike last season’s fads, will remain undated. in their rare celebration of beauty, they also transmit something else that is scarcely ever glimpsed in this most hard-driving of commercial worlds. gérard uféras captures happiness, and maybe that is his greatest gift of all.

Sarah Mower editor-in-chief

the fashion

Christian Lacroix  Sarah Mower

uféras’ images of fashion have a quality of


the fabric of dreams