In Conversation: Mario Testino and Amanda Harlech

In Conversation: Mario Testino and Amanda Harlech

After years apart, visionaries Mario Testino and Amanda Harlech reunite for V’s September issue. Here, the duo reminisce about how they first met and the importance of iconic images in fashion today

After years apart, visionaries Mario Testino and Amanda Harlech reunite for V’s September issue. Here, the duo reminisce about how they first met and the importance of iconic images in fashion today

Photography: Mario Testino

Styling: Amanda Harlech

Text: Priya Rao

MARIO TESTINO Do you remember when we met; how we met?

AMANDA HARLECH I don't remember the precise coup de foudre thunderbolt, but we must have met with Rifat Ozbek, Cosmo Fry (plus sheepdog), Duncan Ward, David Holah, Stevie Stewart, and Cos Mulgrave in a bar round the corner from the derelict hospital that was your studio in Covent Garden. I will never forget our first shoot together—my debut shoot as junior fashion editor for Harpers & Queen. Willy Landels (editor-in-chief) was brilliant—he just gave us free rein—and we shot a gamine, feline Nicky Shulman as Gabrielle Chanel on a balcony decorated with camellias somewhere on Clapham westside.

MT Of course!

AH It was such a symbolic shoot in a way. It signaled where we were heading even before we knew it, you photographing Chanel and me at Chanel! Ha!

MT We started in the beginning of the '80s, no?

AH Yes, around ’82 I think.

MT I will never forget how you used to decorate your entire house with clothes and lamps and furniture. It looked like an art piece. I loved that.

AH Yeah! You came all the way to Wild West Wales and we all kind of became the shoot—a troupe of gypsies dancing under a rainbow!

MT Did we do BodyMap together, as well?

AH We shot BodyMap on Susie Bick and then a John Galliano story on her, his Incroyables collection. I remember we put clay in her hair and scattered 18th-century jewels amongst the clothes. We got so carried away; it was breakfast time when we wrapped. But we were always creating worlds that we wanted to keep on exploring—children as Japanese emperors, street casting as kids on the run . Your energy drove me forwards!

MT You always had a funny way of looking at fashion because you sort of don’t just look at what’s happening now; you look at what’s happening now meets what’s happening in your mind or what’s inspiring you. For me, that is really an eye-opener.

AH Well I also found it was really inspiring working with you because you’ve got it. It really is about a team and it’s about a photographer who, in the end, captures the image that sums up all the narrative, all the feeling, all the kind of adventuring that’s gone on kind of imaginatively into a frame. When we did this last shoot after God knows how many years, it was miraculous. It was just like we are speaking the same language.

MT A fashion editor is someone who brings me a way of looking at clothes differently through their eyes. There are different ways of looking at fashion. They make me look at things differently than I know how to look at them. That’s what growing and learning and being inspired is all about, and that’s what you have brought to me. You have a point of view that is different than everybody else and personal to your life and to what you’re exposed to, a mixture of your past, present, what your job means to you at Chanel, your travels between Wales, France, and London bring to you. The best part about that is that it is the drug that continues. I’m lucky to have that injection.

AH Yeah, that’s good. I love the idea that I’m addictive.

MT No, I’m addicted to you. People like you are the drug and I’m the addict.

AH Seriously, I mean it’s rarer and rarer where one is given the freedom to create a world in a moment that is present, but has references possibly to the past and is also referring to a future. A potent fashion image holds all of that within the frame and that’s what you do. I mean, sometimes I feel when I’m looking at what’s going on, that there isn’t that inquiry into what it feels like to wear the clothes, who you are inhabiting the clothes. When we have done a shoot, it’s been about what it feels like to be that girl or that boy. I remember when we did this last V shoot, the casting was incredible, but we spent the time before we started shooting actually creating the world of each character and that was fantastic.

MT I know. I find that it shows a recollection of time because it sets a relation of many years of being exposed to things. It might come from somebody wearing an outfit, but it might come from a Chinese film. It might come from a cupcake. It might come from—I don’t know—a plant. It can come from anywhere. I love the accumulation of time, of ideas because it’s all of a sudden like, “Wow! I want be in this world.” I’d love to see what the kids think of something like this because I find that they’re in that time of life where people don’t look back. Even though for you and for me it is clear—it was the ‘80s, for a lot of people, they didn’t even know what the ‘80s was like. They weren’t there. They don’t care.

AH I think that’s a really good point. Right now, there is no inquiry, and that’s why sometimes it feels like an emptied fashion soul. I don’t want to be too emotional, but I do think that when you feel good, that is an emotional moment, and I do think that dressing is a transformative thing and I think that is what we try to express when we do a shoot. It can be about the pain or the joy, but it isn’t just separate, photographed very antiseptically. I think maybe the pressure of commerce where you have to show the product in its absolute clarity in advertising means that you lose.

MT For the person that did the outfit, there is creativity. There is no creativity left for the ones that style the look if we go the commercial route. All I hope is that people feel what we felt at the shoot, the emotions, the excitement, and capturing that crazy.

Click here to view Mario Testino and Amanda Harlech's story from V103, on newsstands now.



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