Demarchelier grew up in the seaside town of Le Havre in Normandy with his four brothers. In 1960, he was given an Eastman Kodak camera as a 17th birthday present by his stepfather. From that moment on, he hasn’t stopped taking pictures. Though his subjects quickly changed from friends and local weddings to supermodels and high fashion campaigns when he moved to New York in 1975.
Working initially as a freelance photographer, he learned the trade by studying the photographs of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Terry King, and Jacque Guilbert. His first big jobs were for Elle, Marie Claire and 20 Ans magazines, and for celebrity endorsement projects like Farah Fawcett’s shampoos in 1978, and Brooke Shields‘ doll in 1982. Demarchelier has thanked fate for the good fortune of his early days: ‘I didn’t think about a career. I didn’t plan it. It came to me.’
His most steadfast collaborators have been American Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, for whom he acted as the premier photographer between 1992 and 2004. He was first hired at Vogue by Alexander Liberman in 1974, and he has been cataloging its evolution ever since. He even shot the 100th anniversary cover in 1992.
Over the course of his 40-year career, he has shot the covers of every major fashion magazine on the planet, as well as those for entertainment and current affairs publications such as Rolling Stone, Life, and Newsweek.
He has also been the go-to photographer for high-end advertising campaigns. These have included the likes of Dior, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Donna Karan, Yves Saint Laurent, Tommy Hilfiger, H&M, Zara, Longchamp, Lacoste, Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren.
Demarchelier’s stature in the fashion industry has also helped propel the careers of the make-up artists he has chosen to work with, most notably Laura Mercier, Jason Marks and Pat McGrath.
In 2007, Demarchelier was made an Officer in l’Order des Arts et des Lettres by the French government and his life’s work was honored with a retrospective at the Petit Palais the following year. A similar event was held at Christie’s in New York in September 2015, with 75 of his iconic pictures including fashion images, celebrity portraits, nudes and nature photography being displayed prior to a private auction. A single print of Demarchelier’s work is easily capable of attaining a six-figure sum. His 1990 photograph of Christy Turlington wearing a flower-shaped hat sold for 95,600€ at a gallery in Berlin.
In a game that is arguably in decline due to the overindulgence in post-production image manipulation, the rise of the selfie as a medium for fashion photography, and even the industry’s over-reliance on retro inspiration, Demarchelier’s work is as fresh and inventive as ever. ‘I don’t like looking back,’ he says, ‘but always focus on looking to the future.’