Among Fashion Week’s Big Four, alongside New York, Paris, and Milan, London has been a hub of the latest styles for centuries. While England’s capital was not initially known for this, in the Medieval period it made steps toward becoming a supplier to international fashion industries in exporting wool and silk. During this time, the imports of furs and embroideries by the upper class heralded London’s status as the place for England’s most influential to travel to for the newest trends. By the 18th century, the lavish parties populated by nobility in exaggerated wigs and flowing gowns came to define it as a place clothing-makers established themselves to find success. The centuries that followed showed even more development across the social hierarchy, with the West End predominantly catering to the wealthy and the East End developing styles, for the first time in the country’s history, for the working class. It was the aftermath of World War II that brings us the London many know today, with the clash between high-end luxury and the counter-culture styles that amplified their voices stylistically on Carnaby St. and King’s Road. The Swingin’ 60s coexisting with rockers standing off against mods, followed by the eras of glam rockers and finally punks, would tell a very interesting story of the economic and political climate endured by the country as the 20th century moved forward. Its first official fashion week began in a West London car park in 1984, gaining major traction when Margaret Thatcher’s presence reinvigorated the interest in fashion shows of society’s elite. From the 90s to now, Camden Town is the borough of London that still holds the world’s attention for many subcultures celebrating the development of their visual image.
At Wonderful Machine, we define fashion photography as imagery that emphasizes clothes, shoes, and accessories, usually worn by professional models. Where all the world’s a stage, people from all around flock to embrace and invent tomorrow’s styles in England’s capital. While one can only imagine the tall order of finding the most adept in capturing these trends in a city of such competition, plenty still emerge with work that speaks for itself. Here are the best fashion photographers in London.
Helen McArdle is an award-winning London fashion photographer who works worldwide and also specializes in both beauty and celebrity portraiture. Known for her friendly and collaborative approach, she has maintained many strong relationships among top names in fashion and beauty publications. She’s special in her ability to capture her subjects as vibrantly as she does in both indoor and outdoor settings. Very strong in her use of natural light, Helen’s shots are never washed out, even if the clear background sky and perhaps a model blocking the light from her eyes reveal an extremely sunny day. Often working with a solo model in a series of poses and outfits, her interior shots are diverse in their location. Sometimes working with a blank white background and a single prop, sometimes in a chic apartment, Helen’s work explores the entire mood around a designer’s collection and tailors every shoot to this. Equally diverse in her subjects, Helen’s model is always just the right model to show these styles at their highest potential.
Mariano Vivanco was born in Lima, Peru, and spent his youth traveling the world with his family. Settling in New Zealand at the age of ten, he discovered his love of photography, finding inspiration in the work of Edward Steichen and Horst P. Horst. Moving to London in 2000, Mariano embarked on a very successful career as both a photographer and director. As a London fashion photographer, he stands out in his ability to blend his model with their environment. Apparel will often match the background in color and theme, giving his imagery a sense of completeness throughout his portfolio. His lighting varies with each shoot to complement the color schemes he employs, using shadows in some and a washed-out brightness in others. Mariano’s work also follows in the footsteps of his old heroes Steichen and Horst in the directness with which he has his subjects pose for the camera, often looking directly at it and theatrical in their gestures. Also like both photography legends, his work has appeared extensively in Vogue across many countries. His work also appears in Vanity Fair, GQ, Harper’s Bazaar, H Magazine, and many more.
Working in portraiture, fashion, and documentary as both a photographer and director, Alex de Mora is known for the “bold, colorful, and raw aesthetic” of his work. Often working one on one with a model, his philosophy is to build his shoot around his subject’s personality. Proof of this would be the striking aspects that his work was known for in the first place, which is an edginess and attitude that translates anywhere he shoots: on location, outdoors, or in a studio. When working indoors, he often uses a strong single color that both defines and complements his model and their attire. Within this, they are free to be centerstage with whatever makes them special, or better yet, outrageous. Alex has a natural affinity for this because he grew up as a drummer playing in punk bands, which would give anybody a front-row seat in the magic of harnessing the electricity of one’s own character paired with an aesthetic. With this experience, he now incorporates music’s biggest stars into his fashion work. Rina Sawayama, the Arctic Monkeys, Stormzy, Kehlani, and even the late and great MF Doom are just a few of the many big names that feature in Alex’s exciting work.
Originally from Italy, London fashion photographer Gianluca Fontana works worldwide to bring his graceful style to the pages of many major publications. Vanity Fair, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, Allure, and Vogue are names that have, in multiple countries, shown his work on their covers as well as within their pages. Gianluca’s work can be described as intimate, graceful, and even heavenly. Whether in the studio or outside, pale colors are used to bring out his model’s relationship to the designs being showcased. A walk through his portfolio is almost like taking a walk in the clouds. With a focus on the sophisticated as well as the sensual, Gianluca’s work is timeless in his attention to the clothing itself, even if being shown in a photo with a larger-sized background in comparison to the model. Originally a student of architecture, his imagery is known for its balance and composition. Working directly with industry heavyweights such as Prada, L’Oreal, Alessandro Dell’Acqua, Cartier, and Givenchy, Gianluca himself could be considered a mainstay in the fashion industry. Also an artist in his work beyond fashion, he has come out with his own book, Private Setting, published by Skira Publishing and distributed by both Thames & Hudson and Artbook.
Anya Holdstock is as professional in fashion photography as they come. Shooting covers and spreads for Vogue internationally, she has also done work for big names in the industry including Christian Dior, Harrods, De Beers, and Valentino. Her work is exactly what you would expect in the highest-end editorial and advertising fashion photography. The top models working work with her. The top designers are being showcased by her. For an industry so tied to harnessing future trends, Anya is something of a classic. In a way, she’s taken all of the exciting angles, locations, and poses throughout the decades of fashion photography leading up to today and made them all very current. A master of her craft.
Born in Bath, England in 1979, Jacob Sutton is both a photographer as well as an accomplished director. Beginning his career in the early 2000s, he made waves with his unique focus on movement in fashion photography. Featuring in publications such as The New York Times, Vogue, and Numéro, Jacob decided to take his vision further and, in 2010, moved into directing. Finding success with online films A-Z of Dance and LED Surfer, he began doing films and shoots alike for brands including Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Calvin Klein, and Nike. What results, is a fascinating multisensory experience including still and moving images within a single commission, lending itself to campaigns that can appear concurrently in print and online publications. As a London fashion photographer, the celebration of movement that put Jacob on the map is more than apparent. If he has more than one model, they will often be posed in synchronized ways, gracefully appearing as if they were works of sculpture. Solo models may be mid-dance, mid-turn, or mid-sentence. Jacob has a very interesting way of showing things happen, yet frozen in time, amid the lush colors are stark black & whites he employs to explore the artistry of the designers he is capturing.
Originally from Milan, Alan Gelati gained an early education in photography at Civica Scuola di Fotografia as well as studying Aesthetic and Art History in Brera. He relocated to London in 1998 and took on a position as a photographer for Christie’s. Perfecting his craft by photographing paintings, sculptures, interiors, and antiquities, Alan also took advantage of the art history and critique courses that Christie’s offered to their experts and antique dealers. Using this experience as a launchpad, he began working for himself as a London fashion photographer, with work featuring in Harper’s Bazaar, Italian Vogue, ID, Citizen K, Vanity Fair, Amica, and Glamour. Utilizing the stark, often blank backgrounds that can be seen in photography showcasing the rare items and works of art that Christie’s is famous for, Alan’s work does the same for the designs being worn by his models. As the subjects are free to be expressive, all of the attention tends to be strictly on their relationship with the clothing they are sporting. Seldom are there scenes or elaborate backgrounds that would take away from the main attraction beyond a room with colors that complement the subject’s ensemble, while a white background is also common in his imagery. He has also done advertising work for some of fashion’s biggest names, including L’Oreal, Givenchy, Blumarine, Chopard, Schwarzkopf, and many more.
Standing out in one of the world’s original hubs of international fashion may be a challenge only a rare few can meet. These seven London fashion photographers prove that it not only can be done but that it can be done in one’s own style. Whether embracing the classic or the futuristic, stillness, or movement, fashion has a place for all of it when put through the right lens.