How does a city become a fashion capital of the world? Milan has gained worldwide recognition as a pivotal city in the industry. Its Fashion Week makes up the Big Four, alongside hubs in New York, Paris, and London. Some of the most legendary names are headquartered in Milan, including Armani, Prada, Versace, Valentino, Moschino, Zegna, and Vogue Italia. The roots of this captivating phenomenon extend back to the 15th century, when it became a center for importing and crafting luxury goods. This drew wealthy aficionados from all over Europe, seeking to adopt the styles of their local nobility. As fashion became more accessible, Milan started to thrive, distinguishing itself from Paris influences through detailed craftsmanship. The city opened its first major department store in 1865, cementing the fashion industry as a local interest and major employer. While Florence became Italy’s style hub through much of the following century, Milan hosted its first Fashion Week in 1958. When the Missoni house was banned from Florence – following a scandal involving braless models – Milan welcomed them, paving the way for other fashion houses to follow suit. By the 1970s, the somber style of the French fell out of favor, replaced with the return of vibrant color. The city embraced this trend. Milan became a hotbed of new talent within the discovery of Gianni Versace, Giorgio Armani, and Gianfranco Ferré. By 1991, Versace’s show heralded the birth of the supermodel phenomenon, redefining the medium. Throughout all of this, fashion photography in Milan has been integral to capturing these stylistic evolutions.
At Wonderful Machine, we define fashion photography as imagery that emphasizes clothes, shoes, and accessories, usually worn by professional models. Becoming a fashion photographer in Milan is not only a competitive vocation but a true heritage. Here are the seven best on the scene today.
If anyone understands the demands of both sides of the camera, it is Nima Benati. An accomplished model and influencer, Nima also happens to be an incredible talent in photography. Her portfolio is vast with proof, full of cover shoots with legendary publications Vogue, Vanity Fair, Grazia, and more. Nima first began working in the fashion industry in 2010 at the age of 18. It may seem like a young start, but her fascination with photography began at the age of four. Since her start, Nima has been featured in the Forbes 30 Under 30.
My mind associates everything I see or do with a possible shooting so I let myself be inspired by everything: there is no limit to the imagination and there will never be.
Nima is meticulous in perfecting every detail of her imagery. It is undeniable in her composition, use of lighting, and ability to find the most vibrant locations. She pairs these well with her subjects and the designs. Beyond her well-honed ability as a photographer, this comes down to her passion for travel. Her enthusiasm to not only witness but experience the world, reveals her true dreamer behind the camera. Nima expresses her youthful energy through vibrant colors, dramatic poses, and a boundless array of aesthetics. Unafraid to court the fantastical, she also has many works that approach fairytale imagery. Adding to the allure of her portfolio is the inclusion of photography that transcends borders and cultures. This infuses a distinctive excitement — a blend of curiosity and passion for life — into the portrayal of tomorrow’s designs.
An extremely accomplished portrait photographer, Maki Galimberti has worked covering everyone: international celebrities, world leaders, athletes, and even soldiers. Being based in Milan, fashion could only become a part of his work. Generally focused on editorial work, he has shot for many top publications in virtually any setting imaginable. The edge of a skyscraper? No problem for Maki. A refugee camp in Bosnia? He did that. And perhaps this diversity is what makes him such an exciting part of fashion photography in Milan. Maki’s utilization of his diverse experience allows him to completely cater to the message of his images. He will confidently shift between bright and pale colors in studios. Meanwhile, he finds the most adventurous outdoor locations to work. Given his extensive work portraiture, Maki brings are a rare sense of individuality and humanity to his models. They are free to express and react as authentically as possible. This is something rare and special in capturing the fashion industry, which is more associated with serious, yet glamorous appearances. His penchant for exciting locations has likely given to his extensive portrait work. Maki allows the designs to become part of a larger picture while still defining it. He carefully plans and executes his photography shoots in striking locations, diverging himself from the norm once again. With such an eye for emotion, detail, and composition, this always works exquisitely.
Luca Merli wears many hats as a photographer, director, and producer. With over a decade in the industry, he has also worked in fields of advertising and communication. His experience in developing businesses, and their public personas, brings a rare blend of art and team-building to his shoots. This lends perfectly to the needs of a successful fashion photographer in Milan, where locations and budgets can fluctuate unpredictably. Yet it is his eye and his focus that really achieve the magic that ties his magnificent portfolio together. Luca often will take a series of portraits with a model sporting different outfits from a designer. The angles are always diverse, as are his subjects. He has the ability to capture the same level of elegance, no matter the age of his models. This brings attention to the universality of the designs he is capturing. With very sparse backgrounds of earth tones, off-whites, or darker grays, he draws the viewer’s attention to the clothing itself. When shooting on location, Luca remains economical by choosing one room, or even just a corner of a club or a bar. Models tend to exude the serious look commonly associated with fashion, but their personalties tend to make their way through the raise of an eyebrow or the curl of a lip. Their bodies are free to pose in a way that brings the most out of the designs they are wearing. With so many talents, it is impressive to see such a singular mastery in Luca’s fashion work.
If there is one word for the work of Guido Stazzoni, it is: timeless. A master of his craft in every way, Guido’s technical ability allows him to follow wherever his inspiration takes him. This is often a journey through time. He tends to work in black & white nearly as often as he does in color. His robust body of work explores multitudes of aesthetics and moods, and the detail of his imagery is always sharp. Through composition and his use of lighting, Guido’s images often have the appearance of another decade. His knowledge of the history of photography, especially within fashion, allows him to mimic the playful and deadpan expressions of the ’80s. Just as easily, he can evoke the soul-staring portraiture defined decades earlier. His use of brightness often provides a rustic feel to his photography. It can be surprising to know an image was shot within the last year. It would be far easier to assume they were taken in a time when film, trends in expression, and even the designs themselves, were the norm. The impeccability with which he captures his subjects – and the mood he seeks – ultimately presents an image with the best of both worlds: today’s cutting-edge clarity with aesthetics that have proven themselves truly immortal.
With a passion for street photography, Federico Sorrentino often works on location. The bustling sidewalks of Europe and the United States are his studio, as are fields, farms, and the sides of lost highways. Educated in Set Design at the Fine Arts Academy of Bologna, Federico is a rare fashion photographer in Milan who deliberately goes off the beaten path. He takes inspiration from photographers Stephen Shore and Joel Meyerowitz, as well as filmmaker Wim Wenders. Frederico’s portfolio is a travelogue of the in-between moments one finds in aimlessly traveling to nowhere in particular. Through this, he creates a reality where his subjects and the settings become one. Moving between digital and analog, perfected clarity, and intentional overexposure, Federico reveals many ways of seeing within a single shoot. What’s interesting is how well these settings and tactics work with the identity of the designs he is showcasing. You forget you’re looking at a fashion shoot. Instead, it feels like an adventure with costume changes. Experimenting with angles, perspectives, and their relationship to landscapes is an inexhaustible resource that Federico has a skeleton key to; an attractive sense of wanderlust pervades all of his work. He finds a lot of inspiration in aspects of the vast stretches within the United States. Somehow, Federico’s subjects seem to always be found right where they intended to be, bound to their own secret journeys.
Valentina Frugiuele is a master in showcasing how dynamic fashion can be. Cultures, expressions, and aesthetics of all kinds equally gleam in her diverse work. A successful fashion photographer in Milan, Valentina spent the first 10 years of her career in Paris. Clearly influenced by more than the established norms of the industry, her strong body of work engages portraiture, youth culture, and the performing arts. Her experience in the latter clearly shows in her ability to bring out the more vibrant aspects of her subjects’ personalities. Valentina’s models often possess a playfulness, yet they are able to pull off a more serious or sensual tone when the mood calls for it. Her ability to achieve this sets her apart from other photographers. Often shot on location around town, she clearly knows how to have fun with these shoots, as her subjects all appear to be friends without a care in the world. These images present a hint at the designs of tomorrow while giving younger audiences a way to view the fashion industry as something they may engage with. Valentina gives her full devotion to each design, oscillating between advertising and editorial work. Shooting for major publications worldwide and within a diversity of cultures, her knack for capturing an edgy, yet fun-loving attitude is consistent everywhere she works. Valentina is also an accomplished director with multiple short films for advertising campaigns which too exist as exciting windows into her shoots and creative process.
Adriano Russo has a gift for bringing the look of cinema to fashion photography in Milan. Born in Puglia, he moved to Florence at an early age, ultimately attending school for art and cinematography. He continued to study in Berlin shortly after, where he started his career as a social reporter. From there, Adriano began to work for himself worldwide. Influenced by the direct portraits of Richard Avedon, the dynamic and surreal work of Ugo Mulas, and the elegance of Jean Loup Sieff, Adriano has managed to pull the strengths of all into his imagery. Yet storytelling is clearly his great passion, and his background in film lends itself to the excitement one may feel viewing his robust portfolio. He will often work with one model sporting multiple outfits from a designer, exploring an area. This may be an old street in Rome. It could be the desert, an apartment, a courtyard, or even a sparse white studio room. In any of these settings, merely the tip of the iceberg in Adriano’s work, his subjects are free to act out, have fun, and reveal different parts of their personalities from image to image. Within these, he will go between color, black & white, and even the look of a Polaroid in select photos. The model and photographer work in tandem to act out the personality of the designer, reveling in the brilliant minds that make life feel as though it were a film.
Being a fashion photographer in Milan is a vocation that has evolved over many decades. As the city’s fashion industry started gaining attention centuries ago, thanks to the dedicated craftsmanship of its clothiers, it was its willingness to take risks that ultimately put it on the map in modern times. It is precisely this combination of artistry and daring that makes each of these creatives such a worthy part of Milan fashion’s story.