For nearly three decades, Patrick Demarchelier has been one of the world’s pre-eminent celebrity portraitists and fashion photographers. Born in France in 1943 and has lived in the United States since 1975, Demarchelier’s photos regularly appear in fashion magazines such as Vogue, Vanity Fair, Harper’s Bazaar, Rolling Stone, Newsweek and Elle.
His best known photographs are of Diana, Princess of Wales, who contacted Demarchelier after she saw one of his Vogue covers.7
He said: “I remember when she first contacted me, that was in 1989. I had done a picture for British Vogue in which a model was opening her coat to show a picture of a little, laughing boy tucked into the inside pocket. The boy was in fact my son, and Diana, maybe because of her little boys, loved that picture so much that she got in touch.”
Demarchelier’s ease at getting his subjects to relax and trust him are apparent in the personal pictures of the Princess of Wales.
He said: “Diana didn’t pose like a model, and I had to work at getting her to relax. But I knew what I wanted because I had seen paparazzi pictures of her laughing, and that was when she was at her prettiest. Diana was funny and kind but fundamentally she was a very simple woman who liked very simple things. I never touched my pictures of her where she looked both in control and sweetly vulnerable, with plenty of her typical coyness.”
After the first shoot which produced that famous black and white photo of the Princess wearing a strapless dress, a tiara, and a megawatt smile, Diana appointed Demarchelier her personal portraitist.
This made him the first non-Briton to fill such a role for the Royal family. He said: “To photograph her was a great honor. I was surprised at the time, because they always used British photographers to take royal portraits. It was the first time they used a foreigner. I liked the idea of breaking protocol. The shoot with Diana was fantastic. She was very charming.”
The first time Demarchelier shot Princess Diana was in the countryside. The pictures appeared in British Vogue in December 1989. He said: “Diana had long hair and kind of awful makeup. So the second time she called me, I offered to bring hair and makeup, and she said yes. I went with the hairdresser Sam McKnight and the makeup artist Mary Greenwell, and we gave her a more modern look. We cut her hair and changed her makeup.”
The second photo shoot was set in 1990. The Scottish born hairdresser Sam McKnight didn’t know who he was going to meet when he was asked to the photo shoot.
He remembers: “All they told me was that she was important. I was spending so much time going round the world on assignments that, frankly, I didn’t think much about it. Nor did I immediately recognize the Princess. She was the last person I expected to walk into a dirty old studio in Shoreditch. When she saw me, she immediately came towards me, stuck her hand out and said: “Hello, I’m Diana, what can you do with my mop?”
“I told her I would make it look more natural. It took only 20 minutes, which I later discovered was about the maximum she liked to spend having her hair done. Then, once the photographs had been taken, she asked what I’d do with her hair if she gave me a free hand. I replied I would get rid of a lot of it, especially at the sides, and that it would take five years off her.” After the second photo shoot, Sam McKnight became the Princess’s hairdresser for the last seven years of her life.
Patrick Demarchelier’s photographs of Princess Diana were described as “iconoclastic”. In those iconic photographs, he managed to maintain an element of reality through what has been coined the “Demarchelier Touch”; his interactions and gentle personality that put the Princess at ease, eliciting positive responses. Paired with his technical skill, these qualities allowed Demarchelier to capture Princess Diana in her most vulnerable, truthful and spontaneous moments.