French fashion photographer Patrick Demarchelier, who is known for his iconic images of some of the 20th century’s most glamorous women died Thursday at the age of 78, according to a statement posted to his official Instagram account. No cause of death was specified.
In a statement to CNN, New York’s Staley-Wise Gallery, which represents Demarchelier’s work, described him as “a brilliant photographer who had an extraordinary sense of classic and elegant style – certainly the best of his generation.” His Los Angeles representatives, Fahey/Klein Gallery, meanwhile said via email that he “will be missed,” adding that he “demystified the fashion world and created images that resonate with a natural beauty.”
He is survived by his wife Mia, his three sons and three grandchildren.
Though Demarchelier would become best known as Princess Diana’s personal photographer and for shooting famous portraits, he spent his early life in the quiet port city of Le Havre. Born there in 1943, during the German occupation of France, he moved to Paris aged 20 and worked with famed Swiss fashion photographer Hans Feurer and street photography pioneer Henri Cartier-Bresson, though he always considered himself self-taught.
“I have no formal qualifications, just the school of life,” he said in 2003, according to a profile by Vogue. “I learned most by just taking pictures; a lot of pictures.”
After establishing himself as a fashion photographer and working for publications such as American Vogue, Demarchelier relocated to New York City in 1975. In the US, he became one of the industry’s most sought-after names, shooting editorials and covers for fashion and consumer magazines alike.
He joined Harper’s Bazaar as lead photographer before developing a long-term relationship with Vogue in the late 1980s and ’90s. Between the two titles, he captured famous shots of the decades’ biggest names – Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford and Christy Turlington to name just a few – helping forge the era’s supermodel-led aesthetic.
Demarchelier also shot campaigns for almost every major fashion house, spanning American giants like Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein as well as storied European maisons like Dior, Louis Vuitton and Chanel, among others. He was among an elite group of photographers hired to shoot the prestigious Pirelli Calendar on more than one occasion – in 2005, 2008 and 2014, the latter in collaboration with Peter Lindbergh.
His reputation for glamorous but intimate portraiture transcended fashion, however. Demarchelier’s six-decade career saw him working with figures from entertainment and beyond, from Hillary Clinton on the cover of Time magazine to Madonna on the cover of her 1994 album “Bedtime Stories.”
He also made history by becoming Princess Diana’s personal photographer – as the first non-Briton to assume such a role for the UK’s royal family – in 1989. He would go on to shoot some of the most defining images of the late princess, including a famous black-and-white photograph of her in a white gown and tiara, as well as covers for Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar that established her as a global fashion icon.
“We became friends,” he told the UK’s Telegraph newspaper of Diana in 2008, over a decade after her death. “She was funny and kind – but fundamentally she was a very simple woman who liked very simple things.”
In 2007, Demarchelier was awarded France’s Order of Arts and Literature. And he continued working with major fashion titles well into his 70s (“I will die working,” he once said, according to Women’s Wear Daily), shooting a new generation of stars including Adut Akech and Gigi Hadid.
But his reputation was significantly tarnished by allegations of sexual abuse in his later years. In 2018, he was among several high-profile fashion figures implicated in an investigation by the Boston Globe, which reported that seven people – including several models and a former assistant – had anonymously accused him of misconduct. He denied the allegations, telling the paper that “people lie and they tell stories,” and that he had “never, never, never” inappropriately touched a model.
Condé Nast, Vogue’s parent company, cut ties with Demarchelier following the allegations, though the fashion title led the tributes following his death. An obituary published to the magazine’s website Thursday noted the photographer’s “rich and deep legacy” and aptitude for “balancing elegance and natural ease” in his work.
Other tributes have also flowed in from across the fashion world, with several top models among those paying homage to the late photographer. Posting a 2017 Vogue China cover shot by Demarchelier, Bella Hadid wrote on Instagram: “I am grateful to have been lucky enough to be in front of your lens. Most gentle, most legendary, soft but full of life. You will be missed Patrick.
Crawford meanwhile posted a gallery of pictures that the photographer had taken of her, writing in the caption: “Thanks for so many great memories and beautiful, timeless images.”