THE IT: Anthea Simms, runway photography star

Then and now: Carine Roitfeld, editor-in-chief of Paris Vogue, in the ’80s (left), and last season in New York.

Story by Sara Graham, a Toronto writer and girl-about-town, who recently spent a stylish sojourn in London. Photography courtesy of Anthea Simms.

For better or worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, Anthea Simms has been married to the business of runway photography for almost 30 years. Her images have appeared in countless publications, including ELLE UK and Flare, which was the first magazine to commission her work.

Anthea and I met on a blustery afternoon at the Metropolitan Hotel in London’s Mayfair district. After my delightful discovery that she too owned the Canon G11 camera (which made me feel much better about dropping the substantial sum to buy it), Anthea schooled me as we arranged a snap-happy mini-shoot of our gorgeous Afternoon De-Light tea.

Between bites, Anthea answered a few questions about her career, Carine, and her fascinating experiences as one of the few female runway photographers.

How did you get involved in runway photography?

“I first trained as an illustrator and ended up having a tough time making a living freelancing. So, needing to find a full-time job, I started working for a fashion company. One day a photographer dropped out of an assignment at the last minute and I was given the opportunity to do some shooting…really horrible looking back on it…but it was so fantastic [in that it was] instant, not instant by today’s standards, of course. For me, as an illustrator, by the time it takes to get things done, it was so quick! After that I just kept on going.

[In terms of runway photography] it helps if you love the clothes. When I started, there were some pretty revolutionary designers, and the ’80s was really the beginning of runway madness.”

What was your first experience as a runway photographer?

“The first show was in 1981, before I started doing the whole circuit. It was Betsey Johnson in New York and I shot that in black and white. I think it’s great that I can even remember that. Well, at least it’s a designer that’s still in business, which is quite an achievement.” [laughs]

Self-portrait by Anthea Simms. Courtesy of Anthea Simms.

As one of the first female runway photographers, you’re a bit of a pioneer. What has that experience been like? Has your gender mattered much, and if so, how?

“We are talking quite a long time span since when I really started [doing the whole circuit] in the mid-80s. There were lots of things, no matter what sex you are, that made it an easier, more pleasant, friendly profession. It was a civilized profession. You’d get time with people so you could make friendships. Now there’s no time to establish relationships…the schedules don’t permit it. Now, because it is much more competitive and cut-throat, a lot of the nice aspects go out the window. People are tired and it’s tunnel vision. People can behave badly when they are stressed.”

What’s been your most memorable experience as a runway photographer?

“The obvious thing to say is that there are some incredible presentations. Alexander McQueen comes to mind because [his death] was so shocking. He was such a particular designer in that you have an interest in seeing how that will continue. To actually have people—models, editors, photographers—waiting to see what you are going to show with such anticipation. The fact that he maintained that, it was quite a privilege to see.

Otherwise, [I enjoy] Prada Chanel, Vuitton, and particularly Balenciaga. All of those names that really influence the market for much longer than you realize. When you think about how many designers show today, if you are going to be really hard-nosed about it, there are about 10 that really get you excited and have such an effect going forward.”

Do you have a favourite front row personality?

“Anna Wintour is quite compulsive viewing. It’s really interesting [to watch] the persona that has to be presented on a daily basis. To get there for the first show and to be there for the last, after three costume changes, and there isn’t a hair out of place. There’s an awful lot going on apart from just sitting there. As a photographer, you are forced to wait for a show to start and you get there way before any of the audience…you just need to entertain yourself while waiting.”

Do you have an all-time favourite photo that you’ve taken?

“I found a photo of Carine Roitfield just the other day actually that I took of her in the mid-80s, when she was just blossoming in the industry. Before she was Carine with a capital ‘C’. This is not a favourite photo, but I find it interesting to see how someone of that stature has changed with time.”

Give us a sense of your schedule.

“Everything starts the second week of September in New York, then it’s straight through to London, then to Milan, then to Paris. With no breaks in between, it is about five weeks on the road.”

You now have quite a team with you…

“There are usually at least six of us on the road. If you are covering these days you have the catwalk—which is more complex with many more designers, official and unofficial schedules—and also backstage beauty and fashion, street, front row, models off duty, editors etc. There needs to be one person in each area that is concentrated and can focus on doing a good job.”

What are your travel essentials?

“Once you’ve packed the computers and cameras, there isn’t much room for anything else so one has to be very practical. I suppose, and this is boring, but you’ve got to make sure you do have the nicest possible footwear—in terms of them looking quite nice, of course, but being comfortable.”

Check out more of Anthea’s work on her website, and check out Sara Graham’s top spots in Toronto!

Read more of The It here!

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