The Grunts of Fashion Week

Who Inspects the Models for Zits?
Notes from different corners of the world.
Feb. 10 2006 9:59 AM

The Grunts of Fashion Week

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Fabio Pettinari at work.
Click image to expand.
Fabio Pettinari at work.

"It's a night-a-mare," Fabio Pettinari says with a deep Roman accent moments after the Carolina Herrera show. "I have one, two, three, four, five cameras. And five lenses. 51 kili! It's heavy." Pettinari is a runway photographer, one in a pack of hundreds who endure the monthlong fashion season that begins in New York and then caravans on through London, Milan, and Paris. He's been shooting for 15 years—these days mostly for Marie Claire and Flair, the Italian glossy—and he's all business. "They buy each frame for $10 to $1,000 let's just say. But I'm not telling you. Anyway, I never ask the editor how many little pictures she wants. I ask how many full pages are you going to give me?"

Pettinari shoots 400 to 1,000 frames a show, and his specialty is detail shots. He's selective, an editor of sorts, and prides himself on his seasoned eye. "I don't have time to shoot everything. I don't shoot what is old or what is stupid. I shoot the message." He begins each show backstage, scoping out the clothes and talking to the stylists to catch the mood, studying the models' skin up close, noting any blemishes and remembering where to look—and where not to look—for the best pictures. "Well," he explains, "when the girl walks, you have to shoot. You only have two seconds to understand what the designer is saying." When the runway lights start to blaze, he clicks away at the hair and makeup, training his lens on a particular curl or eye shadow—the shots you see on beauty pages—or the shoes and bags that will be featured as the accessories of the season. "The way I shoot is different. Everyone shoots full length. I have a different point of view."

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Years ago, when Pettinari had a mushroom farm, he never thought about fashion. "Armani was to me something you wore on your motorcycle." But when a photographer friend took ill, he picked up the camera and found a new career. Today he is one of the more successful photographers, which means he's earned an assigned spot in the middle of the crowded riser and access to backstage. "Most of these people are just paparazzi" he says.

Josh Patner has written about fashion for Slate, the New York TimesBritish Vogue, Glamour, Elle, and Harper's Bazaar.