It was a tall order to try and encapsulate the Princess of Wales’ warmth, effortless style and rebellious flair in one photograph. Yet photographer and friend of Diana, Patrick Demarchelier mastered it over and over again.
He was the creative behind Diana’s iconic December 1991 cover for British fashion in which she placed her chin on her hands and peered cheekily down the camera lens. Dressed in a black turtleneck, her modish short hair lightly tousled, Diana was captured as herself, rather than a characterless royal figurehead.
In a post to Instagram on Thursday 31 March, Demarchelier’s family announced that the French fashion photographer had passed away earlier that day, aged 78. A series of pictures of Demarchelier, including one with his beloved Daschund Puffy, accompanied the announcement. A cause of death has not been announced, but WWD reports that he died of cancer in St Barths, according to a friend who wished to remain anonymous.
Born near Paris in 1943, Demarchelier first took an interest in photography during his teenage years. On his 17th birthday, he was gifted an Eastman Kodak camera from his stepfather, which he used to photograph friends and weddings, subsequently learning how to develop film and retouch negatives.
While renowned by the fashion industry today, Demarchelier did not step into fashion photography until the age of 32, when he left Europe for New York City to follow his girlfriend of the time. From humble beginnings as a freelance photographer learning from the likes of the late Henri Cartier Bresson – who was considered a master of candids – Demarchelier’s work drew the recognition of she and marie clairebefore landing him at fashion and Harper’s Bazaar.
He would go on to produce countless editorials all the while shooting campaigns for world-famous brands including Dior, Louis Vuitton and Chanel and forging a working relationship and friendship with Diana, becoming the eponymous photographer of the late royal.
Diana, who got in touch with Demarchelier after spotting his work in fashion in 1989, described him as a “dream”. speaking to the Telegraph In 2008, Demarchelier said the royal didn’t pose much like a model, and that he had to work at getting her to relax. “But I knew what I wanted because I had seen paparazzi pictures of her de ella laughing, and that was when she was at her prettiest de ella.” Perhaps learned from his time de ella with Bresson, Demarchelier later told WWD he was an “instinctual photographer”. “A good picture is a moment, you catch the moment.”
This ability has been lauded by industry figures, with Linda Wells, former editor-in-chief at Allure magazine noting Demarchelier’s prowess at capturing a person’s real expression. “His pictures of him were n’t stiff and pose-y. They felt alive. You didn’t feel that you were getting something very artificial. That’s one of the reasons why he was so good at celebrity [photography.] You felt the person in the image,” she told WWD.
Demarchelier’s métier also transcended the industry he found fame in. In 2006, he was name-dropped in The Devil Wears Prada when fashion juggernaut Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) instructed Andy (Anne Hathaway): “Get me Demarchelier”. Later he made a cameo in the 2008 film version of Sex and the Cityshooting Sarah Jessica Parker as Carrie Bradshaw for fashion.
His illustrious career was marred in 2018, when seven unnamed women accused him of sexual harassment. Among the claims were recounts of Demarchelier thrusting a model’s hands onto her genitals, grabbing another model’s breasts and making sexual propositions. The photographer denied all the claims, and said it was “impossible” that they were true. “People lie and they tell stories,” he said. “It’s ridiculous.” Shortly after, Conde Nast said it would no longer work with him.
News of Demarchelier’s passing has rocked the fashion and photography industry, with many high-profile figures including Bella Hadid, Vera Wang and Cindy Crawford leading tributes to the creative. Crawford thanked him for the many “beautiful, timeless images”, while Hadid described him as “soft but full of life”. US designer Wang said she was “saddened to the core” as she reflected on their work together for fashionadding that she would “always treasure” his talent and kindness.
Demarchelier is survived by his wife Mia, his three sons Gustaf, Arthur, Victor and three grandchildren.