“Fashion back then was such incredible theatre,” says Gavin Bond, whose new book and exhibition documents a bygone era of glamour and fun backstage
Gavin Bond enrolled in a fashion design course at Central Saint Martins in 1988. Little did he know then, but he was about to immerse himself in one of the most exciting moments in British fashion history: the age of the supermodel was in full swing, glamour was about to give way to grunge in the pages of magazines like Dazed, i-D and The Face, and a radical new school of designers were about to change the industry forever. London was at the heart of it all, and CSM was an incubator for many of its most ingenious changemakers – during Bond’s studies alone, his contemporaries included John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, Hussein Chalayan, Giles Deacon, and Katie Grand. “It was that kind of melting pot of time,” he tells AnOther.
Opening this week at Hamiltons Gallery, Bond’s first ever solo exhibition Being There documents this pivotal moment in fashion, taking us backstage at some of the 90s’ most historic shows, through photographs he began taking 30 years ago while he was still a student. “With my degree course, obviously the hottest ticket was going to shows during fashion week,” Bond recalls. “By chance towards the end of my graduation, I ended up going to a Vivienne Westwood show where I was working with another student. She wrote a piece and I went backstage with a camera and ran around and took some pictures. And I guess they were nice; they ended up being published in The Times by journalist Iain R Webb, who was the fashion director at the time. Then they sparked Vivienne’s interest.”
Six months later, Westwood invited Bond to document her seminal sexually-charged Cafe Society show, where a topless Kate Moss famously came down the runway wearing only a micro skirt and a pirate hat while eating a Magnum ice cream. Westwood turned these images into a promotional poster afterwards, and from then on Bond gained access to some of the biggest shows in London, Paris and Milan. “Fashion back then was such incredible theatre,” he says. “There’s so much Galliano in the book, and every one of his shows was something completely different. The girls changed into these characters and it was almost like they were entering into a play or a film production. And there wasn’t social media then; people would go and watch the shows and you’d come away with only a memory and a fantasy. It was such a special time to be part of fashion.”
Bond’s many pictures from these years – the majority of which he unearthed in the quiet of lockdown in 2020, while sequestered in a cabin in the woods in upstate New York – are unusually romantic for backstage photography. Shot entirely in black and white on a slow, medium format film camera, they capture supermodels Carla, Cindy, Christy, Claudia, Kate, Linda and Naomi at the apex of their collective fame. Though, rather than documenting them as towering icons, Bond’s portraits strike a rare balance between cinematic depth and a candid ease, capturing little moments of beauty and stillness amid the hectic flurry of activity backstage. “It’s strange looking back,” Bond says. “I went into it with such innocence and such naivety. In a way it was the beginning for me, and with us all being the same age I didn’t go into it with that sort of, ‘God, it’s Kate Moss’ feeling. I think that’s what makes the pictures special because you can see that it’s comfortable.”
Alongside the exhibition, Bond is also releasing a book with Idea which delves into these years in a slightly different way; some of the images appear in colour and take on a more irreverent mood – models playing around, drinking champagne, and smoking fags backstage. The foreword to the book is written by legendary art dealer Philippe Garner, who first purchased a few of Bond’s images when the photographer was just 23. “It’s kind of come full circle,” he says. “It’s kind of ironic that my first major show and my first major book is pretty much the first time I picked up a camera, which is really exciting.”
Bond, who now mainly shoots major celebrities and Hollywood film stars – from Iggy Pop to Angelina Jolie – in big, glossy productions for magazines like GQ, says these instinctual early pictures are some of his best works. “Probably why that is, is just that they are simple and true,” he says. “You look at those moments and that’s the real thing. Even now, there’s probably nothing I enjoy more than that kind of photography which has no bells and whistles, where it’s just me and a camera.”