Paris Fashion Week, Seen Through the Lens of a Flip Phone

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Fashion Week Through a Flip Phone
Ludovic de Saint Sernin Spring/Summer 2024Photography by Chester McKee

Eschewing a high-tech digital camera, rising photographer Chester McKee goes backstage at Paris Fashion Week armed with a humble Nokia 2660 to capture the cutting-edge looks of the season

The runways of Paris Fashion Week are an astonishing theatre: the pre-show scramble to the venue, lengthy (ostensibly European) delays, sweaty rooms, overburdened PRs with iPads in hand. The preparation is painstaking, but the pay-off is tremendous, and its labours and pre-game tensions are perhaps best experienced backstage in the gladiator’s pit, where models packed in a shoe-box room are clamoured over by frenzied dressers, make-up artists, hair stylists, all striving toward perfection. So when Chester McKee, photographer and part of the Dazed social media team, descended on Paris Fashion Week Men’s Spring/Summer 2024 to capture backstage imagery using a flip phone, some eyebrows were raised.

“At one point at the Ludovic de Saint Sernin show, a group of people just burst into laughter,” says McKee. “To be honest, I would have done too. It looked ridiculous.” Armed with a Nokia 2660, which is priced at a meagre £64.99, the tech-relic may have paled in comparison to the hefty lensed, megapixel-dense Nikons and Canons, but the Nokia had something other photographers didn’t have: “I was excited about the fact it had Snake on it.”

The runways of recent times have been looking back to the Y2K era, with brands like Blumarine, Dsquared2 and Eckhaus Latta heralding a return to a time when clothing came skimpy, flirty and a little bit trashy. It was, of course, the time when paparazzi snaps of Paris Hilston and Lindsay Lohan partying with their blinged-out flip phones were a constant in the pages of every glossy magazine. The images captured by McKee’s Nokia’s 0.3 megapixel camera may be muted and grainy, yet they feed our current furore for nostalgia, defiant against fashion’s increasing fusion with the cutting-edge world of tech.

But tech advances for good reason, and the flip phone doesn’t always make the most convenient piece of equipment. “It turns out lighting can be quite hard, so I found most of the best shots would be with natural light outside. When shooting inside I used a little flashlight to capture the light a bit more,” says McKee, embracing the limitations of his chosen handset. “Being someone who has shaky hands, it can be an issue as it’s best to be dead still, but sometimes the shaky look really captured the vibe that was backstage. Most of the time [backstage is] exactly what you would expect – everyone rushing around, the smell of hairspray up your nose, but also there’s a sense of excitement in the lead-up to the show.”

Grainy and low-definition as the images are, this assuredly won’t be the end of McKee’s unconventional approach to backstage photography. “I might bring the flip phone back for round two. But if I’m feeling kooky, I’ll bring a Nintendo DS.”