Pioneering Fashion Photographer Roxanne Lowit Dies at 80

The beloved American fashion photographer Roxanne Lowit has died at the age of 80, a representative confirmed on Instagram yesterday. “Roxanne was a woman who believed in magic,” the statement read. “Roxanne was a bright, creative light. A great friend who enriched others’ lives in so many ways—she was loved by many and will be greatly missed.”

Born and raised in New York City, Lowit attended the Fashion Institute of Technology before embarking on a successful first career as a textile designer in the 1970s, working for the likes of Donna Karan, Jean Muir, and Scott Barrie. After Lowit began playing around with an Instamatic 110 camera gifted to her by Antonio Lopez, and using it to shoot her own designs backstage at shows, the fashion editor Annie Flanders of SoHo News assigned her to cover Paris Fashion Week.

Having learned to load the film for her new Nikon 35mm camera on the flight to France, she found herself immediately swept up by the Parisian fashion scene, being snuck backstage by her friend Jerry Hall and famously ending up at the top of the Eiffel Tower with Andy Warhol and Yves Saint Laurent on her very first trip. After returning to New York, she quit her job and committed to becoming a photographer full time.

Her relationship with Saint Laurent would be one of the most defining of her career. Developing a close rapport with the mercurial designer, she was one of the few photographers admitted to his glittering inner circle, capturing both his muses, from Loulou de la Falaise to Nan Kempner, and the lavish parties he would throw in Paris and Marrakech. “Roxanne is always there, even when she is not expected,” Saint Laurent’s long-term partner, Pierre Bergé, wrote in the introduction to her 2014 book, Roxanne Lowit Photographs Yves Saint Laurent, which collated over two decades worth of imagery of the designer and his orbit. “Her sharp eye has been able to capture the most secret situations, the most hidden of mysteries.”

It was Lowit’s instinct to shoot the behind-the-scenes goings-on at fashion shows, however, that would prove to be one of her most lasting legacies—one born mostly out of necessity, she noted, given that the photographers allowed to shoot the runways at the time were predominantly men. Sneaking backstage, Lowit was able to capture another side of the fashion circus—a form of coverage that has now become de rigeur for industry publications during fashion month—and offered an intimate window into the more quotidian aspects of life as a model.