Ten Meets Photographer Craig McDean at the Launch of His Collaboration with Byredo
Fast cars and great fashion. As simple as it sounds, these two things can have quite a complex visual relationship. Or at least they do in the eyes and mind of British photographer Craig McDean, as demonstrated in his second book, coming out this month. Manual is a compilation of some of McDean’s most iconic fashion photography, juxtaposed against the imagery of his other greatest loves – muscle cars. The book is published by Rizzoli and in honour of its launch, McDean collaborated with Byredo’s creative director Ben Gorham on a limited edition hard sleeve and a line of merchandise reflecting the spirit of the publication. During this past London Fashion Week, Byredo and Craig McDean celebrated the partnership with a party, co-hosted by Lady Neophitou’s best bud Edward Enninful. But before we doused ourselves in champagne and endured a marathon of small talk, we had a quick chat with the photographer about Manual, Byredo and his need for speed.
The whole idea of partnering cars and fashion actually started back in the 1990s when McDean first moved to the US and started going car racing. Secondary to his main gig of taking photos of supermodels including Karen Elson, Stella Tennant and Naomi Campbell, he started pursuing his love of motor vehicles that’s been developing since his childhood. Working with art director Doug Lloyd, McDean recognised the appeal of putting the two together, and then went back to shoot races last year, now with the vision of the book in mind. “I started to pick the colours of the cars to go with the fashion images that I had already taken. It was a different process – some didn’t work and some did,” he tells us.
Tracing his love of cars back to his own dad who worked for Rolls Royce, McDean started racing as a teenager and also worked as a mechanic in a workshop back in Middlewich. At the same time, he was obsessed with American culture, watching Steve McQueen in Bullitt and nurturing poetic ideas of Americana. “But it wasn’t really poetic when I then went to Alabama – it was quite rough actually.” Is his obsession more based on the experience of being at a racing track or the visual aspect of it? “ I think it’s everything – your sense of smell, your sense of hearing… It’s kind of hectic and chaotic.” Sounds like a fashion show… “Yeah, backstage of a fashion show before it all goes out.”
It’s almost easy to draw parallels between the two worlds, adrenaline being the main fuel for both, and aesthetics of the process being as important as the function. But how does McDean’s photography of models differ from shooting the cars? “The cars, they use a lot of movement and in the pictures, girls they move around too. Also, if you photograph the clothing, you’re studying the clothing on the girl and the expressions. The car has also got an expression and you find the lines, you find a bit of the car you like. Whether I’m photographing a model or a car, I’m looking for the lines. It’s still the same process.”
McDean is a big collector of cars. He had a period of buying and selling a lot of American ones including the Dodge Challenger and Chevrolet Camaro, but now has a special spot for Italian ones instead. What was his first ever car? A beige mini. “It drove really well. And then my father souped it up and it was really fast.”
For his collaboration with Byredo, the brand’s founder Ben Gorham (who is McDean’s personal friend) designed a matching yellow slide sleeve with a metal plaque spelling out Manual, as well as accompanying merch which slightly differs in each of the four cities its launching in. In London, a pretty iconic image of Stella Tennant in motion is printed on white tees and silk scarves. Along with the changing nature, the collection includes some pretty cliché elements of American drag racing, subverted into pieces of luxury. “I used to think flames on cars were naff, but now I love them,” McDean says. The flames are also embossed on a silver Zippo lighter and possibly the most American of objects (and the photographer’s favourite out of the selection) – a beer cooler. There’s also a Byredo take on a mechanic’s jacket and cap, both of which are probably too pristine to actually be touched with oil but will look great while flipping through McDean’s book in the comfort of your own home.
The Byredo x Craig McDean capsule collection of merch is available to shop in Byredo’s London flagship store in Soho. ‘Manual’ by Craig McDean is available to buy online.
Top photograph: Craig McDean pictured with Naomi Campbell, Edward Enninful, Naomi Campbell and Ben Gorham.