Paolo Roversi - Painter of fashion


"Fashion is ephemeral, it's a flowing river. I like to stay on the edge and not jump on every wave. Just enjoy this ever-changing wonder." In a world ruled by haste, editing, the selfie and the obsession with perfection, Paolo Roversi stands out. Born in Ravenna, Italy, in 1947 – the same year as Christian Dior's New-Look – Paolo Roversi has shaped his gaze into a realm of shadows and apparitions: “Fashion is a story, a flow, a backdrop against which characters are inscribed.”

When so many others are struggling to exist, this calligraphic portraitist fades away, keen to express, in the wake of Balthus, the universal. A woman is reflected in a garment, and vice versa. “When this interchange of energies between fashion and the wearer takes place, then magic happens,” he says. The strap of a dress falls lightly on one arm, a blush pink skirt twirls, silk quivers, a bird of paradise emerges in a mirage of feathers, surrounded by black. 


Paolo Roversi? Faces illuminated by torchlight, suggested presences, as if drawn from a contemporary Renaissance. A painter's eye. “The fashion designer composes the score, and the photographer and his team interpret it.” Here he is being honoured twice: with a retrospective at the Musée Galliera, and a book—these letters about light, prefaced with a piece written by Erri de Luca: “Paolo extracts from the unreal beautý of certain bodies the breath of a sigh, the moment of surprise of an awakening. I look, my eye pupil involuntarily widens, and I draw from the short instant of wonder.” 


Each letter written to Emanuel Coccia, a philosopher, seems dictated by inner contemplation. “The history of photography is also the history of light, and vice versa. An ancestral story: in the beginning was the sun, an enormous ball of fire that radiated heat and light. Then humans learned to make fire all by themselves. Paolo Roversi wrote: “Neither this coldness nor the idea of noveltý is ever present: the camera is a warm, familiar and, above all, an almost natural presence, as if it were a traveling companion that has lived alongside human beings for centuries.” The mystery is there, enchanting, as is this retrospective unveiling 50 years of photographs under the eye of an image painter. A man whose photographs are marked by exceptional collaborations – from Yohji Yamamoto to Dior – under the absolute sun of the imaginary and reality exalted by illusion and dream. 


Paolo Roversi, Emanuele Coccia, Lettres sur la Lumière, Gallimard. 

Paolo Roversi, Musée de la mode de la ville de Paris, March 16 to July 14, 2024.


By Laurence Benaïm.