European Fashion Heritage Association

Journal EFHA World

Meeting Fashion Heritage: Paul van Riel

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This issue of #meetingfashionheritage introduces our friend Paul van Riel, whose drive for travel allowed him to capture fashion in motion on the catwalks of the world

Paul van Riel started his career in the 1960s, publishing his first portfolio in 1968. Born in Amsterdam, he soon started travelling and working both at home and abroad shooting jazz concerts and studio recordings for newspapers and music magazines. In 1975, he joined the Dutch professional photographers’ association GKf.

In 1974, quite by accident, he entered the fashion scene by starting to cover the spring and autumn ready-to-wear shows in Paris, moving then on to cover the catwalks of Milan and occasionally those of the Parisian Couture. His success in capturing the vibe of the runway shows led him to open his own studio in Amsterdam, while carrying out works for various magazines and newspaper supplements, sponsored media and corporate publications. In 1985, he signed up with the New York agency Black Star, which provided him with regular assignments for Fortune Magazine, BusinessWeek, The New York Times, Wine Spectator.

A fascination for Asia, and especially for Japan, dominates Van Riel’s assignment calendar since 1978, and his personal projects are regularly exhibited in Dutch galleries and museums. The long-standing collaboration with PATA, a Pacific-Asia travel promotion body, allowed him to travel from Bali to Beijing, Los Angeles to Delhi, building a vast library of images of different peoples and cultures. Fashion remained one of the areas he explored through his photography, especially for magazines in Hong Kong and Japan: Apparel, Style, Kateigaho.

In the fall of 1989, after having covered over 1.000 catwalk shows and related events, he decided to ‘drop’ the fashion business. Being constantly on the road – travel photography was and still is his first love – and raising two children in Amsterdam with his wife, made for that difficult decision.

After leaving fashion for good, Paul decided to concentrate on depicting different cultures, landscapes and traditions. Between the late 1980s and 1990s he completed grand reportages, sometimes accompanied by a writer, as a tour of Mayan ruins in the South of Mexico, the exploration of Patagonia, Siberian train stories or the documentation of La Corona, a traditional cigar factory in the heart of Havana, Cuba . From 2000 then, Paul explored other territories, as Iceland, the USA, North Korea. Assignments for National Geographic took him to Japan for a story on Dutch/Japanese diplomatic and cultural relations; then, back to Amsterdam, where he immersed himself in the world of classic music, shooting an in-depth story about the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra being named ‘Best orchestra in the world’.

Today, his studio still enables him to shoot portraits and series of still life images. His current goal is to digitise his vast analogue archive. After uploading more than 30.000 outstanding catwalk images to the European Fashion Heritage Association’s archive between 2016 and 2017, another batch of 25.000 images will be added soon, by spring 2021. He is currently working on a book and exhibition retracing his years as catwalk photographer, exploring the ‘behind the scenes’ of Parisian runways. More info on this thrilling new project very soon – check out his website for any update: