Francesco Scavullo’s iconic American fashion photography is one of the chief dominating influences on American fasion and beauty today. He photographed hosts of famous figures – from Twiggy to Elizabeth Taylor to Grace Kelly to Mikhail Baryshnikov and Mick Jagger — these were but a few celebrities graced by his lens. He was also known for creating the image of the “Cosmo Girl,” photographing every Cosmopolitan cover for thirty years. Scavullo was also responsible for numerous memorable film and Broadway posters, and record albums, such as Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson for “A Star is Born,” a portrait of Julie Andrews for “Victor Victoria,” and Diana Ross’ album “Diana” featuring her with wet hair, wet T-shirt, and torn jeans.
Born in Staten Island, Scavullo never graduated from high school. Instead, he spent time cleaning photography studios, and would pore over fashion magazines for hours. He soon started taking snapshots, using his father’s camera, and his sisters as models, whom he would pose to look like glamorous movie stars. After landing a job at a studio that produced fashion catalogs, he quickly found his way to Vogue magazine, where he assisted Horst P. Horst, studying and absorbing his techniques for lighting and camera angles.
His first cover shot, published when Scavullo was just 19, for Seventeen magazine, so impressed the editors that they signed him to a contract for the next two years. From that moment on, he was consistently in demand for fashion shoots, throughout the 50s and 60s, but his career truly took off in
1965 when Helen Gurley Brown hired him to develop a new look for Cosmopolitan magazine. Scavullo took charge of the models’ wardrobe, hair and makeup, and brought a new, voluptuous sexuality into focus.
Scavullo covers have appeared on almost every major magazine, from Town and Country to Harper’s Bazaar to Life, Time, Glamour, and Rolling Stone, and he later branched out to enamel-on-canvas photo silkscreens, portraits and still lifes, including portraits of Cher, Mrs. John Kluge and son, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, Madonna, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Kim Basinger, and Gloria Vanderbilt, to name a few. He also directed television commercials, including Ella Fitzgerald for Memorex, and spots for Shearson Lehman and Covermark.
Some of his work created controversy, such as the nude centerfold of Burt Reynolds, and the sensual photos of a young Brooke Shields. However, so well-admired was Scavullo’s artistry on all levels that he was commissioned to photograph Rose Kennedy’s 93rd birthday in Hyannis Port, and Nancy Reagan at the White House in 1984.
Francesco Scavullo worked up until the end of his life, publishing 6 books of his work, the last being Scavullo Nudes in 2000. His “Song” portfolio was accepted into the permanent collections of leading museums, notably The National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution. Scavullo died in New York City on January 6, 2004, at the age of 82, leaving behind a vast, rich, and highly influential body of work.