Mario Testino – The King?

Mario Testino – The Business of Fashion

Mario Testino is a Peruvian fashion and portrait photographer born in 1954. I really don’t know if you can say he’s “the King”, but he certainly has a seat at the round table! You can’t really separate his business acumen from his success. (most photographers’ “chink in their armor”) His work has been in pretty much every magazine, fashion and otherwise. His client list has included about every fashion, perfume, sportswear and celebrity. He’s probably the most prolific of photographers around, even surpassing Terry Richardson and Steven Meisel. He’s literally a self promotion machine. When does this guy rest?


Kate Moss © Mario Testino


Besides being a photographer, Testino has also worked as a creative director, guest editor, museum founder, art collector and collaborator and consummate entrepreneur. MARIOTESTINO+ is his agency which provides creative direction, art direction, brand strategy, graphic design, film and stills production, digital and social media, product development, books, exhibitions, licensing and partnerships. Whew! Although he is famous for partying with Contax T3’s and various other film cameras, he in fact uses a 100MP Hasselblad H6D and other high end digital cameras for most jobs these days.

The Beginning

Testino was born and grew up in Lima to a traditional middle class Catholic family. He was the eldest of six children and is of Irish, Spanish and Italian descent. He attended the Catholic school Santa Maria Marianistas. As a child he wanted to be a priest. While at University, he studied Economics at Universidad del Pacífico followed by the Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru and the University of San Diego.


Mario Testino
Princess Di © Mario Testino


In 1976 he went to London to study photography after abandoning his studies of Economics, Law and International Affairs. It was during apprenticeships at the studios of John Vickers and Paul Nugent that he made his first attempts as a photographer. Living in an unconverted floor of a hospital, without much money, he funded himself by working as a waiter. He had his hair dyed pink which helped him get noticed as a photographer and took inspiration from British celebrity fashion photographer Cecil Beaton. London was a city that allowed him to flourish expressively without the restrictions he felt were imposed on him in Peru. During the early nineties, Testino looked to his childhood growing up in Peru and his teenage summers in Brazil for inspiration, which helped him to shape his photographic language. His work first appeared in Vogue in 1983.

Mario Testino Bio

Testino has become one of the world’s most well known and celebrated fashion photographers. He has documented subjects from A-list stars, musicians, supermodels and artists as well as subjects he has encountered throughout his travels. His work has been featured in magazines such as Vogue, V Magazine, Vanity Fair, GQ, LOVE, Allure and VMan. Eighteen exhibitions and more than sixteen books have been published on his work. Suzy Menkes, Vogue’s International Editor explains, “Testino’s skill is first and foremost to catch the moment and to bring out the humanity in his subjects”. It is obviously also his very underrated and relentless “schmoozing”.

The Royals

Testino is also considered the official photographer of the “royals”. The most recognisable work derived from his portraits of royals is probably his series with Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997. Commissioned for Vanity Fair. He has said: “Diana opened a door for me because I then started photographing the royal families of Europe extensively… this brings out my love for tradition, for a way of showing family and the longevity of people”.

Testino was also the official photographer for portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on the occasion of their engagement in December 2010. In July 2015, he took the official photographs of the British Royal Family after HRH Princess Charlotte of Cambridge’s christening at Sandringham Estate. He has photographed many other royal families in a similar fashion.


Mario Testino
Vogue © Mario Testino


Fashion Maven

Testino’s collaboration with Tom Ford and fashion stylist Carine Roitfeld on provocative advertising campaigns in the mid-1990s is widely credited to have led to the revival of Gucci as a major fashion house. He has also crafted and contributed to the imagery of leading fashion establishments such as Burberry, Michael Kors, Dolce & Gabbana, Estée Lauder, Valentino, Versace, Calvin Klein and Salvatore Ferragamo among others.

Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of American Vogue stated that “Fashion photography is this uneasy mix of art and commerce and I think nobody understands this better than Mario”. Aaron Hicklin of The Observer described him as “the world’s most prolific magazine and fashion trade photographer”. His persistence in shooting Gisele Bündchen & Kate Moss is widely credited with elevating their supermodel status.

Testino was nicknamed the “John Singer Sargent of our times” by Terence Pepper, photography curator at the National Portrait Gallery in London. The Gallery’s 2002 Portraits exhibition attracted more visitors than any other show in the museum’s history at the time. For ten years it had the highest attendance of any photographic exhibition ever to be held there. Over the next four years the exhibition toured globally.


Testino’s personal art collection has been the subject of two exhibitions. The first, Somos Libres in 2013 was at MATE – Museo Mario Testino in Lima, Peru. The second installation in 2014, Somos Libres II took place at the Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli in Turin, Italy. His relationship with fine art developed through frequent visits to galleries and artist’s studios and he has collaborated to create works with artists such as Keith Haring, Vik Muniz, John Currin and Julian Schnabel.

Testino was presented with an honorary OBE in 2014 by UK Culture Minister Ed Vaizey in recognition of his career and charity work. In 2011, he was also awarded an Honorary Fellowship by The Royal Photographic Society. These are awarded to distinguished persons having, from their position or attainments, an intimate connection with the science or fine art of photography or the application thereof. In this same year GQ also awarded Testino the Man of the Year Inspiration Award. In Latin America, he has been awarded The Grand Cross rank of the Order of Merit for Distinguished Service in Peru (2010) as well as The Tiradentes Medal in Brazil (2007). Within the fashion and entertainment industry he has received the Walpole Ward for services to the luxury industry (2009), the Rodeo Drive Walk of Style Award (2005) and the British Style Award (2003).

Natalia Vodianova and Mario Testino (with his Contax)



Testino has been honored for his contributions to many non-profit causes and charitable organisations through various awards and recognitions. In 2010 he was also appointed one of the highest honours in his native country, The Grand Cross Order of Merit in Peru, and became President of the Board of World Monuments Fund Peru in 2014.

Charities and More

He has worked with Save the Children, amfAR, Elton John AIDS Foundation and CLIC Sargent for children with cancer. In his role as a Save the Children ambassador he helped to raise funds to build the El Salvador Clinic in the Pueblo Nuevo District, Chincha, in his native Peru. The clinic was built for children with tuberculosis in the area badly affected by the devastating earthquake, which hit the coast of Peru in August 2007. The El Salvador Clinic was entirely funded from the sale of a single print from Mario Testino’s iconic portraits of Princess Diana, auctioned for £100,000.

He has also helped to raise money for Natalia Vodianova’s Naked Heart Foundation to build a playground in a Moscow children’s hospital specializing in cancer. It is a cause close to his heart since his brother died from the disease at the age of 10.

But the arts are a source of great pleasure for Testino to the extent that in July 2012 he opened his first non-profit association in Barranco, Lima. MATE – Museo Mario Testino was established to act as a dynamic platform for Peruvian art through the cultivation and promotion of culture and heritage. Testino restored a colonial, 13,000 sq. ft. mansion built in 1898, which today is home to a permanent exhibition of his work alongside a Temporary Exhibition Space for Peruvian and international artists.

With all that, Testino has kept up famously with the new “social age”,…Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube,…he’s everywhere! Again, a salute to not only his photographic prowess, but his extensive business acumen. Actually, his website is quite state of the art. I doubt he needs to be to be that up to date on everything at this point,… but he is. Find Contax T3







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