A Rare Glimpse Inside Paris’s Exclusive 1980s Club Scene

Photo: Ross Whitaker

In 1980, Ross Whitaker was an aspiring young fashion photographer. At 26, he had just moved from Paris to New York, where he had spent the past three years working as an assistant to the legendary photographer Arthur Elgort. “It was the place to go,” Whitaker reflects now. “Young fashion photographers, my peers — everyone moved to Paris, and we traveled through Europe extensively, working for very little money but filling up the pages of Europe’s magazines.” Whitaker quickly found work shooting for magazines like Elle and L’Officiel in France, England, Germany, and Italy, and, after hours, began frequenting Paris’s hippest parties.

A regular at clubs like Les Bains Douches, Le Privilège, and Privé, Whitaker became known for never being without his camera — a small 35-millimeter that he carried wherever he went. A self-described selfie pioneer, Whitaker claims that even Karl Lagerfeld was on the lookout for him: “Karl knew I had that camera, and he would catch me out of his peripheral vision,” Whitaker said. “I would stalk him at parties, and I’d tap him on the shoulder and he would whip his fan out in front of his face. I do not have a picture of Karl without his fan — I can’t even begin to explain how fast he was. I have a bunch of these — Karl with different fans. I don’t know whether he saw me in the room and was always prepared. He would go, ‘Ross, you’re not fast enough.’”

Yet Whitaker’s other subjects were far less guarded, and, by the time he left Paris in 1984 (he now works as a commercial photographer specializing in baby portraits in Southern California), he had thousands of dynamic, intimate photographs of the city’s most fashionable revelers. Click through the slideshow for a first look at his fantastic portrait of Paris nightlife in the early ‘80s, including pictures of Lagerfeld (with fan), Yves Saint Laurent, and many more.

A Rare Glimpse Inside Paris’s 1980s Club Scene