LIMA, Peru — Mario Testino is undeniably one of the greatest fashion photographers of our time and has captured the images of royalty, countless celebrities and fashion models. Recently, I had the opportunity to meet this fascinating Peruvian man who is every bit an astute businessman as he is an iconic photographer. His eye for business is less well known than his eye for shooting fashion, but he tells us “I think I have always been a businessman, I come from that background”. He goes on to explain that he studied economics in Peru before moving to London by pure chance and only taking up photography there.
“I think I have always been a businessman, I come from that background.”
Mario Testino and his ability to Capture the Identity of Brands
Importantly, Mario’s background has meant that when working with corporate clients, he has the ability to not only capture the beauty of the image, but also to capture the identity of the brand, “[the image has to be] distinctive, and highlight what pushes the consumer to buy the product”. It is this duality of business and fashion that I was keen to explore, as Mario explained, “being a fashion photographer is not just taking a picture, but also running a business at different levels”.
“Being a fashion photographer is not just taking a picture, but also running a business at different levels.”
Mario is currently working on a book that discusses how to become a successful fashion photographer, including how to develop the discipline to adapt to a brand rather than interpret it and the importance of understanding your clients business.
We met at MATE, a hundred-year old ranch-turned-museum that houses his work at Barranco, a bohemian-chic neighbourhood of Lima. As with many great tales, Mario’s pioneering endeavours had difficult beginnings, however, he knew from an early stage that in order to accomplish his goals, he needed to find somebody that could be entrusted with taking care of his businesses in Peru, while he continued to travel the world shooting the most amazing photographs. In 2011 he met with Jorge Luis Archimbaud, a World Bank country officer “on-leave”. He had the perfect profile, being an expert on business in Latin America, but also being an art industry connoisseur (he was a board member at the Museum of Art in Lima).
Currently, Mario’s primary interests consist of two initiatives: Higher and Higher, an image and communication agency that operates worldwide, and MATE, the cultural business platform that was inaugurated last year. Through Higher and Higher, Mario and his team assist luxury brands to achieve the commercial image they need to achieve their objectives, and they have had very good results. For example, they directed the image component of Burberry’s Burberry Body campaign.
The success of their strategy is undeniable; this sole line generated first year revenue of US$114.4 million worldwide. Burberry in their annual report stated that their 20% increase in sales for 2011 was due in part to the global success of Burberry Body. Moreover, Mario told me, “when I began to work with Michael Kors nine years ago, the company´s value was around US$ 50 million; last year it went public and is worth some US$ 3.5 billion”.
Mario Testino and his Ambitious Project for Peru
Mario and Jorge Luis have directed their efforts into an ambitious project: to shape Peruvian culture and traditions into exportable goods. In order to do this, Mario will do for Peru what he did for Brazil, he will use his lens to capture the beauty of the country as well as the culture and tradition it offers and exhibit this to the world. In order to achieve this ambitious goal, he began by making MATE the starting point for all his exhibitions before they travel the world; with each opening event, Lima will be flooded with high flying tourists, exactly the type of individual that every country wants to attract.
He just launched an exhibition showing the incredible sophistication of the Cuzco region traditional garments and the next will show a selection of his portraits of royals and royal families. And yes, believe it or not, they will all be launched worldwide from Peru.
Mario Testino is confident that the more people hear about Lima and Peru the more curious they will become and the more likely it is that they will decide to visit, and when they do, Peru’s charm will enchant them. Nonetheless, charm only brings a tourist once, people only return to a city if they feel it has something unique to offer, unfortunately Lima (and Peru as a whole) still lacks the dynamism that other countries in the region offer. And this is when Mario’s cultural proposition becomes a strong opportunity.
Jorge Luis Archimbaud runs a holding company that articulates Testino´s efforts in the Latin American region and attempts to realise its profitability, this includes business initiatives ranging from fashion and culture to fine dining (a Peruvian boom already hitting the world) and image consulting.
Mario is certainly not resting on his laurels and is balancing a countless number of projects and initiatives. Of these, I can’t wait to see what MATE is preparing for the IMF and World Bank meeting in Lima in 2015. Recently, Mario has been assigned to direct the cultural side of events that will accompany the annual meeting. I am sure Testino the artist and businessman will have a creative and unique surprise for us!