Haute Stuff: Patrick McMullan

Christina Parrella

To photographer Patrick McMullan, success means having a day off—and with Fashion's Night Out fast approaching and one of his latest projects, the annual FDNY calendar, hot off the presses, he could use one. But taking a break just isn't his style. The famed lensman, a perennial presence in NYC's fashion and nightlife scenes, started out in the '80s with a pocket camera and the encouragement of Andy Warhol. Now, more than 30 years later, he and his staff photograph more than 50 events a week, gaining exclusive access to everything from parties at City hotspots to backstage fitting rooms during Fashion Week. We caught up with McMullan to discuss Fashion's Night Out, his favorite places in NYC and what it was like to serve as photographer for one of the City's most popular exports: the FDNY's annual bonanza of shirtless heroes. Fans take note: McMullan—and members of the FDNY featured in the 2013 calendar—will be autographing copies at the DKNY store on September 6, during Fashion's Night Out. If you can't make it to the store, the calendar is available for purchase at the FDNY Firezone now.

This year marks the fourth anniversary of Fashion's Night Out. What is the extent of your involvement with the event? Patrick McMullan: I was shooting Fashion's Night Out when it first started out, and I did some work for Bergdorf Goodman and Lord & Taylor. I send a team of about 10 to 12 people out, depending on how many events we are going to. I photograph the windows, the displays and the executives with guests—that's why I get hired. I also send photographers to the Meatpacking District to roam around and take pictures. This year, I will be at DKNY because we decided that the FDNY should be hosted by the DKNY.

Speaking of the FDNY, what was it like shooting the calendar? PM: I volunteered my time to do the calendar. I got involved after September 11 and have always maintained a close relationship with the FDNY. Shooting it was a lot of fun. We had a crew; everyone donated their time. We shot it at the firemen's museum in one day. Betsey Johnson even came by the shoot. And then we thought, Why not do [a launch party] on Fashion's Night Out? The firemen can come, hang out and sign the calendars. The DKNY store is a good stop where people can get the calendar, shop and go on to the next event.

Fashion Week is right around the corner, too. PM: I started doing Fashion Week back in the '90s for Fern Mallis, the head of the CFDA [Council of Fashion Designers of America]. I worked for Harper's Bazaar and New York magazine. Fashion Week wasn't as well known then…. It's gotten so crazy. Barbie and Chiquita Banana did it. Nothing wrong with that. It was great.

You started out as a photographer in the '80s. That must have been a great time to work in New York City. PM: The greatest thing that NYC has, beside its physical stars like the Empire State Building and Grant's Tomb, is its people. When I started out shooting in nightclubs, I used a pocket camera. At the time, my editors would send me around to get shots of whomever. I've photographed at the best parties for Calvin Klein, Versace, Chanel, MoMA, the Whitney…. I always enjoyed the party, not necessarily the stars.

Whose picture are you most proud of taking? PM: Princess Diana was an exciting one. She came to the CFDA Awards. The worst thing was I only had one frame left in my camera. I went click, and she said, “Is that all?” and I said yes. You only had 36 frames at that time. The shot came out good—she was laughing because she had just gone through a gauntlet of photographers outside and I only had one shot left. Oh, and Jackie O. I was doing a street story for [now defunct] Lear's magazine, and there came Jackie walking down the street. I went click and she kind of looked away, but it's still a good picture. She was very iconic, and she was not around all the time like people think. She was a true New York star—the ultimate star of New York City.

What are your recommendations for having a successful night out in the City? PM: Pick a neighborhood and go everywhere you can. Go to a museum or art gallery, something visually stimulating, then to a nice dinner in the same neighborhood. It's nice to have your dessert from a place like Tasti D-Lite and walk with it. Go to a bar or nightclub in that neighborhood and meet some friends—it's always fun to go out with a group. Sometimes it's even fun to not make a reservation and see where you can get in. Go to Chinatown, Little Italy or the West Village—there are so many places to eat. I just ate at this place called The NoMad, which was great. I even think the dollar pizza can be good.

What are your favorite nightlife spots in the City? PM: I love The Standard hotel—it's very fun. There's an upstairs where you can go outside, and I like that. I tend to love a penthouse. I love Capitale. It's a big place, and I always have a great time shooting because there's a quieter section.

What about shopping? PM: To me, shopping and New York go together. I like going to Macy's and Bloomingdale's because they're kind of mellow. If you need something fancy, go to the Carolina Herrera store and you'll find the best of what she's got, or down to Diane von Furstenberg. All the designers here have great stores. I love Banana Republic, too. I go right for what's on sale—I don't dress by season, I dress by what's clean. I like the MoMA Store—I think it's fun. A store I went into recently that I thought was great was Joe Fresh. I couldn't walk out without buying something. And vintage. I consider vintage a third category. You can go into a store like Housing Works and see a cool tuxedo jacket with a weird color for $10, and why not? A hamburger costs $10. Sometimes I spoil myself that way. I also love antiques and old stuff. I love flea markets and neighborhood sales, too. New York is the classic town for buying high and buying low and putting them together.

What do you love most about New York City? PM: You don't have to be anything more than an interesting person with interesting thoughts and interesting clothes to get by here. You don't have to be rich. You don't have to be gorgeous. You just have to be interesting, and it helps if you're smart.