In his time on earth, celebrated fashion photographer Calvin French vividly captured many a beautiful person, costumes, scenes and of course fashion models, and yesterday scores of members of the Tribe family, models, designers, fashionistas, friends and relatives turned up, all fashionably dressed in white, to say goodbye to him in fine style at the Assumption RC Church in Maraval.
As Deacon Derek Walcott led French’s casket up the aisle, borne by pallbearers who included Tribe leader Dean Ackin, David Rudder’s Engine Room blared through the.
French’s niece Rhonda Stephens, in her tribute to her uncle, said: “He was a loving man, kind – but his mouth was not easy. He experienced everything and he loved what he did. He always had an eye for style. And when he took a picture he made sure it was best captured. He had that passion.”
She also said family was key to her uncle Calvin in that he would always stay in touch with the family to make sure all was well
“He was funny, and yes, he could have cursed, but your presence here today gives me hope that what Uncle Calvin did, you wouldn’t let it die,” said Stephens.
Designer Peter Elias, who delivered the eulogy, said: “Many don’t know Calvin’s journey, but really, how does a self-proclaimed Claxton Bay country boy become the toast of Milan, and then single-handedly elevate TT’s fashion landscape and by extension, our cultural landscape?”
He traced French’s path to success, which ran from Joan’s Hair Salon in San Fernando to Vidal Sassoon as a hair stylist in Toronto, followed by a modelling stint that took him to Paris, Germany and Milan.
French spent 20 years in Milan running a successful model agency called Ugly People, but then veered into photography, though he was never a trained photographer. He simply got into the business because he didn’t like the pictures that photographers did for his models’ composite cards.
Elias said: “French had a clear vision of how he wanted his models to look, so one day he borrowed a camera from a photographer and taught himself...the rest is history.”
With his charm and personality, Elias said, French befriended all the top fashion houses in Milan, and was on a first-name basis with Giorgio Armani and Valentino.
Elias said of French’s photography: “His drive and passion were infinite...he wanted to tell a story, he wanted you to see a dream, he was passionate about every single shoot...it had to be excellent...he gave his all every single time.”
Returning home from his last stint overseas in New York, Elias said French did so because he had an and vision to elevate the Caribbean aesthetic.
He said many models, stylists, photographers, designers and editors’ (both national and international” careers had been launched because of French’s belief in them. He said all of them would have felt French’s passion, kindness, dedication and guidance.
French, Elias said, was the first to shoot costumes in a fashion-editorial style rather than the traditional studio catalogue-type shots.
“He loved Carnival and everything about it, he loved pageantry. Calvin’s newest project, his online magazine....this would enable everyone the world over to appreciate his aesthetic.”
As a person, Elias said, French was a real character, unforgettable but caring.
“He had difficulty accepting praise and adoration...he wasn’t going to be defined by a project, it was all about the next job, the even more spectacular project.”
Elias also spoke of the more colourful side of French’s character.
“When it came to expletives, he was boss. He used them as verbs, nouns and even adjectives, and all in the same sentence. He defined the idea of aggressive complimenting.
“And if he didn’t call you the B-word, you were not part of his life. Only Calvin could use an insult as a term of endearment.”
The congregation roared with laughter.
In his sermon, Walcott urged the congregation to challenge themselves to be their best, just as French demanded excellence from himself at all times. And as happy as French was, for the sign of peace Walcott had everyone in the church greet each other as best friends to the singing of What a Wonderful World.
Then for the recessional, led by Walcott, mourners clapped and danced out of the church to Donna Summer’s disco hit Last Dance.
French, who died last Thursday at 69, was cremated at the St James Cinerary.