Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sat in front of a grey canvas in the Library of Parliament as a team from Vogue worked its magic. First a set of photos with Trudeau in a navy suit, projecting the gravitas critics say he lacks as he focused his gaze off-camera. He chatted with photographer Norman Jean Roy, another Montrealer, as Roy clicked away under the lights for the portrait ordered up by Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour. Then, another round of pictures — jacket off, tie loosened, sleeves rolled up so Trudeau could move into the working-for-Canadians image politicians favour in more casual settings. It was then that Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau made her entrance. Hair coiffed and makeup professionally applied, Grégoire-Trudeau caught her husband’s eye in a form-fitting blue and gold lace dress. She went to Trudeau, who wrapped his arms around her and kissed her, and Roy snapped the photo.
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“He had not seen her with hair and makeup and the dress on,” Roy told Maclean’s in an interview a few weeks after the shoot. “And yeah, he was just kind of taken by it – it was a very real moment… It wasn’t fabricated at all.”
The Vogue portraits of Justin Trudeau and Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau have caused a lot of commotion in the day or so since they were posted online. Plenty of Canadians are thrilled to see a prime minister in the pages of the world’s most influential fashion magazine. But critics, including Trudeau’s political opponents, question why he took the time to do interviews with major American outlets (like the New York Times) before sitting down for print media interviews in Canada, and say he risks reinforcing the idea he’s a rich elite who’s out of touch with other Canadians.
The portrait and profile, written by a Vogue contributing editor who mostly writes about film and TV, came about after Wintour asked for a piece about the Trudeaus. U.S. Ambassador Bruce Heyman and his wife, Vicki, helped connect Vogue with the right Canadian officials and even liaised with both sides to facilitate the process.
Roy, who is now based in New York, said he jumped at the chance to travel to Ottawa to shoot Trudeau. “With someone like him I really wanted to try to create a portrait that would stand the times and not just fade away into this kind of pop culture picture. So I wanted the portrait of Justin to have reverence and importance and weight,” Roy said.
Trudeau squeezed in the shoot just after a press conference to talk about his November trip to Turkey and the Philippines, his first foray onto the world stage since his mid-October election win. But while the Prime Minister’s Office has provided plenty of access through regular press conferences, they tried to manage when Canadians would find out about the shoot.
“We had to be very careful as to where we photographed because there were so many members of the press there [in Parliament] all the time and we didn’t want to be all of a sudden doing a photo shoot and have it leak…it could be seen not necessarily in a good light,” Roy said.
When the photos were released, the Ottawa Citizen questioned whether it was appropriate for Grégoire-Trudeau to sport a $5,700 Oscar de la Renta dress (available for shipping to Canada!). She likely had little say in the decision: it’s generally up to Wintour and the fashion editors, who select clothes for the shoots based on a number of reasons, including whether they feel a designer needs to be featured in a particular issue.
“Or it could be as simple as Anna really wants this dress to be shot on her,” Roy said. “They would ultimately pick the best dress they want to see on this particular situation because of how they want that portrait to render, relevant to the rest of the magazine.”
While the kind of intimacy laid bare in the Trudeaus’ portrait is unusual in politics, it is Roy’s stock-in-trade as a photographer. “A lot of information is revealed with people and portraiture by just observing them, even in that first minute that you meet someone. People reveal a lot of themselves in that moment and if you pay attention to it and you can capture that, you get these incredibly powerful and intimate moments.”