Through The Eyes Of Testino

MARIO TESTINO HAS SHOT AD campaigns for Gucci, the Gap and Versace. He is a favorite contributor to the Big Four fashion magazines: American, Italian, British and French Vogue. Though little known outside the fashion world, the Peruvian-born 43-year-old has become one of the most important photographers in the business. Says Madonna, one of his models, ""Mario's photographs have an incredibly fresh energy. Very real and very sexy.'' Another fan, Gucci designer Tom Ford, says of Testino: ""He brings out an extraordinary sensual quality in people. Look at Diana.''

We have. Since the Princess of Wales's death in August, Testino's portraits of Diana--taken in March, at her last formal sitting--have helped shape our collective memory of her. They have also raised Testino's profile worldwide. Taken to promote the auction of Diana's gowns at Christie's in June, the pictures were sold to magazines and netted $800,000 for her favorite charities. After Diana's death, Testino sold the rights to use the photos again (to NEWSWEEK, among others) and donated the proceeds to the same charities.

The Diana captured in those pictures was a new Diana: fit, tan and utterly happy. But the images are also classic Testino. He is best known for his intimate portraits, often shot in natural daylight, which gives his subjects a warm glow. With no hot lights to intimidate, it's even easier for Testino to charm and disarm his models. One result, says Ford, is that people ""give something to the camera that they don't normally give.''

It's a gift that Testino almost ignored. Raised in Lima, he moved to London in the mid-'70s. His primary reason for enrolling in photography school, he says, was getting a visa. He began shooting publicity stills, then got some catalog work, but he was far from a star. Then one day an editor told Testino, ""I can see the Helmut Newton woman immediately. I can see the Bruce Weber woman. But I don't really see your woman. You've got to find your woman.'' Testino focused, and found his own ideal: ""I like a woman who doesn't rely on a man for things, who is completely sure of herself,'' he says. ""And I like fun girls--girls who are up for anything.''

When Diana arrived at the sunny studio in South London, Testino invited her to sit down on a white couch. The princess immediately assumed the Royal Position: straight back, knees together, hands in lap. "'Do you really sit like that?'' Testino remembers asking her. ""You look so uncomfortable. I sit like that.'' He slouched across the sofa. ""She burst out laughing,'' Testino says. ""And from that moment on, we just hit it off.'' Diana sprawled across the couch--and laughed. ""When the photographs were published, everyone said, "My God, she's never looked like that','' Testino says. ""I thought, "How strange.' For me, she'd looked like that for years. That's how I had always seen her.''