Helen McLaughlin | June 20, 2012
We had just over 10 days to prepare for one of the biggest shoots we had ever produced at The National – not a lot of time considering what needed to be organised.
The brief was to shoot the cover and eight inside pages for this month’s special fashion issue of Luxury magazine. We needed to think outside the box, bringing something new and exclusive and relevant to the luxury Middle East market. There was only one direction that would hit all these notes: haute couture. And only one location in the world where this could happen: Paris.
Would it be easy? Absolutely not. Especially since many of the very same dresses we wanted to photograph would be being worn that week by red carpet A-listers at the Cannes Film Festival. But overcoming challenges like this is what makes a remarkable shoot. Here’s how it all came together.
We spent a weekend working on the concept and mood board for the shoot before delivering our final pitch: the Golden age of Glamour. We wanted to capture the opulence of the 1920s and Thirties, an age that was daring, influential, exciting and, thanks to the recently released remake of The Great Gatsby, an era of vintage that’s also one of the year’s biggest style trends.
the look we wanted to capture…
2. Haute Couture
An haute couture garment is an extremely high-spec piece made specifically for the wearer.Strictly speaking, the term haute couture is a protected name by law, as defined by the Chambre de Commerce et d’Industrie de Paris. But it is also used loosely to describe all high-fashion custom-fitted clothing – those usually worn on the red carpet and other such showcase events to highlight the craftmanship of a designer or label.
to accompany the whole couture outfit.
3. The Photographer
To get the look we wanted for the shoot, we needed someone who would be able to recreate a vintage world in a modern light. Silja Magg, an Icelandic photographer we had worked with previously at The National, was our first choice. But would we be able to get her at such short notice? We were in luck. She was in London that weekend and able to jump on the Eurostar to Paris just in time for the shoot. We work really well with Silja; her energy and drive is superb, and in fact if no one had stopped us we would have continued shooting right through the night!
4. The Location
With just over a week to go, finding and securing a location that would have the right look for this shoot – and one that would allow us on to their premises - was actually our biggest concern. Trying to find somewhere at late notice was a challenge in itself, but with the hotels of Paris packed with film industry types on their way to and from Cannes, we were really up against it. We knew we needed something exceptional for our location; something with enough grandeur to showcase the amazing couture pieces we were, by now, starting to secure. It was The National‘s travel editor Rosemary Behan, who suggested the Shangri-La hotel. A converted palace that was once the home of Napoleon Bonaparte’s grand nephew, Prince Roland Bonaparte, it had all the opulence and glamour we were looking for.
5. The Model
Securing a model who’s right for the job is a painstaking, difficult process. It’s also pot luck. We had done an online casting (where agencies send us photos of suitable, available models) the
week before, telling the agencies we were looking for someone with elegant limbs and dark
features. With a day to go we had four models on hold, with the British model Milly Simmonds our number-one choice. As the current face of Burberry, Milly is in big demand right now, and we had to wait until 3pm the day before the shoot to find out if we had her. Modelling is a physically tough job; you’re pushed pulled, prodded, corseted and sewn into dresses, and you barely sit down from 6am until 9pm. Yet Milly
didn’t once moan, and as you can see from the final photos, she was also perfect for the role.
6. Hair and Make-up
The blessing of working in one of the largest fashion capitals is the sheer size of the talent pool – this is vital when it comes to sourcing
hair and make-up technicians. People often underestimate the importance
of hair and make-up in creating an overall look, yet the art of transformation is imperative in creating
a character or a role for the model. Eyebrows can be
bleached and redrawn, eyes and noses elongated and wigs created and
styled to achieve some extrordinary transformations. Look at the
difference between the original photo of our model, Milly Simmonds,
and the end result;
she is almost unrecognisable with her redrawn think black brow and rose
7. The Jewellery
Couturists are very particular of what
brands are allowed to be shot with their clothes, so we knew exactly who to target: Cartier and Boucheron, two of the world’s
most expensive and most sought-after after jewels in the world. From Cartier, we were loaned the Panthere de Cartier Ring in platinum and the Panthere de Cartier Watch (pictured left) in platinum, each laden with diamonds, sapphire spots and emeralds.
The pieces from Boucheron, which had previously been worn by Salma Hayek
and Gwen Stefani, arrived in a black, unmarked black sports bag accompanied
by two bodyguards. In terms of total value, you’re dealing with millions of euros, which explains why at one stage during the
shoot we had four bodyguards in the room
The whole process of borrowing these clothes is a thorough and relentless one. We start by putting together our entire package – almost in the way one would compile a sales pitch or a presentation. We explain our brief and concept in English and French to the PR teams of each fashion house, and send them our inspiration pages so they can visualise what we are trying to achieve. Following this we provide a detailed list of the other labels we will be shooting with, and full portfolios for the model, hair and make-up team. Then we wait. And wait and wait. And call and call and call.
Throughout the day of the shoot, our running order is often thrown off course as last-minute pieces arrive, sometimes from as far as North America or Japan. Drivers and couriers will often wait for us to shoot the dress, pack it back up and return it to them so they can deliver it to the next magazine shoot. We have built up a superb relationship with PRs all over the world, who go above and beyond in helping us get the looks we want. They often work through the night to make sure a shipping for us gets through customs without a hitch. We owe everything to these people – without their hard work we would have a very empty clothes rail.
The importance of having your entire team working in cohesion is vital in when putting together a big production such as this. If one member of the team is “off”, it can throw everyone. So we were extremely lucky to have the team we had. Shoots like this are not easy, and from the planning to the post production they are often exhausting. But creating a beautiful fashion shoot as we did here with La Vie En Rose is why we do it. We just hope that you enjoy it as much as we enjoyed making it.
Now for the next one!
Katie Trotter, fashion director.