I am filming now on tape Tyra Banks' America's Next Top Model. One of the most popular tv shows in the US and in many other countries, looking for the next American model.
The selections started at the beginning of the year to end in November with a winner. Vogue Italia will be photographing the Top Model. All of the girls that were interviewed, mostly students, have a common dream: becoming a model.
This doesn't only happen in America. It happens everywhere, including Italy. The dream of becoming a model still exists. For young people it's like entering a magic world, where everybody will admire them and in which they will make a lot of money, and if all goes according to tradition marry a rock star.
I am in the jury of the tv show and I am surprised by how many girls show up. They are not all beautiful, but you have to at least be photogenic. It's true. But some of them are truly ugly!
Today, made exception few cases, to become a model you don't need to be a traditional beauty, but you need to have a face that shows character and a slim body. It happens a lot that they ask me how with all the beautiful girls we have in Italy we end up choosing the ugliest ones! Sometimes a flew or a singularity makes you look more interesting than the faces we are used to.
A model's looks doesn't have rules, but personality and obviously need to be photogenic. This needs to be understood, to not be disappointed when you are trying to become a model. Even though parents and friends tell you you are more beautiful than models we see, it's not enough, it's an illusion. Only a professional, an agent or a photographer can tell you that after a casting.
It's a job that requires many qualities. Beauty is important, fundamental, but it's not the only rule. The ability to interpret a dress or to move in front of the camera, or on the catwalk for the designer, to understand one's flaws or strong points and to valorise them. Patience is another asset, waiting a long time in the halls of magazines, to stay put in winter with a temperature below zero wearing summer dresses while smiling and not getting sick, to get pampered, have your hair done and dyed whenever the designer or the photographer feels likes it.
Of course when you become famous, a celebrity, it's great, but the road is long and tiring. More than we think!
Franca is writing a series of 21 entries about the processes involved in making the magazine! Italian language versions of the articles are available at vogue.it website.
Yesterday, while talking about the carrying-out of a photo shoot, I deliberately chose not to deal with the topic of set and set designer. That requires a separate entry.
Being it a studio, a house or any other indoor or outdoor location; being the scenario the photo shoot is set in a dream-like place or the reconstruction of a space world, nothing can be done without the skills and the work of a set designer.
A set designer is the author, or the accomplisher - according to the creative relationship between them and the photographer - of the set in which photos are taken. Usually, the photographer himself, once he knows the idea of the photo shoot, will talk to the set designer and describe how he wants a decoration or a reconstruction to look like, as close as possible to his idea, his dream.
A set designer, like an interior designer, draws a proper plan and then builds it with the help of joiners, electricians, decorators and painters, as if he were reconstructing a 60s Liberty house, a castle, a space-ship, an Italian garden or an unreal place, only imagined. It's a work based upon creativity, on the ability of creating unreal places that you can only find in the fantasy of photographers.
And then there's quickness. Because to move from ideas to actual creation sometimes they only have a few weeks, some others just a few days or even hours.
Some photographers, like Tim Walker or Miles Aldridge, design their set and then have it built by a set designer. Some others, like Bruce Weber, prefer real places, and ask others to look for furniture and objects to adapt to the place he has chosen. He himself will afterwards change and position everything, down to the smallest detail. He's both photographer and his own set designer. Steven Meisel, instead, has proper places reconstructed, with the precision that is typical of his photos.
Everyone has their own requests, and the set designer needs to quickly catch them and turn them into reality. A set designer for a magazine photo shoot has to build both big spaces and small corners. Photography misleads and even a small corner can look endless according to the framing.
Being set designer of fashion shows is different. Everything can be seen, from each angle. There's no misleading here. In this case, if possible, times are even shorter, because locations often become available only the night before the show, or maximum, for more complicated sets, a couple of days before, with a rise in price for the location rental.
The most incredible sets, for the work they imply, their fantasy, grandeur and difficulty, are without a doubt those that Karl Lagerfeld designs for Chanel. He works with different set designers, according to his needs. He has made practically everything: from proper icebergs reconstructed with tons of ice transported from Nordic countries - among which models walked wearing boots in fake fur and long dresses they had to drag in the water - to a 20-meter-high gold lion, holding a three-meter-tall ball in one paw, from which models came out, to a thirty-meter-high tower at the center of the Grand Palais, to the reconstruction of Rue Cambon with the Palace of Coco Chanel - which was so perfectly rebuilt that you had the feeling you were in the actual street.
For Karl Lagerfeld no limitation comes between dreams and reality.
Massive sets were once designed also for John Galliano at Dior and for Alexander McQueen. Plenty of people work to carry out such huge productions on time, with night and day shifts. More than fashion shows, they are proper film sets, with proper set designers.
It's a pity that a fashion show only lasts for maximum an hour, and then the set is destroyed. A film, instead, lasts forever. But the emotions it can arouse are worth all this work, and emotions cannot be destroyed.
We have already seen the role of fashion editors and stylists. But how do you actually produce photo shoots? How are they practically carried out?
I'll divide the key stages into points. Once the idea, or concept, of the photo shoot has been decided, the editor in charge of it gives all the information to the Production Assistant, who will then deal with the general organization. First of all, they will contact the photographer's agent, to discuss dates, then - only once the dates are set and after having received a list of the chosen makeup artists, hairstylists and models - they will send notice to the various agencies, to be sure to have the first choice.
It's also up to the Production Assistant to set the budget, according to the location picked by the location scouter, to find flights for editors, models, makeup artists and hairstylists and hotels for the entire crew.
The search for models follows a precise procedure, we'll talk about it in the next days.
Meanwhile, editors have all the chosen clothes and accessories sent to Milan wardrobe. Here in the wardrobe the final decisions are taken, and, once the clothes are decided, they end up in big suitcases, with regular booklets - that is to say authorizations for a temporary export - and are sent to photo studios, which can be anywhere in the world, from Paris to new York, London, Los Angeles, Miami, depending on where you want your pictures to be taken.
Also the clothes picked in foreign showrooms are flied to photo studios. When all the items of clothing are gathered in one point, the editors and their assistants will make a further selection.
While hairstylists, makeup artists, editors and photographer decide the mood of the photo shoot, the Production Assistant has do deal with the organization of the photo studios - if the shooting takes place in different studios - or, if it's an outdoor photo shoot, she has to hire a van. The latter turns into a mobile studio for all the duration of the shooting, where all the clothes and accessories are kept, where models get changed, hairdressers and makeup artists prepare the model and where photographer assistants keep lights, backgrounds and, most of all, create their headquarters with computers, to immediately check which the best pictures are, and decide any necessary change.
In this travelling studio they also have breakfast - which also implies a catering service, with all the relating whims.
The night before the beginning of the photo shoot everybody receives a call sheet via email - a sheet with all the details regarding meeting places and times, together with phone numbers of each participant to the photo shoot. While the pictures are taken, everybody has a very precise role, and everything must perfectly work.
That's rather impossible, though, as human factor is stronger than any machine. The model might not wake up, the customs might block the clothes, the photographer might change idea, the hairstylist's agent might have forgotten to say he/she had to leave the set absolutely by 5pm, because he/she has fly to the other side of the world, and so on. And everything is once again put under discussion. Normal routine.
Anyway, during photo shoots assistants have the most frenetic job: the photographer's assistants have to check lights and to immediately retouch pictures if necessary, the editor's one must write a detailed caption of clothes and accessories that have been used, at the same time fold the clothes that have already been photographed, put them back in the suitcases and contemporarily prepare the new ones for the following shot.
When the shoot is eventually finished, once everybody's back in the studios, the sorting of clothes starts, everything must be packed back into the suitcases and sent to the various countries of origin. The day after, everybody is back on their flights, everybody going to different directions. To new photo shoots.
Styling: is it an art? It's actually the fashion editor's job. What does it exactly mean?
It's a job made of research, of choices and of fantasy. No matter what school you attended. You have to form a harmonious whole, to understand how to match different items, to allow the model to express herself at her best through the chosen style, and to find the right accessories to combine with dresses: it's not a job for everybody.
It may sound banal. But actually, if you break that harmony, a previously wonderful outfit can turn into a horrible one, because of an excess or an imperfection. The model will then look homely and so will the picture.
Styling is not a question of having good taste or not, it's a question of having a sense of image and imagination. It means knowing what makeup or hairstyle suits the model and the style you want to give to the photo shoot.
Some times what you excessively highlight can look too strong, but it's useful to convey a message. Very short means short, very colorful means colorful, a mix of styles means freedom of choice.
When a stylist works for a magazine, she's free to express her own creativity, always according to the DNA of the magazine and after having received a precise briefing from the director.
If a stylist works for an ad campaign, instead, she will follow the designer's taste. For the designer it's an exchange of ideas, the stylist doesn't decide the outfits. She can give some advice, helping out with choices, but she doesn't have all the freedom she has in editorials. Advertisement follows very precise rules. The chosen clothes are usually the most sold, not necessarily the most creative. The latter are photographed by magazines.
Then there's the stylist for fashion shows. This is again a different job. Photos are just a click, if there are imperfections, like large shoes or too tight trousers, you can hide them. And after all with Photoshop you can now change whatever you want. On the catwalk, instead, every detail must be perfect. Photoshop does not exist.
You have to work night and day. Because usually clothes arrive at the very last moment and models in the evening. You need to figure out matchings and fittings - which mean checking if what you had in mind actually fits the model's body and which model it suits better. You definitely need aesthetic sensibility, a sense of proportions and the ability to work in symbiosis with the designer, the hairstylist and the makeup artist. It's a team work.
And finally there are stylists of celebrities. They normally are freelance editors for magazines or advertisement, who meet an actress or an actor, a singer or a socialite during a photo shoot. They immediately like each other and build confidence and mutual understanding, and the stylist turns into personal editor. She picks the clothes, not according to fashion, but according to the style of the star. The stylist has to interpret their taste at her best and find the best solutions.
We're not talking about trends: the star needs to have character, she is never a fashionista. She's not a model, she's a celebrity and as such she must be treated. The stylist can be an important help, some times even decisive. In good and in bad ways. Because at times when we see stars walking red carpets we all wonder: who dresses the poor actresses?
Perhaps this is the most recurring question. How do you become an editor and how do you get to the magazine, even just to obtain some visibility?
As for any other creative job, there isn't an only and unique rule. You can be taught everything but how to become creative, if you don't have a natural predisposition. However, you can learn how to become great professionals.
First of all in schools: fashion schools. If you attend a fashion school you won't necessarily become a designer. Schools are useful to learn the different aspects of this world. How to create a dress. How to match colors. Accessories, which ones and how to choose. How to distinguish fabrics and to know their names. And also to learn the history of clothing. Who the historical designers are and the contemporary ones. Learn to recognize photographers and their style. A bit of fashion culture is useful. Because you need to be creative, that's true, but you musn't be ignorant either!
There's also the advantage that schools invite us to see end-of-the-year rehearsals and we can find students that are more passionate about images, and therefore about an editorial job, rather than about becoming designers.
We always hire interns, for short periods, which anyway are enough to understand if that's really the job they want to do and if they have the right skills. But, as I said, that's not the rule: fashion schools are just one of the many options you have to get closer to a magazine.
Some editors studied medical science, some others law or architecture. While they were pursuing their careers, they realized, along the way, that they wanted to do a creative job. I myself graduated in classic studies and philosophy, with a dissertation on Germanic philology. Is there something less creative than that? One may ask. And how did I get to Italian Vogue?
Some times by writing, some times with the determination that only a person who really wants to succeed has, by doing dressers at fashion shows, or going to designers' showrooms or writing on blogs, or simply by doing the photographer outside defilés or by volunteering as stylist assistant. That's how people learn, and ask for information, and some times it happens they are fortunate enough to have an appointment scheduled.
And once you get the right chance you have to be able to keep it.
The editor doesn't have working hours, she doesn't know when she's going on a journey and when she's coming back. She can't make big plans. Forget about the myth of the editor who's perfectly dressed up, who wears very high heels and friendly chats with models and actresses, who travels to wonderful places, sits in the front rows of fashion shows and receives tons of presents. That only happens in movies.
For her everyday work she needs to go everywhere and look for dresses, accessories and new items in general. She has to go to showrooms, not only the ones of great designers, but of everybody, in fact especially to showrooms of unknown people. Because scouting is also part of the editor's job. Discovering new talents.
Then there are photo shoots. No matter if the weather is sunny or rainy, warm or cold. If you work outdoors, you need to have good stamina. The model is already suffering, an editor should instead solve problems.
Fashion shows. Everybody's dream. A nightmare at times. They start at 9am and finish at 10pm. You sit down, then stand up and run from one show to the other, stopping at presentations. An average of a dozen fashion shows and setting-ups. Multiply it by a week in New York, one in London, one in Milan and one in Paris. It's exhausting. But not always, fortunately.
The reward is seeing the printed magazine and finding your name in it. It's a passion, and passions never fade. However, you need to make many sacrifices.
Planning a magazine is not a mathematical operation, it's the result of a series of encounters, exchanges of opinion with designers and editors, projects and ideas that photographers send with their suggestions for photo shoots or simple inspirations arising from events people talk about, from a new film to the discovery of a new model.
The release of a new issue is a mix of perfect organization and absolute randomness. Practically speaking: the seasons begins, winter or summer, I go and see fashion shows with vice-director and editors, we meet photographers - while we are in New York, Paris or London for the defilés -, and freelance stylists. I visit designers, even just to share our thoughts on fashion, I listen to everybody's opinion and then, according to the different suggestions and ideas I've come up with or I've been told, I decide which articles or photo shoots to make, not with a monthly planning, but basically for the entire season: from January to May for summer, in June winter pre-collections, from July to November for winter and in December summer pre-collections.
While the fashion department works on precise themes, the news department meets with the managing editorto gather ideas and pieces of news, which they then submit to me. According to my decisions, the editorial starts working, they either write the articles themselves, or commission the several contributors to write. This is the practical part, but the most important part are ideas and creativity. Surprise.
This is what Vogue readers expect to find. And creativity does not follow fixed schemes. It comes naturally for a thousand reasons and some times causes significant changes.
Let me give you a couple of examples. Some years ago we dedicated an entire issue to plastic surgery, with Linda Evangelista playing protagonist. Did we have a plan? No, we didn't. The idea sprang, almost accidentally, from a conversation in New York over the huge and omnipresent topic people talked about at that time, which is still very recurring: to use or not to use botox, lifting and the various fillers. The images were strong but fun. The topic? A very topical theme which Steven Meisel interpreted with absolute mastery.
The same goes for two years ago, when I chose to dedicate an entire issue to black models. I was sitting at New York fashion shows and I suddenly realized I wasn't able to tell the difference between one model and the other. They were all beautiful, but all the same. The only one that really struck me each time she walked the catwalk was Liya Kebede. And that's when I decided to make an entire issue with black models only.
That very week Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton officially started competing. Just a coincidence. And anyway the issue was to be finished by the end of May. The electoral results were to be known only in July. Barack Obama won. The issue was extremely successful and had to be reprinted.
These are just two examples, but I could give you many others. Each issue is a surprise, no matter if everybody likes it or not. You need to dare and not to be afraid of changing things. This was just to explain that yes, we do make plans, but what's unexpected and surprising is there, in front of us. You have to be able to see it, to catch it and to have the courage to take risks.
If we planned everything with extreme nit-picking, we would risk to bore both ourselves and our readers to death.