How to Join
the Fashion Spot / Visualizing Fashion / Behind the Lens
FAQ Calendar Search Today's Posts Mark Forums Read Rules Links Mobile How to Join
Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
05-08-2010
  1
The future is stupid
 
MissMagAddict's Avatar
 
Join Date: Feb 2005
Gender: femme
Posts: 25,326
Mary Howard - Set Designer
Mary Howard is a master.
I've wanted to start a thread on her for a long time.



Quote:
Mary Howard is the set designer on virtually every key fashion photographer’s speed dial. She’s the consummate background professional, literally—she creates the mise-en-scène of a shoot. Howard (left works regularly with Steven Meisel, Annie Leibovitz, and Steven Klein, among others, and her sets range as widely as her collaborators’ styles. She does dazzlingly elaborate (Leibovitz’s 2008 Wizard of Oz shoot starring Keira Knightley), and she can make a set virtually invisible, too (Meisel’s Spring ‘10 Prada campaign.) On any given day, you can find Howard mottling the gray backdrop at a studio shoot or packing up a selection of Art Deco lamps headed off on location. Here, she talks to Style.com about working with the masters, how much stuff is too much stuff, and learning when to leave the bobby pins in.

So, Mary: In one sentence, what do you do?
I call myself a set designer for print. Could be editorial, could be ads. In movies, they call someone like me a production designer; in fashion, the name “set designer” has stuck but it doesn’t entirely describe the job. There’s a lot of art direction involved; it’s not just about picking out a rug. But I guess if I have to boil down my job description to one sentence, I’d say—I create the world around the girl. I don’t have anything to do with the model, but I shape the physical environment that surrounds her and help the photographer and the stylist and everyone else involved with the shoot tell the right story and make the girl pop.

Why do you think the fashion industry has shied away from the title “production designer”?
I think some of it has to do with the fact that this is still an emerging field. It barely existed when I moved to New York; it wasn’t until recently that my studio even began getting credits in magazine. I work quite a bit with Grace Coddington at Vogue, and she’ll tell stories about sending her assistants out to just, you know, grab a chair. Or the photographer would send his assistant out to pick up props.

How did you get into set design?
I grew up in New Orleans, and after I got my MFA, I went back down there to build Mardi Gras floats. Then I came to New York City and built floats for the Macy’s parade. I was always making things—I’d make props for Saturday Night Live, for instance. Eventually I began working with a set designer—this was about 20 years ago, and it’s possible that she was the only one. We began working with Richard Avedon, and that led to other photographers and editors seeking us out. Then I went out on my own. Honestly, I feel like a grandma in this field.

What’s an average workday like for you?
I think that, like a lot of people in fashion, I do what I do because there isn’t really “an average day.” There are days on set, and there are prep days that involve a lot of thinking or researching or pounding the pavement looking at stuff. So there’s a routine, but the work itself is so dependent on the assignment—if I’m working with Annie, her process is totally different from, say, Steven Meisel’s process.

How so?
Annie sees it all in her head. I’m there to coax out the vision. Like, the yellow brick road on the Wizard of Oz shoot—Annie decided she wanted it to look like the Appian Way, a golden brick road with lots of moss. And then my job was to execute that. Whereas other photographers want to see everything; they want lots of options. I’ll send over a ton of images that seem to describe the world they’re talking about, from film stills to pictures of tables, and then we go back and forth, refining and refining and refining.

How much stuff do you usually bring to a shoot?
I’m comfortable with one cube truck’s worth of stuff per shoot. Even on a really elaborate shoot, I tend to feel like more than that is a recipe for trouble. By the time you’re getting on set, you should be confident enough to have, say, two sofas, not 30. You do need the options, of course; you’re really not going to know what works until you’re in the space and the set is lit. The sofa you liked going in may not work, as it turns out. And then, if you’re really pressed, you have to know your resources, so you can run out and find the right thing at the last moment.

Not that I’m asking for trade secrets or anything, but where do you find your props?
Everywhere. I’m a big flea market fan—you’d be amazed at how well a dirty old chair will show up in a photo. I’m actually wary of using things that are too new and too pristine. That said, many of the furniture stores in New York are willing to rent, and we’ve got relationships with pretty much all of them. And there are the prop shops, too. You have to be careful there, though—in New York, there just aren’t that many prop rental houses, and you wind up seeing the same props over and over again. Like, a few years ago there was a particular chair that was getting shot a ton. Clients recognized it when it came in.

You say you’re wary of things that look too new and too pristine. Why?
I want the final image to be believable. Even the really elaborate stuff I do with Annie, where she’s creating a whole fantasy world, it has to feel real in some way; specific. It’s like, Irving Penn had this thing—sometimes he’d be shooting and bobby pins or safety pins would be on the floor, and he’d say, leave it. Don’t make it too clean. When you let things be a little off, you’re allowing some reality in and it gives the image texture. I like to do wrong things. If I’ve got a statue on a table by the girl, I don’t face it to camera, because then it looks staged. The walls shouldn’t look like they’ve just been painted, even if they have been. And we try to fabricate as little as we can.

Do you prefer working on location, given all that?
I can do either. I studied painting, I love to paint a backdrop, and I’ve got a whole studio so I can build sets. I like making things. I can make a wall look however we want it to look, but there’s a certain weight that a real room has that you just can’t re-create. That said, there are times when it’s better to be on a set. It just depends on the job.

What’s the biggest misunderstanding people have about what you do?
I think that a lot of people don’t comprehend that there’s set design even when the set is barely there. Sometimes what I’m doing is taking away. Sometimes I’m on a very basic, gray backdrop job that just isn’t working, and I’m the one suggesting, let’s have the model lean against a ladder, instead of sitting on a stool. Or I’m throwing a rug down, to bring in some color or some dimension.

What’s your favorite part of what you do?
I love seeing what everyone else brings to the shoot. As the art department, we’re the first ones in and the last ones out, and there’s always this torturous part at the start of a shoot day when the set is pretty much built and the photo assistants are starting the lighting, and the clothes have arrived, and the girl is hidden away in hair and makeup, and I’m wondering, is this going to work? I’m just one piece of the puzzle. It’s not until the second photo of the day that you begin to see it all come together. I dream about that moment—the moment the set comes alive.

Prada Fall 2010 campaign


Lanvin Spring 2010 campaign


Alberta Ferretti Fall 2009 campaign

source | style.com

__________________
Love is what you want.

  Reply With Quote
 
05-08-2010
  2
V.I.P.
 
AgrenateD's Avatar
 
Join Date: Dec 2009
Gender: femme
Posts: 5,631
^ great post! she's produced some of my favorite eds as well as this year's fantastic ones i'll post some here in awhile

__________________
Every time the sun comes up I'm in trouble.
  Reply With Quote
05-08-2010
  3
V.I.P.
 
AgrenateD's Avatar
 
Join Date: Dec 2009
Gender: femme
Posts: 5,631
Universal Coverage | US Vogue August 2010
ph: Steven Meisel
stylist: Marie-Amelie Sauvé
makeup: Pat McGrath
hairstylist: Guido Palau
models: Sasha Pivovarova, Caroline Trentini, Christina Kruse, Daria Strokous, Mirte Maas





fashiongonerogue

__________________
Every time the sun comes up I'm in trouble.
  Reply With Quote
05-08-2010
  4
V.I.P.
 
AgrenateD's Avatar
 
Join Date: Dec 2009
Gender: femme
Posts: 5,631
Christy Turlington by Steven Meisel | Vogue Italia July 2010
stylist: Karl Templer
makeup: Pat McGrath
hairstylist: Guido Palau





scanned by skalty

__________________
Every time the sun comes up I'm in trouble.

Last edited by AgrenateD; 05-08-2010 at 08:58 AM.
  Reply With Quote
05-08-2010
  5
V.I.P.
 
AgrenateD's Avatar
 
Join Date: Dec 2009
Gender: femme
Posts: 5,631
Noble Farewell | US Vogue July 2010
ph: Annie Leibovitz
fashion editor: Grace Coddington
hairstylist: Guido Palau
makeup: Diane Kendal
models: Tanya Dziahileva, Raquel Zimmerman, Frida Gustavsson, Karlie Kloss, Irina Kulikova



myfdb

__________________
Every time the sun comes up I'm in trouble.
  Reply With Quote
05-08-2010
  6
V.I.P.
 
AgrenateD's Avatar
 
Join Date: Dec 2009
Gender: femme
Posts: 5,631
Frock And Roll | US Vogue June 2010
ph: Annie Leibovitz
fashion editor: Grace Coddington
hairstylist: Julien D'ys
makeup: Gucci Westman



scanned by NickiLee

__________________
Every time the sun comes up I'm in trouble.
  Reply With Quote
05-08-2010
  7
V.I.P.
 
AgrenateD's Avatar
 
Join Date: Dec 2009
Gender: femme
Posts: 5,631
Dolce And Gabbana Fall Winter 2010 Ad Campaign
ph: Steven Klein
models: Noah Mills, Evandro Soldati, Adam Senn, Arthur Kulkov, Sam Webb





thefashionisto

__________________
Every time the sun comes up I'm in trouble.
  Reply With Quote
05-08-2010
  8
V.I.P.
 
AgrenateD's Avatar
 
Join Date: Dec 2009
Gender: femme
Posts: 5,631
Too Shy Shy... Hush Hush | Vogue Italia October 2009
ph: Steven Meisel
fashion editor: Lori Goldstein
hairstylist: Julien D'ys
makeup: Pat McGrath
models: Rianne Ten Hanken, Monika Jagaciak, Kasia Struss, Karlie Kloss, Irina Kulikova, Iris Strubegger, Simon Nessman





fashiongonerogue

__________________
Every time the sun comes up I'm in trouble.
  Reply With Quote
05-08-2010
  9
V.I.P.
 
AgrenateD's Avatar
 
Join Date: Dec 2009
Gender: femme
Posts: 5,631
Mulberry Fall Winter 2010 Ad Campaign
ph: Steven Meisel
stylist: Edward Enninful
hairstylist: Guido Palau
makeup: Pat McGrath



fashiongonerogue

__________________
Every time the sun comes up I'm in trouble.
  Reply With Quote
05-08-2010
  10
rising star
 
filleanglaise's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jan 2009
Location: London bientot
Gender: femme
Posts: 112
Such inspiring work! I focus so much on the garments and models, I often forget about the amazing efforts put in to the set. Mary is by far one of the superior

__________________
Lafilleanglaise
Twitter
  Reply With Quote
05-08-2010
  11
trendsetter
 
Join Date: Dec 2009
Gender: femme
Posts: 1,118
Thanks for the thread. Mary is definitely a genius in creating these astounding sets.

US Vogue December 2008
'Love Of A Lifetime'
Photographer: Annie Leibovitz
Stylist: Grace Coddington



scanned by Luxx

  Reply With Quote
05-08-2010
  12
rising star
 
Join Date: Jul 2010
Location: NY
Gender: homme
Posts: 198
Thanks for starting the thread
I've read her interview, and her work is amazing, it's so inspiring how she manages to create those stunning sets.

__________________
tumblr:Rusted Lens
  Reply With Quote
05-08-2010
  13
V.I.P.
 
justaguy's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jul 2010
Location: United States
Gender: homme
Posts: 33,935
So great to see her own thread here!!! She is such a genius!!!

Thanks, MissMagAddict for creating this.

__________________
Frock n' Roll
  Reply With Quote
06-08-2010
  14
trendsetter
 
Join Date: Dec 2009
Gender: femme
Posts: 1,118
Lanvin Homme FW06 Campaign


successmodels via MH

  Reply With Quote
06-08-2010
  15
trendsetter
 
Join Date: Dec 2009
Gender: femme
Posts: 1,118
Vogue Italia September 2005 - Couture Supplement
'Couture'
Photographer: Steven Meisel
Stylist: Camilla Nickerson






scanned by GUGA/MODA via a.t

  Reply With Quote
Reply
Previous Thread | Next Thread »

Tags
designer, howard, mary, set
Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are Off

monitoring_string = "058526dd2635cb6818386bfd373b82a4"


 
All times are GMT -5. The time now is 04:04 PM.
Powered by vBulletin®
Copyright ©2000 - 2014, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.
TheFashionSpot.com is a property of TotallyHer Media, LLC, an Evolve Media LLC company. ©2014 All rights reserved.