Haute Couture is like Nothing Else in Fashion

Haute Couture Fall Winter 2012-2013 on the Set Photo © Benjamin Kanarek

Or a Cacophony of Controlled Craziness… Or, Shooting Around 28 Pages of Editorial in 2 Days…

Shooting the Haute Couture is a privilege and a rare occasion. The Haute Couture in Paris only shows for four days of which one of those days is to exhibit Haute Joaillerie (Jewelry). Last weekend July 7 & 8, 2012, was the first time I ever shot two different Haute Couture shoots back to back with two different magazines. To say it was controlled mayhem would be pretty much accurate. It is a lot simpler to be in a completely controlled environment i.e. a studio, where the lights are set up and ready to go and the model steps in once the stylist has prepared the look. We did not shoot in a studio. We shot in two separate locations with two different themes.

The Haute Couture Process

If anyone knows anything about the Haute Couture shooting process, they will understand the insanity. From those poor overworked Press Attache’s to the messengers, stylists and assistant stylists, where would the stylist be without them? For the whole team, it is a controlled insane roller coaster ride that only the brave should consider embarking on. You see, when we do a ready to wear shoot, the stylist has the luxury of having the clothing for the whole day of the shoot and can take his/her time to develop each look, mixing and matching the different designers as they please to get the desired effect they are after. No such luxury in Haute Couture. Being that there are very few looks in the Haute Couture and only certain magazines are given the privilege to shoot and catalogue the few designers who create those pieces of art there is a very specific pecking order of which magazine gets what and when.

Hotel de Crillon Paris © Benjamin Kanarek

Most of the major magazines the likes of VOGUE, Harper’s BAZAAR, Numero, W, etc. are given priority in this pecking order and get to pick the primary looks before anyone else can. So you have to imagine what happens just after the shows end. Let’s say we have ten of the majors and ten lesser known magazines shooting in Paris, here is what will happen. The couture house PR people receive the requests from the magazine stylists, the PR have to determine who will get what when or not at all. The PR will contact the stylists to tell them if their request can be approved. If it cannot the PR wil suggest alternative choices or will just say, this is all we have available, do you want this look. In most cases the fashion stylist will get what they requested, especially for the more known magazines.

Fashion Stylist Sohei Yoshida © Benjamin Kanarek

Time is Limited and Planning is Crucial for Success

The teams now have to play the waiting game, as well as schedule and choreograph their shoots with the knowledge of what time their look will arrive and when it has to be released (so another team somewhere else in Paris may get it for their own production). Often, PR people will come with the clothes to the shoot, to make sure they get it back directly and deliver it to the next shoot. If you cannot get the shot done in time of the designer you wish to feature, tough luck, you will not be able to get it back, as it will be being used elsewhere. The planning is crucial and the classic line I am so accustomed to hearing from the stylist is, “…Ben, we have to shoot this dress now, they are picking it up in thirty minutes…” or even worse, which we did experience is, “…the messenger is here now, you have to shoot it now..” where you go on to beg the messenger to have a coffee and hang out with the team for a few more minutes, so we can get the shot. We had one guy who was a gem. He came to pick up a VERY IMPORTANT designer and we hadn’t yet shot the dress. He said, “…Look, I have to go to a studio to pick up several dresses of the same designer,so that gives you at least another hour or so,will that do?” We thanked him profusely and went on to get the shot.

Eric Waroll wearing the Maison Martin Margiela Mask and an On Aura Tout Vu Red Belt with Stylist Sohei Yoshida © Frédérique Renaut

Working in the Lap of Luxury

The aforementioned shooting process went on for each day we shot. The thing is, we did our shoots in two very luxurious hotels. That complicated matters as the messengers had to go through a rather lengthly process to have access to our suites. On the first day we shot at the Hotel Shangri-la and on the second at the Hotel de Crillon. Both provided services fit for a King or Queen. As a result, our control centers were the suites provided by the hotel. Both were of the Presidential category. The hair, make-up and styling was done in the bedrooms of the suites. What would happen when a messenger or PR person would come is the following. They would arrive at the hotel, present themselves to the concierge and be accompanied to the elevator and to our suite. They would present the stylist assistant the dress and the assistant would sign for it. The messenger or PR representative would then leave. In a few cases the PR person would stay for the shoot, until we photographed their look. That was the case for Givenchy for example. When the messenger returned, the process was the same. The stylist would sign the release and off the messenger would go to another shoot or back to the Couture House.

Frequently the messenger would show up while the look was being photographed and would wait in the control center until we finished. Generally never more than fifteen minutes per shot. We would shoot in several different locations of the hotel, thus adding to the mayhem. On our second day, we shot on the street, in front of the Hotel de Crillon, Place de la Concorde, Le Jardin des Tuileries, etc. That is even more problematic, especially with Haute Couture, with pieces that can run as high as $250,000 per piece or even higher. That part of the process was kind of fun, with all of the tourists lined up with their iPhone’s, tweeting away and sending off the images to whom ever would be privy to their experience. It was really funny on the second day for our other  shoot, as it was quite chilly for July, most of the crew wore Hotel de Crillon bath robes on the streets of Paris. Looked like some sanitarium patients had escaped and were on the loose. The other shoot we did was approximately half interiors and half exterior.

Salon Marie Antoinette Hotel de Crillon

What a Team!

The Harper’s BAZAAR images were all done as interior location themes at the Shangri-la Hotel. We really wanted to differentiate the two shoots, which was a bit challenging as they were both done in Palace Hotels. Thus shooting outdoors on the second day was a great way to add to the variety of the themes. We didn’t want the Harper’s BAZAAR shoot to look like our other Haute Couture shoot. Each magazine deserves an exclusive and unique perspective. What is really incredible, at least from the standpoint of the team and the fact that we only used one model per day, was that we were able to shoot fourteen pages for Harper’s BAZAAR and about the same for our other fashion shoot. We commenced each day at 08:30 and finished around 20:00. Not only did we do the shoot, but Frédérique filmed them both and we also did interviews with the model and some members of the team. So all and all a very full day indeed.

Hotel Shangri-la Salon Historique

It was a very hectic weekend, but I feel privileged to have been part of the experience. Some of the designers that provided their pieces for us were, Armani, Dior, Chanel, Givenchy, Jean Paul Gaultier, Versace, Valentino, Alexandre Vauthier, Maison Martin Margiela, Giambattista Valli, Jan Taminiau, On Aura Tout Vu, Elie Saab…

Angelik Iffennecker and Eric Waroll wearing a On Aura Tout Vu Red Crown on the site of our Haute Couture shoot © Eric Waroll

We had a great team for the two days. I wish to thank our wonderful Fashion Editor Sohei Yoshida, his fabulously fashionable assistant and fashion editor Eric Waroll. Thanks to Make-Up Artist Angélik Iffennecker and Hair Stylist Patrice Delaroche and all of the other assistants to the crew, whom I will give honorable mention once the editorials have come out. Thanks to Paul-Antoine Goutal, my assistant for aiding in these shoots and of course Frédérique Renaut, with whom I could not have done any of this had she not been part of it. Of course our two wonderful models whom I will mention at the appropriate time. I mustn’t forget Amy Verner the Globe and Mail journalist covering the story. Also thanks to Harper’s BAZAAR and “…….”  for giving me the opportunity to cover the Haute Couture and the Hotel de Crillon and the Shangri-la Hotel communications crew for making this happen with elegant panache.

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