The Sitcom Stars
Working with supermodels is what defines working in fashion for me. Wether fresh face or legend, it’s an opportunity to tell a visual story. The set becomes your amphitheatre. Celebrity editorial, personally, a lot less appealing. Dealing with an idol type ego on a creative fashion editorial set seemed to defeat the purpose. Questions relayed to their publicist standing right next to them — because speaking to them directly was perhaps the only control held over their privacy — borderline perpetuates the separation of human and idol god. Besides the monster content machine that’s made celebrities a must for ad campaigns, it seems counter productive when salaries don’t equate debt free living and the celebrity that could financially contribute to the economy is gifted products. I would have many an opportunity to work with different levels of celebrity. In most cases the B-Lister needed more ego massaging naturally to compensate for not being an A-lister. I knew working in American fashion was going to be more commercial but working for free for an idolised celebrity felt like an eerie condoning of imperialism. As an editor I was raised to think as part art director; suggesting models, colour schemes, location, lighting — part producer; if you were shooting outside on a New York beach in winter you needed to invest in heaters. The school of Condé Nast Italia was ‘to much is given, much is required’ and if you were an editor’s assistant, you were a junior editor in training, you found solutions and made impossible, possible. On top of logistics, you were expected to represent the brands based on your taste and experience.
As the saying goes, “adapt or die” and I would have to evolve my range. The creative jobs became fewer and farther between. So when I confirmed the dullest of commercial editorials, I kept focused on the teams that provided creative chemistry and the magazine itself. I had to have some appreciation and respect for what they were doing, wether it be the editors and photographers they’d choose, the layouts, or the overall message of content choice. All of a sudden, through the years, the editor became the desperate sales clerk trying to convince the borderline sociopath something looks good on them despite their projected self doubt. Often with celebrity you have to bend your opinion to theirs. A service job resembling high royal courts and the clowns they degrade dancing before them. With a model I could create a character, with the celebrity I was limited.
Dennis, one of my favourite humans, talented and passionate, asked me to fly to California and style a cover story he was shooting with two tv stars. Finding a photographer that understood your references and appreciated what you brought to the collaboration wasn’t something to take for granted. A fierce a teddy bear, German, intelligent, just, and curious. Working with Dennis always felt like home. We’d be shooting a comedian I loved and an actress I admired. Andy Alfonssen, tall and uniquely propositioned, would be the challenge. My part-time assistant was in charge of finalising menswear confirmations but by the time I arrived to wardrobe in LA, all of the mens looks were sample size! I’d given her his exact measurements and specifically instructed on how to request for celebrity. It was a nightmare, the shoot was the next morning and I wasn’t in a position to swipe 50k+ on my Amex for shop and return. I couldn’t take that risk so I improvised. I requested he bring a few of his favourite suits, I’d shop a few pieces, and take the larger samples. I’d also been warned by his publicist that the recent weight loss had made him even more insecure and I’d need to keep this into consideration. The irony in an editor’s roll of psychology; expected responsibility with returns not guaranteed. Andy’s pull would be one rack of clothes, as his co-star would have nearly ten. After all, she was a woman, a mixed Jewish Black woman nonetheless, Racey Selis Toss, the shoot was going to be all about her anyway. Their agents approved our mood boards, agreed to set location, hair, makeup, and style direction.
The Ace Theatre in downtown Los Angeles is one of my favourite spaces and that morning talent arrived to set with an entourage. Usually obnoxiously opinionated, their followers did not disappoint. The humans we idolise that bring friends with opinions to photoshoots chip away the credibility of the most likely under paid professional there to do said job. There is something extremely disrespectful about it. Andy was displeased with his slim selection, and made mean fat kid jokes about himself. Racey, as is our female subconscious reaction, was focused on comforting her colleague. It paralleled the American culture that says more is better for no reason at all other than because I’ve been culturally conditioned to believe so. Andy had a chic selection of options and yet needed more clothes to feel equal to his female co-star I suppose. It was painful to watch them, more painful to see men raised to be boys and then coddled by people they pay to boost their egos. Racey left Andy in grooming and joined me for a fitting. She barely looked me in the eyes at first as I tried to make small talk. Another mixed woman of colour, although never living outside of her Hollywood bubble, I didn’t expect her to not even try to chat with the other mixed woman in the room there to make her shine. Her face remained pierced and as I attempted to keep the room from awkward silence with small talk, everything she tried on, she dismissed. The Max Mara silk blouse and pencil skirt fit like a glove yet she thought it needed to be flipped around to be interesting. The Fendi made her look old. I couldn’t believe a woman with such an education would lack such a sensibility to fashion. The fuxia Christian Louboutins would be better in black, one thing after another I was left a little dumbfounded. I still have those photos, she looked like a goddess, insane to think if I’d post one she’d probably try and sue me. Wealthy privileged mixed woman sues young female entrepreneur, what a story that would be.
Dennis and the magazine’s new Editor in Chief, a beautiful young woman of colour, came down to wardrobe to introduce themselves and go through the day’s schedule. Andy made Nazi jokes mimicking Dennis’ German accent. Racey maintained a forced smile and unenthusiastically nodded her head. I found myself able to make peace with his behaviour, after all, he was just a man. But her, this was Racey Selis Toss, daughter of a legend, an only child, went to Swiss school, wealthy and educated. How was she on the bully side of the fence. Introductions wrapped and I went up to the theatre with the team. My assistant back in wardrobe, relayed they were discussing discontent with the entire direction. Racey complained she felt too compared to her mother — perhaps reflecting her own less than insecurities — and Andy kept going with the fat kid, German jokes. Twenty minutes later they both came up to the front of the stage; no make up, out of their robes, bags in hand. They had to regretfully inform us that this whole mood just wasn’t working for them. It wasn’t what they’d agreed on and they would need to reschedule. The ease with which they’d disrespected everyones time and money left me shook. The new EIC had to make the call to an all male board of executives and share holders explaining how and why they’d just lost 20,000$.
Our greatest strength as women is to lead, guide and direct, not pacify the bully. Perhaps, Racey justified her behaviour knowing the contract between magazine and network meant it was a finalised deal however and whenever it got done. Did that mean she was completely oblivious to how cut throat the industry had become. Even if both big corporations could write off the loss in tax filing, someone would still be to blame. It was money over talent and experience despite the expertise of the teams playing part in getting them work. I declined the reshoot. When the cover came out it was a basic studio shoot of him in, a black suit. He’d wear a suit throughout, four looks, four suits. Exactly what he’d had optioned with me. She was in a black neoprene dress with the same shoes I’d pulled from Louboutin in black. All that Blumarine, Prada, Ferragamo, Ungaro, Givenchy, Stella McCartney, Dries Van Noten, Valentino, Margiela and she’d gone with a fast fashion replica. A look resembling the generic over production that contributes to climate change. Her hair was the same as our original reference and although the theatre was too staged for them, their poses were that of a broadway musical. I’d only later find out that Racey’s stylist would spend another 18,000 dollars in shipping fees to the magazine. The young talented female producer would have to resign in order to justify the expense. Repulsing repercussions to someone’s arrogant entitled behaviour, that we perpetually enable. It’s a strange cultural norm to expect customer service for free. To receive respect without demonstrating it. To be treated as queen while treating another woman like trash. To promote for profit in such a way makes me quiver at thoughts of the history of humanity and the many times civilisations have fallen because of obsessions with ideologies. Money and Fame, perhaps a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah synonym in how we allow ourselves to treat one another. Ultimately a projection of how we treat ourselves.
‘In Hollywood a girls virtue is much less important than her hairdo’ — Marilyn Monroe