Lais Ribero style by me for Vogue

No Experience Necessary

I discovered an up and coming photographer searching through an artist app database. We met for vino tinto at The Smile in Soho, shared ideas and with excitement settled on a test shoot date. Asking favours from my industry friends, we confirmed Linda Helena, just before booking her became impossible. It was a big deal. Usually a fresh photographer isn’t trusted with a model projected to contract Vogue covers. Having built relationships over the years, the trusted expectation was on me to deliver, not only stunning imagery, but also a smooth shoot day. It was indeed, and the photographs are still some of my favourites.

A year later he called excited asking if I’d like to shoot an editorial for Vogue Mexico. He’d been chasing them for months and finally they agreed to give him a chance. The opportunity actually ended up being an advertorial. Although the name implies advertising, none of those ad dollars are attributed to your messengers, assistants, or taxis, despite restricting requirements from the brands’ paid marketing teams. I’ve always thought of it more as a catch 22. The stakes are high to perform but you aren’t given any tools that make it ‘easier’ to do the job right, in fact, it’s usually the opposite. Even with constraints however, it’s an opportunity to think outside of the box, like an art director, to take a look beyond the boredom of what’s already been done, into something original. The chance to connect with the magazine and turn the collaboration into a scheduled commission was also apart of my motive. If I could do something creative with an advertorial, I’d won.

My advertorial experience for other Vogue editions were more often quite seamless. I still have to pay for all of my expenses as an editor, but the magazine covers the shipping costs. It’s the least they can do. Publishing houses usually hold contracts with shipping companies enabling a much lower rate than the individual shipper. If I’m required to feature a specific brand, the budget thus covers whatever expense is involved with how those clothes arrive and depart. A dialog begins on the theme of the issue; how they plan to layout the editorial, and creative ideas are ping ponged. The collaboration between in-house editors and the freelancer exhilarate relevance. It’s a support system. Why wouldn’t the magazine support a comfortable environment since we’re technically producing more branded marketing content for free. In this case Vogue Mexico was awarding him the opportunity, so he offered to spend his own money. A classic case of societies biggest conundrum; imperialistic cultural responses manipulated by capitalism.

I booked my hair and makeup teams and thanks to my casting director, confirmed supermodel Lais Ribero. I was looking forward to working with such a strong team. The photographer was ecstatic, and recognised he wouldn’t be shooting with this level of talent if it weren’t for my help. Reminding him it was all about collaboration, his gratitude seemed genuine and sincere. I’ve always believed in opening doors for others, the whole treat someone as you’d like to be treated thing continues to hold immense value to me.

A box of the to-be advertised brands arrived from Colombia (where Vogue Mexico’s offices were at the time) with a mix of pieces the in-house editors selected prior to responding to any of my emails. I was able to pull a few bigger luxury designers that would balance out the pieces chosen for me. To my disappointment there wasn’t much correspondence with the magazine. I’d been assigned a junior market editor who was slow responding to inquiry but at least wasn’t controlling over my process.

A blizzard hit New York the night before Lais arrived that morning from Miami. The studio wasn’t prepared for the cold; freezing sans caffè. I arrived with the duffles long before my intern and had to ask the studio for heaters while the photoman and I grabbed breakfast at the deli across the street. We made it through the shoot but the photographer was nervous and it showed, even in his reluctance to problem solve the heat and coffee that morning; that uneasy insecure energy made the supermodel a bit uncomfortable. Luckily, the hair stylist worked with her many times before and the senior team all together eventually eased the tension. Keeping your model comfortable is vital. After all, they’re the ones you need to smize for that unforgettable shot. We do these free jobs for the photos and they turned out divine. The photographer still had a lot to learn, but damn he was talented, soft spoken and humble. He took suggestions on lighting, angle and composition, he was willing to stretch himself. I appreciated that, as it’s not often the case.

A few weeks later, upon opening the layout pdf, my heart sank. The story I’d expected was the opposite of what I’d received. The photos were smaller than the palm of my hand. Where were the full bleeds (full page image)! I rang the photographer in a disturbed panic. How could the magazine not have specified? How could they have approved a supermodel for such a story. In the experience respected hierarchy this sort of “editorial” it was more appropriate for a fresh face girl. A chance for a model just starting out. I was only told by the editor it would be a front of book (fob). Nine years of experience at Vogue and this licensed version of the magazine just committed one of the biggest blasphemies. As with any job, at a certain level there are unspoken rules. It was crucial for the photographer to call the model’s agent and apologise. My casting director had booked a major girl and now her reputation would be put into question as well. He told me he knew it was a shopping story but unclear how tiny the images would be laid out. He didn’t want to ruffle feathers with the magazine by acknowledging their negligence. Like any real woman, I ended up taking care of it, someone had too. Calling the agent explaining what happened was essential. She expressed her respect for my call. She understood it wasn’t my fault and proceeded to disclose that the agency, among others, usually sent up red flags when working with that specific market. Apparently there were often issues in professional integrity.

Preparing to return the box of randomly selected pieces, I emailed the editor requesting their Fedex account number. She responded they hadn’t the budget and I needed to ship it back at my own expense. There was absolutely no way I was going to spend over 200$ on shipping a box of clothes I’d not personally requested. On principal, I sent it regular mail, USPS. I sent the tracking information and thanked the editor for her “help”. Two weeks would pass and I began receiving frantic emails in regards to the package having yet to arrive. I’ll admit, at that point I was petty in my velocity to respond. I’d previously corresponded with a few of the brands, apologising for the delay, disclosing the magazine’s lack of budget. Another week would pass until the reprimanding emails came. She expressed her dismay at my seeming lack of concern and said I was careless in returning the box sin urgencia. She said brands were frustrated and that she’d never had such a problem with a stylist. I reminded the in house editor that the box was selected and chosen by the magazine, ultimately the magazine’s responsibility and that she could simply explain there wasn’t a shipping budget and therefore the freelance editor was required to pay for it. A day of silence and then she started emailing for an update every other day. When I inquired if she’d delegated someone in the office or an intern to call the local post office, she avoided the question. I decided I’d tortured her enough, or rather I finally had pity on her humiliating display of inexperience. I made the call to the Colombian postal service from my New York City mobile. The box had been sitting in the post office for nine days. They’d called the office number given many times, but no one ever answered. I emailed her the update and naturally never again received a response.

I didn’t have much energy to explain to a grown man how poorly he’d behaved. It was a shame to not be able to create with an artist who’s work I’d been excited for. I thought of the irony in the magazine’s loyalty to the photographer. I thought about the photographer’s disloyalty to the team and collaboration. The irony in the universe’s reminder of just how fickle words are; actions indeed speak louder. I wondered why as women — both female editors, both most likely under valued, and under recognised — it seemed so difficult to communicate without trying to discredit each other. If we know the power of media’s influence on culture, how do we justify such carelessness in whom is helming it. Perhaps making it so easy to obtain title licenses, no matter your credentials, has contributed to capital and integral losses. When you take the skill of the art out of fashion and focus on what’s commercially trending, you end up over saturating feeds with repetitive content that lacks novelty.

A contributing fashion editor trying to dig deeper. ‘Think before you speak. Read before you think.’ — Fran Lebowitz

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