From production agents to catwalk choreographers, there’s an entire network of talent behind the lights, camera and action of the world’s premier campaigns, catwalk shows and fashion images. Indigo Clarke talks to eight industry insiders who make fashion fantasies happen.
While the names of fashion’s most visionary image-makers from photographers Tim Walker, Nick Knight and Juergen Teller to inventive stylists Katie Grand, Nicola Formichetti and Camille Bidault-Waddington are practically house-hold names, few outside the close-knit fashion industry are familiar with the art directors and set designers, casting agents, make-up artists, producers, consultants and buyers who make the fashion world go round. While within the confines of their industry they may be perceived as rockstars who can’t put a foot wrong, for those on the outside who have marvelled at their work it may not just be their names they don’t recognise – their unique creative input may have been overlooked altogether.</span>
For every awe-inspiring fashion image, campaign, catwalk show, event or presentation there are teams of specialist talent working together to construct the perfect shot, set or runway. When you step into your favourite boutique those racks of covetable wares haven’t been thrown together on a whim but are the hand-selected product of a buyer or consultant’s intuition; your dream designers’ seasonal collection’s have been whipped into shape by their right-hand man – AKA their stylists; luminary photographers rely on their art directors, set designers and make-up artists to bring to life their whimsical or avant-garde imaginings; producers pull everyone and everything together for shows and shoots and make the craziness look easy; and casting agents are relied upon to perennially uncover that next it-girl, or boy, as the case may be – with catwalk choreographers helping to perfect the new stars runway walk. This endless mix-bag of talent keeps growing as positions within fashion become more specialised and sought-after.
Responsible for the installation-art style magic behind British designers Alexander McQueen’s shows for years and Gareth Pugh’s mens and womenswear presentations for the last eight seasons – as well as for events and openings for Hermes, Luella Bartley, Alice Temperley, Lanvin, Martin Margiela and Marchesa to name a few – Simon Costin is a name that should be instantly recognisable to any fashion devotee. Working with British Vogue regular Tim Walker, art director Costin breathes life into Walker’s signature Alice in Wonderland-like shoots with sets designed to perplex the senses. Playing on scale, both Walker and Costin enjoy challenging perspectives, taking fashion out of the studio and into the realm of fantasy. Originally involved in theatre design, Costin moved into fashion and art, recently creating the entire interior design concept – including carpets, chandeliers and furniture – for private members art club in New York, Norwood, as well as a large-scale public land-art piece in Argyle Scotland consisting of a towering spiral of trees. “I could never do a nine-to-five job,” says the refreshingly down-to-earth Costin. “I love the way that working in art direction and fashion things constantly change and I am consistently challenged. The vitality and creativity within the industry keeps me inspired.” Over the years Costin has experienced many highlights – none more memorable than Alexander McQueen’s ‘untitled’ AW/97 presentation for which Costin constructed a 50ft-long perspex catwalk filled with water and lit from underneath with ultra-violet light. As simulated lightning and thunder broke, water poured down on the models while ‘I can’t stand the rain’ played. “It was an incredible moment when before the models stepped onto the runway, the audience applauded – it was before the set became a catwalk and existed momentarily as an art installation.”
GARY CARD: Young set designer and illustrator Gary Card is a multi-talented creative on the rise who is sought-after for so many projects his job-title is starting to blur, “I'm sometimes an accessories stylist making jewellery and head-dresses for editorial, and am also a prop maker, graphic designer and am doing quite a bit of product design right now as well,” says Card, who also happens to be pretty dashing. “So, yeah, sometimes I really don't what my job is.” Working in the industry for the past three years, Card has been “officially” designing sets for just a year now, and is signed to London’s premier talent agency, CLM. “I got started by working with my old college friend Jacob Sutton, doing our own fashion shoots when we were at college, going to different magazines trying to get them to publish us,” he explains. “We started contributing to Matt Irwin’s own magazine and soon the team at 'AnOther Magazine' and ‘Dazed&amp;Confused’ asked us to do a shoot.” Card was also designing accessories and costumes for cult London label Cassette Playa, designed by his friend Carri Mundane, and has gone on to create the incredible sets for House of Holland and work consistently with renowned stylist and consultant Nichola Formichetti of Dazed. But is it always so peachy in the inner fashion sanctum? “Oh there have been so many work-related dramas this year I thought it would be the death of me,” reveals Card. “Probably the worst was a shop window I designed (I'm not allowed to mention which!) in Central London… Basically it sat there for a couple of days with no problem, then the head of the company came down for a store visit and decided he hated the window! So I had to remake the entire thing in one day, it was absolutely terrifying but amazingly we pulled it off and the end result was actually really great.” There are the dream moments that make up for any crisis though, “Meeting Vivienne Westwood was incredible,” says Card. “We styled the front cover of Dazed &amp; Confused together this year, it was so surreal.” Card is currently in the production stage of a t-shirt line and an exhibition of his illustration work.
JOSH WYNN: The man setting Costin and Card on the straight and narrow – organising their schedules and generating new work is CLM agent extraodinaire representing many of London’s foremost stylists and set designers, Josh Wynn. An agent for the past five years, Wynn started out as a producer behind fashion shoots. “I'm not a creative person, but working with such creative people is so enjoyable,” says Wynn. “The most exciting and rewarding thing about what I do is seeing the growth of the artists I represent – witnessing someone you've supported and believe in succeed.” With a relentlessly fast-paced schedule, Wynn’s day-job involves a ceaselessly ringing phone and endless emails – and artists or clients who all demand immediate responses, but it’s not all bad. “The fashion industry has such an incredible and diverse mixture of people,” Wynn smiles, “it is more often than not really good fun!”
YANNICK AELLEN: Also on the production side of the fashion spectrum is in-demand producer Yannick Aellen, the man behind the recent Louis Vuitton campaigns and annual large-scale production honouring young fashion design talent, The Swiss Textile Awards. “As I started my profession in the late 90s in Switzerland, where the fashion industry is tiny, I very naturally became multi-skilled,” explains Aellen, who is the director of his own self-titled company. “Basically, I produce fashion shows and shoots – my work often includes the casting, creative direction, soundtrack and choreography as well.” Working between Zurich, Paris, London and New York, Aellen rarely finds a quiet moment to reflect, but, he says, it’s worth it. “I love being on the pulse of the action, being aware of new exciting developments from all over the world,” Allen enthuses. Producing the Swiss Textiles ceremony for the last nine years, (2008’s recipient was Rodarte, nominated alongside Richard Nicoll and Jean-Pierre Braganza), Aellen says that witnessing, “Raf Simons take out Swiss Textiles Award in 2003 was a very grand moment on many levels. Also working with Vanessa Paradis many years ago and shooting in beautiful Argentina with Missy Ryder for Vuitton’s current pre-fall campaign was quite magic. There’s a lot of drama, of course!” Aellen reasons, “Lately I had a mobile phone thrown at me... But what can I say? It’s all quite magic.” Aellen is currently prepping for the tenth Swiss Textiles Award’s in November, where he will again be working with Luis Venancio de Oliveira, his partner and catwalk choreographer.
LUIS VENANCIO de OLIVIERA: Oliveira, who has a background in ballet and modern dance choreography, and is now undertaking advanced studies in architecture, says his job title is difficult to define. “Depending on the job, I can be a production assistant, co-caster, co-choreographer and model host,” Venancio notes. “I feel most comfortable doing casting direction and choreography – this comes certainly from my past experience as a dance performer around Europe.” Working with Aellen on the Swiss Textiles Awards, as well as on catwalk shows for Ashish, Ann-Sofie Back, Todd Lynn, Haider Ackerman, Chirstian Wijnants, Bruno Pieters and a couture presentation for Erin Featherston, Venancio says the best part of his job is, “Gathering the most amazing girls and boys to make a show diverse and as exciting as possible. I usually start jumping around when I get a girl I’ve been fighting for, and when the casting is closed I open a bottle of champagne. I love to see my girls rocking the catwalk!”
ALEXANDRA SANDBERG: On occasion working alongside Aellen, Alexandra Sandberg is a production manager at esteemed Paris-based agency Brachfield, where she specialises in casting – working alongside fashion giants Juergen Teller, Martin Parr, Thierry Richardson, Inez and Vinoodh, Nan Goldin, Haider Ackermann and Ezra Petronio among others. Starting out as in the industry as a model, Sandberg’s day-job now involves organising shoots for campaigns and editorial, as well as sourcing the models and talent. After quitting modelling, the owner of Sandberg’s agency, Edward Brachfeld, “cast” Sandberg as a producer for a Pucci shoot in Florence, following the recommendation of a friend. “What he didn't know then was that I had never produced a shoot before in my life!” laughs Sandberg, “I was just set up by a friend who convinced me I could do it, and that I just had to be a little organised.” She was immediately offered a full-time position in Paris, where four years later she still enjoys, “The challenge of making a project happen from the beginning to the end. I also like that there no job that is similar to the next. I really like the diversity of my work.”
VANESSA COYLE: Also with experience working with Pucci, London-based Australian-born Vanessa Coyle is a stylist and fashion editor with fingers in endless pies. Acting as Senior Fashion Editor for Harpers Bazaar UK, where she is responsible for cover shoots and main editorial, Coyle has also been consulting on, and styling, the Matthew Williamson and Pucci shows in New York and Milan respectively over the last few seasons. With a background in fashion design, Coyle says she “literally fell into styling” while living in Sydney seven years ago. Although related to design, styling was never something Coyle consciously aspired to do, but after finishing up with her successful clothing label, Sample, the then editor of Harpers Bazaar Australia, Alison Veness McGourty approached her to style a shoot. “Within days of the story being published,” Coyle remembers, “I had an agent and was shooting editorial and campaigns.” While she may have been based in London for the past five years, Coyle rarely stays put, “I'm on a plane constantly, shooting editorial and covers in various locations and cities all over the world,” she says. “I've barely spent a full week in London over the past 4 months!” It may be exhausting, but for a genuine fashion fan, the positives far outweigh any perceived negatives. “I've loved clothes and fashion for as long as I can remember,” smiles Coyle. “So being paid to have access to the worlds most influential designers and their collections, as well as both old and new brands is fantastic, plus,” she adds, “getting the job at UK Bazaar opened up another world for me. I'm grateful for all the experience, travel and people I've met. Going on safari in Africa for a shoot was a highlight – we stayed at an unbelievable safari resort that I would never be able to afford otherwise, and had our own guides, trackers and private plane. Convincing the model to get as close to wild animals as possible while we sat protected in jeeps was exhilarating – if not a little foolish!”
AYAMI NISHIMURA: Responsible for the hair and make-up on multiple Harpers Bazaar UK shoots alongside Coyle, Ayami Nishimura is a London-based hair and make-up artist who also regularly works for Dazed&Confused, AnOther Magazine, Japanese Vogue and 10 Magazine among others. Working in the industry for the past 13 years, the self-taught make-up artist has had an unusually busy season, taking on the hair and make-up direction for endless London AW09 shows including Peter Pilotto, Ann-Sofie Back, Pam Hogg, Eley Kishimoto, Nasir Mazhar, James Long (men's) and Tim Sore (men's), as well as providing the make-up magic on a recent ‘animal print’ cover story for Dazed featuring a model transformed into a variety of fantasy creatures. “Lots of people are involved in the photo shoots and fashion shows, and I love creating amazing images and presentations together with a team,” explains Nishimura. “It is a very exciting process… I love it when I can bring something special to a story, or compliment the set design or art direction with my make-up.” While every job has its moments, Nishimura can’t shake the memory of one in particular, “I was booked to do make-up for a calendar with rugby players for ten days,” Nishimura begins. “So, I went to Paris without knowing that the players were to be totally nude! I was moisturizing five to six players naked bodies everyday all day… and I enjoyed it!” she laughs. “Afterwards, a ‘making of’ DVD about the calendar came out and the backstage photographs were online. My friends found them and couldn’t believe it, they asked me, ‘Is this what you normally do?’”
YASMIN SEWELL: Fellow Australian, and friend of Coyle’s (the pair along with some other key London figures in fashion are affectionately termed the ‘Aussie Mafia’) Yasmin Sewell, is widely regarded as one of the world’s most influential creative and fashion consultants and buyers. Also based in London, Sewell got her start launching her own boutique, Yasmin Cho, in Soho, where she rivalled exclusive retail establishments such as Browns Focus. At just 22, Sewell eleven years ago set up her store, which she says is the sole reason she is where she is career-wise today, “In a way running Yasmin Cho is not dissimilar to what I do now,” Sewell explains. “The energy in that store flowed so well, that’s why everyone loved it. It was fun and directional, and people hung out there all day.” Following the close of Yasmin Cho, Mrs Burstein, the woman behind Browns Focus, contacted Sewell in Australia and offered her the coveted position of head buyer at her store, a position she held until going solo recently, undertaking numerous buying and consulting projects – most notably being responsible for the complete overhaul of London’s iconic boutique department store, Liberty. “I was brought in as a creative consultant to spearhead the renaissance of Liberty,” says Sewell. “I wanted to take this beautiful store back to its heritage – a place of artistic beauty. It had lost its direction and was a bit muddled, so I came on board to redefine what Liberty is all about.” Sewell ultimately changed the “energy” of the store, rearranging the space and bringing in 26 new brands and fashion labels including Josh Goot, Tina Kalivas and Christopher Kane. Currently working with five clients, Liberty being the most prominent, Sewell is prepping for a fashion Web-TV show and a website she says will be “revolutionary” – it’s hectic, but never tedious. “I have a short attention span and get bored easily,” laughs Sewell, “but I never seem to get bored of fashion. I love that it changes all the time and no two days on the job are the same – fashion moves at a fast pace and it keeps me creative and fresh.” While it may be many things, not all of them necessarily pretty, fashion can never be accused of being dull. As the industry continues to diversify and reinvent itself with each fashion season, so the creative people and positions pushing the art of fashion forward from behind the scenes continue to evolve.