clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Behind the Scenes: What Really Happens at a Fashion Shoot

The messiest shoots can yield the most beautiful images

Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.

Vogue published a piece in 2010 delving into the absurdity of the fashion calendar, and the fact that swimsuits go on sale in the middle of winter. To illustrate the point, the magazine ran a photo of a then high-school aged Karlie Kloss, wearing a swimsuit in Central Park, surrounded by snow.

That image, by Annie Leibovitz, is dramatic not only because it is silly to bombard shoppers with swimwear in December, but because it wasn't just Annie and Karlie standing in the snow to capture a moment. There was an entire crew of hair, makeup, wardrobe, and photography pros who shivered through an unforgiving winter day in New York to create an iconic image. That's the reality of fashion. There's a lot of pain involved in creating beauty. But most of us only see the finished product.

Last weekend, Academy of Art University's School of Fashion invited Racked to check out what happens behind the scenes on a photo shoot for its 180 magazine. The publication —an oversized glossy that serves primarily as a portfolio builder for students — will come out in September, but students were shooting the cover story in the now-defunct Marin Town & Country Club.

The location is about an hour away from San Francisco. It was once a posh getaway from the city, like Kellerman's in Dirty Dancing. Abandoned for decades, the pool is now mostly empty, and the main lodge —which smells like mildew— is littered with chairs, banquettes, and a long-forgotten bar. It's an ideal setting for a 70s glam-punk shoot.

The inspiration for the spread is the British band The Slits. Two young models have been transformed into doe-eyed, dred-locked rockers for the day, and are sporting clothes from the school's design students. Though it's 80 degrees, and they're wearing loads of fall layers while posing in the sun, the models never complain.

The finished editorial in the magazine may be glamorous, but the day on location is not. The students and the Academy's assistant director of fashion styling, Flore Morton, are dressed in t-shirts and sneakers so they can easily move and work. The photographer, Jen McGowan, and assistant, Jeffry Raposas, have no qualms about climbing onto precarious structures (or other crew members) to nail a shot. Anthony Rogers, who's filming behind the scenes footage, moves swiftly between crew members and broken furniture to document the experience. Undeterred by the heat, the smells, and the mosquitos, the crew keeps plugging away to wrap on time.

After an eight-hour day of shooting, Jen will have about two weeks to edit and select shots for the magazine before meeting with Simon Ungless, who is both the executive director of the fashion school and the editor for 180. Once it's published in the fall, the cover image will be displayed around the school and in connection with Academy's recruiting efforts for the next year.

Creating the perfect shot is a coup for everyone involved— the chance to have your work seen, remembered, and, perhaps, someday emulated. The pay scale and circulation numbers may pale in comparison to regular newsstand fashion tomes, but the 180 team shares the same motivation as the high-profile names that made the snowy Karlie Kloss image in 2010. That's why people endure the elements to create a beautiful photo. Sunburns fade, mosquito bites heal. But images can be immortal.

Styling by Erica Timmons. Models: Carly Rick and Sophia from Stars Model Management, San Francisco.