This week I was kindly invited along to Instituto Marangoni, school of fashion, art and design, on the aptly named, Fashion Street. Student, Pallavi Agarwal, had contacted me about a fashion shoot she was styling and wanted to borrow some pieces from my collection. She described the shoot as colourful, playful and inspired by esteemed fashion journalist, Suzy Menkes – I was interested.
Being the day’s blogger, I arrive at the studio just before shooting begins at 10am; a much more comfortable time than the rest of team who’ve been working away since 8am.
As soon as I walk into hair and make up, I can sense the buzz of anticipation as everyone fusses over the model, adding their finishing touches. The team huddle around: stylist straightening out creases, make-up artist poised with her brush and hair stylist with spray in hand. Then Pallavi (the stylist) leads the model out into the studio next door with hair and make-up trailing behind, ready to jump into action should anything look less than perfect.
The set looks great! A blush pink backdrop leading down to a floor covered in magazine tears. The photographer gets started on some test shots with the model and Pallavi’s on hand adjusting lighting rigs despite only just being tall enough to reach them.
Throughout the shoot, her strong work ethic shines through as she effortlessly gets on with any task thrown her way. It is clear to me that she loves what she does and is willing to get involved in anything it takes. A professional and approachable girl. “I take care of my team,” she says.
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Meet Pallavi Agarwal
Pallavi has had a keen interest in fashion for as long as she can remember. Currently in her final year at Instituto Marangoni, she hopes to start styling for magazines and fashion houses after finishing her studies. She loves every aspect of her work, including all the preparation that needs doing before an upcoming shoot.
“A lot goes on before and even after a shoot. It requires a lot of research and understanding of everything around you. Then there’s getting a perfect team together who fit the theme, contacting designers and PRs for the outfits, selecting the perfect location… It’s a lot of hard work and it can be overwhelming at times but when you see the end result it’s all worth it.”
She believes that inspiration is everywhere: “I believe it’s not what you look at for inspiration but how you look at it. Even a tree standing alone in the rain could inspire me.”
Pallavi loves the social aspect of her work and enjoys meeting other creative people. “I think a perfect team and a well thought-out narrative make the most amazing photographs. It’s not a one man job. Everyone working for that photograph needs to give their best for the best result I believe.”
One day, she hopes to dress pop royalty, Beyoncé. “I love her style, she’s my absolute favourite fashion diva. Trying to do something that would be better than that would be the biggest challenge anyone could ever get.”
And as for her own style, she describes it as ‘a bit of everything.’ “I’m not a trend follower but I would definitely dress the season. I’m very feminine most of the time but I can also be very edgy if I’m in the mood. I love colour but I’m mostly seen in black.”
And lastly, her for her top 3 essentials for a styling kit:
“1. Pins (loads of them, and all kinds)
2. Instant stain remover (saves your life every time)
3. Tape (to tape the bottom of the shoe so that they can be returned easily)”
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As the shoot goes on, I speak to Dani, the make-up artist. She’s very welcoming and comes across as someone who could talk to anyone with ease. We chat as we watch the shoot, interrupted from time to time by Dani running back on set, lipstick at the ready. At the first outfit change, I see my chance to grab a few minutes with her and find out more about her work.
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Meet Dani Ottmann
Dani left school wondering whether or not to go to university to study marketing. Unsure and unfulfilled in her office job, she explored her interest in beauty, trying out make-up looks on herself. Surprisingly, it wasn’t until she read some magazine credits that she realised being a make-up artist was a career.
“I saw ‘make-up artist’ and I didn’t even know it was a thing – which I think is really bad. I think schools should educate people that there are other options other than going to university.”
After searching the internet, Dani found a 2 week short course at make-up school, London Muse. “I wanted to do it as I didn’t know whether I was good at it or whether I’d even like it as a job. I just wanted to know more.”
Despite the challenge of learning something completely unfamiliar in just 2 weeks, she loved it and learnt a lot from it. Inspired by this new venture she started working for free at test shoots.“I still work for free alongside paid jobs. If you’re willing to work for free it shows you actually really want to do it and love it – and I love my job.”
She adds, “When you work for free it’s got to be something that’s beneficial to you. So if you’re going to get something out of it then it’s definitely worth it.”
Now she’s working part time at MAC as well as freelancing as a make-up artist. She enjoys both: “You can go absolutely crazy at MAC. You can do blue freckles on your face or bright orange lips or something.”
What she loves most about her job is the variety: “It’s different every day and you don’t know who you’re going to get next or who you’re going to meet. And there’s so many different areas of make-up which is what I really like… fashion shows, TV, bridal…”
And what’s most challenging? “Sometimes you come across people who don’t want to work, who don’t have the same work ethic. Things don’t always go smoothly but you’ve just got to carry on and not create an issue. You will encounter difficult people in any kind of job but I think it’s how you deal with it that’s most important. You can’t let it demotivate you.”
Dani believes skincare to be the most important beauty essential but quotes a brow pencil, mascara and bronzer as her top 3 items. “But don’t go all out on your kit at once,” she advises, “build it up as you go.”
As our conversation draws to a close, Pallavi appears and apologises – Dani’s needed back on set. Before she leaves she has some advice for upcoming make-up artists:
“Make sure it’s definitely something you want to do as it’s a lot of time and money to invest. Practise at every opportunity you get, whether it’s on friends, family, etc. Arrange shoots, find groups on social media where everyone comes together, like hair stylists and photographers. Just practise.”
“Assisting other make-up artists is also really important, that’s where I’ve learnt so much of my stuff. And what I find is that they recommend you to other people who recommend you to more.”
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Back in the studio and the team are setting up a table for some close-up beauty shots so hair and make-up need to focus.
So far, I haven’t had a proper chance to talk to hair stylist, Chris. He’s working very hard on keeping that Suzy Menkes-inspired hairstyle in place – not an easy task! He mentions the model’s long hair and I’m wondering how he managed to create a sleek bob from it. I hadn’t even realised it was masterfully hidden underneath. The work of a true artist.
Chris is quick to fix any stray hairs between shots. He’s on-the-ball, lively and alert. His passion for his work is evident. We start chatting about his experience in hair styling when someone mentions getting a shot of a coat from the back. Chris is instantly alert, “A back shot?” And with that, he runs off to make sure the back of the hair is looking perfect.
The last shot of the day involves a lot more magazine tears and a fan – time to make a mess! The team gather round with sheets in hand and keep throwing them out onto set, creating a whirlwind of flying papers while the photographer shouts, “I need more! Give me more!”
Shooting over, and everyone helps clear up. I finally manage to get Chris after the frenzy is over. He seems much more relaxed now, happy in the knowledge that he did a good job.
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Meet Christian Kurz
Chris has been styling hair for 10 years, starting with hairdressing school back in Germany. He came to England 2 years ago to pursue his love of fashion hairstyling. “It was always quite difficult in Germany because you have to do hair and make-up. But I’ve always just wanted to do hair.”
He’s a man influenced by the culture he sees around him: “I get inspiration more from other things, I don’t tend to draw inspiration from other hairdressers. Art, fashion, architecture, books, old movies – especially Tim Burton. He’s amazing.”
He’s animated as he talks about Tim Burton’s quirky, fantasy films. “I’d love to collaborate with someone like Tim Burton or Tim Walker, that kind of thing. And Chanel, I love [Karl Lagerfeld’s] work.”
He has this same passion when he speaks about his own work:
“You create and build a person. People say clothes make a person but I believe it’s the hair and make-up. You can give a person this special feeling. With the right hair cut or the right colour you can bring out so much. And in front of the camera you can create an illusion, a dream.”
His job isn’t always easy though. “Everyone’s hair is different, every person is different. You never know what you’re going to be working with. There’s always a new challenge. But it’s nice. When you’re challenged, you improve so much more.”
I ask Chris for his top hair care tip: “Conditioner. Always conditioner. Moisturise your hair with oils/creams. And just keep it natural – don’t blow dry it all the time. My favourite is when it’s a bit curly. Shampoo, conditioner, towel dry, brush, put some moisture in, twist the hair and just leave it.”
And what’s the worst thing you can do? “Straightening the hair when it’s still wet – you burn the hair. It has to be 100% dry.”
He looks deadly serious as he tells me this and I refrain from telling him I’ve done it before…
He leaves me with some advice for aspiring hair stylists: “Try whatever you want. There’s no right or wrong – just do it. Even when you’re not happy with it, you learn from your mistakes. Try to analyse what’s wrong or what you didn’t like about it. It’s about taste and there’s no right or wrong with taste.”
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Being able to observe a fashion shoot behind the scenes is such an eye opening experience. Looking at a fashion photograph, it’s easy to forget how much work goes into every little detail to make it perfect. When you think about it, it’s no easy feat trying to get a successful collaboration between so many creative minds.
In an industry where you often have to deal with difficult characters it makes it all the more inspiring when you meet real team-players as dedicated and talented as the people I met this week. And the proof is in the success of the stunning outcome!
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