In the fourth post of an occasional series the Founder and Curator of the United Nations of Photography Grant Scott recounts his experiences working with some of the great photographers of the last century. Here he takes us behind the scenes of a shoot with photographer Matthew Rolston and Victoria Beckham in Paris.
Every Haute Couture dress is hand made and produced in a limited edition of one by the couture houses of Paris each fashion season. The dress that is worn on the catwalk is the one that will be photographed by the magazines and all of those shoots take place over the space of one night across studios and locations throughout the city. The more prestigious the publication the quicker you get the dress, with the result that the lesser publications don’t expect to receive the dresses until the early hours of the morning.
I’d never been involved in this night of fashion and photographic madness before, but I had long known of the great work created by Avedon and Newton amongst others despite the pressure they faced. So when I had the opportunity in 1997 to art direct a shoot on couture night I knew that I had to come up with something special. The solution the editor and I came up with was Victoria Beckham (then known more commonly as Posh Spice) wearing couture photographed in the Coco Chanel suite at the Ritz, Paris. The Spice Girls were at the height of their fame and preparing to embark on their first ever live tour and Posh was pre Beckham and available.
The budget was tight and it was an ambitious shoot with the possibility of unexpected costs at every turn. However, everything fell into place and I had enough of the budget left to secure the photographer I wanted. Based in Los Angeles, Matthew Rolston understood old-style glamour and was my first choice for the shoot. He was happy to fly to paris but in doing so all of my budget was used up.
The Coco Chanel suite was were the Grand Dame of fashion had lived, and it remained exactly as she had left it, so the intention was for the shoot to have the feeling of thirties glamour and attitude. We secured a separate room for the hair and make-up team and Matthew, his assistant, the fashion editor, fashion assistant and myself waited for Posh and her team to arrive. Catering throughout the night would be provided by me from a local supermarket and consist of sandwiches and crisps, there would be no use of room service! Matthew and I walked through the shots with Victoria, suggesting locations and angles for the shots we had in mind, making the most of the available light, textures and spaces within the suite.
Victoria was easy to work with, accepted our ideas and hardly said a word. The shoot flowed like clock work with each dress arriving via a motorcycle courier at its allotted time and fitting into our suggested shoot scenario. The only incident was when Victoria and her team ordered steak and chips for themselves on room service. A quiet word with her management ensured this did not go onto my bill! The shoot wrapped at 4am and Matthew headed back to Los Angeles, Victoria to the South of France and I headed back to London to wait for the images to be FedEx’d to me. The images arrived and I laid them out, designed the cover (see above) and sent the pages to press. Job done.
That is, until three days before we were due to send the magazine to print. An urgent message came through from the Spice Girls management asking when Victoria could see and approve the images. We never gave picture approval to anyone and no agreement had been made in this case, but Victoria had just expected it! A decision was made to let her see the images but not approve them and that I would have to present the images to her in person. I was in London and she was in the South of France rehearsing for the Spice Girls tour and she wasn’t coming to me so I had to go to her.
I flew to Nice with the chosen frames and did as I was told which was to wait outside the arrivals door after I had landed. I was the only person standing there when a black Range Rover with blacked out windows pulled up alongside me. The driver jumped out, asked if I was from Tatler and after I said “Yes”, opened the rear passenger side door. I got in, the door was closed behind me and there was Victoria sitting next to me. I showed her the prints, told her she looked beautiful and again she said very little other than she was happy for us to use and print them. The whole conversation took no longer than five minutes. We sat for a few minutes longer making small talk before the car door was opened and I jumped out into the French sunlight. The door closed and Victoria was driven off, mission accomplished for both of us.
© Grant Scott 2014
You can read more of Grant Scott’s insights into the world of professional photography in his new book Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained published by Focal Press and available form www.amazon.com