So everyone is asking me, how on earth did I end up getting to shoot at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York. Well it’s a bit of a story, but here goes!
When I was 13 years old my parents had the foresight to enroll me in the John Casablancas Modeling School in South Florida. There I learned the basic aspects of posing that I regularly use with my brides and other clients. But during that time I also realized that I enjoy being behind the camera far more than being in front of it. Needless to say, at 5’4, my modeling career wasn’t going any where, but my desire to shoot fashion photography stayed firmly rooted. Years of carefully observing the shoots on America’s Next top model and more recently watching online classes with Matthew Jordan Smith on CreativeLive combined with my experience in editorial style wedding photography, I felt I was ready to dip my toes into the amazing world that is fashion photography. Luckily I had some amazing connections that made this week possible.
My sister and total fashionista, Martha Miller, is a senior account executive at Creative Media Marketing, a PR firm in NYC that focuses on beauty companies, products and services. Martha’s friend, and previous co-worker, Kristen Pessalano of Bella Public Relations, came out to dinner with us one night while I was in town photographing my mom’s fab renovation of an apartment in Gramercy Park (photos of that to come later!). I asked Kristen about what her job was like at her new firm, and she mentioned how excited she was for fashion week. Knowing that Martha has had to plan after parties for fashion week, I thought, OH! This might be my entrée into the world of fashion…shooting an after party at fashion week! That’d totally be in my comfort zone since I shoot weddings, which are giant parties that often involve cocktail hours. So I quickly said, “OH FASHION WEEK!!!! I would so love to shoot that some day. If you ever have an event during fashion week that you need a photographer for please let me know. I’d be happy to come into New York for it.” The next day I went home and became facebook friends with Kristen and figured that realistically my chances of getting to shoot fashion week this year were worse than seeing a snow flake in Florida. But as luck would have it, a few weeks later I got a facebook message from Kristen asking if I could shoot the Joanna Mastroianni show for her client Kryolan Professional Make-Up who would be one of the sponsors of the show. I was floored! This was WAY more than an after party, this was the REAL DEAL! I nearly fell over. I said, wait you mean like at Lincoln Center??? She said “Yes, of course!” I thought originally maybe I’d be lucky enough to shoot some of the shows that go on during Fashion Week, but not at the official Mercedes-Benz fashion week. I called my husband and started to do “the dance of joy” a la perfect strangers while jumping up and down. It seemed too good to be true.
Then a feeling of dread washed over me. Wait, this isn’t like my wedding shoots where I go in advance and get to know the locations intimately. This will be me walking into what Martha, as well as other photographers, had told me would be straight up craziness. For a second I thought to myself, should I call her back and say I can’t do it? Then I said, this is the chance of a life time. In the words of Tim Gunn, I’m going to make it work! So I set myself to looking up as much information as I could possibly find. I came upon an article on my beloved photo.net forum by Theano Nikitas, a freelance photographer from outside of DC who regularly shoots fashion weeks around the world. The article was so helpful and the photo.net community has always been such a great resource for me of people who are always willing to lend you some great advice, I figured I should email her to ask for any additional pointers she could give me. Within 5 minutes I had a call on my phone from an unrecognized number. It was Theano! She was going to be on her way out for a shoot lasting another week outside the country, and figured it was just easier to give me a ring. She chatted with me for about 15 minutes and made me feel much better about the whole thing, but did give me a realistic view of the event and difficulties you can encounter. One of the greatest pieces of advice she gave me was to get a folding “turtle stool“. I’d never heard of it, but man it came in handy and will totally be bringing it with me to weddings in the future! Theano also told me to bring masking tape to mark out a spot for myself on the riser. She said if I had any other questions to shoot her an email and she’d check back with me a week before fashion week.
In the mean time I studied as many images and articles that I could get my hands on. I ordered from LensProToGo.com a canon 70-200L 2.8 ISII lens and a battery grip for the 7D that would allow for a vertical grip. I choose to shoot on the runway with the 7D because of it’s superior focusing capabilities over my 5dMKii, and the crop factor that would give me even more zoom capabilities to get close up shots of the girls’ make-up on the runway. I was worried I’d be at the back of the pack too because I would be shooting the behind the scenes getting ready shots right up until 5 minutes before the show, so I wouldn’t be able to stake out a claim to a spot hours before like the rest of the press corp in “the pit”. Luckily that didn’t happen, but even if it had, I was prepared! A week before fashion week Kristen asked me if I could do two more shows for her, Noon by Noor and Whitney Eve. I said, YES! The same day Theano called me to check in and see how I was doing and to tell me that I needed to speak with Richard Renda of Totally Cool. He’s the unofficial umpire of the pit during fashion week and always has a spot right dead center in front of the runway. She gave me his home number and said to give him a ring soon as he’d be expecting my call. I was floored yet again. I was being handed the keys to the castle before I even got there. It was as close as I could possibly come to getting all the info I needed beforehand to ensure great shots that I normally get for a wedding. I was thrilled. But now I had to make the call to THE Richard Renda. I took a deep breath and dialed. I said “Hello, may I speak to Richard?” A voice on the other end says, “Is this Vail? I was expecting your call.” Thankfully this was over the phone and not skype, as I tried to contain my happy dance while talking to him on the phone. I asked him if there was anything I could bring him as a thank you, his favorite candy bar, cookies, ANYTHING. He said, a bottle of pepsi would be great.
Richard said since I was working for one of the sponsors he’d be sure to get me a spot up front and to just leave my bag out there as soon as the show space opens. When I got there, sure enough taped out in front was Totally Cool’s spot, but no Richard. You can get an idea of what it looked like here with my bag circled in red.
I was concerned about the likelihood that I’d get the front spot so I pulled out my tape and taped off a section for me in the upper portion of the riser, since they were going fast. I said a little prayer that I’d still have a spot and then went back stage for next 2 hours before the show. I came out 5 minutes before the start, and sure enough, there was Richard, along with over 100 other photographers packed in like sardines in a can with more camera equipment than I’ve ever seen in a single location. My heart dropped. I came out and introduced myself to Richard, and he said “Ok, where would you like to be, front row sitting or standing, or right behind me?” I said, um, right behind you would be fantastic (in test shots I’d done beforehand I had figured that was the optimal angle). So he said, “Ok, you, you, and you, move. Vail needs to be able to sit here.” And then sure enough, without hesitation, they all got up just for me! What I would have given to see my face at that point. I sat down, handed Richard his pepsi, and then minutes later the show began. I was so engrossed in capturing what was coming down the runway I was totally oblivious to the fact that Olivia Palermo and Nicki Hilton were about 10 feet away from me. Before I knew it, it was all done. It was one of the most thrilling experiences of my life.
For those who are interested in the technical aspects of shooting at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week I will be doing a post specifically addressing that. And for those who want to see the shots from the week, there will be blog posts for that as well. I just want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart to all those amazing people who made this happen for me. If it wasn’t for Martha, Kristen, Theano, Richard, my mom, and my husband (who helped me start Fucci’s photos to begin with) as well as everyone who has supported my adventures in photography throughout these past years, I could never have had this time that I will treasure forever!