You know the feeling when you’ve discovered something totally rad, and then you become so obsessed with it to a point you wish you never found out about it in the first place? Well, that’s kind of how I feel right now about the Poladroid (yes, you’re reading it right, with the extra D—how’s that for “throwing some Ds” on something?).
To those of you who’ve never heard of it (although I’m sort of convinced no one’s never heard of it ‘cause it’s been around for more than two years, and I’m last to find out about it ‘cause I’ve been living under a rock), the Poldaroid is, well, a Polaroid simulator that allows you to turn any photo into a digital Polaroid. You can download the application for free (for now, at least). The way it works is you launch the application by clicking on the desktop icon (duh), and a larger icon of a camera that looks like a Polaroid One600 Job Pro pops out; you then just drag and drop your JPEGs one by one into that camera icon, and—voilà!—it ejects your virtual Polaroid! Now, that’s not the finished product that you’re getting the moment it’s ejected—you have to shake it until it’s developed! Yes, just like the real thing, my friend!
It’s kind of fun at first, but after a while it just hurts like a bitch. If you don’t want to run the risk of getting Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, you can just wait a couple of minutes without doing anything, and it’ll develop eventually. But, really, why do nothing when shaking is so much fun! What I did was I put OutKast’s “Hey Ya!” on repeat in my iTunes—“Shake it like a Polaroid picture!”—and that was it, the whole thing was easier to endure! LOL.
Seriously, you guys, it’s kind of a fun way to make your old photos look new, or your new photos look old—whichever way you wanna look at it. Or, to make your sucky photos look awesome, or your awesome photos look sucky—whichever way you wanna look at it.
Here are some of the virtual Polaroids I created using Poladroid and random photos from my trips from the last three years. I’ve also included some snippets from my journal. Enjoy, and you guys have a good weekend!
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#01: My first visit to L.A. was in the summer of 2008, and it was Yoda who showed me around town. My brother-in-law Chester collects toys (Star Wars, Transformers, G.I. Joe, etc.), and while everything else sits in glass door cabinets at home, this Yoda gets to go everywhere by being a permanent fixture in his car. Very recently Chester became a father when my sister gave birth to a beautiful baby girl a couple of months ago. They named her Mikaela, after Megan Fox’s character in the Transformers movies. While I appreciate that they didn’t choose to name her after a female Star Wars character, I am glad that she gets to grow up in a room and in a car that screams “May the Force be with you.” I hope she doesn’t grow up too fast, though—I would love for her to be my cuddly Yoda the next time I visit.
#02 and #03: I love DTLA, especially that section of Broadway between Olympic and 3rd where the historic theaters stand tall in all their majesty. Next to Melrose, it is quintessential L.A. We couldn’t make it to the Million Dollar Theater, though, ‘cause they’d closed that area at the time, and there were artificial rain equipment everywhere—I think they were filming Inception or something (at least for a while there I was breathing the same air Leonardo DiCaprio was breathing).
#04: That’s me being silly somewhere in the outskirts of Chicago.
#05: My friend Rhino’s sister invited us to her home in Buena Park, CA, for a traditional Filipino dinner. The house cat kept staring at me like I was some sort of illegal alien.
#06: My friends wonder why I am always 10 or 15 lbs. heavier after a trip to California. Ben & Jerry’s for breakfast, every single day, that’s why.
#07: I am happy to report I buy more books now, and fewer magazines. This one right here—Billy Corgan’s collection of poetry—was a real find, and has so many gems that I keep coming back to (my favorite is “In the Wake of Poseidon”). I intend to pass it on to my nieces and nephews when they’re old enough to read.
#09: I can’t say I didn’t love Lexington the first time around. People had been telling me, “Ah, no outfit opportunities for you,” but they were wrong—with open fields and never-ending split-rail and horse fences everywhere, the mood was just right for “She could be a farmer in those clothes!” Yes, what was once derogatory can sometimes be flattering—especially if the backdrop is as picturesque as this.
#10, #11 and #12: Speaking of Billy Corgan, yes, I got to see the Smashing Pumpkins live in concert. I cried like a little girl when they played “Tonight, Tonight.” I’d been dreaming of that moment for so long, so, no, it’s not something I’m ashamed of—the crying part, I mean. I think I might have also shed a tear or two when they played “Again, Again, Again (The Crux)” (from their American Gothic EP) and “Bullet with Butterfly Wings.” At first I kept thinking it would’ve been cooler if it were the original lineup I’d come to see—you know, with D’arcy and James Iha—but Ginger Reyes and Jeff Schroeder undeniably exceeded my expectations. (I should say Ginger was hot, too! I almost turned lesbian!). They couldn’t have picked a better venue: the Louisville Palace was stunning! The outside was gorgeous, but not nearly as striking as the theater room inside, where there were cathedral-like fixtures, plush red seats, and a ceiling that was made to look like nighttime sky—it was as if I was in the set of the “Tonight, Tonight” video! My favorite part of the show was towards the end, when the band played “We Only Come Out at Night” and a cover of Mungo Jerry’s “In the Summertime” with kazoos! I thought it was cool, too, that Billy Corgan climbed back on stage a few minutes after the show to do a second curtain call—with Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top! F***ing awesome! Music’s two greatest Billys, in one stage, waving at us! Just like that, I knew I’d become a part of music history, and that I was gonna remember this night for the rest of my life.
#13, #14 and #15: One of the highlights of my 2009 Californian adventure was our trip to Laguna Beach. I’d been obsessed about this place ever since Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County came out in 2004. (I have this delusion that in a past life I was Lauren Conrad, or will be in a future life—I will always be head over heels in love with that girl, and not in that kind of way.) My best friend Elaine “Chiklet” Imperio, who lives some 35 minutes away from Laguna, drove to meet me there. It was a special kind of reunion because I hadn’t seen this girl in ages (almost 10 years!). She took me to this little nook tucked between the village shops and the galleries called Brown’s Park, where a dainty little walkway led to an overlook that offered the most breathtaking view of the Pacific and that had stained glass fence rails that bore exquisite verse: “In this fleeting moment/ what extravagant respite/ as booming surf speaks its/ mystical passage across/ the undreamed depths.” Along the walk there’s also this nondescript plaque that carries a poem by Joseph E. Brown, who bought this little spot circa World War II (his son Joe Brown would make the property open to the public some 50 years later). Here’s how it goes: “Let me live in a house/ by the side of the sea,/ Where men and women wander by/ Where there’s beauty and grace and excitement that’s free./ On the beach, in the sun let me lie./ Let me listen to the ocean’s melodious roar,/ and its rhythm, so soothing to hear,/ As the foam-covered waves/ seem to reach for the shore/ Under skies that are sunny and clear.” Up to that point I’d never thought I’d find a place so full of poetry—both figuratively and literally. Immediately I made a deal with my sister: When I die, this is where I want my ashes to be scattered.
#19, #20, and #21: One of my best friends Cryse left Cebu to move to California for good some time late last year—but not before he could take us to a series of roadtrips to his favorite Cebu beaches, beginning with Moalboal down south.
#20: I love this photo of my fellow stylist Meyen that I took. It inspired me to do this photo for Sheila Desquitado’s engagement session.
#22: The Ladies’ Pavilion at The Hernshead over at Central Park West. I’m sure most of you have never heard of this place before, but it’s where Carrie and Miranda, an hour and 56 minutes into first Sex and the City movie, sat down with pretty little Granary bread sandwiches and juices from Pret A Manger (they’re yummy, by the way) to discuss the issue of forgiveness, of putting things behind and letting the past be the past, with India.Arie’s cover of Don Henley’s “The Heart of the Matter” playing in the background. I just had to see it, and so I went on my last day in New York. And since nobody was there to take me (everyone I knew was at work!), I went alone, taking the 6 from my friend Anne’s neighborhood, and then the N, stopping at Columbus Circle for a while, and then the C to the W 72nd entrance to Central Park. I didn’t get lost and had no trouble finding my way. It was as if the place had been calling my name, beckoning. I couldn’t step inside the Pavilion ‘cause a group of people had arrived there before me, complete with champagne bottles and all, but at least I got to see it and stand in its presence. Ah, and the view of the Lake and of the Midtown skyscrapers looming behind the trees. For the first time in a long time, I was at peace. Laugh all you want, call it fanaticism. But you must also know that since that very day, as of the end of 2009, I had forgiven three people who’d crossed me, and been forgiven by two people I’d hurt. And that’s what every trip should be about: Going to a place, and then coming back with the will to leave the foolish choices of your past behind.
#26 and #27: Yes, I also got to see Nine Inch Nails live in concert! They were in Lexington for the 23rd leg of their Lights in the Sky: Over North America 2008 summer tour. I didn’t cry like I did at the Smashing Pumpkins concert in Louisville weeks back, but that’s not to say I wasn’t shaking the whole time. In fact, I think I might have broken into seizures when they performed “Closer” and “March of the Pigs.” I loved the Pumpkins concert, but I gotta say this right here was the icing on the cake for me. The sound was impeccable, the set list incredibly tight, the moving set and visual effects breathtaking—and the band were full of energy! It was so surreal, I didn’t want the night to ever end. It was just a different kind of high. That band is the perfect drug!
#28: Me with some random guy who obviously was on a mission to take guyliner to new heights. Kidding. This was during one summer night three years ago when The Rocky Horror Picture Show had just wrapped up at the Kentucky Theatre in downtown Lexington, and suddenly that part of Main St. between Martin Luther and Quality was awash with transvestites with feather boas in different shades of pink. It was a sight to behold. This guy wasn’t a tranny, no—100% straight, in fact—but he just had to be dressed for the occasion.
#31: The indefatigable Romero Vergara hard at work. He did the hair and makeup for Luna Van der Linden’s engagement shoot, which was the first ever engagement shoot I styled. I’ve worked with Romero for more than a decade. He’s been part of some of the more important shoots in my career as a stylist. I love that he is always in a pleasant mood, and that his work is impeccable. I feel truly blessed to be surrounded by works of genius.
#32: My friend’s daughter Mickey is an aspiring makeup artist. She’s always asking to tag along whenever I have a shoot so she can interview the makeup artists, pick at their brain, observe their craft. Here she asks for a photo with her idol, Romero. It’s so refreshing when there are kids like Mickey who are bent on laying down the bricks of their career path very early on.
#34, #35 and #36: My good friend Oscar Pascual asked me to visit him in Florida for a weekend. He lives in Fort Myers, but asked me to fly into Tampa. It was raining so hard when I got there—Hurricane Fay had come back for its third (or fourth) landfall in Florida. People had been warning me not to go, but I’d had to be brave. This was my one (and probably only) chance to see the Sunshine State, so I just had to go—even if it wasn’t gonna be all that sunshiny when I got there. Besides, I’d been needing a little bit of this—after having had two summers in one year! Oscar made sure I was going to have a grand time, though—nothing like drunken laughter over glasses of Malibu mojito (and a visit to a strip club) to keep you warm when your days are cold!
#37: The things I would do to have a Pinkberry right now. Pomegranate, topped with kiwi, blueberries and honey almond granola.
#38: I love, love, love the trannies in WeHo. They go all out, those girls! Here, I get up close and personal with the Balenciaga “Toy” shoe.
#40: This is how ours shadows look like in Disneyland.
#42: Barely an hour had passed since I’d touched down at JFK, and already I had a party to hustle my way into! It was so crazy, I was piss drunk in less than two hours! That’s me and my gracious hostess Anne Alegrado being derelict yet still stylish on a sidewalk in Meatpacking/Chelsea.
#43 and #44: Another rock ‘n’ roll dream come true: I got to see Alice in Chains live in concert! At first I was a little skeptical about the new vocalist William DuVall. Even after the two guys I was standing in line with had told me that the new guy was awesome, in my mind I was still thinking that nobody could ever replace Layne Staley, and that people had come here for the music, and not the vocals. And then DuVall opened his mouth, and that was the demise of my doubts. I closed my eyes through half of “No Excuses,” and all of “Angry Chair” (because I had to keep myself from crying), and I swear to God, it was as if it was Layne singing. I mean, yeah, if you squinted DuVall would look (and, at times, move) more like Lenny (Kravitz) than Layne, but you gotta look past the afro and the antics! He sounds just like Layne it’s amazing.
This was a tricky one. You see, it’s a feeling I was supposed to be familiar with—it’s no secret that I stockpile on Bigelow Cozy Chamomile Herb Tea (“Pure chamomile for quiet moments,” the package says) and Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime Green in Lemon Jasmine (“Helping the world unwind,” says this one), and that I punctuate my each and every day, working or non-, with a hot mug or two of these babies. So when Sheila Desquitado said this was the feel she wanted her engagement photos with Cameron Bradley to evoke—that feeling you get after downing a good cup of chamomile tea/blend—you’d think I’d be chuckling, right? Well, wrong. Truth is, she kind of lost me there. “Light, airy, relaxed, and mellow,” she’d said at one point, as if sensing I’d needed help, and these words I’d jotted down in my notebook. But the more I stared at them the more I was convinced that they were describing, say, a white eyelet dress, and not a concept for a shoot. What kinds of themes could I tap into for that “light, airy, relaxed, and mellow” feel? For once I was clueless. And to think I’d thought this was going to be easy.
If you come to think of it, perhaps it was only apt—you know, that it was tricky—because Sheila here was kind of a tricky one, too. In all the years I’d known her I’d asked her a thousand times about her love life, and always she’d just shrug, smile coyly, and graciously change the subject. And then this past December, out of the blue, she’d left on a plane to Down Under—not a word spoken, if only in passing—only to come back weeks later with a ring on her finger! How’s that for dropping a bomb!
Well, to me, at least, it was like a bomb had been dropped, but that certainly wasn’t the effect she was aiming for. She’d chosen to keep mum about the trip to see the man of her dreams because “I didn’t want to make a fuss about it.” And that’s just her, you know: No-fuss, quiet, understated. Ever the lady. And so it was no surprise that she wanted something “light, airy, relaxed, and mellow” for her engagement shoot. But the issue here wasn’t that I was surprised, ‘cause I’d actually kind of seen it coming. It was more of I was taken aback, because it wasn’t something I’d done before.
You see, in all my years of styling and my few months of shooting, I’d come to a deduction that, if there was anything that was to set my work apart from others’, it was that my aesthetic was decidedly, um, masculine (see my very first solo effort here). Always I’d had a thing for some dirt, some grit, some pretty disturbing antics. And some adrenaline. Initially what I’d envisioned for Sheila and Cameron was something inspired by this one scene from the final episode of The Hills in which Stephanie Pratt spent a day in an off-road track in Corona to watch her motocross racer beau Josh Hansen in action—this was right after she’d told me that Cameron was into dirt bikes and all that good stuff. But then that wasn’t what she’d wanted. And although that was what I’d wanted, it had to be axed. Hey, this was their engagement, not mine! You can’t always get what you want.
It took a while for me to figure out what we were gonna do. Luckily I got into cleaning mode one day and that’s how I stumbled upon a couple of my old Vogues—including the October 2002 issue which had Christy Turlington, in a pewter silk Calvin Klein gown, assuming a Dhanurasana/Bow Pose on the cover. And just like that, total lightbulb moment for me. Photographers talk about their “money shots”—well, this was my “money thought” right here! But, of course! How could I have forgotten about Sheila being a yogi? We’re talking about my own personal Christy Turlington right here: one day she’s lecturing me on the dangers of smoking, the next she’s going on and on about the wonders of meditation. I’d been too caught up in that bubble of me that I’d overlooked Sheila’s very essence, the one thing that defined her. In no time I was on the phone with her—“Let’s do yoga! For a theme, I mean!”—and she was digging it. Perfect, she’d said, because it was a side of her that she’d been wanting to show Cameron, and she’d also been planning on converting him to the discipline. I was thrilled, too, for the most part because it was something I hadn’t seen anyone do before (this part of the world, anyway).
The next challenge was, um, “expanding” the theme, especially after she’d pointed out it would be backbreaking to do, say, the Downward Dog the whole time. She’d booked me for a 7-to-7, so it was an opportunity for four or more sets. We had to think of a location, and quick, so we could proceed with the rest of the mood board. At first I’d wanted something à la Madonna’s studio in The Next Best Thing—wooden panels, airy windows, homey. I was this close to booking my friend Gayle Urgello’s music room because it was all that, but then Sheila said she wanted the whole thing to be at a beach. I’d been trying to dodge the whole concept of a beach shoot, just ‘cause everyone else was doing it. But who was I to say no, especially since this was sort of like a vacation for Cameron, and possibly his first chance to see a Philippine beach. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that the only thing more novel than a yoga theme was yoga on the beach. Sold! And so now we had to build the mood board around this premise.
After a couple of meetings over chai tea lattes, this was what it all came down to: three main sets, each one inspired by, well, a soothing beverage— (1) A morning tea set (which was to include the whole yoga thing); (2) a mid-morning and siesta set that had a feel of a tropical fruit juice; and (3) an early evening set that had the fizz of champagne bubbles.
The first set wasn’t at all tough to style: plain old sleepwear for the actual morning tea frames (two nighties for her, one over the other, because they were too sheer!), all-white for the yoga series. It was the props that I had some trouble with—all we had were mugs, and how crass! Good thing my aunt Marilyn Davison came to the rescue, and she let me borrow a set from her prized collection. They were Shelleys, no less—fine bone china, and the cups were oleander-shaped with gold-plated rims. Did I mention they came in a dainty chintz pattern? I became obsessed with them for a while that I decided to extract my palette from the chintz pattern, and that’s how I ended up with puce, Bondi blue, sea green, celadon, and University of California gold.
The second set was a no-brainer. They wanted beach, well, that was what they were gonna get. Sheila was showing me snapshots of her and Cameron kicking it at Surfers Paradise (the Miami of Australia), and immediately I thought, wow, he was the kind of guy who would look good in navy stripes because, well, he had that sailorman look, what with his salt-and-pepper hair and all. She agreed, and at once I mentally updated my board with those 1952 Robert Doisneau photographs of Pablo Picasso wearing a classic Breton fisherman’s shirt. This meant putting together something nautical for Sheila to wear, too. She didn’t have a navy bikini or one with stripes, so we opted for a black one, and all I had to do was throw in an oversize mustard grandfather cardigan with gold buttons that had these embossed yacht anchor details, and a sailor hat that I borrowed from my fellow stylist Meyen Baguio. But that wasn’t enough, ‘cause I wanted a burst of color, too. I was browsing through runway reports on the Spring 2011 Ready-to-Wear shows, and found myself hopelessly drawn to Naeem Khan’s melee of tropical prints and brilliant colors in Palm Beach silhouettes (petite wrap dresses, floor-length kaftans)—they kind of reminded me of socialite Helen Lee Schifter vacationing in St. Barts. I then remembered I had this Persian green/lime floral print silk chiffon kaftan with Indian silk trimming by Kate Torralba, possibly from one of her 2008 collections, that she’d given to me as a birthday present—perfect, because it had that exact aesthetic that I loved about the Naeem Khan collection (well, it wasn’t exactly floor-sweeping because the hemline was way up there, but that was fine because Sheila had the legs for that sort of stuff anyway).
For the third set I shifted to a gala state of mind. The idea of evening gowns for engagement photos had never impressed me much, but Sheila here had such a regal stance it would be a shame to let that go to waste. I found out it was my friend Humberto Villegas who was doing her wedding dress, and I thought, Great! Humberto was one of the few young local designers I knew who knew a thing or two about consistency and focus—he’d been doing evening and cocktail pieces for as far as I could remember, with very little distractions, and it was safe to say he’d become an expert in this department by now. Ever-effervescent and never one to miss a beat, he had this uncanny way of finding rare fabrics, and of sculpting ordinary ones into extraordinary folds and drapes. I wasted no time making an appointment, and a few days later I was in his studio sorting through his carefully arranged archives. It wasn’t an easy task because everything in there was just so beautiful, but in the end I got to narrow it down to two gala gowns, including this gorgeous carmine pink silk chiffon number with oxblood satin ribbon shoulder straps that he’d made for his sister Ana a couple of years back. And just like that, we were ready to roll.
When Cameron arrived in Cebu everyone that Sheila introduced him to went on to go crazy about him. “He looks like Richard Gere!” a common friend gushed. So he was winning everyone over with his good looks and charisma. I was more concerned about whether or not we were ever gonna win him over with what we were about to do—Sheila had told me, you see, that where he was from engagement photos weren’t exactly the norm. I was relieved when I finally met him the evening before the shoot and he said, “Let’s do this!” To my surprise he was more game than I’d expected him to be! Even apologized for not being able to bring with him his biker boots and other MX gear—“I was worried about my baggage allowance,” he explained—and I told him not to worry, the motocross theme had been called off. Well, he admitted that the whole concept of a shoot was still kind of strange to him, but it was something his fiancée wanted, and so he was more than willing to give it to her. (And how sweet is that, right? Like how, I would learn later on, he’d said yes to wearing the traditional Filipino barong Tagalog on their wedding day instead of a suit.)
Funny thing, ‘cause on the day of the shoot it was Cameron who seemed very ready for the whole thing, and Sheila, who’d been preparing for this for weeks, was starting to get the nerves—it wasn’t something she was used to, being in front of the camera and being the center of attention. Thankfully I’d remembered to bring with my some of my chamomile tea. It also helped that a few of our common friends had decided to tag along—Marnelli and Jurex to help with the props and the sittings, Jeff and Marla to help with accessories—and so we had a couple of laughs. But it was Cameron who ultimately helped her gain her composure back by saying there was nothing to be scared about. Like during the nautical set, when I asked her to lose the cardigan and sit for me in just the bikini, she hesitated for a moment—but then she stole a quick glance at Cameron, and he just flashed her a boyish grin, and just like that she laughed it off and obliged.
He had that kind of effect on her—just one smile from him, or one nod, or one word, and all her worries would melt away. Slowly I realized that this was exactly why she knew this man was the one she’d been waiting for all her life. Finally she got to meet someone who was her exact equal—in thought, temperament, and tenderness. He was like everything she’d ever held near and dear to her heart all rolled into one package. The effect that her beloved teas had on her, the effect that yoga had on her—these were the very effects that Cameron had on her. Perfect, then, that the song we’d chosen so get us in the mood was Nouvelle Vague’s lounge/bossa nova cover of Modern English’s 1982 hit “I Melt with You” (and, yes, I’d had Marnelli and Jurex help me out with red cardboard-cutout letters that spelled “I’LL STOP THE WORLD AND MELT WITH YOU”). So I didn’t get to have my The Hills-inspired motocross theme and my adrenaline rush, but I learned an important lesson: That peace of mind and contentment don’t just come from a hot mug—they have to come from everything you do and everyone you surround yourself with. You can’t always get what you want, yes, but that’s alright, because sometimes what you get is what you need.
As for Sheila’s effect on Cameron—well, that’s a different story altogether. Let’s just say he’s absolutely smitten. “Wow, she looks really beautiful,” he would say every time she emerged from hair and makeup. He must’ve uttered this over five times in a span of 12 hours. Over lunch he talked to me about how Sheila had that rare combination: “beautiful and down-to-earth.” In other words, she was just his cup of tea. So, wait—maybe it’s the same story, after all.
The couple would tie the knot 10 days later, at Dumaguete’s Bishop’s Palace, a quaint little chapel in the middle of a pastoral enclave (a fairy tale-like tree-lined dry-weather road leads to it) some twenty minutes southwest of the city proper, in an intimate ceremony attended only by Sheila’s immediate relatives, very few of her close friends, and Cameron’s best friend Mark, who’d flown in from Australia. I might have teared up a little when she walked down the aisle—particularly at the beginning, when she appeared on the chapel’s doorstep, bathed in the balmy afternoon light, looking radiant in her Swarovski-encrusted Humberto Villegas gown. The reception was held at the sprawling Ang Tay Golf and Country Club. The setting was rustic and unstudied, a lot like a love that would never grow old. And the mood? Well, “light, airy, relaxed, and mellow,” a lot like their relationship, and just like Sheila had dreamt it to be.
“I’m so happy for her,” said Sheila’s youngest sister Sheryl, who’d flown in from Singapore only a few hours before the wedding to be the maid of honor. “She finally found someone who brings her happiness, and challenges her intellectually. Someone to explore the world and spend the best years of her life with.” No one can say they don’t feel the same.
Cameron James Bradley and Sheila Desquitado | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon in Suba-Basbas, Lapu-Lapu, on March 27, 2011 | Hair and makeup by Michael Sotillo | Sittings and props: Marnelli Uyguangco and Jurex Suson | Special thanks to: Marla Baguio, Jefferson “Tyra” Mendo, Mia Bacolod | Persian green/lime floral print silk chiffon kaftan with Indian silk trimming, Kate Torralba; cosmic latte chiffon gala gown, Humberto Villegas; carmine pink silk chiffon gala gown with oxblood satin ribbon shoulder straps, Humberto Villegas
In my mood board (see below, clockwise from top left): Nouvelle Vague’s self-titled debut album from 2004, which contains bossa nova-ed covers of post-punk/New Wave hits, including Modern English’s “I Melt with You” from 1982; Christy Turlington on the cover of American Vogue, October 2002, photographed by Steven Klein; looks from Naeem Khan Spring 2011 Ready-to-Wear, photographed by Gianni Pucci; Pablo Picasso wearing a classic Breton fisherman’s shirt, 1952, photographed by Robert Doisneau; palette inspired by the moody colors of the oleander-shaped fine bone china chintz tea cups used for the shoot, more specifically (L-R) puce, Bondi blue, sea green, celadon, and University of California gold (take note that, because I added some grain to them, the swatches here might be different—darker, if you will—from the samples in your matching system).
In February I dreamed of grunge. Of unbuttoned plaid flannels flapping in the wind like a migratory bird about to embark on one of its seasonal journeys. Of ratty old jeans more torn than Ednaswap or Natalie Imbruglia could ever be. Of greasy, unkempt tendrils creeping out from under wool beanies. Of beat-up 14-hole Doc Martens stomping on dirty pavement. Of teeth-clenching throughout an entire opus. Of smelling “like teen spirit.”
I wasn’t stoned to the bajesus or anything; I was merely inspired. It all started when I was researching the German (or so I think he is) photographer Horst Diekgerdes after falling in love with the flare effects in his advertising work for Chloe from 2002 (I’d been flipping through old magazines!), and I stumbled upon this editorial that he did for Teen Vogue with stylist Havana Laffitte called “Finding Nirvana” featuring modern rethinks (Marc by Marc Jacobs, Missoni, A.P.C., Isabel Marant, etc.) of the grunge classics. The fashion, mood and mise en scène were so dead-on they brought me back to my own pimply adolescence when I would spend weeks on end experimenting on my jeans—including my one and only pair of 501s—to achieve the perfect ripped effect, raid my dad’s closet for his old Pendletons, and stay up until the wee hours of the morning just staring at this one photo of an all-grunged-up Kristen McMenamy by Steven Meisel, which I’d torn off of the December 1992 Vogue (from a spread called “Grunge & Glory”). Suddenly I found myself sorting through my iTunes looking for post-Louder Than Love Soundgarden and pre-Celebrity Skin Hole. And then glued to YouTube watching clips of Nirvana’s and Alice in Chains’s performances on MTV Unplugged. And then digging through stacks of my old Spins for anecdotes on bad behavior in the ‘90s music scene—did you know, for example, that Courtney Love used to flash her breasts to her audience during encores? Speaking of, um, mammaries, who could forget Bridget Fonda’s classic line from Cameron Crowe’s Singles from 1992: “Are my breasts too small for you?” I had planned on watching The Social Network on DVD, but now I was shelving it in favor of the ‘90s classics like, well, the aforementioned Singles, Ben Stiller’s directorial debut Reality Bites from 1994, and, of course, Antonia Bird’s Mad Love from 1995. Just like that, I got that old time feeling. The cutesy floral babydolls that Fonda’s Janet Livermore wore with leather biker jackets and trilbies. Ethan Hawke’s Troy Dyer and his unwashed mane and everlasting gaze. Drew Barrymore’s Casey Roberts and her oversize plaid flannels and messy pixie. When I got to the part when Casey stood at the back of Matt’s (Chris O’Donnell’s character) pickup truck as they drove away from all the troubles in their lives, her unbuttoned flannels, well, flapping in the wind like a migratory bird about to embark on one of its seasonal journeys, with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “Here Comes My Girl” playing in the background (heartland rock from the early ‘80s, really, and not grunge, but no other song could’ve been more fitting), I thought of how awesome it would be to have a shoot inspired by this whole grunge feel.
As luck would have it, less than 24 hours later, Maria Velasquez would announce her engagement to Michael Franco via a Facebook photo album, comic strip-style (you should’ve seen it, it was something). I was jumping up and down my seat thinking, wow, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect! I’d known Maria since forever, from when she’d been my associate lifestyle editor at Eastern Visayas Mail some 8 years back, and I’d always admired they way she carried herself—not afraid to speak her mind, opinionated yet canny, brash yet good-humored, like a one-girl revolution. Her headstrong, devil-may-care, semi-rebel nature and no-fuss, somewhat tomboyish style harbored just the sense of cool that I wanted to tap into for the grunge theme I envisioned. We wasted no time exchanging e-mails. Quite the coup in my part: It didn’t take a whole lot of effort to convince her to go for the theme. I only had to leverage the blog post that she herself had put up almost a year back, in which she’d paid homage to her 10-year-old 1460 8-eye Doc Martens. Swear to God, my amazing recall of all manner of detail is my best weapon. OK, I’m lying: I also had to sweet-talk her by pointing out that her fiancé was sort of a dead ringer for Chris O’Donnell. But that was it. In less than a half-hour I got her to say yes. Which, if you come to think of it, made that day the day she said yes twice.
Over the next couple of days a few of adjustments had to be made, especially since I found out that Michael wasn’t a grunge guy. I mean, he liked grunge and all, but that wasn’t the only thing he was into. An avid guitarist, he was also into hard rock, heavy metal, alternative, punk—you name it. And so instead of setting a theme that was purely grunge, we had to go for something a little broader—Maria and I both decided to make it ‘90s. At first the thought of giving the initial mood board an overhaul seemed disconcerting, but over time I came to an understanding that it was for the best, especially when, as I was visualizing the styling in my head, I realized that it would be just plain wrong to subject Michael to heavy grunge gear à la Matt Dillon’s Cliff Poncier from Singles—the whole thing would come out too contrived and too costumey. That’s the thing about styling for real people: You have a vision, yes, and people are going to respect that, but at the same time you have to take into consideration what your subjects are like in real life, and so you might have to exercise some restraint, tone it down a bit, because what you really need to do is augment their abstract qualities, not try to disguise them. And so, after careful deliberation, this was what the final mood board looked like: stills from the 1993 music video of Aerosmith’s “Cryin’,” featuring Alicia Silverstone and Stephen Dorff; a photo of a young Kate Moss wearing a feather headdress by the British fashion and documentary photographer Corinne Day for the July 1990 issue of The Face (also known as “The 3rd Summer of Love” issue, and the editorial in question, styled by Melanie Ward, is what many fashion journalists consider to be the launching pad that propelled Ms. Moss into superstardom); the soundtracks to 1999’s 10 Things I Hate About You and 1995’s Empire Records; that one still from Mad Love (Barrymore standing at the back of O’Donnell’s pickup truck as he drove); and the album cover of the Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness from 1995 for the palette (take note that by palette here I mean the color swatches to be used in the final layout, and not necessarily in the styling, because I like to think of the finished product ahead of time—in this case, it was coral red, eggplant, light olive, Navajo white variation # 9, and dark chestnut that I was able to extract from the Mellon Collie album cover). There was this one photo of Mischa Barton by Bruce Weber (styled by, well, Havana Laffitte, from the September 2006 issue of Teen Vogue), in which she was wearing an oversize flannel shirt and a floral-print thermal tee over a net-overlaid taffeta gown from Peter Som’s Fall 2006 Ready-to-Wear collection, that did not make it to the board because of, well, the gown element, but I kept it in my head, just in case. Also in the backlog: the motorcycle scenes from the video of Aerosmith’s “Amazing” from 1993.
Long-distance styling can be a massive pain in the backside because it takes out of the equation some of the more important steps—like doing house calls to inspect the client’s closet for pieces they might already have that can be useful, taking their measurements, overseeing the actual fittings, etc. —but Maria was so hands-on she made it a lot easier for me. I e-mailed her a 3-page list of clothing items and accessories, and she would send the file back to me all marked up with her comments (“Yes, I have this, but in a darker shade of blue” or “No, I do not have anything that looks like this, but please do look for one for me”). It helped that she had bristling Internet savvy, having been a blogger since time immemorial (i.e., before it had become a fad), ‘cause when there was an item or two she couldn’t picture she’d do some digging up in cyberspace to see what they looked like, and more often that not she’d come up with better images/samples than what I’d had in mind! We followed this very same modus operandi when it was time to finalize the props and the locations. Somehow I was able to find (and work with) someone who was more obsessive-compulsive than I was. It took us a good five or so days doing all this, but they were time well spent.
Next on the agenda was picking a date for the shoot. We had initially agreed on February 13, Sunday, but somehow that didn’t feel right—for one, I seemed to know it was, um, impolite to wear them out in the hours leading to their first Valentine’s eve as an engaged couple! And so we had to push it back to the following Sunday, which turned out to be the right move: February 20 was Kurt Cobain’s birthday, the 17th after his passing (he would’ve turned 44). You know the stars are all aligned and you’re in for something hella good when even your shooting date is in keeping with the theme!
On the day of the shoot I woke up at 5 AM. I’d arrived in Ormoc 1 PM of the previous day, and went straight to bed after 2 hours of oculars—I’d figured more than 12 hours of sleep should be enough to prep me for a 12-hour shoot (I do not have an assistant, so if it’s an on-location assignment that entails 4 or more sets I usually plot a 7-to-7 in my datebook). Michael and Maria were ready by 7:30 AM, complete with an entourage (3 people!) to help out with the props and the heavy equipment! There were a few setbacks, like the pickup truck not turning up (we’d asked to borrow my cousin Francis’s vintage-looking bad boy that looked like a ‘78–‘79 Ford F100 Custom XLT, but he was marooned in Manila)—good thing Maria had a Plan B, and she had her cousin’s jeep on standby (things like this I appreciate because I’m not very good with backup plans).
I was happy with the clothes, too. The five or so days we’d spent exchanging e-mails to plot their outfits turned out to be the best investment. I loved that Maria paid close attention to detail. When I’d told her to bring a pair of denim shorts, for example, she could’ve brought one that was close-fitting, but she’d known we were doing ‘90s so she’d made a conscious effort to bring one that was somewhat baggy. Some items weren’t perfect, but a little nip and tuck here and there did the trick—the floral minidress that we’d borrowed for my mom, for instance, wasn’t exactly babydoll and didn’t exactly have that ‘90s silhouette, but a few crude alterations to the hemline brought us closer to the vicinity of the Donna Martin look. That wasn’t the only alteration that had to be made on the fly—when I told her to cut the sleeves off her precious denim jacket to make it look more in sync with Axl Rose-inspired red bandana, she obliged. I hope I’m not blowing my horn too much if I say I think this was my best styling job ever. My only regret was forgetting to ask Michael to slip out of his surfer sandals and borrow my Bed Stu work boots for a while, but, oh, well, the whole thing didn’t turn out dastardly so I guess we’re fine.
Sheila On did a really great job with hair and makeup. This was my first time working with her, but she just blew me away with her awesomeness. We didn’t have to explain to her what we’d wanted—Maria only had to show her a photo of Alicia Silverstone circa the Areosmith years, and they got to work. Of course, it’s a look Sheila is all too familiar with: We were classmates in high school, so it’s safe to say we grew up with the same inspirations (I remember asking her almost everyday to sing Shanice’s “Saving Forever for You” from the Beverly Hills, 90210 soundtrack to me—another thing you should know about her is she got mad pipes!). She couldn’t be with us the whole time, though, since she’d just opened her studio and had clients literally banging on her door, but that was fine because her finished product required minimal to no retouching, even when Maria had to sweat like hell because of all the crazy stunts I was making her do. The only retouching that had to be done were those between sets, and thank God Sheila had chosen to set up camp smack in the middle of the city, only a good 10 minutes away from wherever we were shooting.
I must say, though, that my favorite part of this whole thing was how game my subjects were. This was my first solo project, and naturally I’d had apprehensions—like, “Am I sure about this? Can I do this?”—but Michael and Maria were so upbeat and flexible and playful and just plain wonderful to work with that all my worries had to hit the road. They also liked to overcompensate. I’d asked for an electric guitar, and Michael brought two. I’d asked for a small set of speakers and amps, and he brought everything he owned plus a couple more he’d borrowed from friends. I’d asked for an empty bottle of Jägermeister, they brought all sorts of liquor bottles in all shapes and sizes! (They even brought a dozen sandwiches for snacks, and said I was supposed to finish all of it!) Did I mention they were extra resourceful? When I decided the last minute that I wanted to do an “Amazing”-inspired motorbike set, they found a bike to borrow at the snap of their fingers. It helped that Michael was into photography, too—in between frames he would dispense quick suggestions and helpful tips. (I guess it’s worth mentioning now that one of his cameras he’d sold to contribute to the engagement ring fund—isn’t that sweet?) And Maria, so used to being a muse, was a natural in front of the camera—she had this preternatural way of finding the right facial expressions, and a sinuous grace that made her poses look like actual movements. I also saw how supportive they were of each other—I’d ask Maria to do something really tricky, and Michael would cheer, “You can do it!” Yes, I have the tendency to push my subjects around a bit. But it was the sets wherein I had absolutely nothing to do with the sittings—i.e., the stolens and the candids—that I enjoyed shooting the most. These two, when they think nobody’s watching—or taking a picture, for that matter—are quite the pair. Pure, unadulterated chemistry. I swear there were times I forgot they were yet to be married, ‘cause they looked like they’d been married from the moment they’d first met.
I couldn’t make it to their wedding because I was booked for another shoot, but I heard it was quite the spectacle. No, the theme wasn’t grunge, but one that was equally fierce: Mafia. I was just looking at the photos from their wedding reception, and it looked pretty wild, alright—think The Sopranos meets The Wedding Crashers. It’s refreshing that there are people who get to come up with things like this, because it makes the whole thing all the more memorable. Were they trying to cause a stir? Well, no. They simply wanted to prove to the world that rock ‘n’ roll dreams do come true.
Michael Vincent Franco and Maria Cecilia Velásquez | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon in Ormoc City on February 20, 2011 | Hair and makeup by Sheila On (to book Sheila, click here)
In my mood board (see below, clockwise from top left): Stills of Alicia Silverstone and Stephen Dorff from the music video for Aerosmith’s “Cryin’,” 1993; the soundtracks to 1995’s Empire Records and 1999’s 10 Things I Hate About You; a photograph of Kate Moss by Corinne Day (styled by Melanie Ward) for The Face’s “The 3rd Summer of Love” issue, July 1990; still of Drew Barrymore and Chris O’Donnell from Antonia Bird’s Mad Love, 1995; palette inspired by the drabber colors of the album cover of The Smashing Pumpkin’s Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, 1995, composed of (L-R) coral red, eggplant, light olive, Navajo white variation # 9, and dark chestnut (take note that, because I added some grain to them, the swatches here might be different—darker, if you will—from the samples in your matching system).