Couple of photos from the super fun personal style portrait session that I did for my friend Monique Rosal a few weeks ago. This wasn’t my first time to photograph this girl. I’d shot her some two years ago, at a time when I had had very little experience, and thus had had very little technical know-how (i.e., white balance and ISO settings and all that other good stuff had baffled me), not to mention I’d had to share the job with a bunch of other photographers and so I couldn’t exercise full creative control when it came to the locations, etc. Guess it goes without saying that the resulting photos from that shoot had turned out really bad—well, maybe not that bad, but definitely something I couldn’t be proud of—and so I’d promised her I’d take her pictures again. Which brought us to this session right here. I think it’s important to be ready to extend your subjects the courtesy of reshooting, especially when you yourself are not happy with your shots—you might argue that you’d rather wait for them to tell you they’re not satisfied with your work, but the truth is not a lot of people are going find it easy to do that, so, essentially, you’re just gonna have to be honest with yourself. Trust me, it’ll only do you good—so long, of course, as you stay sensitive to your shooting schedule and other appointments. Monique here had had to wait almost two years for an opening in my schedule, but that was alright, because what mattered was we got around to doing it!
This whole thing came at a perfect time, too, because she was starting to be obsessed with Tumblr, and she wanted to be able to post original photos and to keep the “reblogging” to a minimum. (I might also convince her to go on Lookbook.nu—Monique, remind me to send you an invite, OK?) The idea was to photograph her in her own clothes, or in clothes that reflected her personality, because we didn’t want to make the same mistake we’d made the last time wherein we’d made her raid her friends’—and even her mom’s—closets. My first impulse was to ask her to wear surfer chick-inspired clothes and then drag her off to a beach setting, if only to satisfy my own Tumblr obsession (the Billabong Girls USA Tumblr site is one of the very few sites that I follow), but then I realized that dictating her would defeat the purpose of a personal style shoot. Besides, she confessed that, although she did like the beach, she really was more of a rocker chick. For days we’d been talking about Coachella, the music festival held every spring in Southern California, how it had been a mutual dream of ours to attend it one day (and how I had been foolish for being in L.A. last year and turning down invites to weekend two), and that was how we arrived at an idea: why not have her show up at the shoot in clothes that she could see herself wearing to the desert music fest if she were given the chance to make that scene one day? I’m looking at these photos now and laughing at the fact that this “DIY Coachella” thing has since been given a name—“Couchella,” which is basically the act of “sitting on your couch and dreaming you were at Coachella”—but we had so much fun that afternoon! And I loved the clothes she was able to round up for the session, especially the vintage babydoll dress in eggshell lace—very Free People-y! Delighted me to no end, too, that she chose to wear everything with her brand spanking new 1490 10-eye Doc Martens—I always love it when there’s a little grunge or ‘90s involved.
Speaking of grunge/’90s, the Smashing Pumpkins T-shirts that you see her wearing here are actually mine (yes, I collect Smashing Pumpkins T-shirts, and I consider them a prized collection—some of these shirts I got when I first saw the band live at the Louisville Palace for the third leg of their summer 2008 tour). It was kind of spur-of-the-moment, really—in the middle of our shoot I remembered that she loved the Pumpkins to death (last year she and a couple of friends literally braved a storm by flying to Manila to see Billy et al. at the Araneta Coliseum despite the torrential rains and floods), and so I was quick to snatch a couple of T-shirts from my closet so I could take photos of her in them. Of course, as you can see here, they look a hundred times better on her than they do on me, but that doesn’t mean I’m letting her keep them!
She wanted me to take a few photos of the new tattoo between her shoulder blades (of three cassette tapes with their media spewed out to form a G-clef, a not-so-subtle declaration of her love for music), and that’s how things took a turn for the, um, boudoir. I’d never done a boudoir session before in my life—perhaps the closest I’d gotten to doing one was when I’d photographed Womb frontwoman Chai Fonacier’s naked back during their album cover shoot (also to pinpoint a back tattoo)—but, hey, anything’s worth trying, right? Thank God the girl was ready with really cute undergarments! I had to be real careful with my approach, though, by thinking less FHM and more Agent Provocateur catalog—this way I was assured the photos were gonna come out sassy, not sleazy. Sure enough, they turned out really nice, but I can only post a few on here—I’m sorry, but I still have a little bit of a gentleman in me, and that little bit of a gentleman is saying that everything else should be for her eyes only.
Now I’m torn ‘cause I can’t decide which is sexier: leaving something for the imagination, or having a healthy enough self-image to have no problem baring a little for the camera. When I’d first taken Monique’s photos two years ago, she’d seemed a little tense, if not squeamish, and it would show in her face, and in the way she’d moved (or not moved, for that matter), and that was actually one of the reasons why the resulting photos from that shoot had left much to be desired. This time, however, it was as if it was a totally different girl standing in front of me: calmer, more composed, and thus more radiant—still aware of her flaws, but was mature enough to just laugh about them. I asked her what had changed, and she shared that she’d been taking yoga classes for months now. It’s amazing what a renewed commitment to fitness can do to you—not just physically to your body, but to how you feel about yourself, as well. And nothing is more beautiful to photograph than someone who is clearly comfortable in their own skin.
Monique Rosal | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon in Cebu City, Cebu, on March 24, 2013 | Hair and makeup by Alex Nicole Lorenzana | Special thanks to Christine L. Abragan
No matter how much couples engaged to be married claim to have a lot of things in common, they almost always end up in different pages when it comes to planning their engagement photos. I’ve worked with a little under twenty couples over the last two years, and that should be a reliable enough statistic, right? More often than not the fiancé wants one thing, but the fiancée has another thing in mind, and sometimes this can end up in a pretty sticky situation (although thankfully not the kind that leads to drastic stuff, like, God forbid, the engagement being called off or something). Is this the part where I back away a little, allow them some space to settle the score amongst themselves, you ask? Why, no! What most of you might consider a sore spot, I happen to consider a sweet spot! This part right here is when I put my game face on and push the pedal down, so to speak! Taking two (or more) different ideas and then jamming them together into something that makes sense—well, don’t that look like a job for me? Not to blow my own horn or anything, but my track record has been pretty decent, too. Case in point: for this guy who had a fondness for old stuff, and his wife-to-be who loved travel, we came up with a “vintage travel” kind of theme. And for this girl who wanted acid colors and fitspo, and her groom-to-be who wanted big bikes and grunge music, I came up with a “’70s, ‘80s, ‘90s” theme! So, no, when your clients’ ideas clash, that is no time to take the backseat. It may look like it’s sort of a meddling thing, but, really, it’s more of a mediating thing, not to mention a stimulating thing—you get to reconcile other people’s creative differences, and at the same time give your own creative muscles a good old flex
Don’t get me wrong, though: While I make it sound as easy as 1-2-3, taking two (or more) very disparate concepts and getting them to tango is not an exercise for the faint-hearted. It entails an awful lot of research, and can even lead to sleepless nights—plus, be prepared to rework your mood boards up to ten, fifteen times! So while I appreciate it when opportunities like these present themselves, because to me nothing feels as good as a good creative challenge, they are really only ideal for when you have the luxury of time (and/or an extra pair of hands). When faced with a tight deadline (and you can’t find an extra set of hands), you’re pretty much left with no choice but to stick to just one concept (and a lot of times you’ll go for the easiest!) and hope it works out well for you and your clients.
When I met with Michael Nazareth and Charice Lasconia for the first time to talk about their engagement photo session, I was as nervous as could be: the shoot was set to take place in less than two weeks! I’d been so used to being given a month (or two!) to prepare for a shoot that the idea of that time frame being cut into half was just too stressful for me. Didn’t help stifle my nerves knowing that I only had one hour, tops, to discuss this with them and come up with a final plan—their flight back to Singapore was in a few short hours (yes, that’s where they’re based, and they were only in Cebu for two short days so they could meet up with various wedding vendors). I kept thinking worst-case scenario: What if Michael wanted one thing, and Charice wanted something else? And we only have a few days left to prepare? Never had I knocked on wood as many times as I did that day.
As it turned out, luck was on my side, and the minute Michael and Charice sat with me on the table was the very minute that my nerves were quashed. They wasted no time in telling me they already had a concept for the shoot in mind, so no need for me to think something up—and that it was something that the two of them had agreed on from the get-go, and so no two completely different sides to the story! Finally! A couple who were on the exact same page!
And not just any page, too, if I may add—another thing that made this couple extra special in my eyes was that they chose a page that was completely, utterly, and wonderfully them. “Surfing and longboarding,” that was the theme they picked—and not so much because they thought it would look cool, but because these were stuff that they actually loved to do together as a couple! Yes, ever since they’d started dating, no year would be complete without them going on a couple of surfing (and longboarding) trips, be it in another country or in some beach town nearby. And you’d think they’d dropped the whole thing after moving to Singapore, what with their very busy schedules (Charice works in project management, while Michael works as a software engineer), but, no, up to this very day they still make it a point to pack the boards and just flee every now and then (as of this writing they have just gotten back from a surfing trip to Bali). That’s the glue, apparently—some couples like to work as a pair, but these two love to play as a pair. They live for the rush of it.
I find it very admirable when couples make creative decisions in this manner. Always, always I encourage my couple clients to choose a theme that is based on the stuff that they actually love to do together, and on the things that cement their bond. Not that I don’t have respect for those who choose themes that are based on some sort of fantasy, or those who dare to be “decoratively different”—there will always be people who are going to want to paint a fairy tale, or those who are going to want to stand out, and that’s totally fine. Allow me to say this, though: When you look at your engagement photos 20 or so years from now, do you want to be reminded of who photographed you, who styled you, who did your makeup, who did your hair; or do you only want to be reminded of just the two of you being young and in love like that? If you’re a couple engaged to be married looking for photo ideas and you’re reading this, please ask yourself that question, and I hope it helps you arrive at sound creative decisions.
Needless to say, when the actual shoot came, I enjoyed every minute of it immensely. And to think I woke up that morning a bit under the weather (coughs and colds and all)—not a great start to any working day! So there’s a sort of placebo effect when everything about a job falls right into place without you having to work so hard. For one, there was no need for me to source and bring a lot of clothes/props, because Michael and Charice got that aspect all covered—they brought every single thing in the boatload of a list that I’d drafted, from the surfboards to the longboards, and down to the littlest details like, say, the bottles of sunblock! No need for me to tell them what to do, too—because the goal was to recreate their surfing/longboarding trips, they had no trouble playing the part in front of the cameras! They made the whole thing very painless for us, we ended up finishing the job in under five hours (we even had time to do a bonus set, in which I had them go punk glam—my idea, because I needed an excuse for Charice to wear a dress)! Breaks between sets were spent exchanging stories about our favorite beaches and summertime songs. It was such a carefree afternoon, the whole thing felt like a Beach Boys record (as it turned out, one of their theme songs was “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” by the Beach Boys, and they asked us if we could use this as backdrop to their engagement photo slideshow!) Don’t you wish all shoots were like this?
* * * * * * * * *
I feel like I should tell you guys that this month is shaping up to be a real crazy time for me and the Shutterfairy team. We just got back from an assignment in Mindanao that spanned three cities (Cotabato, General Santos and Davao), and tomorrow we are set to leave for Leyte (Ormoc, Bato) for another engagement session. And God knows where we’re going next week, or the week after that! I’m starting to think it’s a November thing—this exact time last year also found us neck-deep in shoots (I think I had 7 at the time!). That being said, please forgive me if I am unable to update this blog over the next couple of weeks. But feel free to do some backreading! And if you have questions about our 2013 schedule, e-mail us at email@example.com. Thank you!
Michael Franz Nazareth and Charice Lasconia | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon for Shutterfairy in Argao, Cebu, on July 17, 2012 | Main photographer: Malou Pages for Shutterfairy | Hair and makeup by Pines Borden
There is one thing I love more than California, and that’s my little niece Mikaela, who happens to be, well, made in California! To say that I’ve adored her since she was born is kind of an understatement—truth is, I’ve been head over heels with her even before she could pop out of her mommy’s belly! My sister and I were taking a stroll down the Venice Beach Boardwalk one excruciatingly hot afternoon in the summer of 2010, and that was when she first announced to me that she was preggo. So there I was soaking up the scenery, thinking of Tom Kapinos’s Californication because this was the very place where many of my favorite scenes from that series had been shot, especially that one scene some 8 minutes into the second episode of the fourth season where Madeleine Martin’s character little Becca Moody plays her electric guitar at the Boardwalk for some cash—and here was my sister telling me she was expecting, and that it was probably going to be a girl! Suddenly my mind was running wild with thoughts of what this baby girl was going to turn out like. Was she going to be the quintessential California girl, à la Lauren Conrad—you know, a sucker for the beach, adored dogs, obsessed with shopping and makeup, and with a megawatt smile that looked like it had a thousand summers written on it? That would be nice, I thought. But then as I walked further down the Boardwalk, past the Schwarzenegger types pumping iron at the Muscle Beach Gym, past the turban-sporting electric guitarist on roller skates, past the ageing hipsters taking a nap under palm trees (or holding up placards that advertised “Shitty Advice for $1!”), I realized that deep inside I didn’t want a California sweetheart for a niece—I wanted one who was hardcore, someone who got mad guitar skills, just like Becca Moody! And so for months that was the stuff my daydreams were made of: my niece playing her electric guitar for passersby at the Boardwalk—and it would be a song with a killer guitar solo, too, like, say, “Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd, or “Yellow Ledbetter” by Pearl Jam—and me sitting on the bench behind her with a proud, arrogant smile on my face. Wouldn’t that be awesome?
What I failed to consider was that babies don’t just turn into guitar-toting teenagers overnight—they actually have to go through a phase called, well, babyhood, where all they like to do is coo, crawl, and cuddle. (Hey, we’ve all had poor sense of time at one point or another, right? LOL!) Not to say that this disappointed me, of course. When I returned to L.A. this year and saw this little munchkin waiting for me at the airport, my heart melted all the same. I mean, come on, look at those chubby cheeks! And those big, round eyes! And those plump legs! She had just turned one, so her coos were a little loud now, and she was slowly transitioning from crawling to walking now—the cuddling part didn’t come until a little later (she would not come anywhere near me during the first couple of days), but when it did I found it very hard to stop!
I thought it was kind of cute how she didn’t have a lot of hair on her yet. At first I found this a little alarming, but then my mom told us that that had been us, too—”It wasn’t until you turned 2 or so that you began to grow a full head of hair.” It was just amusing and awkward at the same time how people would come up to Mikee (that’s how we call her) and say, “What an adorable little boy!” and so I had to explain, every single time, that “She’s actually a girl!” It didn’t help that, every time we tied a bow around her head or made her wear headbands with girly girl detail (rosettes, lace trimmings, etc.), she’d only put them on for a few minutes before taking them off and tearing them apart! Such a monster when it comes to those head adornments, I kid you not—she thinks of them as the enemy!
She’s also a monster when it comes to French fries, and by that I mean she devours them like there is no tomorrow. Some folks’ brows are going to raise, because you really aren’t supposed to expose babies to that kind of stuff, but can you help it if it’s the only thing that makes their eyes light up and their mouths water? I’m not sure how it started, but we were at the Hollywood In-N-Out one afternoon, and while the rest of us were busy surreptitiously taking photos of Derek Hough (of Dancing with the Stars) and Maria Menounos (of Extra, formerly of Access Hollywood), she remained oblivious to the celluloid-crazy world around her and carried on with her fries, leaving none for us! Yes, she is very, very territorial about them—she will gladly share everything else, like her Apple Jacks or her Pinkberry or her Wetzel’s Pretzels, but she will never share her fries, thank you very much!
But dislike of headbands and French fry hoarding aside, she really was just a sweet little thing. Funny that she turned out to be the California sweetheart that I had initially wanted to take a pass on, yet I was enjoying it immensely. For one, I love that she turned out to be a water baby, squealing with delight every time we brought her to the beach, or some pool, or even if it was just the bathtub—and she could rock the bikini like no other, too! She also had a soft spot for dogs, and this one time she stopped a middle-aged dog walker dead in his tracks on the corner of Hollywood and N Orange so she could make friends with his chichi Chihuahuas. She also loved it whenever we took her shopping—which was 80% of the time—and even if she wasn’t old enough yet to choose her own clothes (of course) she was always willing to try on every single thing we picked for her, and she enjoyed rummaging through our shopping bags, too. Another thing she loved rummaging through was her mom’s makeup kit—my sister would leave the whole thing unattended, and five minutes later there’s lipstick and eyeliner and compact powder all over the place! And then there’s her smile—I don’t really need to describe it because you can see it in these photos, but if I really must then I will need to borrow a line from that one Collective Soul song: it’s got that “sunshine bright-eyed California cotton candy taste!”
So I never got the Becca Moody that I’d hoped for, and instead I got a little Lauren Conrad, but that’s totally fine. The Becca Moody phase will manifest sooner or later. Happy to report that her musical inclination is starting to kick in already! Just a couple of weeks back my brother-in-law (her dad) expressed that he wanted to get her a present, but was torn between a puppy and a guitar—he’d seen how much she adored dogs (the Chihuahua encounter in Hollywood), but could not discount the fact that every time he picked up his guitar she would stare dreamily and even try her hand at strumming. This problem was solved a few days later when he got her a guitar in the shape of a hound dog (by B. Toys) from Target! And speaking of Target, I must not discredit the fact that, during my last few days in L.A. and we would find ourselves in a Target to shop for camera accessories, she would gravitate towards the musical instruments department, pick up some drum sticks, and just start banging away at every surface in sight (we even got into trouble at one of the Culver City Targets when the salesperson approached us and asked us to “please watch your baby because these are very expensive drum sticks”)! And when we took her to Griffith Park so she could play in the grass she was quick to pick up two dead twigs the size and shape of, well, drum sticks, and that was all she played with the whole time! And when we took her for a stroll down the Venice Beach Boardwalk she was first to spot this miniature piano (that belonged to a piano-playing Malti-Poo called Coco), and rushing towards the thing was the first time she’s ever ran so fast in her life!
So now I don’t know: Is she going to grow up to be a guitarist, or a drummer, or a keyboardist? One thing is for sure: She is going to go places. And she is going to rock people’s worlds. I mean, she’s already got a head start—she’s already rocking mine!
Mikaela K. Arradaza | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon in Los Angeles, CA, on April 2012, and in San Diego, CA, and Van Nuys, CA, on May 2012
Nothing fascinates me more than a good old California love story. And I’m not just talking about those that we see on TV—you know, like, the love triangles that make shows like The Hills, Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County and Melrose Place go ‘round. I’m talking about those that we see on the big screen, too: the collection of intertwining love tales in 2010’s Valentine’s Day; Crazy/Beautiful from 2001 (starring Kirsten Dunst and Jay Hernandez); the classic Pretty Woman from 1990 (starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere); and, of course, (500) Days of Summer from 2009 (starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel). And then there are the real life love stories that prove to be infinitely more irresistible than the ones in celluloid: for a time there I was obsessed about, for example, how Pamela Susan Courson became inextricably linked to the Jim Morrison legend, and so all I ever looked at online were these Websites dedicated to their tragic romance; I even got hooked on all that tabloid coverage around Lindsay Lohan’s relationship with Samantha Ronson; and very recently I’ve been doing some research on Harvey Henderson Wilcox and his wife Daeida Hartell, turn of the 20th century settlers who bought a ranch up the hills west of L.A.
Why do I find these love stories fascinating? Well, simply because they are stories of more than just the relationship between two people—there’s a third character that plays a pivotal role in these romances, and that’s California. The ferris wheel on the Santa Monica Pier where Spencer Pratt proposed to Heidi Montag. The Venice Canals where Ashton Kutcher’s and Jennifer Gardner’s characters kiss in Valentine’s Day. The pier (presumably Santa Monica’s again) where Dunst’s and Hernandez’s characters meet in Crazy/Beautiful. The Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Pretty Woman. Of course, I do not need to enumerate the architectural wonders of downtown L.A. used in (500) Days of Summer. Meanwhile, there’s the now-defunct Sunset Strip nightclub west of Whisky a Go Go where Morrison met Courson. How, post-breakup and post-rehab, Lohan rented an apartment in Venice right next to Ronson’s, which freaked the latter out. And that canyon land that Wilcox and Hartell purchased in the 1880s? Well, they named it “Hollywood,” and for some reason it stuck. I guess what I am trying to say is love stories on their own speak volumes—but when they’re set in places that tell their own tales, they make lots of noise.
Such was the inspiration behind this couples shoot that I did during my last week in L.A. this past May. After a series of family shoots, I was in dire need of a love shoot to break the, um, monotony (for lack of a better term)—so imagine the wave of excitement that washed over me when Rotchel Siglas asked me to come hang out with her and her boyfriend KrisJhon Villaceran for one whole day, and, well, to photograph them while I’m at it! Rotchel and Kris are such a cute couple. At the time of this shoot they’d only started seeing each other (a little over a month), but they had such great chemistry it was as if they’d been together for years. Always sweet-talking each other (even when the situation called for one to be, um, a little rough), always holding each other’s hands (even when one of them was busy, say, driving), always telling each other jokes, always singing to each other (they both loved music). And I was always walking into them curling up with each other on the couch watching TV! But that couch potato mode is on only when it’s American Idol season or when the weather isn’t too great, because 90% of the time they like to be out and about. Yes, what I loved about them was that they were always showing each other around their city—every time I checked Facebook there were always updates about her taking him here, him taking her there, them taking each other everywhere! What can you say? Apparently California is a great place to be in love because you never run out of places to see, new and old. Of course, I said yes to photographing them, but on one condition: I was picking the locations. Nervy and brash of me to impose, I know, but, hey, I was the tourist here, was I not? I mean, they have this place to themselves all year long! Luckily, they conceded, and I got to have it my way! They had a special request, though, to get a couple of shots with a couple of items that meant a lot to them—like Kris’s guitar, or this one teddy bear that he gave Rotchel. Who was I to say no to a teddy bear?
I was happy with my choice of locations—or, at least I was happy about the fact that I was successful at coming up with a lineup that juxtaposed the usual suspects with L.A. arcana:
- It was a given that I was gonna pick Venice Beach for the beach sets, not so much because I was all too familiar with the place, but because it made sense and was the practical choice—I mean, I couldn’t imagine “guitar-by-the-beach” shots in, say, swanky Santa Monica or Marina del Rey; and plus I demanded Kris wore a Baja California hoodie for one of these sets, and thanks to my friend Paul I knew you could get decent ones for less than $15 at one of the Venice Beach Boardwalk souvenir shops! (I had to be careful not to use the Boardwalk, though, or the Venice Public Art Walls, as I had already used these two spots in a previous shoot.)
- I couldn’t discount the fact that this couple lived a “healthy” lifestyle, too, and so I took them to Pan Pacific Park between Beverly and W 3rd so we could have a couple of shots of Kris sweating it out playing ball and Rotchel having a good jog. Just so you know, this was where Brody Jenner and friends liked to play ball, and, according to my brothers-in-law, where Manny Pacquiao loved to run in the early mornings (I think the Pac Man has digs in Park La Brea, which is right across the street).
- Rotchel loved to shop, so a shopping set was in order. Initially I toyed with the idea of recreating that one scene in Pretty Woman where Richard Gere’s character takes Julia Roberts’s character on a shopping spree down Rodeo Drive, but dismissed that once I realized Kris would look too old in a suit, and that that area was always flooded with tourists. I had to scratch Melrose off the list, too, because that was too artsy/hipster for their taste, and plus that area was too hot between noon and 3PM. So off we went to Robertson Blvd. where the ritzy boutiques were aplenty but the crowd not madding, the vibe not too cliquish, and where you had tree-lined sidewalks to shield you from the heartless California sun. (Had to make a conscious effort to sidestep the AllSaints Spitalfields, though, lest I wanted to hurt my finances!)
- Of course, for the breakfast/brunch set, I looked no further than Lulu’s Café down Beverly (between Formosa and N. Detroit). It was my best friend Julie who’d introduced me to this place some two or three years ago, and immediately I’d fallen in love with it. Apparently this was where the grownup cool kids liked to have brunch, not to mention the celebutantes like Kristin Cavallari and Lo Bosworth. But that wasn’t the only reason why I loved this place—their Chocolate Chip Banana Filled Pancakes and Breakfast Quesadilla are to die for! Right now, though, I wasn’t after a The Hills cast member sighting or a serving of offensively delish pancakes—my goal was to capture that mellow, carefree vibe that was so dead-on L.A. People from back home were always asking me, “What’s it like in L.A.?” and so I felt I needed some pictures to show them what it was really like, you know? Leisurely brunch at a sidewalk café with your Ray-Bans on, a good book, someone who makes you laugh, and all the time in the world to kill? I couldn’t think of anything more L.A. than that.
Needless to say, I had so much fun doing this session. They didn’t really tell me, but I think Rotchel and Kris had a pretty good time, too. I mean, most of the places we shot at they’d never really been to before—and that’s always fun, right, playing tourists in your own city? The irony of it all was that it was me, the tourist, who played tour guide!
My favorite location, though, wasn’t one that was on the original list, but rather one that was added at the eleventh hour. So after hair and makeup, as Kris was getting ready to plot the route to Lulu’s on the GPS, a lightbulb moment hit me, and I begged him to make a detour to that area of Rampart Village where the L.A. Jollibee was. Not ‘cause I was craving for some Peach-Mango Pies, but because in that very area where Jollibee sat, just before N New Hampshire crossed Beverly, there were these towering, very regal-looking palm trees that lined that street, and I felt like I just had to use them as backdrop. It was my brother-in-law Chester who’d pointed this spot out to me a couple of weeks back, and all I could think of the moment I’d laid my eyes on it was how beautiful California was—and how charmed my life was. Ever since then, every time we’d drive past that stretch, I’d look up, squint, smile dreamily, and play a Long Beach Shortbus song in my head: “A palm tree can grow up and reach the sky/ I never did stop and wonder why/ It seems they climb into outer space/ I guess it’s cause they’re living under California grace…”
And that, my dears, is how this unassuming little area down N New Hampshire and Beverly has shot up to the top of my list. How could it not, when it’s testament to the fact that the life I’ve always dreamed of is the life I’m already living? Now ask me if I regret getting California Love tattooed on my right arm.
By the way, to those who know this couple: Kris and Rotchel are not engaged, OK? At least not yet. Just wanted to do something, you see, to prove to the world that you don’t have to wait to be engaged (or married!) to have an excuse for a love shoot. To be young and in love like that—that’s reason enough to smile. To be young and in love like that, and be in an incredible place at the same time—well, that’s reason enough to smile for the cameras.
KrisJohn Villaceran and Rotchel Siglas | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon in Los Angeles, CA, on May 22, 2012 | Hair and makeup by Mayce Aparis Arradaza | Tomato cardigan, black tiered lace trimmed floral cami, printed tiered flounce dress, and leather jacket, Forever 21 | Denim jacket, H&M | Brown lace-up boots, Aldo | Sky blue cotton oxford shirt, Hollister | Denim-washed garment dye khaki pants in dark olive green, Gap | Grey cutoff shorts, Levi’s
When I told my friends that I wanted to photograph “a bunch of California girls,” most of them were quick to roll their eyes and quip, “Oh, it’s obvious you want a The Hills-inspired shoot!” or “Let me guess: Lauren Conrad in your mood board?” While I will admit that I am crazy about Lauren Conrad and her gang (it’s no secret, after all, that one of the main reasons for this recent trip of mine to the City of Angels was to meet her in person—you know, as a birthday present to myself), allow me to lay my cards on the table and say that my California cultural references do not stop at The Hills or Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County. I also happen to be obsessed with, say, the L.A.-born photographer Herb Ritts, and I am constantly studying his body of work and always looking for ways to incorporate that magical Ritts touch into my own aesthetic (another reason for this trip was so I could see the Herb Ritts: L.A. Style exhibition at the Getty—ongoing until August 26, by the way, so go now if you haven’t yet). Bret Easton Ellis and most of his works are also very California to me. And, of course, I grew up to Beverly Hills, 90210 and Baywatch, which means that Shannen Doherty will always be my number one bad girl crush (sorry, Kristin Cavallari) and that Pamela Anderson will always be my favorite plastic (sorry, Heidi Montag). And I happen to be a fan of the, um, “manlier” shows, too, like Entourage, for example. But as far as TV shows about California go, Tom Kapinos’s Californication will forever be on top of my list, and that’s thanks to Madeleine Martin’s character Becca Moody, and Natascha McElhone’s character Karen van der Beek. Becca is the main protagonist Hank Moody’s (David Duchovny) acerbic, goth rock-inclined teenage daughter, and Karen is Becca’s grownup cool kid mom. Becca and Karen are not the quintessential California girls—but they’re my kind of California girls. Disaffected, not peachy. Witty, not ditzy. Pallid, not sunkissed. And none of that cotton candy, celluloid chic, too—like, no Juicy Couture sweatpants or anything like that. Becca is dead-on grunge with her flannels and vintage concert Tees, and Karen’s style is kind of downtown-meets-boho-meets-Coachella. Yes, they are, as you would call it, the other side of tinseltown, home of the hardcore. And they—not Lauren Conrad and her pretty posse—were exactly the kind of girls I had in mind when I said I wanted to photograph “a bunch of California girls.”
My prayers were answered when Maia Ramirez hit me up and asked me to photograph her and her daughters Mallie and Maxine, after seeing the work that I’d done for her brother Luigi’s engagement last year. Her message ended with a warning of sorts: “I have to tell you, though, the Mallie, my eldest, is kind of ‘tomboyish’—we’re gonna have a hard time convincing her to wear anything girly!!!” To which I responded, “Perfect!” Because wasn’t that a very Becca Moody thing to do—not “wear anything girly?” It was like I’d died and gone to heaven! Finally here was my chance to have a shoot inspired by the main girls of Californication! I wasted no time in sending her a list of clothes to prepare—flannels, big black grunge boots, beanies, and fishnet wrist gloves for the little girls, and Karen van der Beek-inspired pieces for Maia. At first Maia was concerned about the grunge look on her youngest, Maxine—unlike Mallie, you see, Maxine was the girly girl type, the kind who preferred ballerina flats over boots, and Disney princesses over, say, Queens of Dogtown. A compromise had to be made, and so I allowed Maxine to pair her flannels with sequined shorts instead of jeans—I had to say no to the ballerina flats, though, and only allowed her to wear leather Chuck Taylor-esque lace-up boots (with floral applique detail, of course).
Initially Maia wanted the shoot to take place in their hometown of Clovis, CA, which was some 4 hours northwest of L.A. (some 15 minutes northeast of Fresno), but I had to turn that down because I couldn’t find anyone to drive me there. Also, I really couldn’t imagine doing this whole thing anywhere else but in Venice Beach. As some of you who’ve been there may know, Venice is one of the more colorful and vibrant areas of Southern California, one of those places that have managed to establish itself as a cultural phenomenon by being egalitarian, mind-bogglingly eclectic and compellingly odd—I’d fallen in love with the place the first time I’d visited some three years ago, and there was nothing I wanted more now than a chance to take its pulse through pictures. Besides, it’s also where most of my favorite scenes from Californication were shot, especially that one scene some 7 or 8 minutes into the second episode of the fourth season where Becca is playing her electric guitar at the boardwalk for some cash (to save up for a place of her own), while Karen and Pamela Adlon’s character Marcy Runkle looked on—it was exactly this scene that I wanted to recreate for this shoot. Thankfully, Maia said yes to driving all the way from Clovis; she owed the girls a visit to Disneyland, anyways, and so she asked for our gig to be scheduled on the Monday following their Sunday date with Mickey Mouse and friends.
Sometimes materializing your vision is never easy, and this one right here was no exception. In order to effectively recreate that one rockin’ scene of Becca’s at the boardwalk, we needed heavy duty props, such as an electric guitar, a hard case, maybe even some amps. Thank God my brother-in-law Chester is a guitarist and had all these stuff handy (I think I must’ve had over a dozen guitars and cases to choose from, but I ended up picking the Dean Vendetta guitar and the B.C. Rich “casket case,’’ of course, because they were just so badass-looking)! But while the sourcing wasn’t a problem, dragging all that stuff around definitely was pain in the backside—I think I almost broke my two arms trying to carry them from the beachfront parking lot to the spot we were shooting at and back (and I had my camera bag with me, too)! All worth the backbreaking trouble, though, because the pictures from that set came out real good! And not so much because of the props as in terms of how Mallie and Maxine handled them. I didn’t even need to teach Mallie how to cradle the guitar—she just snatched the darn thing from my hands and in no time declared she was ready for her closeup! Who says little girls don’t know a thing or two about rocking out? I hope she grows up to be a guitarist.
Yes, what started out as something I thought I needed to do in a hurry quickly turned into one of those shoots that I didn’t want to ever end. On the 10 en route to the beach, all I could think of was, I gotta do this fast! I gotta to this fast! (I even had a cup of coffee before leaving my sister’s house, and coffee is not my favorite thing in the world!) I was thinking of the little girls, you see, and how I didn’t want to work them up too much, especially considering the fact that, well, these were little girls, and that they’d spent more than 8 hours under the sun at Disneyland the previous day (no Mickey Mouse ears are ever large enough to shade you against the brutal California sun, and I learned that the hard way). Once we got to the beach, though, Mallie and Maxine were suddenly so rejuvenated, and they couldn’t wait to step in front of the camera! And once I started clicking, it was as if they didn’t want to step away from my frame ever! Maxine, in particular, was such a hogger (for lack of a better term)—I’d take pictures of her big sister solo, and just two or three clicks and she’d be screaming, “OK, enough, Mallie! My turn! My turn!” To which Mallie would just nod and politely give way! Can’t remember the countless times I told her, “Maxine, you gotta wait your turn!” and the countless times she retorted, “But it already is my turn!” Swear to God, for every three pictures of Mallie, Maxine would have 20! This didn’t seem to bother the elder sister, though, because she’s chill like that—at one point she even told me, “I don’t really like my picture being taken.” The only reason she had no issues about doing this session, apparently, was ‘cause it was in her lane in that it was kind of “non-girly,” and she even lived up to her offbeat, tomboy cred by demanding, “[If you have to] take photos of me, [they have to be of me] standing right next to these really cool trash cans!” It was like I’d found my own personal Becca Moody! How else was I supposed to love this girl but to bits and pieces?
At one point it made me wonder where these girls’ energy was coming from. Were they solar-powered, and were they getting it from the scorching sun? Was it the fact that we were in a very groovy, lively place? Was it the corndogs? Were they getting it from Harry Perry (no relation to Katy Perry, I’m sorry), the turban-sporting electric guitarist on roller skates? Did they have a peppy song playing in their heads the whole time—”Overdrive” by Katy Rose, perhaps, which goes something like, “Yeah, yeah, I’m independence/ Yeah, yeah, I’m borderline/ Yeah, yeah, I’m California/ My mind’s all screwed and upside down/ But my heart’s on overdrive”? Of course, it didn’t take long for me to figure out that they got it from their mama! Maia was so fierce in front of the camera that I had it all too easy. Considering the fact that she wasn’t really comfortable with our theme at first, she put on a very good show! Yes, she admitted that at the onset she was kind of skeptical about the whole Californication/grunge thing, but then she chimped after a few shots, and then gave me her stamp of approval, saying that she liked it ‘cause “it’s a departure from the usual family photos!” Nothing makes me happier than subjects who allow me the liberty to carry out my vision despite our creative differences, and who give me the chance to prove that I’ve got something. For that I had to reward Maia with a bonus set—a pared-down, no-fuss “denim-and-whites” set, still very much California, but sedate enough for her to use as Christmas cards or whatever she wants to use them for.
I think I am getting the hang of this—you know, photographing families and children. I mean, it all seems so distant now, that part when I was only starting out and I actually swore to myself that I was never going to do anything that involved kids because, well, I was deathly afraid I was never going to get them to stand still, much less get them to do whatever crazy stuff I wanted them to do. But after shoots like this one right here, I guess you can’t help but ask for more! Now the problem is whether or not I’ll be able to find little ones who are as crazy and outgoing as Mallie and Maxine. I’ve been trying to avoid this, but I think now is a really good time to borrow a line from The Beach Boys: Don’t you just “wish they all could be California girls?”
Maia Mangubat-Ramirez and her daughters Mary Louise and Maxine Antoine | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon in Los Angeles, CA, on May 21, 2012 | Hair and makeup by Mayce Aparis Arradaza | Graphic print Tee, Matthew Williamson for H&M | Yellow high-low hemline sheer top, Forever 21 | Acid wash skinny jeans, Fire Los Angeles, at Nordstrom | Girls’ flannel shirts, Abercrombie Kids | Girl’s skinny jeans, Gap | Black sequined shorts, Gap
There are those who let their so-called achievements, however insignificant, get to their heads. And then there are those who, no matter the high places their career has taken them, keep their feet firmly planted in the ground. Go ahead and count the model Fretzel Buenconsejo in the latter category. Modest to a fault—i.e., to a point of being self-deprecating—and never one to attract attention to herself, she would rather talk about her humble beginnings than, say, pull out her imposing portfolio, or joke about her flaws than brag about her good looks.
Such was what went down when she showed up for the casting call for the accessories design firm Gracie Q’s spring/summer 2012 catalog shoot. I kept nudging her so she would take her portfolio out of her tote and spread it out on the table, but she just sat there, beaming, and talking about her childhood. In my mind I was thinking, What is she so scared of? Why is she not sharing her book? Had I been in her place, the portfolio would’ve been slammed against the tabletop before I could even think of sitting down, the thickness of it enough to cause a thundering BOOM!, and so there would be no need for my mouth to do the talking. When I say she’s been to high places, you see, I really mean high places: After a 6-year stint in Cebu, she’d moved to Manila sometime in the mid-2000s, and that’s when she’d reached a really prolific peak, appearing in high-profile ad campaigns for the likes of Gatorade, McDonald’s, Paradise Mango Rum Liqueur, even Pampers. Perhaps her best-known appearance was for a campaign for instant coffee behemoth Nescafé—one of my favorite stories to tell was how, standing the in Buendia station one day a couple of years back, I’d broken into goosebumps when an MRT train with Fretzel’s face (holding up a cup of coffee) plastered on its side had pulled up in front of me. I had to pull this anecdote out of my pocket that evening of the casting call because Fretzel couldn’t bring herself to do it!
Well, as it turned out, my story proved to be near useless, because all the Gracie Q team had ears for were Fretzel’s stories about growing up in a small town (Dalaguete), and about the little-girl antics that gave her this one scar on her elbow and that one scar on her knee (other girls would go to great lengths to hide their imperfections, but this girl is proud of hers!), etc. Gracie Q proprietor/head designer Grace Querickiol-Nigel was completely blown away by her modesty and sense of humor, and wasted no time in declaring, “We have found our girl! I want her for my catalog!” (And Malou Pages [of Shutterfairy Photography, where I am currently apprenticing], who’d been commissioned to photograph the whole thing, would later recount that something about Fretzel had given her “a warm fuzzy feeling deep inside,” and that “she’s the kind of person who could tell me stories all day long while I chase her around with my camera!”) Just like that, the search was over, and the team didn’t even bother looking at the other names the list.
For what it’s worth, I knew right from the start that they were going to pick Fretzel—I just didn’t know they would pick her for her “backstory,” and that the looks factor would only come secondary. When Grace told me at the onset of this project, you see, that the collection we were shooting was “inspired by all things Cebu,” I immediately thought, They’re gonna need a very Filipina-, very Cebuana-looking model, and so I wasted no time in contacting Fretzel (perfect timing, too, ‘cause she’d just moved back to Cebu to start a new business venture with her boyfriend Jeff). It wouldn’t be until later on in the production process that I would understand the message that Grace wanted to convey via this collection: “I want to bring out the island girl in the wearer. That’s pretty much the effect I want this collection to achieve. I want the Gracie Q woman to wear these pieces and—WHAM!—she is transported to another place in time, [that place being] our beautiful island of Cebu.”
The Cebu in her mind being the Cebu she grew up in—the virgin beaches, the windy hills, the colorful “jeepneys” (and not the tall buildings that you see now). Which was why Fretzel’s stories of her childhood in a small beach town struck a chord with Grace—Fretzel’s Cebu echoed a lot of Grace’s Cebu, the Cebu that the Gracie Q team wanted the world to see. The more I think about it, now the more it makes sense to me: Of course, it was only natural that they would pick a down-to-earth girl to represent a truly down-to-earth collection. It’s a match made in heaven!
Already wrote about this a couple of months back, but it’s worth mentioning again that, yes, Fretzel did me proud on the day of the shoot, too! And I’m not just talking about how she surprised me by bringing a copy of the book Filipina: A Tribute to the Filipino Woman (2004), which included a photograph of her by the great Wig Tysmans from a shoot that I’d styled more than a decade ago (yes, I can now safely say that at least one of my works have made it into a bona fide book!). She displayed utmost professionalism, arriving 30 minutes before everybody else, moving at a bullet-like pace, helping with the styling, dispensing invaluable shooting advice (like only a seasoned model could), and just being a lynch pin—all this while winning everyone over with her sunny personality, and allotting the right amount of goofiness to keep the mood light. What we thought was going to take two days to shoot only took one day (7 hours to be exact), thanks to her!
But enough about Fretzel. Let’s talk about Gracie Q. One of the reasons this project was special to me was ‘cause it gave me the chance to work with a fashion brand “with a conscience”—not only do they teach skills and provide opportunities to people who need them the most, they are also making noble efforts to be responsible stewards of environmental conservation, taking other manufacturing firms’ scrap materials and turning them into beautiful little trinkets. It’s an admirable feat, really, and truly one worth emulating. But don’t just take my word for it. Below I have included the note that Grace wrote to accompany the catalog. Read on and you will see why Gracie Q is something you as a Cebuano can truly be proud of.
* * * * * * * * *
The Gracie Q journey began five years ago when an accessories designer friend instilled a passion for craftsmanship in me. She had asked for a help and I obliged, not knowing that one afternoon in her table would spark a fire inside of me. What an exhilarating feeling to find out I could come up with things of beauty with my own bare hands! I would soon run into the need for help myself, and, as I was commissioned by an outdoor furniture manufacturing firm to conduct skills transference classes to indigents (yes, I was a livelihood coach in a past life), that was when I discovered the joy of reaching out—i.e., of teaching people some skills, and of rewarding them in the end by giving them the opportunity to make their lives better with their newfound craft. Safe to say that that was how this microenterprise was born—by marrying my thirst for creating beautiful things with my desire to help my brothers in need.
Halfway through our ride, my team and I became conscious that we were missing a very essential ingredient, and that’s when we decided to embrace a commitment to environmental sustainability. Partnering with the aforementioned outdoor furniture manufacturer, we found ways to take their scrap and leftover materials to help reinforce their zero-waste/zero-landfill policies, put these very pieces in our own depots and drawing tables, and incorporate them into our own design methodologies and end products. No easy feat, but came with a sense of gratification like no other knowing that, in our own little way, we were contributing to efforts to protect the environment and to make this planet a better place for generations to come.
After five years, and having fulfilled three very important goals—to immerse our hands in the thrills of craftsmanship, to provide meaningful opportunities to those who need it most, and to be responsible to the environment—you’d think that Gracie Q is pretty much where we want it to be, and that we could not ask for more. Tempting as it is to stop and rest on our laurels, we felt we owed it to Gracie Q to give it some semblance of a brand—in other words, to go back and zero in on our creative direction, now that our social responsibility objectives had been carried out and set in stone. We wanted Gracie Q to be more than just an “exporter” (if you come to think of it, “exporter” was no longer a fitting term, anyway, as we were starting to make our products available locally, too)—we wanted to turn it into a bona fide brand.
And so here we are today, with a new creative team at the helm. We now have people who help us make valuable branding and image decisions, forecast trends, study the market, generate design concepts, and inject a little creative discipline into our operations. Whereas for the past five years our creative process took a rather haphazard route, relying mainly on whim and hasty bursts of inspiration, we now have instruments to funnel and filter all these to make sure the resulting messages/concepts are stylish without being inconsistent, and enduring without being stagnant.
The collection that you are seeing now via the catalog that is in your hands—and, if we may add, the catalog itself—is a product of this new creative process, a process that, although very painstaking and rigid, no doubt takes Gracie Q to new heights, which is no less than the plateau that it deserves. I will admit that at first there were reservations in my part, and the whole thing proved to be too overwhelming at times, but I knew it was all worth it when I saw that it only elaborated on rather than disguised the Gracie Q aesthetic. Think of it as a makeover of sorts. The same old Gracie Q, only this time with more discipline, more structure, and, consequently, more substance! People ask me, “But isn’t it like you’re starting over again?” Which was precisely the point. The walls have been built—the skills, the dedication to help others, the commitment to protect the planet—and so now it was time to go back to the foundation and strengthen it. It really is like coming full circle. A lot like coming home!
Speaking of coming home, that was exactly what we had in mind when we were designing this new collection. In the past, you see, we’d looked literally everywhere for inspiration—e.g., a certain collection would evoke a bit of Paris here, a little New York there, etc., as a result of me trying to encapsulate all my travel memories into one receptacle—and that’s probably why we’d never had a “structured” collection, ‘cause our references were too varied! This time, though, we decided to look at just one place—and we decided for it to be a tropical island paradise. Why? How? Well, it all started when we were thinking of a muse. What type of woman did we want to see these pieces on? Who did we want to design for? The quirky cool London woman who lived for Glastonbury, like, say, Kate Moss? The sophisticated yet mischievous Manhattanite editor who loved to hit the shooting ranges during her downtime, like Helen Lee Schifter? The preternaturally leggy Czech whose, as the song goes, “hair was Harlow gold,” like Karolina Kurkova? It was tremendously difficult having to pick just one woman when we wanted to do them all! And then it struck us: What did all these women have in common? We recalled a series of photographs of Ms. Moss kicking it at a beach in Phuket. Dug up images of the regal Ms. Schifter unwinding at St. Barth’s. Paparazzi shots of Ms. Kurkova in Ipanema. All of which led to the conclusion that, no matter what type of woman you were, and wherever in the world you were from, you were always going to be an island girl at heart. That’s how we came up with the idea of island-inspired pieces. And where better to look for inspiration than in our own backyard? Yes, to those of you who are not aware, Gracie Q was born and raised in an island paradise—that’s the island of Cebu to you.
Dubbed “Paradiso,” this collection boasts of hues inspired by our cool blue waters and, well, some of their creatures (the neon damselfish of Sumilon had a shade of blue that proved too irresistible), gradients that evoke breathtaking sunsets seen from a Lapu-Lapu beachfront, and textures that recall, say, afternoon hikes up the bucolic flower-growing hills of Busay. We have chandelier neckpieces that allude to Sinulog festival costumes, patterns borrowed from hand-painted native guitars, finishes that pay proper tribute the ever-vibrant “jeepneys” that roam our streets. But perhaps the most Cebuano of the bunch—our pièces de résistance, so to speak—are those pieces with accents inspired by the pusô, a native dish in which rice is cooked in a diamond-shaped packet made of woven coconut leaves. Really, when these little accents jingle-jangle around your wrists or against your collar, what other place on earth comes to mind? (What’s more, they are made from scraps of the material used to create hand-woven chairs—stylish and sustainable!)
Of course, there is one thing more Cebuano than even the pusô. 10 years ago I read a passage in a local magazine that said something to the effect of: “Few things are as redolent of that classic Cebu charm as…the Cebuana smile.” How very true! When I am in a different city or country and I see a Filipina woman smile in a way that makes my heart skip a beat, I immediately think, “This woman is Cebuana”—and almost always I am proven right! That was exactly what I had in mind when we were scouting for a face to represent this collection and grace this catalog. When the model Fretzel Buenconsejo stepped into our offices for the casting call, with a smile as warm as an island breeze, we knew right then and there she was exactly who we were looking for. Fretzel is the quintessential island girl—grew up riding bikes along the coastal roads of Dalaguete (a beachfront town some 50 miles southwest of Cebu City), a sucker for seafood and tropical fruit, and proud of her skin, which happens to be the color of brown sugar. She’s the kind of girl whose laughter tells stories of endless summers, whose laid-back, unassuming nature reminds you of sweet little siestas, and whose zest for life has that characteristic tang of a tropical fruit juice. In other words, she’s the kind of girl we hope every woman transforms into once they slip on a piece or two from this collection.
On behalf of the Gracie Q team, allow me welcome you to our island home. As one famous line from a movie goes, “Trust me, it’s paradise.” And we’re glad we have the chance to bring out the island girl in you and make you look the part.
Fretzel Buenconsejo for Gracie Q | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon for Shutterfairy in Lapu-Lapu, Cebu, on November 19, 2011 | Main photographers: Malou Pages-Solomon for Shutterfairy, Charisse Darlene Calo for Calography (click here to view some of Malou’s photos) | Hair and makeup by Joe Branzuela | Special thanks to Jeff Enecio and Vanity Salinana | Maya blue/grey unishoulder drape goddess dress, Lotte Delima-Edwards | Orange red/sienna/carrot striped top, Forever 21 | White jersey multi-way dress, EJ Relampagos | Persian green/lime floral-print silk chiffon kaftan with Indian silk trimming, Kate Torralba | Cyan/chartreuse zebra-print cotton/jersey blend keyhole-neck floor-length kaftan, Lotte Delima-Edwards | Black strapless corset minidress, EJ Relampagos | Strapped wooden wedge sandals, Shandar
How popular are Oyo Sotto and Kristine Hermosa’s engagement photos (by the great Nelwin Uy) to the just-got-engaged/to-be-hitched set these days? I swear, I must have had four or five couples come up to me and gush about them. And who can blame them, really? I myself (and I am not getting engaged or married ever) can’t stop thinking about, say, that scarlet flamenco-inspired bell-sleeved lace dress that Ms. Hermosa wore in one of the sets, or how ruggedly handsome Oyo looked (or, could it be the fact that some of the photos involved horses was what made me giddy like that?). Chito Delavin and Tuesday Cuizon were no exception. In fact, they took their fascination to a whole new level—whereas other couples would just mention it in passing, the Oyo and Kristine photos were all Chito and Tuesday could talk about. And then it happened: they declared that that was the kind of theme they wanted for their own engagement photos.
My first impulse was to talk them out of it, because I seemed to know that there was no way anyone could top those now-semi-iconic photos. “I’m not that good!” I laughed, before proceeding to explain that Oyo and Kristine’s photos didn’t really have a particular theme—i.e., it was an eclectic mix of themes that was put into play, what with the abovementioned scarlet flamenco-style dress paired with Oyo’s mismatched plaid ensemble, a touch of neo-boheme here and there, plus some elements of folk, urbanite, even cowboy. Thankfully, Tuesday said she didn’t want an exact copy of each and every outfit—she just wanted the “playful feel” of it all. “Like little kids playing dress-up.” I loved her take on it. Just like that, a sigh of relief.
Not to say my nerves were completely out the window. I had every reason to be nervous about this assignment. You are going to laugh at this, but I’ve got to come clean that the nonlinear theme and eclectic mix-and-matching are no strong suits of mine—what I’m good at is finding one formula per shoot, and sticking to it. Over the years, when the occasion called for something eclectic, I would be quick to turn and pass the ball to my fellow stylist Meyen Baguio, who (and I talked about this in a previous post) was more able in this department than I could ever be. Unfortunately, Meyen had moved to Manila shortly after our collaboration for the Shandar catalog some six months back, and she wasn’t coming home anytime soon! I wasn’t completely out of luck, though: Meyen’s 14-year-old niece Mickey was still in town and wasn’t going anywhere!
I talked about Mickey in a bunch of previous posts. She’s an aspiring makeup artist whose idols include the celebrated Romero Vergara, and who loves to drown herself in Kevyn Aucoin and Bobbi Brown books (while all the other kids her age are reading, say, Harry Potter). Very recently, styling lured her interest, too, which was only natural considering she rarely stumbles upon dull fashion sense, having been raised by a grandmother and a mom who loved clothes, and by Meyen who was practically making a living off of it. The little girl had in fact lent a hand during one sitting for the Shandar catalog, and so now that I was in another styling dilemma and her aunt wasn’t around I knew that my best bet would be to call her for some input.
Needless to say, that turned out to be the best decision I’d ever made for this particular project, and so was asking her to tag along on the day of the shoot. It was I who brought the clothes, yes, but it was Mickey who put this and that together, and who called the shots in the footwear, legwear and accessories departments. The resulting outfits? Well, perhaps not as over-the-top stylish as Oyo and Kristine’s, but they were nothing short of whimsical. I guess that right there is the advantage of having an extra pair of eyes that’s fresher and younger—had I been on my own that day I don’t think I would’ve been able to produce the same results, owing to the fact that I tend to overthink rules. Moral of the story: Who best to recreate a “kids playing dress-up” picture than, well, a kid herself? (Although I really should stop calling her a kid—she’s in her mid-teens now and seems to be growing an inch or two a month!)
We were going to shoot at a traveling carnival, at the suggestion of Paul Calo (of Calography), and that had gotten me real stoked. Can’t remember if it was ‘cause we weren’t able to pull some strings or ‘cause we just couldn’t find the damn place (ironically, in this part of the world, the traveling carnival is not an easy part of town to find), but that plan got axed, and so we settled for second best: a little fishing village somewhere in Cordova, some four miles southwest of Lapu-Lapu City, and we also managed to stop at an abandoned building along the way. Turned out to be alright, because these places were so full of texture, but to this day I can’t stop thinking about the carnival idea, you know? How perfect that would’ve been, right, for a “child’s play” theme? Well, there are always other shoots.
Speaking of “child’s play,” it helped a great deal that our subjects were quick to slip into character once it was time to face the cameras. Pretty awesome, because during our first meeting only two or three weeks back they’d come off as the quiet, serious types, and here they were now, hauling out some crazy, goofy, childish stuff. Well, at first Chito was still kind of shy, but that was alright because it was exactly the kind of shyness that made him smile like a bashful little schoolboy, you know? As for Tuesday, who’d claimed earlier that she wasn’t at all camera shy, that day she learned that, funnily enough, she was still capable of blushing like a schoolgirl—you should’ve seen the way she giggled every time Chito put his arms around her or leaned forward to kiss her! It was refreshing to see them all grown up one day, and then act like little kids falling in love for the first time the next. It made me happy when Tuesday declared that this shoot sort of gave them a chance to relive their younger days, a time that was special to them because, well, that was when they’d fallen in love (they’d been dating since high school!). I could attribute it to the clothes, or even those colorful balloons, but, really, it was their childlike chemistry that made the whole thing such an exhilarating picture to paint. It was like we were shooting a modern-day fairy tale! Apparently, Frank Sinatra was right when he sang, “It can happen to you/ If you’re young at heart…”
Chito Delavin and Tuesday Cuizon | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon for Shutterfairy in Lapu-Lapu City and Cordova, Cebu, on November 13, 2011 | Main photographers: Malou Pages-Solomon for Shutterfairy, Paul Armand and Charisse Calo for Calography | Makeup by Owen Taboada | Hair by Nan Castillo | Styling assistant: Mikaela Baguio | Vanilla crochet and lace gala gown, Philipp Tampus | Eggshell lace shirt, amber cotton chintz skirt, hyperfloral babydoll dress with bishop-style sleeves, all from The Fab Grab | Vintage wash denim jacket, multicolor mesh scarf, stylist’s own | Strapped wooden wedge sandals, Shandar | Flannel shirt, American Eagle Outfitters | Digi houndstooth-print dress shirt, Uniqlo | Chocolate brown blazer, Maldita Men | Plaid shorts and Madras shorts, Old Navy | Solid black men’s silk tie, Springfield UP by Springfield | Red and white plimsolls, Springfield
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).