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
My own personal PJ Harvey. That’s what I’d used to call singer/songwriter Cattski Espina, back when I’d immersed myself in the local music radar as part of my duties as editor-in-chief of the now-defunct alternative culture e-zine Neoground.com (where I’d worked with Sonic Boom Philippines founder Alex “Phat Boy” Lim, Urbandub’s Gabby Alipe, and former NU107 anchorwomen Hazel Montederamos and Krissi Banzon, among others). And she remembered this—the woman has an astonishing recall of detail, testament that she is a compelling storyteller. No doubt she remembered, too, that I’d been an avid follower of her live appearances in shows like Intimate Acoustics (a series of sitting room only unplugged shows held at the then happening Padi’s Point, which ran popular throughout ’99) and its subsequent all-girls spin-off Siren Souls, the latter her eponymous band had top-billed along with the Kate Torralba-fronted Hard Candy, and the then female-fronted Cueshé (yes, Dhee Evangelista, now of Pandora). At the time, of course, the comparison between her and the divine Ms. Harvey had sprouted from—and ended at—the impassioned singing, the deeply sonorous vocals, the gender-bending songwriting. Certainly I had not meant for it to be a prediction of sorts. So you could imagine my surprise upon finding out firsthand that her musical career had somewhat ended up treading the same path as Ms. Harvey’s—i.e., her group had disbanded, and she was now on her own (the only difference was that the PJ Harvey trio had dissolved after two albums, while Cattski the band had managed to make it to three albums before breaking up).
Balmy early evening in late August, and I was having coffee—well, frappé, really—with Cattski. “The Cat Lady” (as I fondly call her these days, borrowing from the name of her weekly column from back when she was resident rock critic at the local daily SunStar) had just finished titling and tracklisting her forthcoming album, and with only four or five tracks left to fine-tune, it was now time to get down and dirty for the album cover. “Other [musicians] opt for artwork,” she would later declare, “but in my case, I like having my face in the CD sleeve. I mean, you gotta put a face to the name and to the music at some point, right?” Choosing a photographer to bring her vision into life had not been a daunting task—even prior to beginning work on this album, already she’d had Malou “Mai” Pages-Solomon of Shutterfairy Photography on top of her list (she’d worked with Mai before, for a couple of promotional material, and she’d liked the outcome so much that she’d decided no other photographer would do for this new recording). Which was what had brought me here—having just jumpstarted my apprenticeship at Shutterfairy a couple of weeks back, I had been commissioned by Mai to style Cattski for this one very important shoot. And what a way to be reunited, right? I had not seen this woman in seven or so years! But breaking the ice didn’t prove to be tricky. All she had to do was tell me about how Cattski the band was no more, and that this upcoming album, although technically her fourth (fifth, if you count her tenth anniversary compilation, released early last year), was really the first from Cattski the solo artist. Of course, the news came to me as a shocker, not so much because I’d come here expecting to style a quartet, but because I’d become so used to thinking of Cattski as a group. I couldn’t bring myself to imagine Cattski as a non-group without losing a bit of composure. I mean, sure, this woman right here had always been that band’s focal point, but all I could think of was that amazing, formidable chemistry that the group had had, you know? But, oh well, as Cattski now put it, “Life happened” (exactly the reason she and I had lost touch for seven years in the first place). Guitarist Anne Muntuerto had had to leave for Washington, DC, to pursue a Master’s Degree in Nurse Anesthesia—definitely a relief to hear it had had nothing to do with “creative differences” or anything like that, and that the two of them remained really good friends, and that Anne was now turning out to be not only Cattski’s but Cebu music’s biggest ambassador/promoter overseas, sharing our goods with whatever musical circuit she was able to penetrate (including the big leagues such as singer/producer Brian Larsen, for whom she became touring guitarist). As for the rest of the band members, well, I decided it was no longer my business to ask about them. Especially when Cattski began to make it clear that there was nothing else she wanted to do at this point but to move forward.
Or move further back, as the case would be. “[The reason] why I’ve decided to call [this new album] Zero,” she revealed, “[is] because it’s like I’ve gone back to zero!” As of the time we spoke she was still undecided on whether to label it Zero, spelled out like that, or 0:00:00, like “how your [digital] music player [timer] looks like right before you [hit the] play [button].” But whatever she ends up going with, the premise remains the same: starting from nothing. I know it sounds frightening, but turns out it’s not so bad after all. When you come from nothing, “you have this kind of independence, this freedom to do whatever you feel like doing, and it becomes a [prolific] exploration,” she explained. “Back when I was still in a group, I had all this music in me, just waiting to explode, but then I would put it forward for the rest [of the band members] to hear—because that’s what being in a band is all about, you have to get the others’ opinion—but then they’d be, like, ‘That’s too Barbie’s Cradle!’ or ‘That’s not hardcore enough.’” She went on about how, in the eight or nine years of being in a group, there had always been this unspoken rule that “you have to stick with a formula when trying to come up with new material, and so you always have to [reference] all the things you’ve already done.” But now she no longer needed to do that. “Now I can start with nothing—with silence—and then go with whatever hits me from out of the blue!”
Silence being the operative word. She proceeded to tell the story of how, one day at twilight, couple of weeks before beginning work on new material, she’d found herself standing on the vast balcony of a local hotel perched atop the hills, and she’d just stood there, stunned by how the city sprawled before her had changed its face as dusk had settled—and by the silence and stillness that had come with it. A silence so piercing that it had laid itself out like a stark blank canvas, awakening the music and words from deep inside her that she’d thought she’d long forgotten, and causing them to detonate like firecrackers. Just like that, what could possibly be her peak artistic period had gotten a jumpstart. Out of nothing, Zero had been born.
Said differently: By taking a step back, she had moved on.
In no other picture was this logic clearer to me than in “Monsters,” one of the 11 new tracks to be included in Zero, and a strong contender for carrier single. In her deeply soulful contralto, Cattski croons: “I feel I’m braver now to face my demons/ I’ve finally learned to use my angels, too/ I think I’m finally ready to live my truth/ ‘Cause right now that I’m without you there’s just nothing to lose.” Odds and ends of emotions in her words and in her voice, kind of like that closet where you’d kept your skeletons for so long, and now that the bones had been cleaned out you were seeing for the very first time all the other stuff that had been there with them all along (I won’t take credit for that simile; that’s an extended version of an imagery that she uses in the song’s refrain). But one emotion you weren’t gonna find no matter how hard you tried was bitterness. It hadn’t been disguised—it just simply wasn’t there to begin with. Definitely a feat—well, to me, at least—because very few storytellers succeed in looking past the pain, in just walking away from it. This was a huge change for Cattski, who, when she’d broken into the scene a little over a decade back, had embraced the exquisite anguish of hanging on to an offhandedly ambivalent partner (“High and Low,” 2001), and who, some five years ago, had made a big deal about holding on to someone who clearly was no longer there (“Your Ghost,” 2006). And who, only a year ago, had been “too emotionally unstable—disturbed would be an accurate description,” for whatever reason. In fact, change was starting to look like a recurring theme in Zero. In “New,” another solid candidate for first single, she spits out, in brisk cadences: “This is not you/ I guess I like the old you/ But then you like the new.” At first my brows raised, ‘cause it sounded to me like she was contradicting herself here by lamenting a friend’s resolve to change. If I hadn’t known better, though, I would have stuck to that first impression; but after rereading the lyrics more than a dozen times I was now confident enough to declare that that one line was really a sort of reverse message for her fans—like, “I know you liked the old me, but I promise you you’re gonna like the new me even more.” I could say that I made that up. But it would be very remiss of me not to insinuate that Cattski here was clever like that.
And so here she was with her brand new take on life. And, as they say, a new outlook required a new, well, look, and that was exactly what I was here for. Always I’d been cautious about styling musicians (as public figures, you see, they are ultimately responsible for the way they are seen, and so they have to be the custodian of their own image), saying yes only to those who’d asked for a helping hand (like to Urbandub bassist Lalay Lim, for example, who’d asked for my help some four years back before stepping in front of photographer Charles Buencosejo’s camera for the CD jacket of and promotional posters for their fourth album Under Southern Lights). Cattski here had not exactly asked for help, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t open to others’ ideas. So many things that needed to be done in the studio, so she wasn’t exactly in a position to turn down anyone offering to relieve her of non-studio work. Just like that, I got to work.
Taking a cue from her stories of how the Zero creative process had begun—i.e., “from nothing”—I proceeded to assemble a mood board that was pared down and very basic. No convoluted palettes, for one: I was quick to throw in some black, just ‘cause the RGB triplet for black was (0, 0, 0), just two zeroes shy of her 0:00:00 idea. I had to make room for one more color, and was tempted to go for a primary like a red or a blue, but in the end I decided to go with white. Black and white. Or, as Cattski liked to put it, ebony and ivory, like the keys of a piano. That was it. You couldn’t get any more pared down than that. It was perfect ‘cause I’d just finished reading excerpts from Just Kids, punk rocker Patti Smith’s tender and captivating memoir of her charmed friendship with the black-and-white photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, and for weeks I’d been looking for ways to translate some of that enigmatic Smith/Mapplethorpe chemistry into my own work. I wasted no time mentally updating my board with the cover photograph of Smith’s debut album Horses—the singer in a white men’s dress shirt, tight jeans, black suspenders, with a black men’s blazer nonchalantly flung over her left shoulder, and scruffy hair—which Mapplethorpe had taken using natural afternoon light “in a penthouse in Greenwich Village.” Like how I liked my burgers, though, with one patty never being enough, one reference to Patti wasn’t sufficient, so I went ahead and slapped another photo of hers against the board: An older Patti this time, circa 2010, no longer punk’s princess but very much its doyenne, shot by the fashion photographer Ruven Afanador for the February 2010 issue of O: The Oprah Magazine—reclining against a wooden table, in a black smoking jacket and a white dress shirt so supersized they allude Martin Margiela’s all-oversize collection from A/W 2000/2001, and what looked like sweatpants tucked into buckle-strapped biker boots. Cattski liked these references, just like I’d thought. It was a look that was meant for her—with her newfound air of insouciance, she could well be on her way to becoming my own personal Patti Smith (yes, no more PJ Harvey).
We brainstormed for a couple of more looks, and she proposed that, since we were doing black and white, she wanted to use this, well, black-and-white star-print sweater she’d bought from a recent trip to the Lion City, to which I said why the hell not. If we had to go with patterns, stars were the right way to go—huge for Fall (as evidenced in Dolce & Gabbana Fall 2011 Ready-to-Wear), and had kind of a grunge subtext, to people like me who remembered the teeny weeny asterisk in Billy Corgan’s infamous ZERO shirts of yore. (I swear, the uncanny correlations just kept on coming: Here I was styling an artist for her album called Zero, and Corgan’s ZERO shirt just had to come to mind.) That being said, we decided to make room for just a little bit more of neo-grunge, and that’s how actress Zoë Kravitz got into the picture, more specifically her character in the TV series Californication, a reckless Venice Beach teen and frontwoman of an all-girl band who called themselves Queens of Dogtown, whose badass (albeit scripted) Whisky a Go Go performance of Alice in Chains’s “Would” (for the fifth episode of the fourth season) and whose penchant for boy’s tanks and exposed brassieres had gotten me falling head over heels—or, wool beanie over combat boots, if you will.
Speaking of combats, Cattski forgot to bring hers on the day of the shoot, so my own Bed Stü “Artillery Boots” had to make a special guest appearance in one of the sets (I swear to God, wherever my boots go they manage to steal the show). That wasn’t the only thing I was happy about. I was also glad that the black smoking jacket I got from local menswear genius Protacio didn’t turn out to be too oversize on her (and so the silhouette came out more Demeulemeester than Margiela), and that the star-spangled sweater didn’t come out too fancy (originally we’d intended to have her wear black leggings with the said sweater, but we ditched it so we could show off the tattoo in her leg). Androgyny was a very good look on this woman, I must say. Although I was happy that she wasn’t afraid to get in touch with her girly side, too, putting on every single chain and chandelier necklace I flung her way—even agreeing, after only a moment’s hesitation, to “lose the dress shirt and just stand there in your brassiere!” (Such a trouper, I know—never even complained about the lack of a dressing room, and that she had to undress and dress in front of all of us!) Ecstatic, too, that my friend Nikki Paden had agreed to assist me with the styling, because a helping hand was always a treat, and no one knew the black and white palette better than that girl. What I was most happy about, though, was the hair and makeup. I’d never met, much less worked, with the hairstylist and makeup artist (and erstwhile model) Justine Gloria before, and had not even had the chance to talk to her before this shoot, but then she got to work and it was like magic. At the outset, you see, I’d wanted, say, Cattski’s eye makeup to be a bit glam, and her hair in some pompadour à la Gwen Stefani—but Justine had envisioned something else, and it came out perfect. It was a look that was mature yet not at all contrived, edgy but not sinister, and had that elusive quality of being at turns disheveled and flawless (think circa mid-‘90s Chrissie Hynde and you’ll begin to come close). And it went really well with the clothes! I was in awe: Cattski like I’d never seen her before.
But more important than the new outlook, and infinitely more important than the new look, was the new sound. In front of the cameras now I asked her to move around, pretend like she was performing onstage, in front of hundreds (the mic stand had been my idea, after she’d refused to be photographed cradling a guitar ‘cause it had been done so many times over the last couple of years), and so she asked for music she could swing to, and luckily for me it was a demo version of the aforementioned new song “New” that her assistant chose to play. At first I couldn’t place the song as hers, thought it was a mid-‘90s Jill Sobule, what with its rhythmic uptempo, tragicomic wordplay, and sing-songy chorus, so imagine my surprise when her assistant told me this was actually the song “New” that Cattski had been telling me about! The intro starts with a faint kick drum beat that is very characteristic of house, and then slowly intermingles with some synth and mellow guitar plucking, before it crescendos into an a capella, and then a bang. (The transitions would follow this same pattern.) It’s the kind of song that’s hard to put in a box. She would admit later on that, yes, the underlying beat was a “generic house beat,” at 140 bpm, but then throw in all the other elements and it becomes something else altogether. A hundred different things, if you will, because, I swear, every time I am ready to dismiss it as pop rock, I hear a little bit of riot grrrl pop-punk here and there, and some elements of symphonic rock. “In the past, [whenever] people asked me what kind of music I made, without [skipping a beat] I would say, ‘Rock!’” she would later recount. “Now when I meet new people and they ask me the same question, I stammer and I can’t give a straight answer.” And there is no formula, too; no two songs are ever the same. The abovementioned “Monsters,” for example, is a languid, organic ballad set against an irresistible concoction of trip-hop, ambient, and dream pop—even a tinge of country pop! “Defying genres,” that’s how she calls the whole thing. So this is what happens when you “start from nothing” with every song (and when you micromanage every single step in the production process, if I may jokingly add—I don’t think I’ve ever met the brand of control freak that this woman has on!). Although this early on Cattski is in anticipation being critiqued by the pundits: “[They’re] most likely [going to] say…that [the album] has an identity crisis, for not having a consistent sound. But I’m no longer afraid of that. I trust myself enough [now]. My intuition [is] my ultimate guide. Everything will have to be on the premise of what sounds and feels right for me.” But I don’t think it’s ever going to get to that point—the pundits part, I mean. If anything, peers and fans alike are going to appreciate the bold step she’s taking, her kind of game-changing, and I predict this album is going to be her biggest contribution yet to Cebu music. Yes, by sidestepping a niche, Cattski has found her, well, niche—that is, as renaissance woman of Cebu music.
I am tempted to talk about all of the other songs, but that would be doing a great deal of disservice to the artist. My job is to build up excitement, not to do an album review, so I’m gonna have to stop right here. For right now, go ahead and take your time reveling at the woman that you see here—Cattski like you’ve never seen her before. Although I can’t exactly guarantee all this is ever going to prepare you for the Cattski you’ve never heard before.
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Cattski Espina | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon for Shutterfairy in Cebu City on September 3, 2011 | Main photographers: Malou “Mai” Pages-Solomon for Shutterfairy, Paul Armand Calo for Calography (click here to view Mai’s photos, and here for Paul’s) | Hair and makeup by Justine Gloria | Stylist’s assistant: Nikki Paden | Sittings assistants: Manna Alcaraz and Gwen Reyes | Special thanks to: The PR and Communications Department of Marco Polo Plaza Cebu | Black men’s smoking jacket, Protacio | White men’s dress shirt, Memo | Solid black men’s silk tie, Springfield UP by Springfield | Black women’s leather biker jacket, Bershka | Black women’s skinny suit jacket, Divided by H&M | Chandelier necklace, Forever 21 | Chain necklace, Mango | Crucifix necklace, Divided by H&M
In my mood board (see below, clockwise from left): Stills of Zoë Kravitz as her Californication character Pearl, with her band Queens of Dogtown, performing a cover of Alice in Chains’s “Would” onstage at West Hollywood’s Whisky a Go Go (for the fifth episode of the show’s fourth season, originally aired February 6, 2011); still of a star-spangled sweater from Wildfox Couture, photographed by Pete Deevakul for TeenVogue.com; looks from Dolce & Gabbana Fall 2011 Ready-to-Wear, on models Isabeli Fontana and Anna Selezneva, photographed by Yannis Vlamos for GoRunway.com; Patti Smith, photographed by Ruven Afanador for the February 2010 issue of O: The Oprah Magazine; the album cover of Patti Smith’s debut record Horses, photographed by Robert Mapplethorpe, circa 1975.
Behind-the-Scenes Instagrams Top row, L-R: Makeup artist/hairstylist Justine Gloria giving quick touch-ups to Cattski between sets while Mai looks on; Cattski’s assistants Gwen and Manna were asked to document the shoot and keep her in check (“I could go crazy, you know,” Cattski rationalized); Cattski literally rolling on the floor laughing when she thought we were done, only to be snapped out of it when she remembered she’d asked for night shots. Middle row, L-R: Mai with Paul (of Calography) waiting for the shoot to commence; Cattski wouldn’t stop singing, even while being photographed; Cattski forgot to bring her boots, so she had to borrow my Bed Stü “Artillery Boots”(which meant I had to go barefoot half of the time); Mai fixing Cattski’s hair. Bottom row, L-R: My assistant for the day Nikki checking out my mood boards before getting to work (she loved the Robert Mapplethorpe shots of Patti Smith); Paul getting ready to take photos of Cattski with the grand piano (the singer sang a haunting rendition of The Cure’s 1989 hit “Lovesong” while Paul was setting up); no dressing room, so Cattski was forced to dress and undress in front of everyone (such a trouper!); Cattski getting ready for the evening set.
Never jump to conclusions. That’s one of the more important things I learned this past month. When my first two sittings (back in August) as apprentice at Shutterfairy Photography had turned out to be engagement sessions, you see, I’d thought, Oh, this is all we’re going to be doing, couples and stuff. (Not that I’d thought that was going to be a bad thing.) So imagine my surprise when Shutterfairy’s Malou “Mai” Pages-Solomon sent me a Tweet saying she was going to be photographing the singer/songwriter Cattski Espina (01, 03) for the album cover of her forthcoming release, and that she wanted me to do the styling! I was literally jumping up and down! This was massive for me, in part because it was an opportunity to think outside the engagements/couples box, but for the most part because it was a chance to rekindle old ties. Yes, Cattski and I, although that may sound to some like an unlikely combination, we go waaay back. (Don’t you just love how it’s a small world, after all? Mai is best friends with former Y101 anchorwoman Imma Fermin-Ongteco, who is best friends with Cattski; and both Imma and Cattski are best friends with one of my best friends Deo Urquiaga, who was responsible for hooking me up with this apprenticeship gig with Mai. Did I just use “best friends” four times in one sentence?)
It’s true for me, so I just assume it’s true for everyone: It’s nice to be reunited with someone you haven’t been in touch with for a long, long time. When Cattksi and I sat down for a pre-shoot meeting of sorts at the tail end of August, it turned out to be 70% catching up and laughing, and only 30% business—hey, I hadn’t seen this girl in 7 years! Funny thing, really, ‘cause it’s not like she had moved to a different place, or it was me who’d moved away—we’d been living in the same city the whole time, thank you very much. But, well, as she puts it now, “life got in the way.” I love that this woman has amazing recall of all level of detail—makes missing out a whole lot easier to endure. I was floored, for example, when she remembered how, back when I’d been editor for the (now-defunct) local counterculture e-zine Neoground.com, I’d proceeded to declare her “my own personal PJ Harvey.”
Well, now it looked like all she was going to be was my own personal dress up doll (she’s not going to like that term, though)! At first I’d thought that she wouldn’t be open to the idea of styling—I mean, it’s a fact that not a lot of local musicians are into that kind of thing (heaven knows the kinds of beef I got into when I tried to style musicians who were either performers or presenters during the first two installments of the San Miguel Beer Cebu Music Awards some ten years back). To my amazement, she was 100% down for it—and she pretty much gave me the free hand, too!
I’m sure most of you have seen Mai’s photos already (if you haven’t yet, click here). Killer, right? I’m tempted to talk right here and right now about how I came up with the styling, but I think it’s wiser to save it for when I am to post my own shots from that session (yes, I took a couple of photos, too). At least judging from Mai’s photos (and these behind-the-scenes shots) you will be able to tell that, yes, my inspiration was pretty much “ebony and ivory” (02), and that I used a couple of mannish items, like a Protacio smoking jacket (01). My own Bed Stü work boots (05) even made a special guest appearance!
Some of you might be wondering where we did the shoot. If that edifice behind Cattski in photo number (04) doesn’t look familiar, well, I can tell you now that is actually the Marco Polo Plaza Cebu. Yes, we shot at the hotel’s Grand Balcony, from where we had an amazing view of the Cebu skyline below. This choice of location was Cattski’s idea, after she’d been here one day at twilight and she’d had an epiphany of sorts while staring at the city as it had changed its face with every passing minute until it had become dusk. She told me the story of how, from that moment on, she’d become more contemplative, resulting in an inexhaustible kind of songwriting. That explained how it had only taken her less than two years to come up with this new album, her fourth (quite a feat, considering that it had taken her a good six years between her second and her third). It’s amazing to realize that inspiration can come from the places you least expect to find it—in this case, home.
I’m excited about this album. I’m excited to find out which of Mai’s photos are gonna end up in the album cover. Most of all, I’m excited for Cattski, and her fans. The inspiration maybe dusk, but I can only predict a bright outcome.
Those closest to me can attest that, yes, I do have “girl crushes.” For example, I am kind of crazy about Love Marie Ongpauco a.k.a. Heart Evangelista—for six or so months now, my Sunday evenings have been spent sitting in front of the computer and staring at her face in the short film Muse (created by actor-turned-director Albert Martinez for the designer Inno Sotto’s 30th anniversary gala). I am also kind of turned on by Zoë Kravitz, or at least by her role in Californication. And then, of course, there is Lauren Conrad. But, you see, these are only my fairly recent obsessions. The one that’s been the object of my fantasies for more than 15 years now is none other than the great Kate Moss.
In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever had an obsession as intense as my fascination with the truly amazing creature that is Katherine Moss. I remember using her Calvin Klein Jeans and Calvin Klein Obsession for Men ads as wallpaper for my dorm room. While everyone else was lusting after Leonardo DiCaprio, I was decidedly all about Johnny Depp, just because he was dating Ms. Moss at the time. I remember hating on my cousin, just because he was the first to have a bottle of CK One, and to my mind that had brought him closer to Kate than I ever could be. When I was 17 or 18 and could not afford a coffee table book, I would spend 2-3 hours every Sunday sprawled on the floor of my favorite bookstore, ceremoniously devouring every single page of Kate: The Kate Moss Book—or just staring at the cover and praying, “Oh, God, please make me have those freckles!”
Yes, my girl friends were going crazy penciling on fake moles above their lips, in an attempt to copy Cindy Crawford’s “beauty mark,” but I was all about freckles. I guess that was what endeared Kate to me. She was perfectly imperfect. I had had enough of the impossible smiles, the vermillion lips, the unattainable curves, the outlandish gowns, the whimsical locations. Escapism was good, but didn’t quite go well with the soundtrack of the times. Grunge was on a rise like a bat out of hell, and it needed a muse to conquer the world with. The world needed, as how British curator Iwona Blazwick put it, “a truth located in the artless, the unstaged, the semiconscious, the sexually indeterminate and the pubescent.” And Kate gave us that kind of truth. Here was someone who was not afraid to slap on a silly grin, to not put makeup on, to eschew technical perfection, to misplace optimism, and to date Edward Scissorhands. In other words, she made fashion real and attainable. For you and for me. And that’s why she will always have a special place in my heart.
So please forgive me when I say that this month I broke a very important promise that I had made to myself—that is, the promise to buy more books, and no more magazines. I’d pretty much been able to stay true to that promise in the last couple of months, but I just had to make an exception this month. Why? Well, ‘cause it’s Kate Moss on the cover of the September issue of American Vogue (06)! And this isn’t just your regular Kate Moss cover—it comes with an exclusive coverage of her wedding to The Kills guitarist Jamie Hince!
I almost died for this copy. I went to Fully Booked on September 5, and they told me they didn’t have it yet. I came back September 11, still they didn’t have it. I was on the verge of throwing a bitch fit when I returned on September 15 and was told they still didn’t have it! How ridiculous is that, right? In the U.S. the September issues hit the newsstands and bookstores as early as mid-August! Ah, the pain of living in a…I shouldn’t finish that statement. On my fourth trip back to the bookstore on September 18, the girl behind the counter gave me a nasty look. “We [already] have the September issue, but you can’t have it yet—we haven’t unboxed any of our new arrivals.” Can you believe her? I was going to cause a scene, but thankfully this guy named Abner came to the rescue and offered to unbox the new magazines right there and then so I could have my copy. Thanks, Abner! You are super awesome!
Anyway, back to the magazine: I don’t think I’ve ever held a September issue that’s this heavy (then again, I haven’t seen the past 4 or so September issues, so what do I know). Perhaps the reason this one feels particularly weighty is ‘cause the cover story was written by my favorite writer Hamish Bowles, and shot by my favorite photographer Mario Testino. The beauty of Bowles’s text, alongside Testino’s dazzling images—I do not think a more formidable pairing exists. Their genius certainly gave justice to a truly momentous, one-of-a-kind event. I even love the little inset photo of wedding guest Naomi Campbell, and the funny little anecdote that tells of Naomi being fashionably late and Kate saying to her, “Trying to upstage me, bitch?”—to me, a celebration of friendship like no other.
My favorite photo of all, I must say, is that of Kate surrounded by her young bridesmaids, flower girls and pageboys, although I am also inexplicably drawn to this one black-and-white number of her and her daughter Lila Grace (07), done in the style of the ‘90s Calvin Klein campaigns that propelled Kate to superstardom. Needless to say, I am going to be putting these photos up a pedestal. Who knows? I might be asked to do a mother-and-daughter session one day—at least I will have something to look back on and slap against the mood board when that day comes.
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Another September issue I just had to get my hands on was that of local fashion glossy Preview (actress Anne Curtis on the cover, making her the celebrity with the most Preview covers to date, this one being her sixth). I’d always been a fan of the magazine, but I kind of stopped reading them in 2007, or 2008—can’t remember why exactly. The reason I picked up this issue, though, is’ cause my photo of Shandar’s Urgello wedges (inspired by Gayle Urgello) made it to their Fashion News section (08), to supplement a sidebar on Shandar designer Mark Tenchavez. Nothing huge, really—it’s all but a little 3.25” x 2”—but it’s huge to me considering this might be the only time a photo by me is ever going to appear in a fashion magazine. They forgot to credit me, though, not even in marginalia, but that’s alright. I’m just happy that Manila editors are starting to take notice of deign talent from this part of the country. I am so proud of Mark and of where he’s taken his little shoe line—everyone’s buzzin’ about Shandar Shoes, and it’s only been three months since he launched the whole thing! I told him to be prepared—now that Preview has ran a story on him, other fashion/lifestyle magazines are bound to follow suit.
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Of course, my itsy-bitsy photo is not the only reason I’ll be holding on to this copy of Preview for years to come—I also am happy to have stumbled upon this glorious print-on-print editorial called “Fly on the Wall” (09), photographed by Jeanne Young, modeled by Sanya Smith (Pepe Smith’s daughter), and styled by the fabulous Daryl Chang. It’s exactly the kind of thing you’d expect from the ever-innovative Chang: brave, fierce, and game-changing. She is always first to do what other stylists are too afraid of doing. I, for one, have been too timid to try mixing patterns. God knows how many times I’ve toyed with the idea, but I always end up dropping it cold turkey before I can even get to work. I keep thinking about rules, you see—like, should I mind the scales and sizes of the prints, so that teeny florals should be matched with, say, large stripes? or, should I stick to just two different patterns in one outfit? This editorial by Chang, though, has made me realize that I shouldn’t be caring about rules when it comes to this department. The very reason we do print-on-print is because we want to make a bold statement, right? And so, in the end, it really is a fearless approach—and a little bit of rule-breaking—that is going to do the trick. Total mood board material right here!
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From “girl crushes” we move on to “man crushes.” Laugh all you want, but, yes, I squealed like a little girl when I saw this photo of my “man crush” Carlos Concepcion (with Georgina Wilson) in the BOB of this month’s Preview (10). It’s not even that kind of crush, OK? Carlos here, although most of you might know this already, is a designer and a stylist, and has done a lot of great work for The Philippine Star’s youth lifestyle section, as well as for glossy titles like Garage and Preview Men. I admire him for the most part because of what he’s doing to change the way we look at men’s fashion in this part of the world—it takes a whole lot of balls to do what he’s doing. I mean, cropped jackets and above-the-knee skirts on men? I’m sorry, but he’s my hero. So it’s not that kind of crush, but maybe it’s the Single White Female kind of crush—i.e., I wanna be him. I don’t know if I am ever going to meet him in this lifetime, but if, by some wicked stroke of luck, I end up bumping into him, you know I am going to drop to my knees and plant a kiss on his feet. And I don’t even have a foot fetish. But I do have a shoe fetish, and the guy has some seriously pretty shoes, so there.
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Meanwhile, there was that one September issue I wished I could have but just couldn’t—I’m talking about that of French Vogue. Huge deal to me because this was Emmanuelle Alt’s first September issue as editor-in-chief, after she’d supplanted Carine Roitfeld in February of this year. Of course, I’d always adored Roitfeld (I’d give her a bear hug if I could); just that it had gotten to a point when I could no longer get her—I mean, she’d let Tom Ford guest edit the title’s December 2010/January 2011 issue, and allowed him to use 10-years-old girls and a geriatric couple as models! I’d read somewhere that Alt, who’d been under Roitfeld’s French Vogue wing as fashion director since 2000, was so far doing a great job breathing new life into the title by taking things more lightly, injecting a little “humor” and “positivity” into the scene—and what better way to see this for myself, right, than by getting her first September issue? But, alas, French Vogue wasn’t something you could easily find in this part of the world—hey, it had even taken three weeks for the American edition to hit our bookstores! Luckily, I was able to get my hands on a copy at the designer Protacio’s atelier a couple of days ago! My jaw dropped as I was scanning his magazine shelf and—wham!—there it was, Charlotte Casiraghi on the cover staring back at me with smoky eyes (11). “How is it even possible that you have this?” I asked Protacio as I clutched the copy against my chest. Although, of course, I’d known a long time he was fond of collecting all sorts of hard-to-find foreign titles. (Exactly the reason why I love visiting his shop in the first place, because it’s like a little fashion library to me—he even has a copy of the aforementioned controversial Tom Ford-edited December 2010/January 2011 issue [see same Instagram, 11, behind the Charlotte Casiraghi, with Ford and Daphne Groeneveld on the cover].) Indeed, Alt’s French Vogue was a joy to flip through. Still had that requisite European quirkiness and modernism, but presented in a whole new light—blithe, if you will, and not at all menacing. Just like that, two or so of the inside photos of Casiraghi went straight up my mental mood board. Yes, mes amis, it is that relatable now, even if you don’t speak or understand a word of French (I know I don’t)! Thank you, Protacio, for sharing! I will be back for more inspiration soon!
So I woke up in the afternoon (hey, I work afternoons/evenings Mondays to Fridays) of September 8 wondering why this blog was getting so many hits. Turned out earlier that day Mai had written a little something about me in her own blog (12), and that’s where all the traffic had come from! What a surprise! I know her site has a good number of followers; such an honor for some of them to be trickling down into mine. Now I gotta pay attention to what I’m posting on here, because I don’t just represent me now, I also represent Shutterfairy. And so I have to behave accordingly and try not to do anything foolish.
She wrote about how she doesn’t want to call me her apprentice, but, really, that is all I am for now. Until such a time that I’m confident enough with my own skills and with my application of all the things I’m learning from her, I don’t mind being the guy in the backseat, taking orders, taking down notes, even talking to clients pre-shoot. Which brings us to the something extra that I do for Shutterfairy: Mai, via the same blog post, has made it official that I am resident stylist. Which means that, yes, if you need help in that department, I’m the guy who’s going to sit down with you (Mai may or may not be present during these meetings) days or weeks before your session in front of the camera to help you out with your clothes and accessories (and even makeup and props).
So, OK, if it was the Shutterfairy blogsite that led you here, let me break it down for you: If you’re interested in a styled session with the Shutterfairy (engagement, portrait, family, etc.), simply shoot her an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. She will then contact you to discuss scheduling and all the other high-level stuff. After which your contact details will be forwarded to me, and that’s how I get in touch with you for the pre-shoot styling/mood board development meeting. At the meeting, you will simply need to let me in on your, um, theme, your desired shooting locations, etc., and I will then proceed to build a mood board or two for you. I do house calls, too, just so you know—easier for me to look at items that you already have.
By the way, because I’m only apprenticing for right now, there is no separate fee for the styling. You just have to pay for the photo session, and that’s about it. So, what are you waiting for? Contact Shutterfairy now and let’s get to work!
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Some three weeks after I’d found out that my photo of Shandar’s Urgello shoes made it to this month’s issue of Preview, their “online counterpart” StyleBible.ph put up a gallery of my shots of all the other shoes from the shoe line’s premier collection (13). This gallery, and the accompanying article, marks the addition of Shandar designer Mark Tenchavez to StyleBible.ph’s venerable Designer Directory and Designer Spotlight, placing him side-by-side with the likes of such Filipino design greats as JC Buendia, Patrice Ramos-Diaz, Jun Escario and others. Click here to view the gallery, and here to read the article.
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Exactly how long can one be obsessed with something? In my case, more than 20 years. Yes, the video for Janet Jackson’s “Love Will Never Do (Without You)” turned 21-years-old this past month (14). Shot in September of 1990, I watch it today and it looks like it was only shot yesterday. Thank you, Herb Ritts, for leaving us with such an amazing piece of art.
My fourth sitting with the Shutterfairy was for another non-couple session (15-19). When Mai told me she was going to be photographing a single mother of two boys, I said, OK, I gotta see this—I’d always wondered how she did things like this, you see, where there were children involved. Up to that point the only children I’d ever gotten myself to photograph were my own nieces and nephews, and even with that sort of kindred I’d never been able to make them behave during sittings.
Turned out that the reason Mai was so good at it was ‘cause, well, she was a mother herself! She knew how to command kids’ attention in a manner that was very natural, not at all domineering, and had little to no bribery involved. I am never going to be a mother (duh), but I picked up one thing that could come in handy when I am to photograph kids/families in the future: When doing pre-shoot research, don’t focus too much on the adults; take the time out to learn what the kids love doing and figure out a way to inject it into the sitting. For this shoot right here, Mai had found out that the little boy loved to play soccer, so when she saw that he was a little uncomfortable standing in front of the camera she asked him to take out the soccer ball and just have fun with it. Needless to say, the resulting photos were gorgeous. Click here to see Mai’s set from that session.
Couple of other things I learned that day:
- Don’t stress too much about the location. Yes, there is value in planning and in pre-shoot oculars, but there is potential in the unexplored. Mai had planned to shoot the family at the Mountain View Nature Park in Busay, but decided to shift gears the last minute and took us to Talamban’s Family Park—well, not the park per se, but a somewhat secluded area outside the park. She’d never been here before (neither had I, or any of the subjects), but she was curious. Turned out to be a beautiful place (16-18).
- Don’t stress too much about the props, too. Just explore the surroundings and, if you’re resourceful enough, you’re bound to find something that can be useful. I’d pretty much ignored this rusty wheelbarrow (15) until Mai called my attention to it and asked me to have the subjects play around with it. The resulting picture turned out to be my favorite (19)!
- Even when it looks like it’s about to rain, don’t cancel just yet—there’s a chance it won’t. It was 2PM when I met up with Mai, and there were dark clouds starting to hover over us, so I said, “Should we call it off?” She didn’t want to. I would learn later on that it’s actually a good thing when it’s a bit overcast in the mid-afternoon—the light is just right (not too harsh, and not too dim, either)
- Don’t be afraid of greenery—instead, use it to your advantage! See, always this had been my weakness—like, I’d always ask my subjects to stay away from the trees and the shrubs and all. And then Mai made me realize that it’s actually kind of gorgeous to have all those leaves distilling the sunlight into gorgeous, soft little rays (18).
- Mind your framing/cropping when it’s portraits. Never frame/crop in such a way that you’re cutting through the subject’s joints (i.e., wrists, knees, ankles).
- Most importantly: Do not waste your subject’s time by taking 100+ photos of one frame. Don’t chimp a lot, but be sure to check after, like, 20 or so shots. If you got a couple of winners, move on to the next frame.
I know it all sounds very elementary, but, honestly, these are things I never learned from other photographers that I talked to, or read about in basic photography books. Indeed, there are some aspects of the craft that you can grasp faster as an assistant.
It was my mom’s 52nd birthday last September 10. Because she lives in Ormoc with my grandfather (her father) and our youngest, I hadn’t had the chance to celebrate her birthday with her for the past seven or so years. I didn’t want to miss out anymore, so I asked her to come to Cebu and blow this year’s candles here with us (20, 24).
I love the birthday cake I got her (20, 21). I wanted something light and sort of pastel, and with candy-colored sprinkles, like the gorgeous lemon cupcakes that I’d fallen in love with at Magnolia Bakery some two years back—no chocolate, no devil’s food, nothing dark. It was my friend Rhia de Pablo who made it (she makes the meanest, moistest chiffon cake, and she got the lemon meringue buttercream right). You can’t see it, but the top of the cake says, “YOU CAN HAVE YOUR CAKE AND EAT IT, TOO.”
We also had habichuelas con chorizo de Bilbao (22). Earlier in the month I’d engaged in an online discussion with my good friend Kenneth Enecio, who comes from a family of cooks (mom Laura is a pâtissier, brother Eric is a chef), and the venerable Annabelle Tan-Amor (mom of my former co-editor Ina Amor, so I really should be calling her Tita) about what makes a good habichuelas. While Annabelle liked hers authentic, and served in stoneware (puchero de barro, if you will?) “to keep it piping hot,” Kenneth liked to be “adventurous,” adding in stuff like a little ginger and saffron “to give it a little color and aroma,” and even a little potatoes. In the end, we’d come to an agreement that, however you liked it, it was a must to add Bilbao chorizo. Now, I do not know where to get the authentic ones (and I wish I knew how to track down the guy who used to cook all these delish kinds of Spanish dishes for the Sunday brunches of my childhood at my great-grandmother’s), but the canned ones by Purefoods are pretty decent and are a good substitute. Whatever you do, do not use Macao chorizo. Someone I know updated his Facebook status once (or was it twice) to say he was “cooking habichuelas con chorizo de Macao.” OK, first of all, you do not say “chorizo de Macao” with the “de” because we all know that is not a type of Spanish sausage. Second of all, what was he thinking? I don’t know where Macao chorizos are from, but just in case they’re Chinese, then I do not need to explain how it’s all levels of wrong to add them to a Spanish dish. It’s like you’re watching, say, Abre los ojos and then it’s Zhang Ziyi as Sofía instead of Penelope Cruz!
Anyways, backpedaling to my mom’s birthday, yes, I made California-style sangria, too (23)! Sangria is really easy to make. For a recipe, see below.
So, OK, I know I’ve been going around telling people I no longer drink, and that’s still true. What I mean when I say I no longer drink is I no longer go out to bars or clubs and drown myself in shots, shots, shots, shots. It just isn’t for me anymore—the idea of walking around drunk (or, worse, of losing an entire morning the next day due to any level of hangover) frightens me now. I mean, sure, I’d still go to these places, if it were the only way to, say, catch up with long-lost friends; but the only thing you’ll ever see me cradling is a glass of Coke, or maybe orange juice.
I do allow myself the occasional relapse, though. And by occasional I mean a maximum of once a month, and only when there’s something extra special to celebrate. And nothing hardcore. Just sangria. And it has to be sangria made by me (29). That way I don’t get to leave the house and I’m not tipsy or anything in public.
I fell in love with sangria some two years back, when my best friend Chiklet dragged me to the Do-Over, and at the time the whole thing was still held at Crane’s Hollywood Tavern down El Centro where they made sangria of the killer kind. I’d had sangria before, but it wasn’t until here that I was, like, Whoa! Since then it became sort of my official California drink, and everywhere we went—Bar Centro by José Andrés at the SLS Hotel, Lizarran in the O.C.—that was all we got.
Well, Bar Centro’s version is really of the blanca kind—still pretty good, but I like my sangria blood red (precisely why it’s called such, no?), never mind if it threatens to leave a deadly stain or two in your clothes.
If you wanna try making your own sangria, here’s how:
- Take a large carafe and mix 1 bottle of dry red wine, half a cup of brandy, half a cup of triple sec, and a thirds of a cup of simple syrup (1 part sugar to 1 part water).
- Juice one large orange, two or three medium-sized lemons, and add the juices to the wine mixture.
- You will need another orange (28) and another two or three lemons (25), all sliced into rounds; float these slices into the mixture. You may also use lime, but the green kind of bothers me.
- Most people like to add maraschino cherries, but I go for seedless grapes instead (27).
- Let the whole thing sit in the fridge overnight.
- Add two cups of tonic water/club soda (26) just before serving—you know, for that fizzy effect.
If you’re pressed for time, you may skip the wine/brandy/triple sec/simple syrup mixture and go for ready-to-drink bottled sangria. Doesn’t taste as good, though, I have to warn you. Boone’s Sangria is pretty decent (and already fizzy so you can skip adding the club soda, too). Whatever you do, stay away from that brand called Eva.
Why are all the Nikkis leaving me for California? First it was my sister, three years ago, to marry her long-time boyfriend. Now it was Nikki Paden (31), just three days ago, to be with her father. She’d called me up beginning of this month to tell me that she was kind of sad about leaving, and so I’d asked her to join me at the Cattski album cover shoot (01-05) so she could help me style—and so I could convince her that it wasn’t exactly a bad thing to be moving to California. We’d spent hours after the shoot just talking about Melrose and Malibu, PCH and Pinkberry, etc. Apparently it worked because during the days leading to her flight out and as she was packing she was nothing but stoked—had reservations about leaving some of her stuff behind, but I told her, hey, a new city called for new style, so, by all means, yes, “leave it all behind.”
It got me kind of depressed looking at photos of her layover in HKG. Happy for her, of course (in just a couple of hours she was going to be hopping off the plane at LAX!), but sad for me. You see, if things had gone as planned, I would’ve been on the same planes and layovers. Yes, I was supposed to leave for L.A. three days ago. Well, the original plan had been for me to leave in May, but then I’d been asked to move the trip to September. And then September came, and they asked me to move it again. So hard to go on vacation these days!
Up to this day I am still in all sorts of pain. I’m looking at all these photos from happier times and all I can think of is, man, the things I’d give up to, say, be riding shotgun through the Santa Monica Freeway right now (34). Or, to be standing before Chris Burden’s Urban Light outside LACMA (32). Or, to be watching the sunset from Venice Beach (33).
Of course, all those are nothing compared to the biggest thing I am missing out on—I’m talking about the chance to see and hold my adorable niece Mikee (30) while she is still a baby. I mean, look at her! Isn’t she a darling? If things had gone as planned, she would’ve been in my arms by now.
My friends are, like, “It’s not the end of the world! Just go early next year!” If I have to be honest, though, I’m actually sick of people telling me that. Yes, I know, it’s so easy to move vacation dates, rebook airline tickets, etc. But has it ever occurred to them you can’t stop a child from growing? By January or February she’s going to start growing milk teeth, and that’s when babies start to lose weight. I’m sorry, but it would’ve been so much nicer to hold her now while she still has 10,000 creases in her arms and legs, you know? But, oh, well, it sucks to be me!
One of the most unexpected blasts of fresh air to hit Cebu this past month? A fashion school opening!
Fashion Institute of Design and Arts (FIDA) Cebu opened its doors last September 16, and I was lucky to have been there to witness the unveiling. It was the designer Dexter Alazas (36) who’d asked me to be his plus one, and, of course, I’d had to say yes—this was not your ordinary fashion event; this was a milestone!
Full disclosure: Growing up, I’d always wanted to go to design school. I’d had no plans of becoming a fashion designer, of course, but always I’d been curious about how things work in the creative industries. But, alas, my family had had other plans for me—and even if I’d had it my way there was no way it could’ve happened because nothing had been accessible at the time. So I’d ended up in med school, although the dream had never died—I’d catch myself fantasizing about going to Central Saint Martins in London, or Parsons in New York. Meeting people like, say, Stephanie dela Cruz, my art director at Zee Quarterly and a Parsons alum, had only fanned the flames—hearing their stories about their amazing teachers and internships, and, most importantly, seeing how precise and innovative they were with their work, their astounding facility of visuals, and their acumen in creative decision-making, I’d become more appreciative of design education.
At the launch, which also served as an open house/mixer to give prospective students a chance to ask questions about the school’s programs and curriculums, I remember looking at the young ones and saying to Dexter, “How lucky are these kids! They get to be of college age at a time when schools like this are becoming accessible!”
I got to have a brief chat with FIDA founder and headmistress Christine Funda (38), an alum of Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) in L.A., and it was refreshing to hear her talk more passion than business. Always she’d considered Cebuano design talent to be topnotch, and for years it had been her dream to make quality fashion and design education available to Cebuanos. “I was just talking to a [prospective student] who said she’d always wanted to study fashion design, but she just couldn’t leave Cebu to go to Manila because she has to raise her young family,” she shared. It gave her utmost joy knowing she was bridging the gap between people like this and their dreams.
Nestled in the heart of the city, at the corner of Escario and Clavano (42), a stone’s throw away from Dexter Alazas’s atelier, FIDA’s pilot programs of study include a 2-year Diploma in Fashion Design and Merchandising, a 1-year Diploma in Fashion Design and Apparel Tech, a 6-month Certificate in Fashion Merchandising, a 3-month Introduction to Fashion Business short course. They’ve also enlisted an impressive lineup to comprise the faculty: Project Runway Philippines season one first runner-up Philipp Tampus (39) is set to teach industry sewing five hours a week; and Lord Maturan (41), winner of the Third Cebu Young Designers Competition, is set to teach fashion illustration. Ms. Munda stated they also intend to offer short courses in advanced makeup, hairstyling, fashion styling, and, yes, fashion photography. (Do I foresee a tie-up between the school and Dexter’s Stylissimo Sessions in the future?)
My stylist friend Mikey Sanchez, upon seeing these photos of mine from the launch, asked if I had plans of taking some classes. I wish I could! I wanted to ask Ms. Munda about one of their 1-year programs, but I had to stop myself. Not that I am not open to the idea of going back to school—it’s just that I have so much going on right now. But, who knows, in two or three years’ time, perhaps? Right now I’m just happy to have walked the halls that are to house the dreams of the future stars of Cebu fashion.
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.
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).