This was a tricky one. You see, it’s a feeling I was supposed to be familiar with—it’s no secret that I stockpile on Bigelow Cozy Chamomile Herb Tea (“Pure chamomile for quiet moments,” the package says) and Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime Green in Lemon Jasmine (“Helping the world unwind,” says this one), and that I punctuate my each and every day, working or non-, with a hot mug or two of these babies. So when Sheila Desquitado said this was the feel she wanted her engagement photos with Cameron Bradley to evoke—that feeling you get after downing a good cup of chamomile tea/blend—you’d think I’d be chuckling, right? Well, wrong. Truth is, she kind of lost me there. “Light, airy, relaxed, and mellow,” she’d said at one point, as if sensing I’d needed help, and these words I’d jotted down in my notebook. But the more I stared at them the more I was convinced that they were describing, say, a white eyelet dress, and not a concept for a shoot. What kinds of themes could I tap into for that “light, airy, relaxed, and mellow” feel? For once I was clueless. And to think I’d thought this was going to be easy.
If you come to think of it, perhaps it was only apt—you know, that it was tricky—because Sheila here was kind of a tricky one, too. In all the years I’d known her I’d asked her a thousand times about her love life, and always she’d just shrug, smile coyly, and graciously change the subject. And then this past December, out of the blue, she’d left on a plane to Down Under—not a word spoken, if only in passing—only to come back weeks later with a ring on her finger! How’s that for dropping a bomb!
Well, to me, at least, it was like a bomb had been dropped, but that certainly wasn’t the effect she was aiming for. She’d chosen to keep mum about the trip to see the man of her dreams because “I didn’t want to make a fuss about it.” And that’s just her, you know: No-fuss, quiet, understated. Ever the lady. And so it was no surprise that she wanted something “light, airy, relaxed, and mellow” for her engagement shoot. But the issue here wasn’t that I was surprised, ‘cause I’d actually kind of seen it coming. It was more of I was taken aback, because it wasn’t something I’d done before.
You see, in all my years of styling and my few months of shooting, I’d come to a deduction that, if there was anything that was to set my work apart from others’, it was that my aesthetic was decidedly, um, masculine (see my very first solo effort here). Always I’d had a thing for some dirt, some grit, some pretty disturbing antics. And some adrenaline. Initially what I’d envisioned for Sheila and Cameron was something inspired by this one scene from the final episode of The Hills in which Stephanie Pratt spent a day in an off-road track in Corona to watch her motocross racer beau Josh Hansen in action—this was right after she’d told me that Cameron was into dirt bikes and all that good stuff. But then that wasn’t what she’d wanted. And although that was what I’d wanted, it had to be axed. Hey, this was their engagement, not mine! You can’t always get what you want.
It took a while for me to figure out what we were gonna do. Luckily I got into cleaning mode one day and that’s how I stumbled upon a couple of my old Vogues—including the October 2002 issue which had Christy Turlington, in a pewter silk Calvin Klein gown, assuming a Dhanurasana/Bow Pose on the cover. And just like that, total lightbulb moment for me. Photographers talk about their “money shots”—well, this was my “money thought” right here! But, of course! How could I have forgotten about Sheila being a yogi? We’re talking about my own personal Christy Turlington right here: one day she’s lecturing me on the dangers of smoking, the next she’s going on and on about the wonders of meditation. I’d been too caught up in that bubble of me that I’d overlooked Sheila’s very essence, the one thing that defined her. In no time I was on the phone with her—“Let’s do yoga! For a theme, I mean!”—and she was digging it. Perfect, she’d said, because it was a side of her that she’d been wanting to show Cameron, and she’d also been planning on converting him to the discipline. I was thrilled, too, for the most part because it was something I hadn’t seen anyone do before (this part of the world, anyway).
The next challenge was, um, “expanding” the theme, especially after she’d pointed out it would be backbreaking to do, say, the Downward Dog the whole time. She’d booked me for a 7-to-7, so it was an opportunity for four or more sets. We had to think of a location, and quick, so we could proceed with the rest of the mood board. At first I’d wanted something à la Madonna’s studio in The Next Best Thing—wooden panels, airy windows, homey. I was this close to booking my friend Gayle Urgello’s music room because it was all that, but then Sheila said she wanted the whole thing to be at a beach. I’d been trying to dodge the whole concept of a beach shoot, just ‘cause everyone else was doing it. But who was I to say no, especially since this was sort of like a vacation for Cameron, and possibly his first chance to see a Philippine beach. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that the only thing more novel than a yoga theme was yoga on the beach. Sold! And so now we had to build the mood board around this premise.
After a couple of meetings over chai tea lattes, this was what it all came down to: three main sets, each one inspired by, well, a soothing beverage— (1) A morning tea set (which was to include the whole yoga thing); (2) a mid-morning and siesta set that had a feel of a tropical fruit juice; and (3) an early evening set that had the fizz of champagne bubbles.
The first set wasn’t at all tough to style: plain old sleepwear for the actual morning tea frames (two nighties for her, one over the other, because they were too sheer!), all-white for the yoga series. It was the props that I had some trouble with—all we had were mugs, and how crass! Good thing my aunt Marilyn Davison came to the rescue, and she let me borrow a set from her prized collection. They were Shelleys, no less—fine bone china, and the cups were oleander-shaped with gold-plated rims. Did I mention they came in a dainty chintz pattern? I became obsessed with them for a while that I decided to extract my palette from the chintz pattern, and that’s how I ended up with puce, Bondi blue, sea green, celadon, and University of California gold.
The second set was a no-brainer. They wanted beach, well, that was what they were gonna get. Sheila was showing me snapshots of her and Cameron kicking it at Surfers Paradise (the Miami of Australia), and immediately I thought, wow, he was the kind of guy who would look good in navy stripes because, well, he had that sailorman look, what with his salt-and-pepper hair and all. She agreed, and at once I mentally updated my board with those 1952 Robert Doisneau photographs of Pablo Picasso wearing a classic Breton fisherman’s shirt. This meant putting together something nautical for Sheila to wear, too. She didn’t have a navy bikini or one with stripes, so we opted for a black one, and all I had to do was throw in an oversize mustard grandfather cardigan with gold buttons that had these embossed yacht anchor details, and a sailor hat that I borrowed from my fellow stylist Meyen Baguio. But that wasn’t enough, ‘cause I wanted a burst of color, too. I was browsing through runway reports on the Spring 2011 Ready-to-Wear shows, and found myself hopelessly drawn to Naeem Khan’s melee of tropical prints and brilliant colors in Palm Beach silhouettes (petite wrap dresses, floor-length kaftans)—they kind of reminded me of socialite Helen Lee Schifter vacationing in St. Barts. I then remembered I had this Persian green/lime floral print silk chiffon kaftan with Indian silk trimming by Kate Torralba, possibly from one of her 2008 collections, that she’d given to me as a birthday present—perfect, because it had that exact aesthetic that I loved about the Naeem Khan collection (well, it wasn’t exactly floor-sweeping because the hemline was way up there, but that was fine because Sheila had the legs for that sort of stuff anyway).
For the third set I shifted to a gala state of mind. The idea of evening gowns for engagement photos had never impressed me much, but Sheila here had such a regal stance it would be a shame to let that go to waste. I found out it was my friend Humberto Villegas who was doing her wedding dress, and I thought, Great! Humberto was one of the few young local designers I knew who knew a thing or two about consistency and focus—he’d been doing evening and cocktail pieces for as far as I could remember, with very little distractions, and it was safe to say he’d become an expert in this department by now. Ever-effervescent and never one to miss a beat, he had this uncanny way of finding rare fabrics, and of sculpting ordinary ones into extraordinary folds and drapes. I wasted no time making an appointment, and a few days later I was in his studio sorting through his carefully arranged archives. It wasn’t an easy task because everything in there was just so beautiful, but in the end I got to narrow it down to two gala gowns, including this gorgeous carmine pink silk chiffon number with oxblood satin ribbon shoulder straps that he’d made for his sister Ana a couple of years back. And just like that, we were ready to roll.
When Cameron arrived in Cebu everyone that Sheila introduced him to went on to go crazy about him. “He looks like Richard Gere!” a common friend gushed. So he was winning everyone over with his good looks and charisma. I was more concerned about whether or not we were ever gonna win him over with what we were about to do—Sheila had told me, you see, that where he was from engagement photos weren’t exactly the norm. I was relieved when I finally met him the evening before the shoot and he said, “Let’s do this!” To my surprise he was more game than I’d expected him to be! Even apologized for not being able to bring with him his biker boots and other MX gear—“I was worried about my baggage allowance,” he explained—and I told him not to worry, the motocross theme had been called off. Well, he admitted that the whole concept of a shoot was still kind of strange to him, but it was something his fiancée wanted, and so he was more than willing to give it to her. (And how sweet is that, right? Like how, I would learn later on, he’d said yes to wearing the traditional Filipino barong Tagalog on their wedding day instead of a suit.)
Funny thing, ‘cause on the day of the shoot it was Cameron who seemed very ready for the whole thing, and Sheila, who’d been preparing for this for weeks, was starting to get the nerves—it wasn’t something she was used to, being in front of the camera and being the center of attention. Thankfully I’d remembered to bring with my some of my chamomile tea. It also helped that a few of our common friends had decided to tag along—Marnelli and Jurex to help with the props and the sittings, Jeff and Marla to help with accessories—and so we had a couple of laughs. But it was Cameron who ultimately helped her gain her composure back by saying there was nothing to be scared about. Like during the nautical set, when I asked her to lose the cardigan and sit for me in just the bikini, she hesitated for a moment—but then she stole a quick glance at Cameron, and he just flashed her a boyish grin, and just like that she laughed it off and obliged.
He had that kind of effect on her—just one smile from him, or one nod, or one word, and all her worries would melt away. Slowly I realized that this was exactly why she knew this man was the one she’d been waiting for all her life. Finally she got to meet someone who was her exact equal—in thought, temperament, and tenderness. He was like everything she’d ever held near and dear to her heart all rolled into one package. The effect that her beloved teas had on her, the effect that yoga had on her—these were the very effects that Cameron had on her. Perfect, then, that the song we’d chosen so get us in the mood was Nouvelle Vague’s lounge/bossa nova cover of Modern English’s 1982 hit “I Melt with You” (and, yes, I’d had Marnelli and Jurex help me out with red cardboard-cutout letters that spelled “I’LL STOP THE WORLD AND MELT WITH YOU”). So I didn’t get to have my The Hills-inspired motocross theme and my adrenaline rush, but I learned an important lesson: That peace of mind and contentment don’t just come from a hot mug—they have to come from everything you do and everyone you surround yourself with. You can’t always get what you want, yes, but that’s alright, because sometimes what you get is what you need.
As for Sheila’s effect on Cameron—well, that’s a different story altogether. Let’s just say he’s absolutely smitten. “Wow, she looks really beautiful,” he would say every time she emerged from hair and makeup. He must’ve uttered this over five times in a span of 12 hours. Over lunch he talked to me about how Sheila had that rare combination: “beautiful and down-to-earth.” In other words, she was just his cup of tea. So, wait—maybe it’s the same story, after all.
The couple would tie the knot 10 days later, at Dumaguete’s Bishop’s Palace, a quaint little chapel in the middle of a pastoral enclave (a fairy tale-like tree-lined dry-weather road leads to it) some twenty minutes southwest of the city proper, in an intimate ceremony attended only by Sheila’s immediate relatives, very few of her close friends, and Cameron’s best friend Mark, who’d flown in from Australia. I might have teared up a little when she walked down the aisle—particularly at the beginning, when she appeared on the chapel’s doorstep, bathed in the balmy afternoon light, looking radiant in her Swarovski-encrusted Humberto Villegas gown. The reception was held at the sprawling Ang Tay Golf and Country Club. The setting was rustic and unstudied, a lot like a love that would never grow old. And the mood? Well, “light, airy, relaxed, and mellow,” a lot like their relationship, and just like Sheila had dreamt it to be.
“I’m so happy for her,” said Sheila’s youngest sister Sheryl, who’d flown in from Singapore only a few hours before the wedding to be the maid of honor. “She finally found someone who brings her happiness, and challenges her intellectually. Someone to explore the world and spend the best years of her life with.” No one can say they don’t feel the same.
Cameron James Bradley and Sheila Desquitado | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon in Suba-Basbas, Lapu-Lapu, on March 27, 2011 | Hair and makeup by Michael Sotillo | Sittings and props: Marnelli Uyguangco and Jurex Suson | Special thanks to: Marla Baguio, Jefferson “Tyra” Mendo, Mia Bacolod | Persian green/lime floral print silk chiffon kaftan with Indian silk trimming, Kate Torralba; cosmic latte chiffon gala gown, Humberto Villegas; carmine pink silk chiffon gala gown with oxblood satin ribbon shoulder straps, Humberto Villegas
In my mood board (see below, clockwise from top left): Nouvelle Vague’s self-titled debut album from 2004, which contains bossa nova-ed covers of post-punk/New Wave hits, including Modern English’s “I Melt with You” from 1982; Christy Turlington on the cover of American Vogue, October 2002, photographed by Steven Klein; looks from Naeem Khan Spring 2011 Ready-to-Wear, photographed by Gianni Pucci; Pablo Picasso wearing a classic Breton fisherman’s shirt, 1952, photographed by Robert Doisneau; palette inspired by the moody colors of the oleander-shaped fine bone china chintz tea cups used for the shoot, more specifically (L-R) puce, Bondi blue, sea green, celadon, and University of California gold (take note that, because I added some grain to them, the swatches here might be different—darker, if you will—from the samples in your matching system).