“I don’t think I’ve ever seen this much hyperflorals in one closet!” That’s what I exclaimed as I was rummaging through Michelle Gutierrez’s closet during my house call to style her and her fiancé Jerbie Domingo for their engagement photos. “Or this much Forever 21!” When I’d said during our initial meetings that I’d wanted hyperflorals, you see, she’d offered, “You might want to take a look at my closet; I think I might have a little.” Well, I don’t know what her definition of little is, but one whole closet of hyperflorals is not a little to me! And about 90% of them from Forever 21! (She would later admit that she’s a sucker for anything Forever 21—at the time of my house call the store hadn’t even set up shop in Cebu yet, and so most of her items she’d gotten during “shopping trips” to Manila and elsewhere.)
I love it when my clients allow me to do house calls—not a lot of them do, you see, and that’s a shame—because it makes my job easier by giving me a strong starting point. People tend to say things like, “But I don’t have a lot of stuff in my closet!” or “I don’t own anything you’re gonna be remotely interested in!” But I always say, “Who knows?” You may be tired of looking at your own clothes, but with a fresh pair of eyes by your side there’s a huge chance that you’re gonna unearth hidden gems—after all, I would say 90% of a stylist’s job is to make you look at something in a way you’ve never looked at it before. Some of the best styling jobs I’ve done (like for Rey Dauz and Sheryl Guzman’s “vintage travel”-themed engagement session, for example) turned out the way they did because my clients opened up their homes—and their closet doors—to me, and so they became collaborative efforts, you know? It’s like the “Bend and Snap” from Legally Blonde: “It works every time.” You just have to trust me on this one. (Don’t worry, you won’t be obligated to cook for me. LOL.)
Anyways, backpedaling to the story: It was a “springtime picnic” kind of feel that we wanted Michelle and Jerbie’s engagement photos to evoke. The idea for the theme came to us when my mentor Malou Pages-Solomon (of Shutterfairy Photography, where I am currently apprenticing) took me for a drizzy Sunday afternoon stroll up the Banawa Hills’ Tanchan-owned Celestial Gardens, and I fell absolutely in love with the place. I always talk about how I am not a big fan of vegetation in this part of the world, but this place right here was a different story altogether—it was like we weren’t in Cebu! There were parts where the foliage were manicured, and parts where they had this unstudied, unkempt appeal, and when you put them together it’s just bewitching. (There’s even a sweet little spot in there that overlooks Cebu City, it reminds me of the Getty’s Lower Terrace Sculpture Garden that overlooks Los Angeles! Just breathtaking!) What’s more, it was discreet in architecture and artifice—it was, like, 85% nature. And even in the rain and the fog it was beautiful—how much more so when the sun was shining? I wasted no time in telling Malou that I wanted to have a shoot in that very place, something with a picnic theme, and that was when she suggested, “Why don’t we do that for Michelle and Jerbie’s session next week?” Just like that, we got to work. Luckily for me, the couple welcomed the idea. There were minor hitches in trying to book the venue at first, especially after two of the custodians said that photoshoots were “not allowed” in the area, but we were able to pull some strings, and so we made it happen.
During our initial discussions around wardrobe, Michelle had expressed interest in flowy, diaphanous dresses in white or off-white, kind of like the wedding dress that Amanda Seyfried’s character wore in the Mamma Mia! film, but Malou was quick to discourage us from pursuing this look, pronouncing that using white dresses in engagement photos was a tired, old rule that she wanted to steer clear of. The idea for bright hyperflorals (and patterns) came to me when I thought about the place we were going to be shooting at and what it lacked, and it occurred to me the Celestial Gardens were all green and had very little flowering plants. Why not let Michelle be the flower to lend a burst of color to the place? I thought. People often ask me what hyperfloral is, and how that’s different from the regular floral, and I wish I could do a better job at explaining things like this (yes, contrary to popular belief, I am not about to write a doctorate paper on styling), but all I’ve really got to say is it’s kind of like chintz—varying floral patterns rather than just one, and in a melee rather than in an orderly sequence. Think Peter Copping for Nina Ricci Spring 2012 Ready-to-Wear—or, better yet, think the works of textile designer and artist Zina de Plagny, who was the central inspiration for that collection.
Of course, I didn’t want it to be all-floral, so I decided to throw something with an ethic print into the mix—more specifically, a cobalt blue/orange-red Navajo-print dress. I don’t know, but at the time I kind of had a feeling ethnic prints were going to be huge in the coming seasons (flash forward to today, and, voila, we see a lot of Aztec prints in, say, Topshop’s new collection), and plus I’d always been fascinated with them (I have Navajo-print bedroom curtains, and a couple of tank tops in Ikat-inspired prints). A friend of mine who observed as I was I was putting together these outfits for Michelle commented that she was “relieved” that I was able to restrain myself from injecting a little grunge into the picture—“For once you’re doing something really girly!” she exclaimed—but that only goes to show she wasn’t paying close attention, because if you take a closer look you will see that the dresses I picked were all in babydoll silhouettes, that I managed to throw some leather jackets into the mix, and that for one of the sets I had Michelle ditch the ballet flats in favor of 1460 8-eye Doc Martens! Trust me to always have a little bit of grunge sneak up on you, even if the situation doesn’t call for it!
It was my idea to put a TV set and a couch in the middle of the frangipani garden (I love frangipani, especially when they’re in clusters—their knotty, spindly branches have a way of slicing sunlight into gorgeous little rays that add a dramatic dimension to your frame). Just because the theme was picnic didn’t mean they had to be sprawled on the ground the whole time, you know? Besides, an outdoor couch potato set was in order, especially since I wanted some of these photos to reflect Jerbie’s personality—for what was Jerbie without his TV (he’s a self-confessed TV and film buff; he works for SM Cinemas)? I would’ve wanted a vintage TV set, though—like something from the ’50s jet age—and a bigger couch, but, well, sometimes you gotta work with what you have.
As gorgeous as the photos turned out, I’m afraid they kind of do not do justice to the day they were taken. It was such a charming day, despite the fact that it was sweltering (I had to pile sunblock on three times!) and that we were up to the neck in enormous props. The atmosphere was serene; the grass so soft we couldn’t resist lying on it like cats; and there were birds that wouldn’t stop chirping! And how about that creamy sunset? The day had a certain feeling to it; it was the kind of day fashioned for a romance novel. Add to that Michelle and Jerbie’s playful, childlike chemistry, and you have the makings of a photo session that you don’t want to ever end (our timetable had called for us to wrap by 4PM, but we kept shooting well until 6PM, anyway)! It was as if we were in a daydream! I love it when all the elements of a shoot come together to create one big perfect moment. It makes me sigh dreamily and think to myself, There’s work, and then there’s this.
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I am currently in Los Angeles, CA, on vacation, so please forgive me if I am unable to update this blog over the next couple of weeks. To those who’ve been sending me messages asking me to style their sessions, please check with Malou Pages (email@example.com) for available dates (I will be back in Cebu soon).
Jerbie Domingo and Michelle Gutierrez | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon for Shutterfairy in Cebu City on December 11, 2011 | Main photographers: Malou Pages-Solomon for Shutterfairy, Paul Armand Calo for Calography (click here to view Malou’s set) | Hair and makeup by Owen Taboada | White hyperfloral babydoll dress, cobalt blue/orange-red Navajo-print dress, and Palatinate blue hyperfloral baby doll dress, all from Forever 21 | Blue cardigan, Primark/Atmosphere UK | Chamoisee biker jacket and desert sand bomber jacket, all from Forever 21 | Red cardigan, Charles 1/2, Urban Outfitters | International orange lightweight summer shirt, American Apparel | Multi-colored striped zip-front sweater, Esprit