It was one of those days. You know, when you feel like you need to go out there and do something new? It had gotten to the point where I felt what I was doing was getting monotonous. I had done couples, families, children, some catalog work… I felt like I needed to expand my portfolio a little. I thought to myself, What else did I want to photograph? Who else did I want to photograph?
At first I toyed with the idea of doing street—perfect, right, since I was in this incredible place (L.A.) and had all the time in the world to kill (I was on vacation). I dismissed that idea once I realized I didn’t exactly have the equipment for it, and plus I was never good at not bringing attention to myself—i.e., I had not learned the art of clicking away surreptitiously. And then I thought about doing “street style”—you know, a la Scott Schuman (of The Sartorialist) or something like that, where you go out there and take photos of stylish passersby. Then I reminded myself that (believe it or not) I was too timid to go up to complete strangers and ask them for a photo—plus I was too much of a control freak to ever settle for a “right here, right now” kind of thing; I mean, the idea of doing guerrilla fascinated me, yes, but my strength was in sittings, which meant that I liked to plan the backdrops/locations (and even the poses and movements) carefully and ahead of time.
It was after I made these deliberations that it occurred to me: Why not do personal style portraits? And do it out on the streets? Personal style street portraits! I could pick a subject, ask them to prepare 5 or 6 outfits for the occasion, take them out to the streets, and then photograph them, one outfit after another. Perfect since it combined, well, the street thing, which I’d always wanted to do, and, well, the style thing. And it was non-intrusive, too, in that I didn’t have to catch anyone off guard, or stop strangers on the street! Another thing was the lenses I had where they only lenses I needed, and, although the fact that we were going to hit the streets made it kind of guerrilla, it still allowed me to put my skills in sittings to good use (picking the spot/s, trying different angles and poses, etc.). The most awesome part, though, was that there was no need for me to style my subjects since the emphasis on personal style, so that aspect of the job was going to be saddled on them—well, maybe I could retain the liberty of editing (like, “Lose the cuff” or “Take the jacket off”), but that’s about it! Just like that, I was ready to get to work!
I presented the idea to some of my close friends, and one of them asked me, “How are you going to find subjects? And [on the business side of it], what market are you targeting?” Of course the first question was almost like a rhetorical one because they were well aware of the fact that, in my decade-long (albeit off-and-on) career as a stylist, I had fraternized with quite a number of stylish, clothes-loving people from almost all walks of life, both from inside the fashion circle and out. As for target clienetele…well, didn’t we have an ever-growing coterie of personal style bloggers in our midst? In my home base (Cebu) alone, safe to say that perhaps half of the young people I knew who worked in creatives had personal style blogs, and to cast a blind eye on them and their potential would be irresponsible—always I’d wanted to be able to do something instrumental for these young ones, and to help them promote their craft (after all, I had been in their position once upon and time, and I’d had all sorts of people to help me out, too, so it was only proper to pay it forward, right?). And just like that, I had some sort of business case!
As it turned out, finding someone to be my “guinea pig” (for lack of a better term) to help me kick this whole thing off didn’t prove to be an ordeal, either. I mean, at first I thought I was going to have to wait ‘til I flew back home to Cebu before I could jump-start this project—but then I remembered that there was this one person that I’d always looked up to sartorially who was now based in California!
Vince Baguio and I go way back. We used to run in the same circuit back in the late ‘90s/early 2000s—I knew him through his sister, my fellow stylist Meyen Baguio. At the time he did a stint as fashion show/casting director, before he proceeded to start his own modeling agency. He was also erstwhile editor, supplanting me after I left my magazine stint. I remember me and my friends were always jealous of the stuff that he wore—the perfectly distressed jean jackets, the vintage T-shirts, the offbeat accessories. I was all about what he slipped his feet into, though—he always had the nicest shoes! Luckily for us, he was also very fickle when it came to this department, and very generous, too, and so every now and then he would invite us over so we could raid his closet, grab some of the stuff he no longer wanted, and take them home with us! You should’ve seen my face when my wardrobe expanded exponentially in 2005 (or was it 2006)—that was when he left for L.A., and so I got to inherit about 20% of the stuff he left behind!
Flash forward to today, and there I was standing before the walk-in of his WeHo digs, my jaw on the floor. Not because it was overflowing or anything—in fact, we’re talking the complete opposite here, where there weren’t a thousand different things, but only a few hundred carefully edited pieces. His style had evolved since moving to a new city, although I wouldn’t call it L.A. style—no Ed Hardy or trucker hats, thank you very much! We’re talking Comme des Garçons here, YSL, Rick Owens—yes, a refreshing departure from hackneyed Tinseltown style. His palettes were more subdued now (blacks and whites, some neutrals), his silhouettes a lot cleaner and more clinical, his details less gaudy—in other words, it was an infinitely more sedate, no-nonsense closet that I was staring at now. It was kind of like looking at something your older brother had and thinking to yourself, I can’t wait to grow up so I can get me some of that, too! I mentioned my little project and gently asked him if he was willing to help me turn the ignition. Luckily, it didn’t take a lot of prodding for him to say yes.
Vince didn’t have personal style blog—as a matter of fact, his new job had absolutely nothing to do with fashion—but he was still a huge fan, and in his own little ways liked to promote how the art of dressing up should be approached. As I learned from our conversations, to “live and breathe fashion” is one thing—but to “live, breathe and actually go out there and buy the fashion” is another. The latter, of course, being the more logical approach, because that way you knew you were supporting the industry and the people who worked so hard to make us look, well, nice. Again, he didn’t have a blog to convey this message, but he and a few friends did like to post “Outfit of the Day” photos on their Facebooks, and that’s how he got convinced the resulting photos would still be useful to him somehow. Next thing I knew he was making a list of 6-7 of his favorite outfits! (“I don’t have clothes, I have outfits,” he would later jokingly declare.) Of course, I made it very clear that I didn’t want the whole thing to be all about the clothes, raising the subject of how I wanted my pictures to tell the story of place, too, and that’s when he went ahead and made another list, this time of streets spots in the city that he thought I’d find interesting. We were on a roll!
Needless to say, when the actual shoot came, it turned out to be one of the funnest I’d done in a long time. And one of the most educational, too! Not only did I pick up a couple of sage styling tips from Vince (yes, in between outfit changes he was dispensing style advice—e.g., what kind of accessories worked with this kind of silhouette, why the cut of your trousers matter when you’re trying to assert the shoes, etc.), I also learned the value of dry cleaning (and where in L.A. the best cleaners were located), the value of whipping your body into shape (clothes do look better when you’re in shape), and the value of function over form (read: if your shoes look immaculate all the time, that’s a surefire sign they’re uncomfortable, and they only imply a life that’s stylish but not necessarily well-lived). I also learned the value of taking the side streets and alleys versus the main roads and freeways (if you’re scouting for locations, that’s an unquestionable way to discover hidden gems), and the value of knowing your points (always start east, and then end west—that is, if you’re looking to go after the creamy flare of sunset later on). More importantly, I got to learn how to maneuver my way through these guerilla-type shoots—i.e., how to politely explain to passersby what we were doing, how to carefully time the sequences so as not to disrupt other people’s businesses, how to switch equipment at backbreaking speed while being extra careful that I don’t drop or lose them!
I must say, though, that the most important discovery I made that day was that I actually had the knack for churning out some pretty decent detail shots! In all my previous shoots, you see, this was something I would do very little of, because I’d always thought I couldn’t do it. My mentor (Malou Pages, of Shutterfairy Photography) would always say, “Take detail shots!” and I’d nod and take very few (or shake my head and take none at all)—“I don’t have the equipment for that kind of stuff,” I’d reason out (or, “My hands are too shaky!”). But that day with Vince I was left with no choice, because he decided to push our start time back two hours so he could pump some iron, and I didn’t want to sit around his apartment doing nothing. So what I did was yank my camera and tripod out, took pictures of the more interesting nooks and of the wall pieces that I liked (Gary Baseman prints, Filipinas Makabenta-San Jose oil), and in no time I found myself sprawled out on the floor taking pictures of the littlest details—from his shoes to his bags to his books to his Coachella bracelets! Next thing I knew was I was hooked! So for two or so hours that was all I did! It felt so cool! Like I was working for The Coveteur or something! (OK, I will admit that before I took my camera out it was my phone that I used—you know, for Instagram purposes—but it didn’t take long before I realized I could make a killing if I used the real deal, so there.) I then showed Vince my shots, to persuade him to allow me to post them. Just like that, the formula for this project of mine expanded: CLOTHES + STREET + STUFF! It only made sense, right? After all, style isn’t just about what you put on your back and/or the places that you go to—it’s also about what you surround yourself with!
Thank you, Vince, for helping me with this little project of mine. More importantly, thank you for sharing with me your new home! It will be hard for me to think of that amazing city without thinking of you!
Vince Baguio | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon in Los Angeles, CA, and West Hollywood, CA, on May 25, 2012