My obsession with and specialty in grunge have been made very clear several times via this blog, along with my decent command in nautical, cowboy/western, and even 1940s styling, so I think it’s high time that we talk about what I’m not very good at, right? OK, full disclosure now: Going east isn’t, has never been, and I guess will never be my strong suit. By going east I mean Orientalia, Japonisme, Chinoiserie, and all that good stuff, collectively. Not that I dislike it; I’m just not that very well-versed when it comes to it (I’m the kind of person that likes to keep chopsticks around the house just so I could have a little aid for when I’m having a nasty craving for Cheetos and I don’t want to end up with Cheeto fingers). Which is why I almost, almost said no to this assignment. When this couple first contacted us, you see, they expressed that they wanted a theme inspired by the Hong Kong sci-fi/drama/fantasy film 2046 (from 2004) for their engagement photos. Immediately I told by boss/mentor Malou Pages (who was going to be the main photographer) that, “I swear, if you’re gonna let me touch this, it’s going to be a huge mess,” explaining that this was something I’d never done before. Not to say I didn’t try, though: I buried my nose in the spread that Mario Testino and Karlie Kloss did in China for the September 2011 issue of Vogue; stared fanatically at the same magazine’s November 2011 cover featuring actress Rooney Mara wearing a very The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo black Ralph Lauren gala gown (with a Chinese dragon embroidered on the back, from A/W 2011); even made a note in my planner to call designer Philip Rodriguez’s atelier to see if they still had Chinoiserie-inspired pieces from his past collections that I could borrow. But even with all these research efforts and pre-legwork I was still nervous as hell. Didn’t help quell my nerves learning that Pauline Demano, the bride-to-be, was a lawyer by profession—I was, like, what, was she going to litigate the living daylights out of me if I ended up not getting this whole thing right? For the first time in a long time, I actually prayed for a miracle.
And a miracle was what I got a couple of days later, in the shape of “an intervention” from Pauline’s close friends! Swear to God, I don’t know any of these people, much less have any of their numbers, but one of them must be psychic or something, because she read my mind! So they got together, and they all convinced Pauline that while her desired theme was nice, it would be best if they pursued a funner, more lighthearted kind of theme. Don’t ask me how they defeated the seemingly combative young lawyer in this debate, but they did it! Not that Pauline wasn’t happy about this, though. When we met with her the morning after her date with her friends, she was smiling from ear to ear. “So we’re changing things up a little bit,” she said rather cheerfully as she handed us a bunch of homemade cookies. She then proceeded to declare that she was kissing the 2046-inspired theme goodbye, and that they had decided to go for a “schoolboy/schoolgirl” or “high school love” theme instead! In my mind I was, like, Hallelujah!
But though this development got me all excited, it posed one minor concern. You see, the “schoolboy/schoolgirl” or “high school love” theme, although without a doubt cutesy, wasn’t exactly something you’d call profoundly original—i.e., it had been played out one too many times by so many different couples and so many different photographers. I advised Pauline that, in order for this to work, another element had to be added to the mix, something that was going to make her—them!—stand out. Initially I toyed with the idea of skate culture: high school + skate = how very Fast Times at Ridgemont High, right? Vans checkered slip-ons on my mind! Or, if you’re too young for that tuff, how about the other Amy Heckerling movie: surely you can recall Clueless’s Travis Birkenstock (Breckin Meyer) and Tai Frasier (Brittany Murphy)? I even considered exploring the rebel theme: high school + rebel = how very Heathers from 1988, right? Ultimately I had to scratch those two, especially upon realizing Pauline’s groom-to-be Carter Gothong didn’t exactly fit the Jeff Spicoli/Travis Birkenstock or the Jason Dean profiles to a tee—he was too boyish! Not a complete shame, though, because that only led us to the third item in my list, which was music. And high school + music = how very Glee, right? Obviously it turned out to be the more sensible choice, because don’t love and music always go hand-in-hand? To rethink a line from a 1983 power ballad by Journey, “Love and music, ain’t that always what it’s supposed to be?” (Coincidentally that ballad happened to be one of the classics that gained resurgence after being picked up by Fox TV series.) Another thing that made it perfect was that Carter had a kind of Mike Chang (Harry Shum, Jr.’s character) vibe about him! Pauline admitted that, although she had never been a fan of Glee, she was willing to give it a shot, for the sake of cultural reference, and for the sake of shaking things up. I assured her she wasn’t going to regret this decision!
Like Pauline, I’m not a huge fan of Glee myself (well, I was for a while there, but then life got in the way), so I knew from the start I was going to be needing an extra pair of hands in order to make this work. Luckily I had to look no further, as I happened to know someone who was the ultimate “Gleek” (as these die-hard fans of the show liked to refer to themselves)! Seriously, I don’t think I’ve met anyone as obsessed with Glee as my good friend Jennifer “Jenny” Hortillosa is—there was a time there that the only Websites/blogsites she visited/bookmarked were Glee fan sites, and that the only people she followed on Twitter were Lea Michele, Dianna Agron et al., and that the only music that blasted from her player were those from the show! Even her profile pictures on Facebook and Twitter showed her doing the loser hand gesture (which has since become a symbol for Glee, along with slushies and dodgeballs)! As it happened, she was an aspiring set decorator/props master, too, and had expressed to me a number of times in the past that it was her dream to do set decoration/props for an engagement shoot one day. When I told her about this project, I proposed that, you know, this was the perfect opportunity for her to put all that Glee fanaticism to good use, and at the same time try her hand at set decoration/props! The premise was simple: take her Glee expertise, and translate them into an overall look for Pauline and Carter’s engagement shoot. She took me up on my offer and jumped right into the project at the drop of a hat, and in less than 24 hours she handed me her scene ideas and list of props! I’d never worked with anyone who was this quick on the trigger!
Truth is, Jenny did more than set decoration and props for this shoot. She also helped me a great deal with the storyboarding, and acted as consultant with respect to the styling. It was her who narrowed down the episodes into a few key ones that she deemed to be sartorially pleasing, so there was no need for me to rewatch all 50 or so past episodes in order to decode the characters’ styles of dress! Most of Pauline’s outfits were inspired by the clothes worn by Lea Michele’s character Rachel Berry. Her outfit for the classroom set—yellow/mustard cardigan, green plaid schoolgirl skirt, black knee-high socks—was inspired by one of the ensembles that Rachel wore in episode 2 of the first season (“Showmance”), particularly that scene where they all hustled to their cover of the 1978 disco hit “Le Freak.” And the blue polka dot dress that I slipped her into for the drummer set was inspired by, well, various blue polka dot dresses that Rachel liked to wear throughout the show (episode 2 of the second season, particularly that scene 30 minutes into the thing where she visits Finn Hudson [Cory Monteith’s character] in the boys’ locker room; episode 14 of the third season, opening scene, coffee shop). The multicolor argyle sweater with a Peter Pan collar that I made her wear for the violin/school bus set looked like something Jayma Mays’s character Emma Pillsbury would wear. Of course, the William McKinley High School (WMHS) cheerleader uniform had to be in the picture, too, and to make sure of that I worked pretty damn hard to obtain a replica—no decent costume shops in this part of the world, so I had to make some 7 trips to the heart of downtown where I had two sweatshop-type establishments copy the thing (no one could get the pleated skirt right, so I settled for a plain mini, but at least they got the top right, including the WMHS lettering across the chest)! And while I was at it, I made them copy the WMHS letterman jacket, too, except instead of the letter M emblazoned across the chest I had them use Pauline and Carter’s initials. I may not be the stylist with the mostest, but don’t I go hard!
Of course, nothing makes me happier than seeing our clients happy with our work . The looks on Pauline and Carter’s faces once they saw how everything fell into place on the day of the shoot were just priceless. Pauline proceeded to call us “dreamweavers,” which was the biggest compliment I—or, us as a team—had ever gotten from a client! Naturally I made sure Jenny got all the credit, since this really was 70% or 80% the sleight of her hand. And it wasn’t just Pauline and Carter who were impressed—Malou was overawed that she wasted no time in taking Jenny under the Shutterfairy wing as resident set decorator! Exciting times!
For most of our shoots I would say that about 80% of the fun is in the planning and preparations, but for this one right here it was the actual shoot that turned out to be more enjoyable, and I’ll tell you why: This was the first time ever that we used extras in an engagement shoot! Yes, usually it’s just the couple engaged to be married that you photograph during an engagement session, but this time around I asked the couple if they were open to the idea of having a bunch of background actors, in the form of little boys and girls, to play the role of their classmates for the classroom set. This got them really excited, and they went right down to business, making a list of their little nieces and nephews whom they thought would be perfect for the scenes. Malou and Jenny were concerned that we were straying too much from tradition here, but I told them, you know, that that was exactly my point—to be able to do something that no one’s ever done before! I’d never been one to worry about getting my chops busted for trying something new before, so why hold back now? In fact my only concern was that the whole shoot might turn into a riot, but I got over that once the kids arrived on set because they turned out to be very well-behaved! I loved it when, every time we asked Pauline and Carter to kiss, the little ones would be like, “Ew! Ew! They’re kissing! Why are they kissing?” I had to explain that “It’s OK, they’re grownups, and they’re about to get married!” To which one of the little boys retorted, “Exactly! They’re about to get married! They’re not married yet! They’re not supposed to be kissing yet!” My heart just melted at the cuteness of it all.
But my absolute, absolute favorite part was how Carter seemed to transform into a completely different person once the cameras started clicking. I mean, when I’d first met him, during our sit-down meetings to go over our checklists, he’d come off as the shy, silent type, and he wouldn’t even smile! “I’m worried he’s going to look too stiff in the photos,” I’d told Pauline at one point. But that day of the shoot he was the complete opposite—he was spontaneous and hyper, and was down for whatever! Funny ‘cause it was Pauline who turned out to be camera shy, and it was Carter who would help her relax by tickling her, or by stealing kisses. Every time we asked Pauline to wrap her arms around him, he would say, “Come on, hold me! Hold me like you don’t wanna lose me!” In no time Pauline was in the mood, too! I don’t know if it was the theme—the musical instruments, the cheerleader uniform, the varsity jackets—that got them in a very “puppy love” kind of groove, but one thing is for sure: all this wouldn’t have happened had we stuck to the original 2046-inspired theme. Make beautiful music, they certainly did!
Carter Gothong and Pauline Demano | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon for Shutterfairy in Cebu City, Cebu, on March 18, 2012 | Main photographer: Malou Pages for Shutterfairy | Hair and makeup: Ramil Solis | Set decorator: Jennifer Hortillosa | Special thanks to Steve Lora of Lorapalooza Band Instruments and Audio Systems