I was swimming in delight the whole time I was working on this couple’s engagement session. Cindy and Anthony here both worked for a cruise liner (the Norwegian Pearl, if I am not mistaken; her as guest service representative, him as stateroom steward), and that’s how they met, in August of 2010, and then fell in love two months later. When I found out about this detail I wasted no time in proposing the nautical theme for their photos—I mean, come on, was there any other theme that was going to make perfect sense? This was where all my excitement sprung from.
You see, along with grunge, the nautical look is one of my all-time favorites. It all started when, as a little boy, I would rummage through piles of my grandfather’s old magazines, and then one day I stumbled upon the December 27, 1968, issue of Life, with the artist Pablo Picasso wearing a classic Breton sailor shirt on the cover, photographed by Robert Doisneau in Vallauris (circa 1952). Ever since then I wouldn’t stop obsessing about it, collecting clippings of images of people wearing sailor/fisherman stripes (or patterns inspired by such), including the cover of the April 1993 issue of American Vogue—Helena Christensen, Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, and Stephanie Seymour, all wearing the same red-and-white-striped crop tops by Marc Jacobs paired with white Daisy Dukes (photographed by Herb Ritts)—which I ended up tacking to my bedroom wall where it stayed for a good four or so years. Yes, my very first mood board, right there!
That Vogue cover, along with all the other clippings, would go missing after moving house so many times, but the iconography of the sailor/fisherman shirt was to remained anchored to my, um, creative psyche, and there it stayed lurking until it was time for it to resurface and dictate a good chunk of my “adult wardrobe.” Yes, it wasn’t until I hit the Big 3-0 that I decided to infuse some nautical staples into my closet—I mean, I’d been itching to from the start, but then I’d figured it was the kind of thing that required some maturity and a bit of worldliness in order to be pulled off successfully. On the eve of my 30th birthday I gifted myself with a trip to my favorite local designer Protacio Empaces, Jr.‘s atelier so he could make me a navy blazer with red-and-white seersucker lining and anchor motif brass buttons (that came out perfect, of course, and now that jacket is the champ of my wardrobe, and coming with me wherever I go—in fact, I am about to snatch it from my closet so I could take it with me to Boracay tomorrow where we are to shoot a beach wedding). Perfect timing, too, because it was around that exact same time that the sailor/fisherman shirt made a huge resurgence, fast trickling down the retail chains, perhaps taking a cue from Balmain’s F/W 2009 collection which showcased a chic version of the shirt that Picasso had made famous (now I have about four or five of these shirts: a couple from H&M, one from Zara, and one from Uniqlo). And it didn’t stop at what I was putting on my own back—pretty soon nautical stripes became one of my favorite gifts to give, too! And it didn’t stop at clothes—suddenly all the other aspects of my life were starting to look, um, seaward, like my travel sense, for example: all at once I was eschewing big city adventures in favor of seaside communes and harbor locales, like Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, Marina del Rey, Redondo Beach, and even that area of Louisville by the Ohio River. Even my playlist was starting to be doused with nautical-themed tunes: “Sailing” by Christopher Cross, “Cruisin'” by Smokey Robinson, and “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding. And, would you believe, I even proceeded to change my “fantasy wedding” (come on, now, everyone has one), in keeping up with this theme—whereas before I’d dreamt of a grungy, rock ‘n’ roll-y kind of wedding, or something with a country theme (à la the wedding scene from 8 Seconds), now I was all about a nautical-inspired wedding (imagine me yelping in a Dionne-from-Clueless voice: “When I get married, I’m gonna have a sailor dress, but it’s going to be a gown, and all my bridesmaids are gonna wear sailor hats…”)!
All the above stories (except, of course, for the “fantasy wedding” part) were what I leveraged in building a strong case, to convince Cindy that this theme was in my “sweet spot” and that I knew it like the back of my hand. Thankfully, she gave it the green light, saying she had seen some of the work I’d done for one of her good friends Sheryl Guzman-Dauz, for whom we’d done a “vintage travel”-inspired engagement session, which had included a cruise-themed set! At first she had qualms about a certain detail: “Don’t horizontal stripes make you look big?” I reassured her that I’d used to think that, too, until my favorite style writers at WhoWhatWear debunked this myth by declaring that it actually “looks good on any body type.”
Needless to say, I had one hell of a field day putting these clothes together. After years of romancing the Doisneau portrait of Picasso and the cover of the April 1993 Vogue in my head, finally here was my chance to translate everything about them that I loved into my own work! Of course, these two images weren’t my only guiding light: the aforementioned WhoWhatWear article helped, too, by serving as a refresher course, and I also got some useful tips from an old issue of Lucky (July 2006, Milla Jovovich on the cover) that I’d unearthed from the storage, which contained a 4-page spread dedicated to how to add “a cool twist” to the traditional French nautical style. I must say that one of the reasons I like this theme/style is that it forces you to exercise a little bit of discipline—like, there’s a strict palette of blue, red and white, and you have to remain rooted to it (actually, yellow is part of the basic sailorman palette, too, owing to the slickers that sailors use and the brass buttons that come with service dress blues, but for this shoot I made a conscious effort to stick to just red, blue and white). Which is not to say I left no room for experimentation, of course—for one of the groom-to-be’s outfits I looked past the stripes in favor of a little polka dot flavor, and it still worked somehow! All this was made more fun, of course, when Cindy offered to help scour the thrift shops for more nautical-inspired separates. It’s always a treat when your clients play an active role in the behind-the-scenes work, instead of just sitting pretty and watching you do all of it!
I must confess, though, that although I had fun assembling the outfits, it was sourcing the props and dressing up the set that I found immensely enjoyable. I love a shoot that gives my set decorating muscles a good old flexin’ good time! For the first set, in which I had Cindy and Anthony tinker with and show off various memorabilia from their travels/voyages (postcards, cruise ship models, etc.), I created a backdrop peppered with anchor cutouts—took me a good two days putting that whole thing together, and for a while there it caused some numbness around my fingers (imagine having to make 90 cutouts!), but it was all worth it in the end. For the swimming pool set, I wanted to have about 50 paper boats made out of yellowed pages from an old book—loved that they lent a childlike quality to the pictures! Of course, all that was me just going gimmicky with the whole thing. (This has sort of become an “unspoken rule” for all the engagement shoots that I do under the Shutterfairy brand: to insert a gimmick or two into the first couple of sets, ‘cause it helps the subjects shake off any trace of camera shyness by giving them something to keep themselves busy/entertained). In other words, I was just getting warmed up. It wasn’t until the third and fourth sets that I went real hardcore.
(“Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,” yes—that was what I wanted to allude to for the third set, and so I put together a picnic setting by the edge of the dock, completed with “messages in bottles,” some books with ocean-themed titles (e.g., High Tide by Jude Deveraux), and even chocolate mallow cupcakes with nautical-themed fondant toppers (the cuppies are by my good friend Rhia de Pablo, by the way—call her at +63  301-5225 if you happen to need some custom cupcakes in your life)! And I didn’t want it to come off too stagy, so I decided against clearing out the moorings. (It would’ve been nice to move this whole setting aboard one of the yachts, but more than anything I really just wanted to stay true to lines from the aforementioned song that goes: “Sittin’ in the morning sun/ I’ll be sittin’ when the evening comes/ Watching the ships roll in/ Then I watch them roll away again.”) I was so happy with the outcome that I ended up taking some 200+ pictures of that set alone! Perfect timing, too, because it was during this set that the videographer Marlowe Guinto arrived on set to take moving pictures—imagine the look on his face when he saw we had something very telegenic waiting for him!
My absolute, absolute favorite, though, was the final (fourth) set, which involved very unusual suspects: crabs. By crabs, I mean crustaceans, of course! And how did these little creatures end up in the picture? Well, at the time of this shoot, you see, I was gaga over the ABC TV drama Revenge (not anymore now, though—isn’t the trick to stop watching when everyone else starts?), so as I was laying down my mood board I figured, why not recreate that one oh-so-stylish clambake scene from episode 11 (“Duress,” aired January 4, 2012)? I quickly snapped myself out of it, of course, after I realized that that would make us go way over budget. I began to think: what would be good alternative? something that had a clambake kind of vibe but was less swanky (besides, the champagne and all that were already to be covered by the third/picnic set)? And then it hit me: why not recreate the feel of a seafood market/crab shack? More specifically, Quality Seafood, Inc., down the Redondo Beach boardwalk, that served steamed crabs in disposable aluminum foil plates, and that used old newspapers as tablecloth? It was perfect ‘cause it was unrefined (and I mean that in a good way) and laid-back! The only challenge was we couldn’t find a crab mallet anywhere in this part of the world, but we had handheld wooden meat tenderizers that looked exactly like mallets, so there. Of course, the funnest part was when we got to eat all the crabs after we wrapped!
Goes without saying that all this kick-ass set decorating would’ve remained an aloof and distant concept had it not been for my friend Jennifer “Jenny” Hortillosa, who served as props master for this assignment, and who assisted me in the actual dressing of the sets. (You remember Jenny, right? She’s the girl who helped us design the overall look of the Glee-inspired engagement session that we did early this year, and she has since been taken under the Shutterfairy wing as official set decorator.) You won’t believe how resourceful that girl is. I give her a list of impossible stuff to source, and she knows exactly where to get them! And whatever she can’t find, you can count on it she’s gonna make it herself! She also loves taking me to obscure shops, and just about any store that I didn’t know existed! And extra diligent, too—for this shoot right here she woke up at 3AM, to make sure she got to the seafood market before 3:30 in order to get first dibs on he fattest, juiciest mud crabs (I wouldn’t have done it)! My favorite thing about her, though, is her sunny disposition—just ‘cause, as some of you might know, that’s something I have very little of. On set she’s always making us laugh, and she’s always keeping my temper in check. Said differently, she’s the singing bluebird that hangs my laundry. I don’t say this enough, but thank you, Jenny, for being in this with me!
Going back to Cindy and Anthony, I just loved their chemistry on the day of the shoot. There was no need for us to tell them it was time for a kiss, or a hug, or a really tight embrace—they were always doing these things, even during breaks between sets! At first Cindy was a little stiff in front of the camera, but with her fiancé constantly sweet-talking her and telling jokes to make her laugh out loud it was impossible for her not to shake the nerves off. Perhaps it had something to do with them being apart from each other for a long time—this was their first time to be back in each other’s arms after months (Cindy had had to get off the cruise ship first so she could fly home and straighten out all the wedding details). Or, maybe this was just how they were to each other, every single day that they were together!
They would tie the knot three weeks after this shoot. I couldn’t be at the wedding ‘cause I had to leave for California, but I heard it was charming, especially the part when it was time for Anthony to give his thank you speech, and he won everyone over with his gift of gab. (I’m beginning to think that maybe it’s a seafarer thing? All of my friends who work for ships and cruise liners are such sweet-talkers, they debunk the old idiom “swear like a sailor!”) The theme wasn’t nautical, but that’s alright—I mean, we don’t want anyone beating me to my “fantasy wedding,” now, do we? LOL.
Thank you, Cindy and Anthony, for allowing us to capture the prologue to your new beginning together, and for making us part of a very special time in your lives. I hear one of you is back in the cruise ship, while the other has opted to stay behind in order to build a new home. I can’t even begin to imagine the irony of it all: how the very seas that brought you together have now become the distance that is to keep you apart for long periods of time. But I hope that looking at these photos will help warm your nights until the day you find yourselves back in each other’s arms again!
Anthony Joseph Haw and Cindy Hermosisima | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon for Shutterfairy in Liloan, Cebu, on April 15, 2012 | Main photographer: Malou Pages for Shutterfairy | Hair and makeup by JingJing F. Manching | Set decorator: Angelo Kangleon | Props master and assistant set decorator: Jennifer Hortillosa | Special thanks to Rhia de Pablo | Strapped wooden wedge sandals, Shandar; navy blazer with red-and-white seersucker lining, Protacio; sailor shirt, H&M; blue-and-white polka dot dress shirt, Heritage 1981, Forever 21; off-white canvas boat shoes, Generic Surplus, Urban Outfitters; soft denim roll-up pants, H&M; bucket hat, Bench