$3 and 10 minutes was all it took to shoot with Madrid’s biggest fashion magazine.
I know, that rings false. Too good to be true. Often when I’m walking down the street to get groceries or do some mundane task, the thought comes to mind: “I broke into the fashion industry”. Which keeps me from smiling. But you don’t want to hear that, you want to know how it happened.
It was 10 a.m. on a Sunday morning when I was browsing Vogue while brushing my teeth. This may not be the #1 recommended thing to do by dentists, but I always find myself brushing my teeth for 2+ minutes when I’m distracted, so in hindsight maybe it should being. I kept coming back to videos and articles about Bella Hadid on stage at Paris Fashion Week. The creators of Coperni doused her with a liquid that instantly hardened into a dress in which she paraded on the catwalk. The cutting-edge technology and enormity of the moment went over my head that morning, my only thought being, “looks like a little boy playing with shaving foam. And that’s how the idea was born.
In our living room, I confronted Sevyn, “I want to spray you with shaving cream.” Naturally without context, she didn’t say yes right away. However, moments after I explained my entire vision to him, I was already in the convenience store across the street, still in my pajamas, buying a box of $3 shaving cream. I could have changed, but I have a Calihan theory on cases like this – going fast is a competitive advantage. The closer I posted my video to the original, the better it would do since the relevance was high. The longer I waited, the more risks I took. Someone else could complete the idea first. As much as we don’t like to admit it, creative ideas have an expiration date, and I was determined not to let this one go bad.
With our hangovers still permeating our brains, the dishes not being washed in the sink, and homework being undone, I sprayed the exact Coperni dress on my roommate. Only this time, in shaving cream. The whole thing, buying the equipment, making the video and cleaning the floor, took 10 minutes in total. In two days, it had been viewed 2.5 million times.
Growing up, my generation learned that there are two currencies that can get you anywhere if you have enough: money and followers. As I watched the view and the number of likes increase alongside my followers, it was a high fact in my mind.
It wasn’t until I received a message from a major fashion magazine in Madrid that I really let my networking and economics brain take over. They were just asking to repost the video on their social media, but the only thing I saw was an open communication tunnel. Admittedly, it’s a bit strange that people in my position ask a company by DM to talk about a future career (i.e. I was told they never responded to a situation like this before), but again I had to take advantage of at least some of my new currency.
So I replied to their message that they could repost the video, but that I was also a photography student looking to work in the fashion industry and would like to attend a photoshoot or speak with someone with a career in fashion. They invited me to a photo shoot the next day.
Unbeknownst to my parents, I skipped two of my classes to attend the entire six-hour photo shoot. Granted, it might not have been the smartest idea with mid-terms fast approaching, but the fashion industry is nearly impossible to get started, and you don’t often get two chances.
The photoshoot brought out another Calihan ethos – go-to, go-everywhere. I was supposed to just observe and ask questions, but I couldn’t let that philosophy die easily. I heard the photographer ask for an assistant and quickly jumped on board, introducing myself and listening to his instructions as best I could with my lack of photography-Spanish knowledge. I tried to be perfect in every aspect – finding the highlights, replacing the camera as quickly as possible, and even providing water without being asked during wardrobe changes.
During these wardrobe changes, we talked. I told her about the photo shoots I was planning and my goal of photographing New York Fashion Week next year. He laughed and told me I had big dreams. He said that with a few more years of assisting under my belt and photography school was over, I would be ready to direct actual photo shoots. I bit my lip, and above all I didn’t tell him that I wasn’t in art school.
I ran into a similar problem with consulting and the finance world as well. A lot of people believe that you have to do your soul selling work for two years just to get the exit strategies, but I never believed that. Maybe it’s just teenage optimism, but I never saw why we couldn’t cut to the chase. I had a supervisor at a private equity firm who once said to me, “don’t get your degree and go into something you don’t like because you’re going to lose some of your best years of being miserable just to find out years later that you might have went straight to the exit strategy. Obviously I took that to heart.
I’m not saying being an assistant is a waste of time, or moving on to the big, world-changing things without doing the meticulous little work. It teaches you the intricacies of the job when it comes to lighting, you learn to work under someone else (admittedly, I struggle with authority), and you learn to take criticism. Working under different people, I constantly create a list of things I would do differently, or the same thing, when the tables are finally turned and I’m in power. I just believe that the only way to really practice photography is to do it. If I want to make a career out of doing photoshoots, planning every aspect of myself and learning from failures will help me a lot more than fetching water while someone edits the photos they just took. .
Whether I did the assistant role with a happy heart or a brain that constantly thought, “I could have done this plan so much better,” I had indeed made myself indispensable. A fact that I would learn six hours later when I received a text from the fashion director, Hilario, asking me to come with him the next day to choose the looks for the next photoshoot. It was an unexpected request, simply because I didn’t have much interaction with Hilario and had mostly expressed an interest in photography. Fashion styling is where my secret fashion passions were. Secret in the sense that I’m just beginning my journey in fashion and I don’t consider myself adequate enough to express my desire to work in an industry that I haven’t yet perfected on a personal level. Of course, I immediately answered yes.
Imagine shopping at a store that carries every luxury brand you can think of, and it’s all completely free. That’s how shopping for a photo shoot in a magazine. From Prade to Kate Spade through the entire Karl Lagerfield Line. If I saw an item of clothing that matched the mood board of the photo shoot, I would simply pull it off the shelves and find its perfect match.
I had seen the difference in work culture a bit before, but this experience made it stand out even more. Hilario, despite being extremely better educated than me in fashion and knowing it was my first time, really put on some weight in my opinion. In the end, he had approved four looks that I had put together entirely by myself. When he asked me what I thought of a certain sweater-coat combo and he could say I didn’t like it but didn’t want to say anything, he forced me to do it. I told him I thought the sweater should be grey, he found a gray sweater, put the two together and agreed with me that the gray looked better. I was flabbergasted that someone in a position as high as me would admit that my advice, as someone who was just supposed to be observational, was correct.
The Type A fun started when we finished shopping. At this point, we were two miles from the office with a suitcase and four huge bags full of clothes. Even when it comes to business use, cars and taxis are not used in this eco-friendly city. So instead of hailing a cab, we walked down the stairs to the subway, designer bags hanging from each arm. The antithesis of the dark underground subway that so often smells a little suspicious with the pearly white bags was something I could do an entire photo essay on.
I didn’t let my mind wander to the photos I might take if I had the ability to do this photo shoot like I usually do. I pushed the example sentences out of my mind and focused on being here, riding the metro in Spain, and styling for a fashion magazine. Realizing I had just broken into one of the toughest industries, and all it took was $3 and 10 minutes.
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