Back in mid-February, Hearst Magazines head of photo Alix Campbell was at Milk Studios in Chelsea overseeing a naked Dua Lipa, partially covered by a multicolored sequin guitar, pose for the cover of Elle’s just-released May issue. Around 18 people rushed around the set — a mix of stylists, hairdressers and makeup artists primping and preening the “One Kiss” singer, while others were tasked with making sure the lighting was perfect and the crew was well fed.
This may sound excessive to those outside the fashion world, but for a company that orchestrated Rihanna swimming with sharks and who found a giraffe that Demi Moore could feed on a beach at the whim of Harper’s Bazaar’s former editor in chief Glenda Bailey, the Dua Lipa shoot was considered a small production.
Little did Campbell know then, though, that shoots were about to get a whole lot smaller. Shortly after, as the coronavirus spread throughout the U.S., Hearst told staffers across titles including Elle, Marie Clare, Bazaar and Esquire to work from home, gatherings greater than 10 were banned and all nonessential businesses closed.
At that point, most of Hearst’s May issues had been tied up — at least on the photo side. But there was still a huge amount to do for the summer and fall issues, which meant Campbell had to quickly entirely rethink how Hearst conducted shoots (certainly there won’t be any Rihanna reclining in a shark’s mouth-esque productions in the near future), as well as to make sure they strike the right tone in the current climate.
For magazines focused on fantasy, the challenge will no doubt be to balance trying not to appear tone deaf during the COVID-19 crisis while still offering some escapism. For their part, upcoming Hearst magazines will feature COVID-19 content, including a portfolio on front line workers, but there will still also be the usual fashion, celebrity, entertainment and food content.
There have also been questions over whether magazines will keep to the print schedules, given advertising and production concerns, but to date Hearst hasn’t revealed any changes and is carrying out a number of shoots in novel ways. It’s understood, though, that it has contingency plans in place.
Here, Campbell explains how she and her 45-strong visual team, who are responsible for photography across all of Hearst’s titles, have been engineering fashion and celebrity shoots during quarantine.
Photographers With Live-in Model Partners are in High Demand
Just a few weeks ago, the name and pedigree of a photographer was the most important factor for a magazine. Now you’re hot property depending on who you cohabitate with. Hearst has found a number of photographers who have a model partner they can shoot in the safety of their own homes, while those with chef spouses have also come in handy for the likes of Good Housekeeping. In most cases, they’ve styled everything themselves with a Hearst rep directing over Zoom. “We’ve been very very fortunate to find all these little pockets of photographers around the country that are sort of self-contained and can produce a photoshoot with bare bones,” said Campbell.
In some instances, they even have their own studio at home. “Obviously it’s not like shooting at Milk or Pier 59, but just a safe space where they can shoot so we’ve been doing things like that.”
It’s Harder for Fashion Magazines Than Lifestyle
While for Good Housekeeping, Campbell can find chefs who live with photographers to make food, it’s been harder for the fashion titles, which need fresh runway looks. “We can do the things that lifestyle brands need to generate the content. The fashion titles are the ones that are a bit more of a struggle right now just because of the accessibility to the clothing,” she said. They have managed to get some items, though, with Elle editor in chief Nina Garcia and the Bazaar fashion team pulling strings, she added.
From Eight Trunks to One
At a shoot like the one held in February for Dua Lipa, around eight trunks of clothes would have arrived on set at Milk Studios despite the fact that she didn’t even wear anything in one of the covers. Now, stylists and photographers have to make do with just one because of the difficulty of obtaining clothing. “Everything that’s in that edit is thoughtful and makes sense together and we’re able to get by. The quality is the same, the quantity is less,” said Campbell.
Don’t Touch the Clothes
Any photographers, models or stylists receiving the aforementioned one trunk of clothes or accessories is under strict instructions not to open any packages for three days to let “all those germs disappear.” “That’s the most important thing. We’re not at all being frivolous with photo shoots. We’re only doing them when we feel its 100 percent safe.”
No Diamonds on Set
While it has been easier for Hearst to obtain accessories like sunglasses and jewelry, diamonds have become a big no-no. “Usually when we have a photo shoot you get all this jewelry from Tiffany and Cartier and with the jewelry comes the jewelry guard. So there are all these things now and it’s like ‘oh right, we can’t have the diamonds on set’,” said Campbell. “Even if we can get the diamonds we can’t have the diamonds because we can’t have the jewelry guard there because that’s an extra person.”
Leave the Entourage Behind
A-listers are notorious for being accompanied by a large entourage, especially at shoots. But at a recent cover shoot for Esquire’s summer issue in Los Angeles, there was only a movie star and his family friend, who happened to be a photographer. After quarantining separately for two weeks, they met at a sanitized location and got to work. “You would never know there wasn’t a crew of 20 people there when you see the pictures and it was literally two people.”
Virtual Makeup Tutorials for A-list Cover Stars
When it comes to a cover shoot for a female celebrity, highly sought after makeup artists and hairdressers usually bring their own teams along. This particular celebrity (Hearst also wouldn’t reveal her name) is doing her own makeup for an upcoming cover shoot. “Where she is right now she doesn’t have a closet full of makeup and hair products. She just has what she wears on a daily basis. We’re having the hair and makeup people talk to her about what she can do herself and again we collaborated with her about ideally what the mood of the hair and makeup will be,” said Campbell. “They’re talking her through how to do it and what products she needs and then we’re going directly to the companies like MAC or Milk makeup or whatever it is and they’re sending her the products directly that will then of course be sanitized.”
Campbell has pulled the plug on a few planned shoots that she didn’t feel were “100 percent kosher.” “There was just something about the scenario that made me a little uncomfortable so I said we need to pull the plug on this one. We have guidelines that we go through.”
No Citibike, no Taxi, no Uber
For when people need to travel to shoots, she also doesn’t want anyone taking public transport. “In L.A. they’ll drive their own [car]. If they’re in New York they’ll have to ride their own bike or walk, but there’s no other way that we’re allowing it to happen.”
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