The Real Story Behind the Pretty: A Stylist’s Worst Nightmare

A few weeks ago I posted a stunning shoot that I styled at The Lonesome Valley Resort in Cashiers, North Carolina. I was honored to collaborate with some of the best of the best in the industry and was elated to be able to work in such an epic location.

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Although this shoot is beautiful, it was one of my most challenging as a stylist. Often those who appreciate styled shoots don’t realize the amount of work and skill that goes into them. I wanted to share this post to show what can go wrong and what I learned from this experience.

The photographer, Carla Ten Eyck, and I have collaborated on countless shoots (over 50) and have written a book together. We know how each other work like the backs of our hands. It was however, the first time working with the other vendors in the shoot. Kasey Conyers of Bliss Events was so organized in sharing the inspiration for the shoot and all of the components for the design, that it assisted greatly in my job of selecting the fashion. The inspiration for the shoot was to bring southern romance to this rustic, yet elegant mountain resort. The design called for shades of blue mixed with white and Kasey and I envisioned combining different floral patterns and textures to provide dimension.

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When planning the shoot, I had just returned from Spring Bridal Market in New York and was introduced to a designer named Gustavo Cadile. He showed a blue printed gown in his collection and it was exactly what I envisioned for the shoot! The designer agreed to loan us the gown for the shoot and I was elated. About a week prior to my departure for North Carolina, the designer sent me the gown. Two days before we were due to leave, I received an email from the marketing director for Gustavo Cadile explaining that Anna Wintour had requested the gown for a meeting. She was considering it for the next issue of Vogue!………WHAT?!!

We needed to figure out how to get the gown to Anna Wintour’s office the next day and then get it back in time for the shoot. The designer was the absolute sweetest about the situation. They did their best to brainstorm with us the logistics of getting this gown from Connecticut to New York and then to North Carolina, all in three days time. Ultimately, they decided to allow us to use the original gown and they sent a substitute to Vogue in its place. We were thrilled! But, now talk about pressure…we HAD to kill this shoot, as we just scored this gown over Anna Wintour!

When planning a shoot, the responsibility for selecting the models can vary between the planner, the photographer, and the stylist. I volunteered to take the lead on the models. Cashiers, the home of Lonesome Valley, is a remote town located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Modeling agencies are not readily available in this sleepy area. I took to social media to inquire about model options and I was directed to an agency in Atlanta (which is about 5 hours from Cashiers). The agency was excited about the shoot and provided me with a selection of models that were looking to grow their portfolio and to shoot in exchange for images. I knew exactly the look that I was going for and selected an adorable ‘ginger’ named Blake as our groom and a classic looking blonde as our bride. The measurements of the bride corresponded perfectly with the size of the gown. I had lined up a local menswear company that I regularly do business with to outfit the groom and requested the male model’s measurements from the agency. A side note is that it is customary when you are working with an agency that you are not directly in touch with the models. All communication flows through the agency. The agency was cooperative and got me Blake’s measurements. When I forwarded them to the menswear company, Enzo, the tailor, commented that the model was extremely thin and asked that I confirm the measurements. In looking at Blake’s portfolio, he was a tall drink of water, so I assumed that the measurements were accurate. But, I reconfirmed with the agency anyway. I also asked, as I customarily do when I have never met the model before, that the groom bring a suit and shoes from his wardrobe as a back up. All seemed perfect and I was getting excited.

One week before the shoot, the agency contacted me and advised that our bride was booked on a paid gig and that they would have to send a replacement. They recommended Christina, who was a beautiful model with very high cheekbones. Her bust was larger than the other model’s and I was slightly nervous about the gown fitting, but timing was tight, and I thought, “We will make it work!” My gut told me to have my seamstress take out the bust slightly before I left, but she was slammed with alterations and I was dealing with the drama of potentially losing our focal point of the shoot to Anna Wintour, so I ignored my gut and continued to pack and prepare for the shoot.

Off we went to Cashiers and were so excited for the pretty that were about to create! The thing about Lonesome Valley is that it is nestled between steep, ancient peaks of granite and the valley follows its own weather pattern. We learned quickly the weather report meant absolutely nothing. In fact, we were told to plan for the opposite of the forecast! Sarah, the planner at the resort advised us that when the weather report said 0% chance of rain, that we should expect rain, and when it said 100% chance of rain, there was a good chance that we would have clear skies. Basically, we had to keep an eye on the sky and follow our instincts with the weather.

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The first day of shooting, the report was calling for 0% chance of rain and of course there were big dark clouds off in the distance, so we were on high alert. We started hair and make up bright and early to try to make the most of the day before any storms cropped up. As the bride was in hair and make up, I asked Blake, our groom to try on the suit that I brought with me that was tailored based on his measurements. He put on the pants and they were up to his ankles and could barely zip. Then he attempted to put on the jacket and it was so small that he couldn’t get it on. My heart sank. But, we had a Plan B! So, I asked Blake to grab the suit that he brought. He came out with the jacket on and it fit perfectly! But, bad news…. he didn’t realize that when he grabbed the jacket that the matching pants were not on the hanger. With the impending weather, there was no time to try to find a pair of pants to fit a 6’4 model with a 32” waist. So, we went with Plan C (which I made there on the spot!) I let the hem of the pants down as far as I could and used the belt to mask the fact that his pants were not buttoned. Poor Blake could barely breathe, but he rolled with it like a true professional. For the second day of shooting we found an incredible local men’s store call TJ Bailey’s that allowed us to come in, browse their selection, and borrow whatever we wanted! Now that’s southern hospitality!

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The clouds were starting to roll in and Carla was anxious to get the bride dressed so that we could start shooting before the storm. We wrapped up hair and make up and I started dressing Christina in our epic floral gown. The gown would only zip about half way up her back! The rib cage of the gown was so incredibly small. The inside of the gown was entirely corseted, so there was no way for me to let out the seams. We tried everything we could (except removing a rib) to get that zipper up, but no go! After a brief moment of panic, I pulled myself together and we decided that we would make it work.

I had Christina put on the long line corset bra that I had brought and we clipped the top edge of the gown to the bra with binder clips. I had to be much more hands on than I ordinarily am (and I am a hands on stylist!), as I was constantly readjusting the bust of the gown and repositioning the clips all day.

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But thank goodness we had a phenomenal photographer who knows how to pose models and a professional model who knew how to take direction, and you couldn’t even tell that the gown did not zip!

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This was one of my most challenging shoots to date! But, out of challenges come lessons. Below are my lessons learned – that at the end of the day, I believe, have made me a better stylist!

  1. Listen to your gut! If deep down something does not feel right, or causes you concern, pay attention to that instinct and address it, regardless of the circumstances.
  1. ALWAYS have a plan B and a plan C. I had a plan B for the suit, but no plan B for the gown. Because of space constraints, I did not bring a back up. I know now, especially if I am using models that I have not had a fitting with, to ALWAYS bring back ups!
  1. When all else fails, laugh, say a prayer, and roll with it!

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To see the finished product, click here. 

Shoot credits:

Photographer – Carla Ten Eyck Photography
Venue – Lonesome Valley Resort
Planner – Bliss Wedding & Event Design, Kasey Conyers
Floral Design – Heather Thomas/HeatherLily
Flowers – Mayesh Wholesale
Paper Items –  Two Paper Dolls
Cake/Dessert Bar – Serena Owen /Artista Cakes
Beauty –  Vera Joyce – Hair Stylist & MUA
Fashion Stylist – Beth Chapman
Gown – Gustavo Cadile
Menswear – TJ Bailey
Groom’s Bowties – Handsome Menswear
Table Top Rentals – All Occasions – Pittsburgh
Linens – LaTavola
Welcome Bags – Wedding Chicks
Stampled Forks – For Such A Time Designs
Modeling Agency – Ursula Wiedmann Models
As Seen in: Reverie Gallery