By Aurelie Jezequel – Portrait by Tim Dalton
Fashion holds a special place in the photography world, with its bold-faced names, breathtaking clothes, skinnier than skinny models, and overblown budgets worthy of a short film feature when you’re shooting for an international luxury conglomerate. Everyone hears tales of ridiculous excesses, big egos, and “drama” (like the story of the PR girl who got slapped by a fashionista who had been denied a seat at a fashion show and is now suing for one million dollar). While these shenanigans make it easy to dismiss fashion—and fashion people—an incredible amount of work goes into producing fashion shows and the spreads in your favorite glossy magazine.
It was a sweltering summer evening when I met Julius Poole at the Standard Hotel NYC for a drink and discussion about the stress and glamour of working in fashion. Julius is a photo shoot and fashion show producer who has been able to carve a place for himself, working with some of the biggest photographers and supermodels. Born and raised in New York, he started his career as a shoe designer. A friend of his who owned a model agency invited him to tag along while he went scouting new models in Europe. Julius was instantly hooked: the job was fun, it was interesting, it was new. He gave his notice and, within two weeks, was working at the model agency—only to realize that the job was in fact “really, really not for him.” Instead of backtracking into his old path, he forged ahead and free-lanced for a season for KCD, one of the major PR and fashion show production companies. As Julius explains, producing a show is a schizophrenic mix of big-picture planning and micro-managing: you work with the designer on the story and atmosphere, and then place options on hair and makeup and stylists who suit your vision, look for an appropriate venue, define the lighting and music, and work on timing the models. You also need to know who to invite and where to sit them. With so much riding on these fifteen minutes, there’s no room for error.
The models are a big part of the show, intensely scrutinized from head to toe, down to how they walk. Julius credits his experience as a shoe designer for his ability to teach girls how to do “the runway walk.” He came into that job in a fortuitous, and pretty fabulous way. A party promoter he knew used to draw a fashion crowd; at some point in the evening, he would shine a flashlight and scream, “Runway time!” inviting people to do their best imitations of Naomi, Christy et al. One night, Julius did a slow motion version of the runway walk; people were hollering, and an agent at Next Models hired him on the spot. Julius’ advice for walking with heels? “Just be natural. Use the rhythm that you have. If you are too busy trying to walk like Naomi but you don’t have her rhythm or body shape, you could end up looking like somebody who just came out of a mud fight.”
Julius went from producing fashion shows to casting them, diving into the time-consuming and nerve-racking mayhem of competing with major designers for the same girls. “First, you send all the project information to the agencies: the show concept, who the hair and makeup artists are, the fitting time, the show date and time, the compensation,” Julius explains. “Then you set up a go-see during which you pick your first, second, and third choices.” Scheduling fitting and hair/makeup test for each model is “a juggling act.” Your work closely with the designer to define which girls you want, but your carefully orchestrated ballet is often turned upside down when another designer tries to override your show. That’s when things get vicious—it’s “Wall Street” as Julius puts it: you have to negotiate and fight for the models you want.
Production is definitely not for the faint of heart. “You really have to be calm,” Julius explains. “There is so much pressure and stress, and there are so many shows—nearly 300 in New York alone last year—you really have to be the one who remains calm. Your job is to be the problem solver and the miracle worker.” There’s a saying among producers: “You should hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.” Julius knows that first hand. “You always have to go into any project, whether a photo shoot or a fashion show, thinking, ‘There’s going to be a problem, how do I solve it?’ I used to think everything was set once the call sheet was sent out—never is it ever set.” He gets phone calls in the middle of a night before a show—or even backstage the day of—about a girl who is sick, got booked for something else, or is running late. It’s a stressful moment: no one wants to say to a designer on their big day that one of the models they loved (and fitted the clothes on) is no longer available. And definitely no one wants to have to find a replacement at the very last minute while Fashion Week is in full swing. But you make it work— after all, that’s what being a good producer is about.
Since fashion shows happen only twice a year, it made sense for Julius to move into photo shoot production. He worked for a while with Foundation World, a New York-based Japanese production company which had a lot of Asian clients at the time. As Julius recalls, “Editorial shoots were huge then—the magazines would come to the U.S. and pay cash on the day of the shoot. They could get the biggest models and photographers this way.” Ever since he’s been working on his own, he feels that getting work is “really about referral and reputation.” For once, name-dropping is a good thing: “Clients see on my website the list of people I’ve worked with, and that’s all that matters.” His site is clean and simple, reflecting his belief that “people don’t need Flash, they don’t need music; they just need something that is straight and to the point.”
Like everyone in the field, Julius has seen the recent integration of stills and video. He feels the pressure is intense—the quality of the work produced is rising, and photographers need to stay on top of the technology or they will be left behind. “You can no longer be just a still photographer. You have to know your game. If you don’t, or if you are too green, clients can smell it, and then it’s like, ‘We might as well pay for the best who can do this.’”
So, after producing the Versace show, working on Neiman Marcus 100th anniversary with Linda Evangelista and German Vogue covers with Naomi Campbell, sharing jury duty with Anna Wintour, and surviving years of Fashion Week, how does he keep his cool? “In this industry, one thing I have learned is that you have to stay true to yourself and stay down to Earth.” Julius credits his upbringing and big family for keeping him grounded. He knows that people are just people. “After a job, I go home, I turn on the Cartoon Network, and I watch Teen Titans or Justice League Unlimited—it’s OK to take life seriously, but you still need to have a sense of humor about it!”
This article first appeared in Resource Magazine Fall 2012 issue. To get your digital copy, click here.