Being a Fashion Art Director

A lot of people have preconceived notions about what a fashion art director does. Depending on who you ask the role could be explained as everything from taking care of the artistic vision to the sourcing of materials to the production. What we all agree on is that it requires a great deal of creativity and leadership.

In this episode we talk to Eva Dziedzic de Aguirre about what it really means to be a fashion art director.

You can listen to the whole interview podcast over on our podcast page or by clicking here at Being a Fashion Art Director.

Muaz

On this episode of Blazon, I’m talking to Eva who is an Art Director and has been working in the creative industries for 25 years. She works predominantly as a Fashion Art Director, creating editorials for magazines and advertisements for brands. 

Eva

I started my so-called career very early when I was just 19 years old. So its been already 25 years of professional experience in the creative industry for me. I work predominantly as a Fashion Art Director, or you could call it a Photo Art Director, which means creating editorials for the magazines or advertisements for the brands. Sometimes I do use my art directing or styling expertise working as well on the movie, video or TV sets.

And now, well, privately I’m a poet, free hand drawing artist and I’m much into free flow and a meditative dance. Uh, currently, apart of my art directing job, I’m developing a studio concept, which incorporates all my passions and talents. Uh, last year I spent the time to study a few subjects and, uh, right now I’m finishing accreditation courses which will enable me to start my MAD therapy studio. But standing here for music, art, dance, that doesn’t mean I’m leaving behind my art directing job. I’m way too passionate about it. Fashion editorials and campaigns will always be my favorite creative outlets and actually, uh, well, I do also on-site photography course, so I would rather expect only expansion in that area.

Muaz

So for people who are new to the industry, how would you describe art direction to them?

Eva Dziedzic de Aguirre

Eva

Sure. For art direction, it’s little bit of a confusion, because basically when we said that you are art director, people would associate it with graphic design because there’s more common understanding of that role, but art directing or fashion art director or photo art director it’s a different role. It’s like, um, I would describe it as a film director and the script writer and editor in one, but on the fashion photography set or advertising set. So it’s very different because you don’t really deal with post production in a graphic design where you, you would oversee it. Uh, so it, it has not much to do with this kind of art directing.

So like a photo art director or fashion art director, you need to be really focused on, uh, well, so many creative aspects. Communicate on so many business levels, marketing levels. Um, you need to keep division obviously all the time clear, uh, atmosphere on the set, uh, everything, um, need to be within time and budget. So, uh, as much as it’s a creative role, it involves a lot of communicative aspects. And it’s a bit different to what people would imagine, or like when you usually say are referred to art director. A photo director has a very lengthy process of creating. So like, for example, for me, I would come, I was taught a project few weeks before and I would finish a few days after, and that will involve so many processes, which we can, uh, discuss more in detail if you’re interested.

Muaz

When you approach a new commission, what is your process and what are the stages involved? 

Eva

Right. So I work closely with the brands through the creative process from campaigns to entire visual overalls. And once briefed, I will concept execution and strategy, curate a team, cast, direct, create and deliver, but it is like, okay, that is in one sentence. But the process is quite lengthy. So let’s say that it is a commercial project. So I’ve been briefed that there’s few meetings involved, marketing, a project manager, sometimes buying teams. So, uh, yeah, I would start this few weeks before, once I’m briefed. Um, I will do my research. I will develop the concept. Develop the concept means that I would ask to the general concept with certain visual flavors, uh, ideas, which are, which may develop the story, um, the feeling and, uh, you usually do it for the mood boarding, which is my favorite part. It can be, it can be maddening though  because you are like, when you mood board, you do source different photographic images to tell the story to your team. So sometimes it’s quite maddening when you have something in your head and you’re going through Pinterest or other creative sources, and you cannot find the right picture to, to, to put it into them. But, uh, luckily I am a free hand drawing artist so sometimes I can just draw it. Yeah. The mood boarding, the mood boarding would as well involve few stages to it because, with the mood boards you need to think about the stylist, about the photographer. To the photographer you speak through the light, through for the moods. To the stylist, you speak through the trends, for the colors and so on. So you, you, I would put through into my mood boards, uh, fashion advice or photography notes, uh, light notes, and so on. Once I have the moodboards, I would usually try to meet the core members of the team, which for me would be a photographer and a stylist, producer, most probably as well, because it’s so many things to discuss, but usually with producers, I would just email. But, uh, I do like to meet with, with, uh, with my fellow creatives, because then actually when you’re discussing the mood boards, you sometimes see it as somebody, uh, see things differently. So it’s good to discuss. Maybe there is some additional ideas to incorporate a little brainstorming. With the stylist as well, it’s a bit great to keep a track what she is sourcing, so you don’t end  up in the end… I mean, on the day of the shoot, uh, surprised, right? Then yeah. Well then these, uh, location, uh, recce, or studio, uh, check, sourcing, so depending on the, on the shoot, with the location recce, this is usually as well as bit of a process because you need to go for a location ahread. It depends sometimes when I was traveling to Africa or Miami, which I was last few years, a lot. I would come a few days before to do the location recce, which I would pre-select with the producer before the shoot.

So, you know, when I’m there already, it is a schedule for the recce and then we usually dedicate a day for it. And then there is a casting that’s very important. Casting as well I would start, depends on the project, but at least a week before, sometimes a month before it depends on the, yeah on the scale of the project.

And then I would still when, when traveling, I would still probably make a live castings with, with pre-selected models to make sure that, uh, that is the right model. And then it’s shooting, and then it’s shooting. And there’s a lot of art directing on set. It’s a lot of communication. It’s a lot of focus, uh, from my side.

And, uh, well, yes, the shoot day is a special day. You know, everything need to flow. For me as an art director, I do pay special attention for a prep stage. I would be really trying to put everything in place, everybody on the same page. Uh, I would, for example, for, uh, big projects when I have like 12 days of shoot, I would prepare a special detail, shoot plans which we usually do, but I have my own format for it. So I would just prepare them so and then hand it to all my team members. So nobody’s actually coming with, uh, uh, I don’t want to say silly questions, but a questions and questions, which, which could be easily checked, uh, in the document because I need to be so focused.

Yeah. And then you have an edit. Once you finished the shooting, usually on the day of the shoot, you already do the pre-edit, then you do the edit and mood boarding for the client for the presentation. So you would make a finite edit to let’s say from all these pictures, just 15 and put like a visual story presentation. So the client can feel it. And, uh, yeah see properly.

Muaz

From an art director’s point of view on the day of a fashion shoot, how do you work with other creatives? How does that relationship actually work on the days when it comes to working with a photographer, working with a stylist, you alluded to having a document that you prepare ahead of time, but when you’re at the shoot, how does that play out?

Eva

Yeah, so, okay. So this is actually the relationships which you forming to create a successful show is quite important. So that’s why I mentioned that I try and strive to, to meet a photographer and the stylist on, before I had the shoot, usually there are people who I know already, because I worked with them.

And you kind of proved but sometimes you do end up with, uh, with people who are new to your team. And then, then, then I definitely would try to make a meeting ahead because their relationship, I would say between that, especially photographer and art director is it’s quite intimate in a way in that sense that you just really have to… You, you are like a left brain to, or right as part of brain to the photographer. And, uh, before it was, uh, it was not really much of art directing, photo art directing on the, uh, photographic, fashion photographic sets. There were, the photographer would assume all the creative vision since about 15, 20 years, that dynamic on the set has changed massively.

You have the art directors, which are creative head of the project and they have, uh, actually the responsibility, but then you have a photographer who has massive input for it. Um, so. You really need to be in a great communication with the photographer for it to flow. You need to both understand where are you going with with the project and what I do, I mean, it’s, it’s quite funny because, uh, when people meet me privately, hang out with me or even, uh, we are on the creative meetings ahead of the shoot, I’m quite bubbly and a rather loud personality. But then on the set, I noticed and people noticed most of it and I’m very, uh, I have a very quiet style of art directing.

Because of all that entire preparation, uh, I already invested in and the meetings, I don’t, I don’t feel like I’m on the set and I just need to communicate in, in some, a loud way, because everything was already said only when I see that things are slipping out or, uh, then I would, I would, I would step in.

And not in the shouty way through the set from behind my screen in a kind of, uh, intimidating way, which some art directors do. Uh, I would, I was really try to, uh, just have a minute with a photographer. Uh, or a stylist or somebody who need to be talked to and then just, and just remind them with the mood boards, where are we going, what we can change. 

Then maybe here, it’s time for changing the light because it doesn’t work or, you know, the, the sort of angles doesn’t work. So, you know, obviously you do, you do comment from behind your screen, but like I would do it in a quiet, a quiet manner to not intimidate anybody. I like what I like to have a very, um, nice atmosphere on the set. I believe it really reflect also on the product later. 

When I’m working with this stylist it’s quite interesting because I have a, quite a lot of experience with styling myself. I can communicate easily and I can as well step in hands-on if there is a need for that. So, yes, it’s a very, it’s very interesting to have us all this responsibility on the set of setting the mood and atmosphere on the set. And I believe that the attitude of photographer it can really affect that. 

Muaz

When you’re approaching an art direction project, is there a difference when approaching an editorial versus a commercial project?

Eva

Yes. Uh, there are many differences in approach actually. Let’s start from the fact that when working for the client, I usually would develop the event brief, sticking to the brand identity and working around all marketing and business principles. With an editorial work, I mostly drove from my imagination. The starting point could be a piece of my poetry, subculture, something which got under my skin or even the discussion I just had. So it’s more like your art gallery space these days, the editorial. You can really experiment and you can really let yourself feel creative freedom. You don’t have to, you wouldn’t hear me for example, on an editorial set calling to the photographer that’s uh, but we need to have a whole look or a detail on the blouse, which obviously would be my focus on the commercial shoots.

Um, so you have to take all these elements into account on commercial shoots. While on the editorial is a free flow, I would say. And there is as well. Well, I would say the main difference would be as well that there is a budget versus no budget or a small budget. Usually in the commercial shoot you do have a budget, production budget, so you can just plan things and execute them.

While on editorial, it is unless you are being commissioned by a big magazine who is actually paying for the production and paying their team. Most of the time for independent magazines these days, it’s like, as I said, it’s like more like art gallery space for the us art creatives. So you actually end up working on your budget and that can prove both demanding, but as well, very, uh, you know, you end up being very creative, even more creative than usual, you know, and you don’t have a certain source of money for certain things and you need to come up with something. You actually, your brain can come up with such a great ideas. So it’s, it’s, uh, it’s all good.

But yeah, it does affect as well, sourcing the team. Because for example, when I have a call to a team for a commercial project, which is paid project. I have a most, probably most of these people would say yes, unless they are busy on the day. Why on the editorial project as is unpaid most of the time. Uh, and, and you have to invest sometimes your money and the time and your talent people would, I would be more careful with agreeing to come on to your editorial project.

And also casting, it’s another difference. Uh, when you do the commercial shoot, you, you just sourcing commercial faces unless on the brief you want, they want an editorial face. Because usually between us, art directors, stylist, photographers, we do have an even in our agencies, you’ll have a commercial and editorial faces.

So, with the casting, for example, I would go find different types, uh, for editorial and for commercial. And also, I would say the time when I’m sourcing that when I’m having a casting call, would it be completely different. Because if, if I am trying to get, uh, some model for a commercial set. I would definitely book it and everything would be sorted a week before.

Surely sometimes as I said, weeks before, and with editorials, actually, you end up, you may have your favorite times and put on them the marks, but then you end up actually having a final decision, the day or sometimes, well, if you’re lucky a week before, uh, the editorial shoot and you also end up sourcing from new faces for editorials, which is, I love it. So, yeah. So yeah, there are quite a few different ones that, what else would it be, I guess, does that the core of the differences. 

You can find Eva online at:

  • Website: evadeaguirre.com
  • Instagram: @eva_dziedzic_de_aguirre

You can listen to the whole interview podcast over on our podcast page or by clicking here at Being a Fashion Art Director.