During my trip to Paris I had the opportunity to photograph Jennifer, a ballet dancer, yoga teacher, and native New Yorker living in Paris. I had no idea she trained at the School of American Ballet, the official associate school of the New York City Ballet at Lincoln Center. We decided to photograph at the Trocadéro in the 16th arrondissement of Paris across the Eiffel Tower and ended up drawing a crowd unparalleled to anything I had ever experienced before. Looking forward to many more future ballet sessions in Paris!
When I think of France the first things that pop into my head are beautiful architecture, ballet, impressionist oil paintings, and pastries. On the list of things that inspire me, you’ll find all of these at the top of the list (including pastries :D). Winters are hard for me creatively; I need a change of place and change of pace. This trip to France this past March revitalized me and all of my senses.
I had been to Paris before, but I was much younger then. I did not find pleasure in roaming the streets aimlessly on my own then nor were my senses quite engaged with the sights and smells of Paris.
Wandering the streets of the 5th arrondissement to the Île de la Cité I pass the Pantheon with university and high school kids sitting on the steps eating their lunches. I am jealous of them. I stand beneath the columns and feel unimportant. I photograph this moment and go along.
I sample many flaky and buttery croissants and pain au chocolat, each one better than the previous. I think about how many calories are in each but convince myself that I am walking plenty and that thought escapes my mind. I also drink many espressos and wonder why I can’t sleep at night.
I take a train out from the Gare de l'Est through the countryside and find myself in Strasbourg, in the Alsace region of France that borders Germany. There I feel like am in Beauty and the Beast. I find a group of German bachelors singing in the middle of the street and watch as they gather a crowd. The timber houses and narrow streets are quaint and I wander around the Petit France, pausing to listen to street performers until I am standing at the foot of the Notre Dame de Strasbourg. Something about its quirky one tower design along with its towering size at the end of a narrow stone street makes a more lasting impression on me than the Notre Dame in Paris.
In the morning I run around the town passing the Opera National du Rhin and Palais du Rhin and reward myself with a bretzel noisette and contemplate buying some Alsatian biscuit cookies but convince myself not to, though they are delicious and definitely recommend.
I am back in Paris and am location scouting for the week’s upcoming shoots. It feels like spring in the 2nd arrondissement and I sit under a blossom tree and savor a baguette stuffed with Camembert cheese and olive paste and pastries picked up from Paris’ oldest patisserie. The architecture reminds me of Washington, DC, which makes sense. The shorter buildings contrast New York City's skyscrapers and the pace could not be any more different. New York City is a stressful late-for-work on a Monday morning city whereas Paris is a leisurely take a walk and go to the park for a picnic city.
I photograph a ballet dancer and a style blogger and feel so humble by the power of the internet that connected me to these people here in Paris. I’m excited and eager to return and discover more of the city, language, cuisine, and art. The colors, tastes, and sounds are what I bring back to New York City. The jolt of inspiration I needed to fuel more of my work. Until next time Paris.
A few weeks ago I had the privilege of photographing Jessica Li's American Harvesters collection. Before diving into the lookbook, here is a bit about Jessica:
Tell us a bit about your background. What has your creative journey been so far?
"I feel like I’ve always been a creative person. Growing up my mom used to sign me up for art camp in the summers to keep me busy but little did she or I know that it would grow into a passion. I guess you could say I got into fashion the way most girls do — through loving clothes and playing dress up. But the creative side of my wanted to take it to the next level and actual create the clothes I wanted to wear. That actually influences a lot of my creative process i.e. wanting to make clothes that I would wear. Another thing that influences my creative process a lot is the use of clothes to tell a story. I enjoy working off of narratives and creating clothes that follow that narrative. It’s like creating a character's entire wardrobe."
You’re from Portland, Oregon, does nature play a big part in your design process?
"I don’t think nature plays a part in my design process but I definitely think my background influences my inspirations. I’ve often worked with concepts surrounding nature and/or sustainability and I would say that comes from my love for the Pacific Northwest. I also had a very athletic background growing up which inspires the activewear and activewear-esque elements in my work."
Being an Asian American designer do you find that your background informs some of your design choices?
"Yes, aside from my upbringing, my ethnic background has played a part in my work from time to time. I did a collection about my life as an ABC (American born Chinese) and how I interpret that status. That was a fun collection because it had some tongue and cheek elements but it was also an introspective process where I was able to explore who I was."
What was your thinking behind this new collection? Where did you draw your inspiration from?
"The very beginning of this collection actually started with my grandmother which I know kinda sounds cliche but it’s true! My grandmother used to keep bees in her small apartment in China but unfortunately had to give them up because there were not enough flowers for them to pollenate. Think about that for a second. And that’s just the environment issue in China which made me think about global environment issues. Through my research I became intrigued by the history of American agriculture and how its evolved into such a large scale, commercialized industry. I was inspired by particularly the women farmers who worked hard to preserve the American soil and way of life in the mid 20th century. The collection is an homage to them but also a bit of a wake up call to how many we’ve industrialized the agricultural system."
Seeing that your previous designs are focused mainly around activewear how did you move away from that in this new collection? Are there some activewear inspired pieces in this collection?
"Well I think that this collection definitely needed to be sportswear because it involved separates and overall the collection is a contemporary woman’s wardrobe. So it wasn’t hard to move away, it was just the natural direction for this collection. And although I’ve done a lot of activewear I don’t think this collection is moving away from who I am as a designer because I’m still working off a narrative and a character. She just happens to farm instead of run."
What is your favorite piece in the collection and why?
"I think my favorite pieces in the collection are the ones using repurposed fabric I acquired from FabScrap. They take scraps and unwanted fabric from companies in NYC and recycle it properly. The repurposed shirt, asymmetrical tie top and wide leg dungarees in my AH collection use FabScrap fabric. The repurposed fabric gives the garments a uniqueness and it was really fun for me to play around with mixing the different prints to create a truly one of a kind piece."
LookBook Production Process:
During the initial production stages of this look book I asked Jessica what her source of inspiration was for American Harvesters. Through our discussion it only made sense for us to photograph this collection on a farm. While looking through the pieces of this collection I found myself being really drawn to the textures of the materials and detail work in the finishings of each garment. To bring these out in the look book I asked Jessica if I could photograph these on film. For me, film really brings out those qualities and gives the perfect amount of rawness and grittiness that I thought would be perfect for the overall look and feel of the American Harvester's lookbook. For hair and makeup we wanted to keep the look fresh and natural. We used Glossier's new cloud paint blush in dusk to give just a bit of color and definition to Anna's face.
The look book was shot on Chrysanthemum Farms with an amazing team! View more of Jessica's work here.
Designer: Jessica Li
Photography: Amanda Pham
Model: Anna Friedman
Assistant: Susan Choi
Shot at Chrysanthemum Farms