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Great Scott! It’s The Sartorialist!

AFTER Sarah Jessica Parker and David Gandy, The SM Store enlisted another world-class fashion provocateur to lend a sartorial touch to its malls. Scott Schuman, famously known as The Sartorialist, came to the country on a whirlwind visit last week to shoot a campaign for the soon-to-be-opened Mega Fashion Hall. The swanky new wing of SM Megamall in Ortigas will reinforce its reputation as the premier shopping, dining, lifestyle and recreation destination.

Schuman took street photography to artistic new heights—and a more lucrative direction. With his blog www.thesartorialist.com, inspired by Brooklyn-based writer Grace Bonney’s interior-design blog Design*Sponge (www.designsponge.com), the enterprising American is one of the top fashion bloggers in the world, in the same rarefied ranks as Diane Pernet, Susie Bubble, Emily Weiss of Into the Gloss, Leandra Medine (The Man Repeller), Tavi Gevinson, Bryanboy and his own girlfriend, Garance Dore.

As his blog gained credibility among fashion insiders, Schuman began contributing to style.com, GQ, Vogue Italia, Vogue Paris and Interview Magazine. Soon after, brands took notice and hired him to do their campaigns: Burberry (“Art of the Trench”), Coach, Crate & Barrel, Kiehl’s, Gant by Michael Bastian, DKNY Jeans and Nespresso. He has also modeled for The Gap and Verizon.

Anthologies of his work (The Sartorialist and, later, The Sartorialist: Closer with a men’s and women’s cover) were published by Penguin. His photographs are also part of the permanent collections of the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography.

“With the idea of creating a two-way dialogue about the world of fashion and its relationship to daily life,” Schuman isn’t “reporting on a bag; who’s carrying what bag and who’s wearing what dress. I’m not reporting on people,” he explained to the blog Business of Fashion (BoF), which named him one of the world’s 500 most influential people. “What I am looking for is a certain grace.”

Schuman, also cited on Time magazine’s 2007 list of Top 100 Design Influencers, is arguably the heir apparent to the legendary photographer Bill Cunningham, who documents everyday New Yorkers for The New York Times. But to better understand what kind of artist he aspires to be, it’s best to know who his major influences are.

These include Brassaï (pseudonym of Gyula Halász) (1899-1984), the Hungarian photographer, sculptor and filmmaker who rose to international fame in France in the 20th century; Jacques Henri Lartigue (1894-1986), the French photographer and painter, recognized for his photographs of automobile races, planes and Parisian fashion models; August Sander (1876-1964), the German portrait and documentary photographer considered “the most important German portrait photographer of the early 20th century”; Helen Levitt (1913-2009), the American photographer noted for street photography around New York City; Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004), the French photographer considered to be the father of photojournalism who helped develop the street photography or life reportage style that was coined “The Decisive Moment,” which has influenced generations of photographers; and Steve McCurry (born 1950), the American photojournalist best known for the National Geographic magazine’s “Afghan Girl.”

“At the very beginning I had to decide: Do I want this to be a blog about fashion, or do I want it to be an artistic photographic thing? I kept going back and forth. At some point, I think I finally decided that I didn’t want to be a magazine. I decided to take a more photographic route,” Schuman told BoF.

“You can really make a living out of this,” said Schuman emphatically. “It’s tough, but if you work really hard you can create a business—if you’re smart about it and have something real to say.”

Inevitably, Schuman caught the attention of The SM Store, which is slowly catapulting the Philippines onto the global fashion radar.

With his trailblazing street-style way of photographing people, Schuman shot 10 of the Metro’s fashionable. The privileged few are jewelry designer Janina Dizon Hoschka, milliner Mich Dulce, model Jessica Connelly, vocalist/tattoo artist Sarah Gaugler, mompreneur Kai Lim, Elite modeling agency managing director Eughie Teng, fashion blogger/model Kim Jones, student/entrepreneur Mike Concepcion, football player Jonah Romero and director Sid Maderazo.

In our equally whirlwind interview of The Sartorialist at Richmonde Hotel, it was clear that he can vividly express his thoughts and passions in words as succinctly as he can in the images that he takes. The man, dapper in a suit and shoes sans socks, is a treasure trove of insights and inputs on anything, uhm, sartorial.

 

ON HIS MANILA TRIP

“SO far, so good.  I didn’t want it to be so fast. The dates kept moving. You know we had this setup before all the typhoon stuff and all that, trying to get all the pieces to fit together. All the dates are moving and I have other projects I’m doing. Unfortunately, this had to be a fast one. But hopefully this would be the beginning of one of many trips,” Schuman said.

“There are a lot of places I want to go to. I mean, Manila wasn’t the only place. I want to go to Cuzco in Peru [Mario Testino’s home]. I want to go to a lot of  places in India, Ethiopia, Cambodia, Vietnam. Luckily, I’m young and I’ve got a lot of places to go,” he said in jest. “Right now, the biggest thing in my life is scheduling. How much time do I give to projects; how much time do I give for my own work. I have to get the blog going every day and try to be out shooting. So it’s a big juggling act, how much time you spend where and all that.

“I would love to come back here and be able to shoot another project but then spend time. I mean that’s why I kind of came in and took off quick because I knew I wasn’t going to have enough time to do and really stay and get further out because I have other things coming out right after this. I want to come back and shoot not just in the city and maybe go out to some of the other places. I’ve heard there are over 7,000 islands, and there’s a difference between how many islands there are between high tide and low tide. See? I know my stuff,” he laughed. “So at least I want to go to at least 3,000 of them on my next trip. But some of these islands are only the size of a car. If it doesn’t have at least one castaway, then I don’t know.”

 

THE MIDDLE CLASS AS FASHION’S DRIVING FORCE

“THE thing that’s going to be interesting is there’s a growing middle class. In places like Rio and Moscow and China, they’re really changing their whole fashion persona because they’re also growing their middle class. It’s the middle class who have just enough money to start playing with fashion a little bit when they have stores like H&M, Zara and Uniqlo, where the middle class can buy three sweaters and learn how to play with color. Or, you buy fashion and mix genres or mix patterns and have a little fun with fashion. I think it really starts with the middle class. I was very middle class when I was growing up and I used my knowledge and ability with fashion to change my social status, and I see that in developing countries. It’s the same thing in Italy, where Armani, Versace and Dolce & Gabbana were very middle class; they used their ability to move up the social rank, and I think you’ll see the same thing here. It’s a very common thing. I think the growing middle class is the thing to change the fashion landscape, not the high end.”

 

 

IMPRESSIONS ON PINOYS

“WELL, there’s a lot of physical beauty. The guys are handsome, the girls are beautiful; The guys are beautiful, the girls are handsome. What I like—not just here but it’s the region, but especially here—there’s a very wide acceptance of different kinds of sexuality here, and masculinity and femininity. Even today the crew that was working at the photoshoot, I mean I’m usually pretty good at this stuff: Is that a guy or a girl? (Laughs) That’s great! That’s fantastic, you know, how that’s accepted in the society. From the outside, it just seems that it’s much more accepted here than in a lot of other places. So I think that’s going to really be interesting as the Philippines becomes more important and is able to export that kind of lifestyle and that kind of openness.”

 

ON THE SET AND ON THE STREET

“ALMOST every single one, that first time I shoot them, it’s totally spur of the moment. I love that. I always love meeting someone new. The camera gives you a great reason to go talk to someone. It’s a great icebreaker. So, really, the trick is how do you keep that same feeling when you’re doing commercial work. Like today on the set, it took me a long time to learn how to do it, you know; I got really tense. Now I’m going to try to recreate this thing—now, I’m totally relaxed, play music and really try to keep it very easy, because I’m totally relaxed when I’m out shooting on the street by myself. So I just try to learn how to not let these other people—the hair and makeup people—distract me and make me feel tense.

“So the only thing that I request is that the talent come in very early and they get all their stuff done as early as they can, so that we always have fresh people and I’m not waiting for hair and makeup so I’m not getting distracted by them. So as soon as I’m ready to go, I can shoot because I shoot pretty quick. I like to shoot fast and use my first impression of the people and kind of make that as the basis of the photograph. And I want absolutely the smallest amount of people on the set with me when I’m shooting.”

 

THE PHILIPPINES ON THE FASHION MAP

“I DON’T know if that’s even important. The fashion map, what does it mean? The thing is, because the climate here is so specific, it will always be its own unique thing. I don’t know if being on the fashion map is important. It would be like going to a place and we’re really excited to see what they really do well. I do think that as the middle class grows here and they start to play with fashion, it would be fun to see, because what can be restrictive could also be a source of real strength. We know you’re not going to ever have to play with a lot of texture in fashion, you’re not going to have to deal with mixing fur with leather. It’s too hot. So that restriction actually makes it a lot easier, you don’t have to deal with that. So you’re going to be able to hopefully be very good with color, mixing patterns.”

 

THE STORY STARTER

“A LOT of people say a photograph tells a story; hopefully mine starts a story. They look at each individual person. I think I have done well in the fashion industry because people are inspired by it, because everybody who looks at [my photograph] thinks of their own story. So hopefully mine doesn’t tell a story but starts a story.”

 

THE SHOT THAT GOT AWAY

“YEAH, all the time. But that’s the thing that keeps me going. Sometimes I purposely go out without a camera and then I get mad! Ugh! I’m OK with missing shots sometimes. It keeps me hungry.”

 

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