The White Rose Photo Shoot at Ettington Park
12 Monday Mar 2012
Suzanne Neville, Caroline Castigliano, Stephanie Allin, Ritva Westenius and Johanna Hehir all stared out of the window at the rolling Warwickshire countryside. Hanging tantalising from the curtain rail of a first floor suite at Ettington Park Hotel, the beautiful creations from a selection of leading bridal designers glinted in the blazingly bright winter sunshine.
An explosion of bridal glamour appeared to have covered every surface within the walls of the suite; a table covered in glittering trinkets, a team of hair stylists commandeering the centre of the room and a make up artist working intricately from the light of a window in the corner. Two models sank deep into cushioned armchairs whilst being patiently painted and coiffed into creatures of glamour and style. In the midst of the organised chaos, one woman coordinated the many different facets of the day with an inexhaustible smile.
Having brought the quintessential pieces of bridal couture from her Cotswold boutique The White Rose, Danielle McCabe orbited between photographers setting up shots in the library and models slipping into frocks in the bathroom. With an infectious enthusiasm, she sorted and catalogued accessories, deliberated over steaming the dresses again and laughed excitedly with her crack team of suppliers.
Having launched The White Rose in the latter half of 2011, this ambitious photo shoot positioned the shop at the forefront of bridal retail whilst simultaneously drawing together a collection of talented local suppliers to showcase the finest designers in bridal retail.
Together with fellow local entrepreneur Martin Crean from Mode, the shoot had been created out of a desire to have more personal and glamorous publicity shots of a few key pieces representative of The White Rose. Mood boards for each intended setup curated by Martin and Danielle lay haphazardly across the vast expanse of the four-poster bed, illustrating the vast preparation that had drawn these professionals together.
In addition to the elegant dresses adorning the full-length bay window, a round table in front of the ornate stone fireplace sported the most dazzling of bridal accessories. From Magpie Vintage sparkles to intricately delicate pieces by Hermione Harbutt, a range of head dresses, necklaces, bracelets and earrings all sat waiting patiently to be worn. House of Istria feathers sat cosily alongside glittering crystals and demure pearls; the whole scene looked ripe for a magpie’s picking.
As Martin and his team of stylists transformed one model’s hair into magical waves reminiscent of bygone eras, award-winning make up artist Sophie Everett created a mixture of dramatic and romantic looks, turning the girls into breathtaking sirens. A glass coffee table filled with pins, tongs and products became a makeshift salon beneath clouds of hairspray as the team joked and laughed with warm familiarity.
The elaborately furnished Stour Suite became a hotbox of activity as Spencer and Phil, the photographers from All In The Image, popped their heads around the door to check on progress. With a background in commercial and bridal photography, their experience brought an attentive eye to the shoot, creating immaculate set-ups for each of the five different looks.
Before heading out of the suite for the initial shots of the day, the team crowded around their first muse to perfect her look. As Martin and Sophie put the finishing touches to their work, Danielle quietly buzzed around this newly transformed bride, stringing garlands of beads around her wrist and clasping necklaces to her décolleté to complete the picture.
The heads of hotel patrons and staff turned in enraptured bemusement as pretend brides floated through corridors and down the wrought iron staircase of the historic building. In the oak panelled library looking out on to a ruined medieval chapel, Phil and Spencer waited patiently for the arrival of their subject.
Traipsing towards the first location with an entourage of stylists in tow, the models garnered baffled compliments as they slipped out of warm dressing gowns to reveal clouds of silk organza, exquisite lace and waterfalls of chiffon.
Amidst a tangle of wires and power leads, the Victorian library sported contrasting scenes between an oval table set for conference delegates later in the day and a cornucopia of cameras and lighting paraphernalia ready to shroud each dress in a heavenly glow.
As the flashbulb fired up, Martin and Danielle’s attention split between the real time scene in front of them and the captured images of each moment instantly appearing on a computer screen behind the camera. With an eye for every single crease and fold of fabric, Danielle scrabbled around the feet of the model like an industrious pixie in order to tweak and refine the silhouette of the dress.
Having a specific aesthetic in mind, Martin positioned himself alongside the photographers, offering friendly creative direction to the model and immersing himself so much in the moment that he dashed in and out of shot to demonstrate poses and positions himself. It was with triumphant joy that he observed his visions coming into life as the camera snapped rapidly away.
The early morning sun soon found its way to the highest point in the sky as one model was dismissed in favour of the next. Whilst tripods and light stands found themselves packed up and reassembled in the next location, Sophie and Martin switched between touch-ups on set to reimagining models into their next look back in the suite. A constant relay of stylists ensured that each aspect of the process was diligently overseen.
In front of windows, beneath archways, under loggias and beautiful blue skies, the team positioned their models to suggest a hint of grandeur to the backgrounds of each shot. The models looked exquisite but there was no doubt that the stars of the show were the dresses themselves. Occasionally the accessories made a bid for the limelight but more often offered a supporting role in their sparkly, feathered opulence.
Bald headed men stared out of windows, preferring to observe the joy of the professionals working on the photo shoot than participate in their own middle management conferences. Elderly couples walking round the grounds of the neo-gothic hotel lingered on pathways to watch the magic of the moment unfold before their eyes.
Ettington Park became a playground of glamour, with beautifully styled models posing, posturing and pouting beneath a soundtrack of camera clicks and excited chatter. The turn of a head, the drop of a shoulder, the slightest rotation of the waist all brought life into the dresses, allowing them to speak for themselves on camera.
Bringing with her the unwavering attention of one-on-one consultations that brides can expect from The White Rose, Danielle remained constantly alert to the minutiae of every shot. Tweaking jewellery, rearranging dresses and even clearing the back of shots and engineering the exact fall of shadows with the precise placement of heavy velvet curtains; absolutely nothing escaped her gaze.
As the sunlight marched across the frosty grass throughout the afternoon, it became apparent that Martin and Danielle had assembled an equally fastidious team. Every supplier checked and double-checked their work, picking up on elements that a less experienced eye could easily overlook.
Altering the shade of a lipstick, painting a shot with warm light or precisely repositioning a stray strand of hair, the team became artists; keen to perfect their work using the vast experience and techniques of their respective trades.
Shooting from precariously high positions on rickety chairs and absurdly uncomfortable angles through archways, Phil and Spencer constantly reimagined each shot into different frames in order to have a portfolio of options to select from for each individual look. As the rest of the team looked on they too began seeing each dress in a different light, contributing ideas and lending a collaborative nature to the creation of each scene.
Whether recreating the regal style of Audrey Hepburn gazing out of an originally leaded window or allowing the sensuality of an early 20th-century flapper girl to bask in the late sunshine, each look was immaculately presented. Classic English roses, sensationally sultry starlets and delicately sparkling glamour girls all lent personality to the dresses, allowing them to bask in the attention.
Despite flagging models and pressing time constraints, the whole team maintained the same level of focus as the dusk began to approach as they had begun with when the dawn had only just broken. With sunlight rapidly fading and other events in the hotel soon to supplant their locations, the shoot began to wind towards a wrap.
Danielle, Martin and their glamorous team crowded around a laptop to assess some images from the day as the camera shutter clicked for a final time. From the frothy full skirt of chiffon roses to the ostrich feathers of a vintage-inspired shrug floating upon the breeze, each dress danced before their eyes like a parade of beautiful debutantes, ready to make their debut into the world.