How to Create A Fashion Look Book
Part 1: Planning
As a photographer and former co-owner of a fashion label I’ve experienced Creating a Fashion Look Book from different perspectives and would like to share some of what I have learned with you. You’ve probably heard the Ben Franklin quote, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” I use this quote often because creative people like us have a tendency to want to just jump in and start working on something without the ‘overhead’ of creating a plan first. However I have discovered through experience that planning is essential to creating a great look book and failing to do so can be costly, will likely lead to inferior results and missed opportunities, and can damage your image and your brand. This is serious stuff.
The buyers and editors want to see several well-photographed outfits on a model.1
The first part of planning involves setting goals: what is the look book going to accomplish? As look books typically are created seasonally, the obvious purpose is to represent the new collection for a new season but a well thought-out one can accomplish much more, such as :
- establishing, reinforcing, or extending the brand image
- reaching a new audience
- introducing a new product line
To help decide the goals for the look book we need to be clear on what our label represents, how we want it positioned in the market, and who our customers are. I’m referring to our mission and vision – likely you’ve written all of this out when you established the label and started the business. If you aren’t clear on these things then I suggest you do it as soon as possible, as they should be guiding principles for everything you do. In building a brand consistency is key and the look book is a major opportunity to strengthen our brand and it’s values. Going into detail about how to build a brand is beyond this scope, but I have listed a few helpful fashion business books at the end of the article.
Next we need to establish the creative vision which will serve as the strategy to accomplish the goals we set. A line of expensive mens suits for C-level executives is going to have a different creative vision than sneakers for skateboarding. Again, we must have a clear idea of who our customer is and what appeals to them. If you’re having trouble here do some research of your competitors or consult with a stylist or experienced photographer (like me!).
Things to consider here are how various pieces in the collection could go together to form cohesive looks. If the line is expensive you might consider using expensive cars as props, or hotels and resorts as locations. Athletic wear might be photographed on the trail, in a gym, yoga studio or sports facility. Imagination is key here – brainstorm ideas, no matter how lofty and curb them only when budget or logistics require.
The objective here to build a physical mood board of sketches and pages torn out of magazines, or build a virtual one (easily done with Pinterest). We will use this mood board to clearly communicate the vision with the team who may be able to help find ways to achieve the desired mood without breaking the budget.
I’ve been on look book shoots that were totally chaotic because of a lack of vision. The disorganization resulted in extra shooting days and several undesirable compromises that became necessary to get it done on time. The first two steps described above are crucial to creating a successful look book, and the best part about them is: they’re free! You should not skimp here – great look books can be created on a very tight budget and deadline if the goals and creative vision are clear, so give them the necessary time and consideration.
Branding is a long-term strategy that requires entrepreneurial sense and vision.2
Building your Team
With the goals and creative vision established its time to start building your team. The size and scope of your team is going to vary depending on your requirements and budget, but at a minimum you’re going to need people to fill the roles of photographer, model, makeup artist, hair stylist and photo stylist or creative director. I recommend finding someone different for each role and not trying to do multiple roles yourself wherever possible as I feel allowing individuals to each focus on one thing leads to the best result. However there are times when overlaps may work. For example, some designers can also function as stylists; some makeup artists can also do hair, and some photographers can also function as creative director. Just be certain to address each area in your planning and make sure a single individual is assigned responsibility for each.
If you work with an amateur photographer who lacks fashion experience several things can go wrong.3
Photography must push your brand forward, not hold it back. Besides technical aptitude the photographer should have a style and skill that aligns with the creative vision and the brand image. It should go without saying that they must be able to produce clear, sharp, detailed images, know how to manage lighting and produce good accurate color. It is surprising how many designers publish photos that are blurry, have color issues, are distorted, are too dark, have lost detail in highlights, have distracting shadows, etc…
A good photographer may seem expensive, but consider that if the quality of the photos is poor, people will assume the quality of the product is poor, as well. What is saved if the photos damage the brand’s reputation or if the collection needs to be photographed again? Don’t sabotage the look book in the name of saving a few bucks.
Like photographers finding the right models is crucial to a successful look book and they should have a look and style that aligns with the brand. Also like photographers, a good model can be expensive but the right one is worth every penny – after all, they bring the designs to life! It’s not enough to be attractive and be the right size, modeling is also about personality, attitude and so much more. Models must be relatable to the audience in a desirable and aspirational way and s/he should be able to communicate the creative vision though pose and expression. Freelance models may be less expensive but may require more work to make sure they are experienced and reliable. Be sure to carefully review their portfolio and ask for references. A good model will have up-to-date photos on her portfolio, will be punctual, and show up ready to work. Reputable agencies stand behind their models so if there is an issue with the one selected, they are quick to send a replacement.
Rounding out your team are the stylists of which there are three main types: fashion, hair, and makeup artist. The fashion stylist will help you with making sure the model and the clothes look the way they should. They will have some ideas about how to bring the mood boards to life and may have props and accessories of their own to contribute. A good stylist will want to discuss ideas ahead of time and may also want to talk to the photographer and or models. Many designers feel they can play the role of fashion stylists since, after all, it is their collection and vision being captured for the look book however, I find that few can actually do the job as well as a dedicated fashion stylist. If you’re a designer consider bouncing your ideas off of a stylist who at the very least can give you feedback, but more likely will be able to improve on them.
The value of skilled hair stylists and makeup artists cannot be overstated. Even ‘messy’ hair or a ‘natural’ look requires the right product and skills to look great on camera. Be aware that makeup that looks good in person may not necessarily look good on camera so make sure the makeup artist has experience doing makeup for photography. I’ve worked with some makeup artists who make a career of doing bridal makeup for weddings, but that don’t understand how to create looks that photograph well in the studio. Likewise the hair stylist you select should be able to pull off the looks you want and be experienced working with photographers. Don’t rely on cell-phone photos on Instagram – you want to see photos taken by a professional photographer for you to be certain they can do the job.
Communication and Scheduling
The last word in this section is about communication. After all, what good is the planning if the team isn’t all on the same page? All the members of the team should have seen the mood board (or Pinterest board) several days before the shoot, They should also be made aware of any changes to it. Everyone needs to know exactly where and exactly when they near expected to show up. They need to know what to bring. They need to know if food and refreshment will be provided or if they should bring their own. They need to know how long they are expected to work. Hair stylists and makeup artists oftentimes are perfectionists (that’s a GOOD thing!) but they may take half the day to get the model ready if they’re not given time boundaries (that’s a bad thing). I find it helpful to create a schedule, being as specific as possible and including a prioritized shot list, this way everyone knows what’s expected to happen and when. Failing to do this leads to chaos and wasted time.
Congratulations! You made it all the way to the end.
I hope this information was helpful! If you have any questions please ask them in comments below and if you liked this blog post won’t you please share it with your network? Thanks in advance!