When I first moved to London, my flatmate at the time had a book called Feel the Fear but do it Anyway by Susan Jeffers. Not really being one for self help books, I never got round to reading it but as it hung around the lounge, the title really spoke to me and it’s kinda hung around in my mind ever since. At the time I had pulled out of doing a degree in fashion and textiles after it had dawned on me that I wasn’t anywhere near as obsessed with fashion as my fellow foundation students who had got onto the same degree. They were going to college in Victorian Underwear and thick black tights while I was still channelling Neneh Cherry in a purple satin bomber jacket with a spiral perm (hey, it was twenty years ago!)
Although I had always done photography I was flummoxed by the sums… F-stop numbers going one way, shutter speed numbers go the other way… Who invented this stuff? Why wasn’t it just 1, 2, 3 or A, B, C? So I decided to try fashion styling as that was just putting clothes together for photo shoots, not designing them but it was still photography related. So how could I get work experience at that? I was obsessed with reading The Face magazine so I started there… I picked out my favourite shoots and the same couple of stylists’ names kept cropping up so I found out their phone numbers and got in touch. Our flat was in Chelsea but I am no trust fund babe – we were signing on and most weeks ran out of money to top up the key meter for the electricity. I was aware that I needed these people way more than they needed me and that is a vulnerable position to be in. It would have been easy to psyche myself out of making those phone calls, I was totally terrified but eventually I did and a stylist called Camilla Nickerson who sounded just lovely said that actually her assistant had pulled out of a shoot the following Friday and I could come along to help out.
I arrived at the studio after a sleepless night to a buzz of activity but everyone seemed very sweet. I got stuck in unwrapping the amazing clothes by Vivienne Westwood and John Galliano. Turned out that all the people at the shoot were friends – the make up artist was mates with the stylist, and the photographer’s girlfriend was the model along with her brother. Her name was Kate Moss and it was one of the first times she had been in a proper studio too. She was only a couple of years younger than me. I thought she looked like a beautiful alien and when she stepped on set she was mesmerising. As the shoot unfolded I realised that I had no clue what the stylist was doing. In this room full of stunning clothes, one of the shots turned out to be just Kate under a black satin sheet with nothing on but a narrow leather thong around her neck… Six months later me and every girl in London wouldn’t leave the house without the same necklace on. It quickly dawned on me that day that I was no fashion stylist but I carefully watched the photographer Mario Sorrenti and he didn’t seem to be doing anything that I couldn’t grasp. He was using the daylight and bouncing it round with poly boards and shooting on 35mm. Maybe this photography lark wasn’t so technical after all?