Lucinda Chambers - Fashion Director British Vogue
“Often my job is to engage photographers and encourage them to take risks, to cushion them from problems and to make them feel free to take the picture that they want, or give them the ease to let them try out something else.” - Lucinda Chambers
What does your job entail day to day?
One of the things I most appreciate in my job is that no two days are the same. That’s such a privilege. One day it can be totally desk bound, trawling through the shows online or trying to find interesting websites of strange things that you hope can add to the magic of a shoot. Or going through budgets to try to cut costs so that you can make a story work. It really does differ from day to day. But some days I will go to markets and have a rummage around. Lovely.
You’ve worked at Vogue for some years now. How has your work evolved over the years?
Well, as I started working for Miss Davies who sorted out the payments, it certainly has changed, as I was a hopeless secretary. From secretary, I went on to become an assistant and then a fashion editor. It sounds quick, but that evolved over 15 years, and I have been doing what I do now for more than 15. We are all much more desk bound now. We used to go out on appointments seeing clothes all day, almost every day. It has changed having all this technology, but appointments are still a huge part of the job, and for me, the shows are where I really see the clothes.
In what ways do you work with photographers, exactly?
It differs from photographer to photographer, but it starts with having an idea and thinking of who would be the best, the most excited by an idea and who could take it to another place. You can visualise a dream and then they make it happen, but you involve photographers, carry them along, exchange ideas, think of sets, locations, the right girl, hair and make up: everything is key and like a jigsaw that you are trying to complete. Often my job is to engage photographers and encourage them to take risks, to cushion them from problems and to make them feel free to take the picture that they want, or give them the ease to let them try out something else.
Do you encourage new talent or do you prefer to stick with what you know will work?
What is great now is that we have the ‘More Dash than Cash’ pages. It’s brilliant for the readers and wonderful for us. We can use and try out photographers on a smaller project and then if we are all happy it can lead to bigger things. It’s a wonderful way to try each other out, see if we smell a funny colour, without the pressure of a big story.
How has the photographic industry changed since you started in the business?
I think it has changed radically, but in an almost imperceptible way. When I started there was no money to be made. No one, except for retailers, got rich. You did it because you were passionate about it. You lived and breathed it. We still do now, but it feels like more of an industry somehow. People who are not very talented can make a decent living and people who are talented can be millionaires, either as stylists or photographers. So the stakes are higher. That changes the dynamics of the business. Time, that has changed. We used to go on trips for over a week. Absorb the atmosphere of a country and have the time to location hunt. Now, you are in and out in two days, wherever you are.
Photographers are busy, they can’t give you too long, and so, obviously, everyone else is busy, too. There are many more magazines and more fashion companies shooting advertising, so time is a commodity.
Also, because there are more magazines, one has to be constantly raising the game. This creates much more pressure all round for everyone.
What photographic and stylistic challenges do you face at Vogue?
Vogue has more challenges than almost any other magazine, but we also have privileges. The challenge is that we have an extremely wide demographic. We have business women, fashion students, housewives, all readers, all who expect to find something, a lot, in Vogue that is for them. Elle or Marie Claire, for instance, have a much narrower audience, so you can tailor the magazine for that readership.
People do expect a lot from it, to be visually beautiful and informative as well. So, we don’t just shoot everything in a studio on a white background. We do like the reader to dream and travel as well as be able to buy a reasonably priced swimsuit. It’s not always easy and it’s a great challenge for our editor to get the balance right.
Also, because there are so many more Vogues now, the few very talented photographers that we work with are in bigger demand and, therefore, the models are as well. Everything gets squeezed. It is a challenge, but always an exciting one.
How does your design and photography differ from that of weekly fashion magazines?
Weeklies are a very different animal to us. What they are covering, and particularly how they are covering it, is completely different. Weeklies don’t have the luxury of creating beautiful images all carefully retouched with immense attention to detail. They have to be up to date for that particular week and every page must be crammed with information. You buy a weekly for some very different reasons to a monthly. I think a reader expects a certain quality, a certain standard that is afforded with a monthly.
How should a photographer approach you with their work?
Photographers can approach me in almost any way they like. They can phone to make an appointment to come in, they can email, anything really. We really look at everything as you never know...
What makes a portfolio stand out to you?
A point of view. A way of seeing the world that is unique to them. I don’t care if it is of cats or flower pots or clouds or trains. A few have started that way and it’s fine. The girls they shoot don’t have to be models; it’s just to see a young person with a sort of clarity of thought and then visualising that. When it happens and you see it, it’s really wonderful. That happened recently with someone who was still a student. I asked to work with her and didn’t realise she was still studying, but it makes no difference.
What are your top tips for a photographer looking to get commissioned?
Well, the above really. It doesn’t take money or bells and whistles. Just a view.
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