April 17, 2014

From the Editor

You see the elegance and dash of our fashion pages and our cover and you imagine, yes, directing all this must truly be glam, a fashionista’s dream. It is our fashion director Julie French’s passion all right, but 24-7 glam? Consider the 125 mosquito bites (from a photo shoot in Curaçao years ago). Be there on a previous job when a model turned up in braces and, thus, couldn’t smile attractively on cue. Or face the emergency at a dance company photo session when a dancer’s split jump—you guessed it—split his pants right up the back.

This November issue marks Julie’s first anniversary with Gulfshore Life. She has, indeed, delivered creative, stylish pages for us month after month, with a dead-on sense of what plays best in Southwest Florida. How has she done this? We sat down and quizzed her about the realities behind all the glamour.

First, though, a little about her background. Julie grew up in New York with ideas about pursuing a career in art or dance or work with kids. It started with dance when she trained at the prestigious Juilliard School and went on to perform professionally—modern, jazz and ballet—for five years. But it wasn’t reliable day-after-day work, so she found steady employment next in places that demanded art in quite another form. At Hartmarx and Marke Communications, she got thrown right into learning how to dress people to make fashion statements. Along the way, Talbots and Bloomingdale’s became clients. A move to California landed her a job as a stylist for seven years with Coast, an upscale lifestyle magazine in Orange County, and she also did interior design projects on a freelance basis.

So Julie brought plenty of know-how and experience when she started here with last year’s November issue. Before each shoot, she puts together a book of tear sheets and notes on backgrounds, artworks, clothes and more that feed into the development of a fully realized theme. She drives all around Collier and Lee counties searching for locations, inside and out, that will best illustrate the concept. Then she gets to play shopper, pulling together the finest garments and accessories from the best stores around. Eat your hearts out on that one, fashionistas.

Julie’s choice of photographer, Nesti Mendoza, has been inspired. "Nesti often takes my vision one step farther," Julie says. That first November feature was on party attire, shot at the Philharmonic Center for the Arts. "Nesti brought in a smoke machine and theatrical lighting to add texture and mystique to our shots on-stage and backstage," Julie says. For our Feel Good issue this past August, she adds, he achieved a striking effect with an underwater shot of the model.

The models, with lots of help from the hair and makeup people, obviously put a face on the shoot. You should know that there’s tape on the bottom of their shoes (they have to be returned to the stores unscuffed) and, often, their outfits are clamped on the side you don’t see to get the best possible fit. To boost the under-endowed, Julie tells us, there are devices that look like rubber chicken breasts (called "chicken filets" in the business) that pad the clothes where necessary.

In prior postings, Julie had that model with the braces, a 16-year-old, who not only couldn’t smile but also giggled every time she had to get romantic with the male star of the shoot. The problem with the aforementioned dancer who split his pants was that Julie had to pay for another pair. Sometimes, models don’t show up as fit-looking as they appear in their composites, but that hasn’t happened to Julie since she arrived here.

Above all, Julie believes, a fashion director has to play to her passion. This month—in "In Step for the Holidays" on p. 82—the setting is the new, smart-looking Naples Academy of Ballet with dancers in the background. One love of Julie’s. There’s inspiration from paintings she saw recently in Paris. Another love. It’s why these photos come off the page so movingly.

What’s ahead? "I’d love to shoot in the Everglades and maybe do a road trip theme in the future," Julie says. Count on some visual excitement ahead. This onetime dancer has all the moves.

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