Wednesday, June 22, 2011

I've been out of sorts.  While many exciting things have been happening (all good and wonderful) I hadn't been to the cottage until this past weekend.  Somehow, with all that's been going on (coupled with terrible Spring weather) it got to be mid-June without a visit to my favourite place on the planet.  Last year our cottage season began in April and lasted through Thanksgiving, so there's time to make up for.  

I realized this weekend that I don't often feel relaxed.  That's not to say I feel particularly stressed out at any given time, but there's a certain base-level tautness caused by living in a city like Toronto.  Whether or not we're fully aware, the sights and sounds burrow their way inside and elevate heart rates, accelerate anxieties.  While I love it and thrive on the activity of big city life, I'm increasingly more comfortable where it's quiet.  

I love the silence that's possible here.  I love zoning-in on a single noise and wondering to myself, "Now, is that frogs, or birds?  Bugs?"  I love going to sleep early and waking up sooner, too.  If it's true that our senses are connected, then I like the way quiet smells.  I'm comforted by the sound of water lapping up under the dock.  I like the moment at dusk when the lake goes still and glassy, something to do, I can only assume, with the moon and tides, things much bigger than us.

I like not doing my hair and forgoing style for ease and comfort.  I like playing Yahtzee! during that hour when mosquitoes make sitting outdoors impossible.  I like drinking cheap coffee and eating good produce.  I like watching Jeff chop wood, build fires.  I like knowing that, if need-be, he will figure things out.  While he might not have the skills, he has the bravery-in-spades to protect me, be it bears or bats or bugs all up in my shit.  And I like that.

I like poking around in the trees just beyond the cottage, noticing a trunk battered with tiny holes.  I like the moment in the day when the woods get dark, but their outskirts are bright. The forest makes me feel like I'm 10 years old, curious, with the ability to feel mesmerized again.  So rarely are we mesmerized. 

I like feeling stuck on our little island, my priorities quickly-clear at the thought of a boat, and a car, and a drive out of the woods to fetch whatever it is I think I might need.  I need nothing.  

Saturday, June 18, 2011

While I was in New York, my friend Jesse happened to be there too.  We met this time last year when we shot Sherman's bowtie lookbook and have collaborated a couple of times since.  He was in town to do a fitting with Tommy Hilfiger, who'd be dressing him for the upcoming Much Music Video Awards

We had dinner (at Peasant, in Nolita - amazing) with Tommy's director of PR and got to talking about his look for the show.  I then insinuated myself into it by suggesting I pop by the showroom (also located in the Starret-Lehigh Building) to take some shots.  You see, this building is gorgeous.  And blasting in through 10-foot windows overlooking the river, the light is beautiful. And the model . . . well, come on.  I mean, you've seen Jesse, right?  Any chance I get to photograph him is not to be passed-up!

And so it was: I'd meet them there in the morning and we'd shoot some fun photos.  But, get this, they'd pitched the idea (How to Dress for an Awards Show) to men's lifestyle magazine, Sharp, and now they'd have photos to go with their story.  Ipso-facto: an online story with a great (and Canadian!) magazine.  

I hoped it was just that special brand of New York City synchronicity, but the Doubting Thomas on my shoulder was beginning to think the horseshoe up my ass would cause permanent damage. 

Whatever the case, check it out over at Sharp.  (And a few other photos below.)  

Friday, June 17, 2011

For me, this solo-trip represented a lot of fear-conquering.  From bus rides to photo-gigs to couch-surfing, I was spitting in the face of my anxieties and diving in, head-long. 

Fear #486: Staying in a pod hotel and sharing a washroom at the end of the hall with 30 strangers. Check.

After staying for two night's with the spectacularly- hospitable Kelly, it was time to check-in to my hotel.  The Jane is located on Jane at West, in a bit of a grey area between Greenwich and Chelsea.  A couple blocks west of my namesake street, it seemed a match made in heaven. 

Now, in the interest of honesty, this place is way hipper than any place I'd typically feel comfortable.  I'm not sure how you, loyal readers, see me, but I'm not a hipster.  Aloof doesn't look good on me.  So while I'd feel more comfortable in a traditional hotel, this trip was about economics.  At a measly $99 a night, the Jane's Standard Cabin was the only way to go.  Sure, there's the whole YMCA-style washroom thing, but short of sleeping on the street, anything less than $100 is a steal in this town.  And what it lacked in size, it more-than made up for in style.

Pictured below, the lobbies are beautiful, all rich colours, chandeliers and taxidermy.  It's got a sort of Colonial tropics-meets-NYC cigar lounge vibe.  And while it's definitely a place for the ultra-cool, it wasn't intimidating and the staff didn't emit any of that Signature Hipster Chill.  My room was, as-promised, teensy tiny.  Like, beyond small.  5x7.  I could touch the walls simultenously without full-extending my arms.  And with a less-than-twin-sized bed and a wall-mounted TV, there wasn't much else to see.  I tend to unpack when I check into a hotel, hang all of my clothes, make myself at home.  Not so, at The Jane.  A few nautical hooks on the walls, a complimentary bottle of water and some dimmer switches were the end of the frills.

But it was fun.  Modeled after the inside of a ship's cabin, this little room was perfect for my NYC adventure.  I wasn't looking to spend any time indoors, so space and luxury were at the bottom of my priorities.  It was perfectly suited to the throw caution to the wind attitude I had for this trip, and it felt old-school, like I was an explorer discovering a new land.  But, at the end of each day (instead of referencing old maps and scrolls) I'd pull out my laptop and relive my day with Jeff over Skype.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

And then there was fashion.  After a great night out with some of the nicest and funniest people, it was onto the business of the trip

First thing Sunday morning I was due at the Starrett-Lehigh Building.  Home of Martha Stewart.  (And so many others, including Ports 1961.)  Occupying an entire city block, this commercial-industrial wonderland was completed in 1931.  Back in the day the ground floor accommodated freight trains which could pull right into the building, but nowadays you'll more likely find industrial designers and fashionistas roaming its halls. 

For someone innately enamoured with NYC, the thrills are often small and frequent.  From wandering down Perry Street, to peeping a C-list actor on a restaurant patio, it doesn't take much to rouse me.  There's nothing like the delight of getting your NYC-bearings, nothing like hailing a cab and stating, confidently, "601 West 26th Street!  No, no, take West!

I tried to keep a lid on it, but sometimes my voice would expose my school-girl excitement, shattering my cool exterior.

Upon arriving at the building that first day, I felt like Audrey Hepburn outside Tiffany - the gentle curves of the building, the quiet only a Sunday morning can provide.  I'd see in days following that the building gets real busy, but today it was mostly-dark and only a little bit creepy, in the best way. 

With views of the Hudson to the east and downtown Manhattan to the west, Ports' offices and showroom sprawl across a gigantic suite on the 8th floor.  The terrace is huge, and the sights even bigger

Their offices aren't unlike the fashion houses you've seen on TV.  Lots of desks, lots of hustle, and a seemingly-endless parade of beautiful girls in well-cut clothing.  While most were dressed for round-the-clock-cocktails, in this context it didn't seem unreasonable.  Sky-high heels and billowing silk.  Bright colours and bold patterns, all before ten in the morning.  Truth be told, I felt like a fashion vagabond in my summer shorts and sneakers.  It also happened to be 42°C, so my hair fell flat with omnipresent moisture in the air.  Fashion chaos! 

Our beautiful Russian model, Yulia, arrived early, a vision in big sunglasses and easy-glamour.  Her type became quickly recognizable while wandering the streets of NY; top-knotted and rakish, models roam this city in droves , thousands-strong. 

On this particular day we would shoot 75 looks from Ports' Pre-Spring 2012 collection, a series of sophisticated and moneyed pieces, often worth more than my entire wardrobe combined.  Lightning-fast quick-changes, tits to the wind, one knit dress over Yulia's head while she stepped into a pair of pants or slipped from a heel to a flat.  It was rapid-fire, factory photography and it was fantastic.  I loved every second of it.  Chin up, chin down, loosen your hands, drop your right knee. Great! Next!  Chin up, chin down, turn the purse, relax your shoulders, pop a hip. Terrific! Next!

If you're wondering, the answer is yes.  Yes, every once in a while I'd have to slip away and stare at the ceiling for a minute, forcing tears back up into my sinuses.  How did this all happen?  How'd I end up in New York City shooting pictures?  These moments were happening all the time.  Walking up Hudson Street: tears.  Ordering a gin on the rocks, alone at a bar: tears.  In a cab, crossing the Williamsburg Bridge for the first time ever.  Tears.  Not to paint a melancholy picture here, but the whole thing was, at times, a whole lot to take. 

This Sunday was easy and fun, with only Tu, the model, hair and makeup.  A gentle primer to this world.  We'd blast through a couple dozen looks, break for lunch, then back to it.  I had a little studio set up in an empty room, my stuff stashed there like I owned the place.  Hours would pass, suddenly dusk over the Hudson River, with barely the blink of an eye. 

But I'd soon see, as one working day turned into five, what real fashion chaos was about. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

There's nothing like the moment you catch sight of New York City's skyline.  Maybe it's just me, but I immediately stop blinking and the air is sucked from my lungs.  I imagine it's the way some people feel when they crest a mountain to find the snow-capped summit, or turn a corner to find the Sphinx there before them. When that string of buildings comes into view, it's my version of deep-sea diving or rappelling into an Amazon gully.  A complete thrill.  Magic.

Again (with the weepiness) I tried not to look like a yokel just-in from the foothills as the bus emerged from the tunnel now, suddenly, amongst the buildings.  But there's something about that place that, even now, just makes me kind of shaky and emotional.  It's loud and, at times, horrific-smelling.  It's crowded and expensive and intimidating.  But it's perfect.

Toronto (love it as I do) is a city built on insecurity.  Where Manhattan is the teenage bombshell, we're the nerdy tween next door who recedes into the background, feeling less-than, a mess of angst and jealousy.  Sure, when it all shakes down, we're bound to come out on top: a little smarter, with more-supportive parents and slightly-stronger morals.  And we'll grow into our looks.  But, for now, we're unsure and much less glamourous. 

The moment you step foot upon a New York City sidewalk, you can feel its confidence.  Maybe it's pop culture run amok, but between the hustle and the skyscrapers and the simple density of it all, the place is a dream.

And, suddenly 12 hours on a bus evaporated and I was here.  Left to my own devices to wander and take it all in.  No one else had a say about where or when or how I'd get there.  If I wanted to jump in a cab or walk 40 blocks clear across town, it was completely up to me. 

And, as it would turn out, instead of the three-days-planned, I'd spend six, shooting pictures for five.  I'd zip along the West Side Highway and wander the Highline, dash to Brooklyn for a 10pm dinner, or wake (wide-eyed) at dawn, the hum of the city too thrilling to sleep through. 

As I crept up to street-level through Penn Station, my adventure - perhaps something more than that - began.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

I'm not positive, but I think there's something in the air.  I'm on the edge of 30, flipping my decade in November, and it seems the cosmos wants me to change-it-up for this new era.  Last year, at some point in the Spring, I made the conscious decision to stir shit up, put myself out there, and be more open to new experiences.  Then, exactly one year ago this week, I met a pal named Sherman and things started shifting.  He opened the doors I was newly-willing to step through.  Synchronicity.  Fate.  Jesus H. Christ:  Whatever you want to call it, pieces started falling into place. 

I shot his bowtie collection, a few other fun jobs, met the folks over at Tommy Hilfiger, and have been building new relationships all year.  It's been thrilling and exciting and it's been on my own terms.  I haven't shot anything I'm not excited by, haven't put myself in any discomfort.  I've tried to conjure the confidence to say yes! more often than no! and it seems to be working. 

At one of the events for The Bay, I became acquainted with Go-To Fashion Guy, Tu Ly (a man of many talents, from designing clothes and image-consultation, to his role as Creative Marketing Director for Ports 1961) and he invited me to New York to shoot their Pre-Spring 2012 Lookbook.  

Now, in the interest of being bullshit-free, this job wasn't offered because of my incredible talents.  This isn't exactly creative work.  A million photographers in NYC could've done the job, but Tu offered it up to me with the (obvious) stipulation that they couldn't swing travel or accomodation. It could be a great experience and a nice way to see the city, and do a bit of work for a major fashion house.  Um, yes!

I spent a few hours crunching numbers and divising a travel-plan that wouldn't put me in the red.  While an experience like this would last a lifetime, I didn't necessarily think it was wise to lose money in the process.  A last-minute flight would cost more than I'd make, a train would take too long and sit idly at the border for 2 hours (snooze!) and connecting flights through Chicago would take for-ever!  It quickly became obvious that a 10-hour Megabus ride for $140-return was the way to go. 

And so it was.  Booked.  My dear friend John hooked me up with his dear friend Kelly who lives near Lincoln Center, where I'd stay for two nights.  I swallowed my fears, hopped that WiFi-enabled bus and hunkered down for a long day's journey into night.

Now, I'm skipping something.  Listen here: I pride myself on being organized.  Punctual.  Being late makes me anxious and sweaty and uncomfortable.  That's why I got to the terminal a full-hour before my departure.  It's where I bought this month's copies of GQ, Esquire, and Details.  It's where I wept privately over my first published work in The Globe and Mail.  And it's where I thought my good luck had run dry.  
It seems, you see, I misread the screen.  No sooner than the driver muttered, "Your ticket isn't for this bus," did I turn to see my actual bus pull out and away from the terminal.  I watched my bus drive away.

And I ran.  (I don't run.)  I started sprinting down the street, my roller bag bouncing behind me, in a futile attempt to catch a moving bus. (I mean, can you even imagine?!)  I was panicked, my brain laying out before me a series of unfortunate events that were sure to transpire.  This was a mere taste of what was to come.  In that split second I considered running all the way home, back to my bed, back to the warmth and comfort of Jeff.  Why did I think I could go somewhere without him?!  He's my best friend, my companion, my Travel Agent, for Christ's sake!  Instead, I swallowed all of it and spun all the way to the counter where I bought a ticket for that other bus, one that would take 12 hours instead of 10, stopping in several one-horse-towns throughout backwoods New York State.  I hurried back to the driver and slinked onto the bus, taking a seat toward the back and, for the first time in several minutes, breathed deep and swallowed a whole slew of tears and would-be guttural noises.

On the road again.

I have to tell you, 12 hours on a bus wasn't so bad.  The A/C blasted, the WiFi was super-charged, and between checking Twitter and taking intermittent naps, the time just flew by.  No, really!  It was no time before the Lincoln Tunnel gave way to that magic moment: New York City.

To be continued . . .

While I didn't take a single photo for personal use on this trip - the shame! - I did make good use of Instagram.  Top to bottom: Ultra-cool vert-de-gris fire escape in midtown; dinky cabs as seen from The Highline at 17th Street; more midtown architecture.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Hudson's Bay Company continues to whip it out with another terrific party celebrating Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez of Proenza Schouler.  These guys are a fashion dream, appealing to both the fancy girls and their Moms.  All about textures and pattern, their fabrics are decadent and moneyed, looking every bit as expensive as they are.  Sarah Nicole Prickett wrote about them better than I can over at The B Insider (where you'll soon see more from the selection of photos I took tonight.)

What I can say for sure? Jack and Lazaro are just about the most-adorable pair you'll ever see.  Enjoy some glitz and glamour below.