The Saks Fifth Avenue team tasked with creating fashion shoots in four Golden State destinations didn’t have to search hard for inspiration. In fact, it surrounded them at every turn.
In Greater Palm Springs, mid-century modern architecture matched perfectly with tailored outfits featuring clean lines. Sun-drenched Newport Beach provided the ideal backdrop for a story showcasing sunglasses and more. The bright colors and vibrant energy of West Hollywood’s Pacific Design Center prompted a sartorial safari featuring animal prints and tropical motifs. And the Napa Valley’s lush natural beauty provided a colorful canvas for an exploration of dreamy whites.
As a result, the four California stories in Saks’ 2020 Spring Fashion Book are all distinct and diverse—just like the state itself.
“Visit California has ended up being such a great partner to us,” says Andrew Winton, one of the key creatives behind Saks’ Spring Fashion Book. “Within California you've got such wonderful diversity—and each place brings a very different vibe, very different energy, even very different light that we can capture. The diversity that California brings is such a great key to success of bringing such a big project like this together.”
Winton and Tim Hemmeter, Saks Fifth Avenue’s Senior Director for Art, Photography and Media, shared insights about the making of the Spring Fashion Book, a creative process that began last summer, continued with trend-watching at the fall fashion shows, and culminated in a month’s worth of fashion shoots across the state as well as California window displays at the flagship Saks Fifth Avenue store in Manhattan.
“We went on a four-week odyssey traveling around the state,” Hemmeter recalls. “Every day we would land in a new space. Everything was new, everything was different. So every day was a new adventure, be it inside, be it outside, be it in an urban area or in the middle of the desert. It was almost like we were taking a road trip and experiencing everything the way that a visitor to the state would.”
Here is a look at how the four fashion shoots came together—thanks in large part to California’s inspirational destinations.
Mid-century Splendor in the Desert
The Greater Palm Springs editorial feature, “A Clean Slate,” showcased neutrals and drew inspiration from the mid-century architecture that helps define the region. Shot in private homes across the region and in the city of Coachella, the story highlights pieces including a Fendi striped cardigan, an Akris trench coat, and a Prada embroidered leather skirt.
“The mid-century architecture paired beautifully with a return to tailoring, and a group of clothes that were more clean-lined,” Hemmeter explains. “We had the opportunity to shoot at two mid-century locations that had fantastic elements that sort of followed the lines of the clothes and the color palette.”
The creative team also marveled at the colorful murals they found in Coachella.
“With the Coachella walls, we were able to bring in a whole other element of fashion to it. During the shoot in Coachella we were able to place and photograph more artistically aesthetic pieces of clothing. I had never been to Coachella before, so just to see a desert area with these massive art moments was great. That light and that aesthetic was really wonderful.”
Overseeing the shoots kept Hemmeter very busy but he did find time to make one essential stop: “We always visit the Parker Palm Springs at least once for dinner just because that's sort of a hub of the fashion community,” he says. “When anyone is in Palm Springs, you'll run into them at the Parker—and that space is just fantastic.”
Finding Something New in Newport Beach
Hemmeter has overseen photo shoots up and down the state but he had never been to Newport Beach before. And he absolutely loved everything about it.
“We shot the sunset shades story (“Dawn ‘Til Dusk”) in Crystal Cove Beach,” Hemmeter recalls, “which is one of the most magical little beach communities that I've ever been in or shot in. There is a certain wonderful escape element to it, being that it seems like a magical place somewhere completely removed from civilization.”
As the Saks team learned, Newport Beach is comprised of 10 distinct neighborhoods—and the crew ended up shooting in several of them.
“In addition to the Crystal Cove story, we had the opportunity to shoot some men's things and some additional story ideas in the harbor, Balboa Island, and the Balboa Fun Zone,” Hemmeter says. “So we had a beach story, bright colors, beautiful light, and then we were able to come in and get all of the fun and magic, the graphic element of the Balboa Fun Zone.
“It has a little bit of Venice, Italy, in it,” Hemmeter says, referring to Newport Beach’s many charms. During our scout the day before, we were introduced to the people over at Riva de Balboa, which has these spectacular little retro speedboats. We love finding those places, capturing those places, because everyone who's on a shoot is truly inspired by the locations.”
Getting Wild in West Hollywood
West Hollywood may not be big—it encompasses less than two square miles—but its attractions and architecture have an outsized appeal.
“There's a certain excitement about West Hollywood, just the visuals of the entertainment industry, the iconic locations, the Sunset Tower,” Hemmeter says. “I mean, there are so many mythical and legendary properties.”
Included in this mix is the Pacific Design Center, a red, green, and blue structure that provides an unforgettable backdrop to the West Hollywood fashion story (“Into the Wild”).
“The second that it was offered to us I knew that I wanted to shoot something bold and powerful,” Hemmeter recalls. “The fact that you can see this building from miles away, I thought it really sort of captured iconically what West Hollywood is. What was truly surprising is, when you're actually on property, how big the building really is, and how we were able to use color blocking as a graphic element. It truly inspired camera angles and stronger model movements just because it was complemented by the bold colors, and the clothes had a bit of a structure to them.”
By shooting there as well as at some nearby art galleries, the Saks team brilliantly captured West Hollywood’s vibrant, provocative spirit. “It was super inspiring,” Hemmeter says.
Catching the Light in the Napa Valley
The fourth California fashion shoot took place in the Napa Valley and features white clothing and accessories juxtaposed against rich, natural backdrops (“Catch the Light”) as well as some ultra-bright hot air balloons. As an added bonus, all of the items photographed—from the Rebecca Taylor sleeveless dress to the Prada bucket bag—would seem perfectly at home at any nearby wine tasting.
“I’d never had the opportunity to be in that location,” Hemmeter recalls. “We had insane light every morning. It was chilly, but even that humidity and the cold actually does a whole different thing with light. It makes it dreamier and the colors more intense because of the water in the air.”
Indeed, the yellows and oranges and reds and blues of the hot air balloons—populated with real-life tourists visiting the region—are incredibly vivid. So too are Hemmeter’s memories of shooting at AXR Napa Valley in St. Helena.
“We wanted to capture some of the lushness at the winery,” he remembers. “They have a tasting area that backs into the woods and we wanted to capture the mossiness of it and the ancient trees there. We were able to capture elements about Napa that are more environmental—how lush and green that environment was around the winery. It's so beautiful.”
Best of all, the Saks team got to experience some Wine Country hospitality to help offset the long days of work. When the catered lunch arrived on set, the folks at AXR surprised Hemmeter and his crew with a special wine tasting.
“They paired a wine with our lunch in the back barn, surrounded by the barrels. It was a special little experience for the crew. It was amazing."