Oh, bikinis. Such small pieces of cloth that present such great potential for complication! What better occasion than the release of the new Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition to learn the secrets of a swimwear shoot?
The new Sports Illustrated contains a few genuine surprises. For starters, in addition to the expected men's magazine types, like Brooklyn Decker and Tori Praver, there is more than a smattering of fashion models. Cintia Dicker and Anne Vyalitsyna, for example, are more known for work like this:
Cintia Dicker in 10
Anne Vyalitsyna in Numéro
Dicker and Vyalitsyna each have a Sports Illustrated debut this year. As does Hilary Rhoda, interestingly enough. I might have thought her Estée Lauder contract would have created a conflict — it has a very upmarket brand identity, whereas Sports Illustrated has...a very, shall we say, broad appeal. But in a way it's a perfect fit. Rhoda is well known for being athletic and in the interview with SI she's one of the only models to respond to the sports-related questions with anything more than a verbal shrug. (As a Redskins fan, she thinks Clinton Portis is the best-looking athlete, and she talks about how, as a child, she and her brother shared a subscription to SI Kids.)
Shooting swimwear generally calls for a certain kind of model. Not to put too fine a point on it, but there are two main requirements — and they're conveniently located right next to one another! It's always kind of amazing, as a model with next to nothing in the chest department, when I'm backstage at a show or shooting a story with other girls and suddenly someone's changing and it's like, Hello. We're all pretty much the same proportions of tall and skinny, but then there's that one girl who just has preposterously gorgeous, incongruously full breasts and, frankly, I can see why magazines like this exist to celebrate that. Girls with breasts can pretty much do it all within fashion, because almost any designer will always need at least one truly endowed model for a certain show look, beauty work doesn't depend on your body at all, and they're pretty much the only people who are ever called upon to advertise swimwear or lingerie.
But there's a world of difference between selling swimwear to women and selling the idea of swimwear to heterosexual "men". Caroline Trentini jumping in a bikini for American Vogue might be a picture of a woman in a swimsuit, but the intent of the photo and the understanding of sexuality it displays is entirely distinct from that presented in SI.
Even when she's doing the pull-down-my-pants pose.
I can't really hate on SI, though, because there's something so middle-of-the-road, so Dad-ish, so ordinary and uncomplicated, about its particular celebration of the female form. It's pretty girls in bikinis, photographed with no hoopla. If you like your sexuality served straight up without any weird tics on the part of the stylist or distracting conceptual gestures on the part of the photographer, presented in the appropriate mixture of skin and hair and eye colors, then SI is for you.
Stock bikini poses abound. It's all models thrusting out their boobs and butts and sucking in their stomachs while making bedroom eyes. There's nothing here that'll surprise anyone, but I think the reliability is the point.
We might as well go over the topiary details. To shoot swimwear, you need a fairly aggressive Brazilian. And, believe it or not, underneath these suits, each model should be wearing a tiny nude thong made of mesh and elastic. It gets Photoshopped out in post-production. That way the stylist can take the swimsuits back to wherever stylists take clothes back to, after shoots.
Generally they save any shot that involves getting your hair wet for the very end of the day — the hair stylist will take into account the natural process of dishevelment that takes place out-of-doors when he or she does your tresses first thing. So, you do all the shots as your hair slowly falls throughout the day. And, of course, once you get soaked down to your roots, there are only about two shots you can do: Lying in the water, and coming out of the water. So you save them for last. The only downside to this admittedly efficient use of resources is that the very end of the day tends to be cold, and swimwear is always shot out of season in the middle of winter to begin with.
This is exactly what a fashion shoot is like. There are all these people — way more people than you think could actually be necessary, but without whom, believe me, nothing could get done — standing around, wearing their normal clothes, working. Holding bounces and shades, calling out F-stop numbers, taking note of which direction the clouds are moving and whether the necklace you're wearing is catching the light well. The makeup artist is poised, ready to jump in the shot if your face is reading shiny, or if she missed a spot with the bronzer on your leg. The stylist's assistant will adjust your suit if it's tangled. She might even re-tie your bow if it's not to her liking. It's a group affair, and yet what emerges from this multicharacter drama is this tiny, little rectangle that's cut out of the very middle. I love that SI included so many behind-the-scenes shots on its website, because this — the distance between the fantasy of the final photograph and the reality of the team dynamic behind it — is what I find so hard to convey in words.
Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition 2009 [Sports Illustrated]
Related: The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue By The Numbers [The Cut]