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Behind the Scenes With Garance Doré as She Captures French Cool for Maison Jules

What it's like to be on set with the famed blogger/photographer.

It’s a little past 10 a.m. on a Tuesday in December, and I am rushing to catch a car waiting for me at airport in Charleston, South Carolina. Back in New York it is snowing, and many flights had been cancelled the night before -- I barely made it out at 8 a.m. this particular morning. This is not such a problem for me, per se, but it sure is for the two women who rush past me. As they practically sprint down the jetway to catch their own rides, I think to myself that it kind of sucks to be them right now. Only because I know that one is a makeup artist and the other a model, and they were due on set at 6 a.m. Because of the weather, they are now at least four hours late.

I am here to shadow renowned blogger Garance Doré while she shoots the spring campaign for Macy's in-house line Maison Jules (full disclosure: Macy’s has paid for my trip). I am both intrigued watching Doré work (full disclosure: she is one of my favorite photographers), and curious about the line. When it launched last fall -- the wares are now in 150 out of 700 stores, as well as on the company’s website -- Macy’s executives positioned it as a more affordable answer to super buzzy overseas brands, such as Maje, Sandro and Zadig & Voltaire. The perfect clothes for It girls, inspired by French street style (full disclosure: I am a Francophile).

How fitting, then, that the company snagged Doré to photograph not only the debut fall images (featuring Parisian blogger Jeanne Damas), but this round as well. “We love the way she gets the campaign,” says Nancy Slavin, SVP of marketing for Macy’s Merchandising Group. “It sort of feels like that instantaneous moment in time, that sort of street style photography.” She tells me that digital is a huge part of the roll-out strategy for the campaign, so that feeling of spontaneity is key. In other words, the company hired Doré to do Doré.

There are 13 looks to knock out in this now-shortened day. By the time I arrive at the first location -- a curios and antiques shop with a glass storefront and huge framed mirrors of myriad sizes hanging from the walls -- it is little past noon and the crew is ready to go. All in all, there are about 15 of us, including a nice policeman watching our two vans.

Doré emerges from the space, and she cuts quite a figure in person. Tall, with her pixie hair tucked into a gray beanie, she has one of those warm, invitingly beautiful faces with a smile that just lights up a room, not unlike a younger Isabella Rossellini or Annette Bening. She’s looks both fashionable and relaxed in a gray bomber with patent leather sleeves from Iris & Ink, black silk Equipment button-down, gray cashmere sweats from COS and black-on-black slip-on Vans. With her unassuming air of cool and charming accent, she yells out, “Already, everybody, first shot!” Seemingly game and upbeat, she’s not showing any signs of stress that she’s got one hell of a day cut out for her.

The model, Anna Speckhart (an American, who kind of looks like a less commercial Megan Fox, with her bright blue eyes and heavy brows), dressed in a navy dress with sky blue polka dots under a neon yellow cardigan, all cinched in a devil-may-care way with a thin brown belt, takes her mark in the glass storefront.

Doré, who primarily shoots sitting down on an apple box, starts firing away. Immediately, it becomes clear that she is no dictator, but rather casual and girlfriend-y, as she makes suggestions to Speckhart to maybe cross her legs, laugh a little, perhaps look into the distance. She nudges her to look more natural, and gets up to demonstrate a sort of slouchy stance that she’s going for. “I don’t have a huge ego—for me, it’s a very collaborative thing,” Doré tells me later over tea back at the hotel. “I was just thinking about my first [big] shoot, because it was very intense, I really didn’t know how to behave because I never assisted. I hadn’t had experience. This is different. I wanted to make it a nice day for everybody. The shoot is not about me; it’s about making good pictures.”

After only 15 minutes of clicking, Doré pauses and tells the Macy’s gang on hand (Maryellen Needham, VP of creative, and Caryle Cruz, creative director) that she thinks it’s good. The group rushes back to a computer mounted on a tripod and after some chatter decides that, yes, she got the shot. Two more looks (including Doré’s favorite of the day, a denim jacket over a pair of pinstriped jeans) play out similarly in the space. That’s three down, and it’s only 12:40. On to the next location.

We relocate to the French Quarter, where the streets are paved with cobblestones and the houses have quaint window boxes full of flowers. The production director, Georgina Koren, and assistant, Evan Schafer, had scouted a perfect charming little alleyway the night before. And here’s where the French girl tropes start coming out in spades -- a wicker basket filled with a baguette and fresh vegetables, complete with bushel of carrots that still have their leafy tops as if plucked straight from the farmer’s market, an old-fashioned bike, a vanilla ice cream cone and most adorably, a little white dog.

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Now, Doré seems truly in her element. These are “action” shots, capturing Speckhart strolling down the alley, biking down the road, casually walking the dog. Doré has abandoned her apple box, and fervently clicks away while shuffling backwards (unlike a lot of photographers on a shoot like this, she doesn’t tether her camera to the monitor, so she can actually move). If you didn’t know any better, you might think she were outside the Tuileries during Paris Fashion Week, shooting editors as they scurry past. “Sometimes spending too much time on a picture will make it look more 'made,'” Doré explains. “I’m a street style photographer, so I know how to capture something in one minute. People don’t give you a lot of time, so I have the training of making things happen and using my environment the best I can. Before I take someone’s picture, I ask myself, ‘OK, where is the light? Where is [an interesting] wall or background? How I can make the person look great the way I see her?’”

A few neighbors have come out to watch, standing in their doorways looking on curiously. Doré has no problems plopping herself in the middle the street, ducking out of the way when an occasional car passes by, shouting a, “Sorry! Sorry!” as she laughs and jumps right back into position. The policeman seems mildly amused. When an outfit isn’t looking just right, when it just doesn’t seem to be hitting that perfect note of casual cool, she improvises, giving Speckhart her own iPhone to use in the shot, and handing over her Ray-Bans to complete the outfit. Looking this effortless is, no surprise, actually a lot of effort.

It’s now 3:30. We’re five looks in at this location, and 10 for the day total. Somewhat miraculously, Doré has managed to keep everything on track.

The crew packs up and it’s off to -- what else? -- Charleston’s answer to a brasserie, a very French-looking cafe appropriately named Rue de Jean. With a lot of the pressure dissipated, Doré orders a cappuccino while Speckhart changes, and goofs around with her first assistant, Eva Tuerbl, sharing drags off a cigarette. Hanging around the restaurant’s patio, she looks like she could be the subject of a Frenchified shoot herself. On her blog, Doré has become somewhat of a resident expert on the whole la Parisienne thing, writing a lot on the fascination us Yanks seem to have with le cool (she is from Corsica, but it seems the general country association is good enough).

“I’m very amazed at how questions I get about this,” Doré says. “But I’m not super surprised -- there is an easiness about [the look], something that can be interesting for American people.” She goes on to describe her “Parisian woman” so to speak. “She has a sense of humor,” Doré explains. “I think fashion is a way for her to express herself, but not something she does for approval. She’s smart and that makes her not have to show off. She’s trying to make her life interesting and is not a victim. I think it’s very inclusive, I think we can all be that woman.”

Speckhart emerges in a cream sweater with a graphic florescent green and hot pink heart emblazoned across the front, and cute black cropped pants. Doré has her sit at a table, pretending to read a menu. A chic little white cup and saucer is added to the frame, to give it that extra little “zing” of continental appeal. At this point, the gang has it down like clockwork -- within minutes we are shooting inside the cafe at the bar. This is the only moment of the day when things feel like a “real” photo shoot, as in more staged and less spontaneous. Scrims and lights are brought in, and whole room is blocked off for the proceedings. The energy, which had been somewhat lagging (hence those cappuccinos) picks up.

But the moment is over quickly. There is one last shot everyone wants to get down by the water, and light is fading fast. The crew packs up the equipment like a well-oiled machine, and we’re back in the vans to another cobblestone intersection, this one by the bay. Doré snaps her final frames of the day (at this point, it seems that Doré has just said “eff it” to the apple box, back pain be damned, and just crouches low to the ground). After the final outfit -- a little red dress under a graphic black-and-white striped cardigan -- she shouts, “That’s it wrap!” Everyone hugs, grateful that they were able to get it all done.

At last, back the hotel, Doré is slumped in an overstuffed couch, sipping a cup of Earl Grey tea. I ask Doré, who has forgone a massage to do the interview -- maybe she was more stressed than she let off -- if clients expect her to post on her blog, and how she navigates that line between church and state, i.e. editorial and advertising. “I’m really clear with that,” Doré says. “I’ve always told my clients and my agents that my blog is not for sale.” That said, she does post about her commercial work (she’s done jobs for Love Moschino, Superga, J.Crew, & Other Stories and Tiffany & Co., often in collaboration with her boyfriend, Scott Schuman of The Sartorialist). “I choose my clients because I believe in them,” she states. “When I talk about them [on my blog], it’s because I’m proud of them or I have something interesting to show. And also I think people are interested in seeing what I work on.”

Later, on the phone with Slavin, I ask how much Doré’s digital reach (she has about 260,000 Twitter followers, 162,000 and counting on Instagram) came into play when hiring her. “It’’s certainly part of it,” she says. “We love the editorial content around her blog and social media. And in general, there is sort of this fine line between advertising and editorial and social media these days -- is it advertising, is it organic communication? It certainly helps to have a photographer spokesperson to also push out the images of the campaign, but it’s only a slice of the total strategy.”

When my chat with Doré comes to an end, the topic of conversation naturally turns to fashion. We start gabbing about our matching Isabel Marant Sohane coats, then about Mansur Gavriel...the conversation is so easy that I have to remind myself that I haven’t known Doré for more than a day, and that she is not my best friend. But it’s this open, unassuming quality that draws women out in her photographs, makes them appear genuinely happy, relaxed and comfortable. I saw it firsthand on set, and, if its this kind of authenticity that Macy’s was hoping to capture for Maison Jules, well, they got it.