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Behind The Scenes Of A Seventeen Photo Shoot With Gigi Solis Schanen


Like many people, I take a lot of things in life for granted. When I pop in at the local Barnes and Noble for a magazine buying frenzy I am definitely seduced by the various covers that call out to me. I am a sucker for anything with Sarah Jessica or Sarah Michelle smiling down at me from various cover poses.

I am an even bigger goner for any of the Jennifers (Aniston, Lopez, Garner). Did I ever consider what it actually took to make the cover celebrities breathtakingly beautiful? Ok, you caught me. I guess I just assumed they came that way. Well silly me.

Enter Gigi Solis Schanen, Seventeen Magazine’s fabulous Fashion Editor and master of many of the spectacular Seventeen covers and celebrity fashion photo essays that catch your eye. Gigi pulls together an amazing array of talents to create the finished cover works of art that you see on your newsstands. Don't be fooled, although the Seventeen covers and celebrity features always looks spectacular, I can vouch for the fact that they were not a snap to create.

A few months ago I had the incredible opportunity to personally watch Gigi work her fashion editing magic as she produced a Seventeen celebrity feature with Jessica Simpson in Plano, Texas that appeared at the end of 2002.

The shoot took place on location at the gorgeous Seventee Studio Spa Salon which is in the burbs outside of Dallas.

Trust me, the business of creating a beautiful feature or cover shoot is nothing short of extremely hard work. It requires a tremendous amount of planning and execution. Everything from selecting the proper model to pulling together just the right clothing, makeup and hairstyles, must be carefully executed. Once the right model has been selected and the shoot scheduled, it still takes many hours to set up each of the many shots that are taken. It also requires an entourage of people to handle the cameras, lighting, wardrobe, hair and make-up.

Starting early in the day and extending into the evening hours, Gigi constantly conferred with Jessica, her celebrity hairstylist Ken Paves and her make-up artist, Karen Mitchell, to communicate the goals of each shot. Following her lead, Paves and Mitchell went to work creating Jessica's many different looks.

Gigi's assistant who doubled as the shoot stylist had pre-selected Jessica's different wardrobe ensembles that ranged from a Seventeen spa robe and fuzzy slippers to a virginal white sweat suit. After each shoot was pronounced finished Gigi's assistant would stand by to assist Jessica with any clothing changes.

Stacks Of Polaroids

Holding court in the middle of each of the multiple shots, Gigi turned her experienced editor's eye on every test Polaroid snapped to check the lightening before the actual shot takes place. After many of the test shots Gigi would direct a repositioning of the lightening and the camera angles.

As the long day progressed Gigi became completely surrounded by stacks of fanned out Polaroids of potential shots in various stages of readiness.

Trying to be as unobtrusive as possible I managed to grab a few minutes of time with Gigi. Although she was constantly busy Gigi was very warm and friendly. She welcomed my questions and explained that she was able to chat briefly in between the different photo sessions while the cameras and lightening were being set up.

I was surprised to discover that Gigi was a native Texan. Although Gigi currently calls New York home, she grew up in Dallas, where she attended the legendary Hockaday School for young ladies. Gigi "loves New York" but she confided that she "does miss Neiman Marcus and some of the other great Dallas-only stores, which is one thing The City is currently lacking".

Gigi loves what she does and it shows. Starting with her first fashion related job for Details magazine in 1994, she has traveled the fashion editing highways from Vogue to Self and finally to her current position with Seventeen magazine.

Gigi has racked up a number of fabulously successful productions including 2002's stunning Sarah Michelle cover and the special Seventeen edition with the radiant Gwen Stephani cover. Gwen was completely decked out in stars and stripes and Gigi was very pleased with how well that magnificent cover took shape.

Although Gigi agreed that live photo shoots sometimes require her to travel to different locations, she was excited to do Jessica's shoot in her hometown. She also explained that she and another editor share photo shoot duties so that no one gets too burned out by a grueling shoot schedule.

Fabulous Array of Shots

Over the course of many hours Gigi orchestrated a fabulous array of shots that transformed Jessica into a wide range of stunning poses and looks. Exuding total serenity and coolness in the sea of constant activity, Gigi constantly conferred with the photographers, her assistant, the Seventeen writer and various members of Jessica's entourage.

Keeping things constantly moving forward, Gigi stopped only briefly to eat a sandwich, and confer on her cell phone to handle Seventeen related business.

Gigi was clear about the fact that she finds tremendous career fulfillment in her work with Seventeen. In her previous editing lives she had limited ability to unleash her creative juices.

Because Seventeen is a teen focused magazine, she explained that she “has more creative freedom to mix things up and create something new and fresh keeping in line with the magazine's celebrity subject and topic focus”. She loves “to mix and match the expensive with the cheap and the traditional with the hot and happening as she produces each photo essay”.


Although my only view of the results from that long day of shooting was stacks of spent photographs, I was eventually rewarded with the finished photos of Gigi's production in Seventeen's December 2002 issue.

Jessica looked beautiful, relaxed and natural like she had been spontaneously snapped while hanging out with some of her best buds at the local spa. In the past I would have probably assumed that Jessica's pics were the result of a quick snap by a random photographer that happened upon the blonde beauty at her local spa.

All of which goes to show you that a long day on a grueling photo shoot will teach you that there is no such thing as a simple snap. It also proves the point that if it looks like it was easy, it was a major accomplishment.

For Gigi Sois Schanen it was just another day doing what she loves best.

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- Revised Publication Date: 03/09/10

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