why the Devil wears Prada

Cover shoot off Wudaoying Hutong
Cover shoot off Wudaoying Hutong

I had no idea what I got myself into when I decided to join a Big Four accounting firm as a marketing consultant. I didn’t quite understand the job description I read online, nor the job description verbally provided by HR and the subsequent two interviewers. Because my first manager was such a laid back guy, it took me almost a month after I started work to understand my role and responsibilities.

One of the things I had not anticipated doing was organising an internal magazine cover photoshoot. Anyone who knows me for more than an hour will tell you I’m all about substance and almost zero about appearance. So when I was told to organise this photoshoot, I had to do the one thing that went against every fibre of my being — I had to scrutinise people’s appearance.

The first hurdle was choosing models. My colleague gave me a list of requirements and insisted on seeing pictures of all the good-looking people in the Beijing office. After deciding on the male model (a tanned, buff audit senior manager), we moved onto the arduous task of selecting the female model. All ladies with anything shorter than shoulder-length hair were eliminated. Ladies who sported a summer tan, dyed their hair an unnatural colour (maroon and purple) were eliminated. By the time we got rid of the ladies who looked awkward before the camera, we were left with 2 choices. And out of the two, I was only able to track down one. I wished my work ended here but it was not to be.

The second hurdle was selecting clothing for the shoot. Having been told we didn’t have the budget to buy clothing, I begged the models to send me pictures of both their professional and casual clothing. Again, we quickly decided what clothing the male model should bring and struggled with the lady. We said no to spaghetti strap jumpsuits, polka dot and other patterned dresses in bright pink, purple and electric blue and frilly tops and hotpants. I was almost in tears when my colleague in Hong Kong vetoed the fifth batch of clothing pictures sent over by the female model. I ended up wandering around in Zara after work, snapping pictures of clothing and wondering if I could just let the model wear it once and return it after the shoot. Such was the extent of my desperation. Eventually (I thought) I resolved my dilemma by sending my Zara pictures to the female model and asking her if she could produce similar clothing. We decided on the clothing she should bring for the shoot literally days before the shoot.

The third hurdle was appeasing the graphics guys who were forced to be professional photographers for an afternoon. The senior guy complained like a dripping tap that the female model was not good-looking and her make-up (which I did) was not up to scratch, and that it was tough taking pictures at the two outdoor locations I chose. I blame it on the hot weather when I eventually blew up at him, telling him off for not giving me clear prior instructions and for assuming I knew what went on on a photoshoot. To this day, I’m surprised by the quality of the end product. For copyright reasons, I can’t post their work here, but it was the work of pros.

Ever since completing this harrowing project, I’ve begun paying special attention to pretty ladies in the office, often refraining from asking for their names and extension numbers. I’ve also acquired a newfound respect for magazine editors who have to organise photoshoots on a daily basis. Last but not least, I now understand why fashion editors become the Devil Who Wears Prada.

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