Recently I watched the 1927 silent film, Metropolis. I had never seen it before, and I was absolutely blown away by not only the set designs and costumes but also by the topics the film touched on. Absolutely groundbreaking during the time it was made, and it really is a pivotal, important film. During the garden scene at the beginning of the film, you witness young upper-class people prancing around in gaudy outfits, laughing and having a wonderful time. One such outfit really caught my eye—it looked to be a Marie Antoinette-inspired skirt. I immediately had a vision of a character wearing a similar skirt, completely covered in flowers...and knew I had to construct it.
The day I got the call about my mother’s passing, I had spent time up in a wisteria tree, shooting images of a friend posing down below me. The smell of the blossoms was heavenly, sweet and soft. After shooting images of her, I couldn’t help but hang out in the upper branches of the tree for a bit, drinking in the scent of the beautiful lavender flower clusters that so closely resembled grapes. I remember feeling happy and content in those moments...less than an hour from receiving a life-changing phone call.
Wisteria is now branded into my memories as a direct link to my mother. And it feels fitting—she had such an extraordinary green thumb, and our home was never short on magnificent hanging baskets brimming with flowers and greenery. For this reason, I decided the skirt would be made up of hundreds of wisteria. That was the original decision I made...however, I soon realized that wouldn’t work so well.
I knew the wisteria would be blooming around mid May, when she passed, and so I planned the shoot for a weekend in mid May. However, during the first week of May, I noticed wisteria blooming everywhere—so early. I admit I got a bit panicky, worrying that they’d be long gone by the time the shoot came around. Knowing I’d need a ridiculous amount of them, each time I went driving, I kept my eyes open for bountiful wisteria vines. Most of which were in someone’s yard or in one case: hanging over a massive sign at a main, traffic-congested intersection.
I took a small sample of wisteria and tried freezing it, knowing it likely wouldn’t work, but being curious as to the outcome. Sure enough, as soon as I took the frozen stem out of the freezer, the delicate buds dropped off one by one. I realized that even with the stems fresh, the buds were incredibly delicate and even a bit sparse. The amount of wisteria stems that would be needed to cover an entire giant skirt was basically out of the question, once I dwelt on it. I also hoped for lilacs, which were in full bloom already in early May as well. Their succulent scent and full clusters seemed perfect. But by the time the weekend of the shoot rolled around, the lilacs I’d found were all browning and dying off. So, instead, I decided to gather up loads of light-purple rhododendrons and darker purple wildflowers that were growing readily off the side of a local freeway... I didn’t want to completely abandon the wisteria, so I decided I’d still harvest plenty of that and then sprinkle it onto certain areas of the outfit.
I commissioned my friend Matt to make the base of the skirt. I told him of my vision for the shoot, and he and I set about trying to figure out the logistics of how to make a base for such an enormous and what would be very heavy skirt. Finally, he had the brilliant idea of using a wicker basket! I went out to a local thrift shop and picked up a basket that was absolutely perfect, along with a light purple sheet to use for the flowers. I supplied Matt with an old belt of mine and the basket, and he went to work creating the base. As per usual, he blew my mind with the finished product—not only was it completely stable and capable of holding plenty of weight, he’d made it adjustable with PVC pipes in the back.
The weekend of the shoot arrived, and Cassie, who’d come up to my place for the weekend for all of our chaotic shooting, was happy and willing to help with working on this magnificent skirt which we knew would basically need to be assembled and shot all on the same day, lest the flower wilt. She took to work sewing the sheet to the wicker basket, looping it through over and over again so that it wouldn’t tear under the weight it would eventually hold.
Cassie and I decided to get up early on Sunday morning, the day we would be shooting, and go out and scavenge wildflowers first thing. I’d originally hoped to harvest flowers the day before, giving more time to put together the skirt, but after consideration, I realized that fresh flowers, even in water, would begin wilting in that time.
Sunday morning arrived, and, Cassie and I, in all our glory (by which I mean pajamas, fresh-out-of-bed styling, and half-asleep demeanors) basically rolled ourselves into my car and shoved off to get flowers, around 8am. I knew of only three local spots where wisteria was growing, two of which were very public areas. One public spot was at the entrance to a residential area, but the wisteria hung nice and low, and the flowers were a lovely shade of lavender, so we knew we needed to go there. We parked in the neighborhood, scissors and trashbags in hand. Like pajama ninjas in broad daylight, we not-so-stealthily made our way over to the abundant wisteria, delicately clipping flowers that were easy to access, taking care not to damage the vines. The way in which we collected the flowers was quite actually good for the vines, which sorely needed pruning. So it all worked out!
We returned back to my house with wisteria, rhododendrons in droves, and some of the aforementioned darker wildflowers which we’d gathered, in our pajamas, off the side of the freeway... We took to work hot-gluing the flowers to the skirt and spent a solid one and a half hours or so working on it. Eventually Cassie departed to tend to her hair and makeup, which she did a phenomenal job on, might I add! My friend Alli soon arrived and helped us load up the hefty flower skirt into the back of her car, and she also assisted in pinning the pretty sheer purple fabric that made up Cassie’s top for the shoot. I haphazardly pinned wisteria into Cassie’s hair, and we took off to the shoot location, not five minutes from my house.
Carrying the skirt from the car to the location was a two-person effort, so Alli and I tag-teamed it while Cassie brought up the rear. Once I’d scouted the exact location for Cassie to stand, she delicately stepped into the skirt, and then we adjusted the belt to her and repinned the top as needed. I also wanted feathers to be floating in the air, so Alli took to work tearing open a down pillow and spraying feathers everywhere while I shot.
I was feeling a bit disappointed in the lighting until the sun very briefly dipped down into a window between leaves and branch, casting a beautiful golden glow into the wood. I quickly relocated Cassie to accommodate the lighting and was able to snag a few shots before thirty seconds passed, and the moment was gone. But I had gotten my shot. It was a whirlwind of a shoot filled with a lot of laughter, and though the skirt only lasted for one day, I do feel that our efforts were not in vain.
The following is a beautiful behind-the-scenes video that both Cassie and I shot, solely edited by Cassie. Have a look!