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May 27, 2009

Meet Mark Connolly: CNT Style Director

Marktotherescue!
Mark zip-lining in Nicaragua.
See, he doesn't just do Chanel.

You all met Style Director Mark Connolly when he was in Milan and Paris for fashion, fashion, fashion. The Daily Traveler feels like you need a proper introduction, so we cornered Mark for a Q & A session right before he left for his next photo shoot in India.

How many shoots are you doing per year now?

About five, I think. 

How much are your shoots ideas for what people can actually wear and how much are they fantasies?

If you look at Nicaragua (see Condé Nast Traveler's May 2009 issue), that's very wearable. That's easy breezy, what you could wear if you wanted to dress chicly on vacation. But there's no set clear answer to that question. You can look at the stories as fantasy, you can shop them, or a combination of both. I'd love it if people bought clothes off the pages, but I just want them to enjoy it. I mean, I want to give a sense of experience--it's a narrative telling a story via clothes with the models almost like actresses. The clothes give them a character, and that helps you have a multi-layered experience of the place. (God, that was good!)

So are things in place for the next shoot in India?

Never say never. You just never know; everything can seem to be in place and everything can fall by the wayside in 24 hours. Just right now we learned there were major problems with our female model for India and that we might lose her, but I'm leaving tomorrow. 

Tiffany Gifford, associate style editor, told us about the problems on the Broome, Australia, shoot. Has there ever been a smooth shoot?

Yes, there has. The less places you go, generally, the smoother the shoot. I used to travel hours to go get a shot. Well, five years down the line I'm like, "You know what? I ain't doing that again." I started doing resort shoots the last two or three years, where you don't move because it's about the resort, and that's wonderful. I'd always thought no pain no gain, so I'd travel far and wide to get "the shot," climbing up a mountain for three hours to discover the most holy temple that your Buddhist guide has taken you to see, and we get there and go, "Nah, don't like it, it's not right." Three hours back down.

Back to India. What is your vision?

On the runways of New York, London, Paris, and Milan, there was a very strong feeling for '80s, but that '80s vibe was split into two camps. I had decided ahead of time where I was going to go for my fall/winter stories, and my story ideas fell exactly into the two camps that were on the runways. Now what you're just about to see falls into the Bonfire of the Vanities, devil-may-care, "What recession?" camp. There was a lot of optimism during the shows; I was very surprised. There was an almost kind of pile-it-on, dare I say borderline vulgar feel to a lot of the clothes.

Is that where Beth Ditto falls?

(Laughs) That was a black-sequined bra.

So is that recession-chic or devil-may-care?

Where would I put Beth Ditto in that mix? She's certainly confident and devil-may-care, and she's certainly hitting big as we are in a recession, so, I guess she covers both camps?
 
Anyway, the India story is clearly full of optimism and joie de vivre. There's a mixture of '80s meets '40s and a mismatched, slightly wacky quality. I'm not suggesting that people necessarily go out looking like our model is going to head-to-toe because it's certainly, um, eye-catching. There's almost a whiff of Sex and the City about it. All of the looks are highly stylized and very individual, whereas often, there's a strong theme to the stories that I do.

Does Tiffany leave with you tomorrow?

Yes. I could not do this job without an assistant. She has to deal with customs and the steaming and the ironing of the clothes and the arranging and particularly when youre doing a fitting and you've racks and racks of clothes& I've got to look at the model in the stuff, I've got to style her in front of the team to let them know what my vision is and then, you know, the clothes get dumped on the floor, the next look's on, and throughout the day, the same thing. I've got to be focused on the vision, the location, the hair and makeup, what the model's doing, what photo is shooting, whether we're in total accord, the weather, the production side of things: Are we getting everything done? Are we getting enough done during the day? Is the balance of the pictures right? Is the balance of panorama versus fashion right? Is everybody fed? Is everybody up on time? So it's kind of like being a money manager, a producer, a stylist, and the entertainments officer all in one; that kind of sums up the job. You're usually first up, you're usually last to go to bed.

What keeps you doing this after all these years?

There are still more places in the world to discover. Also, I still love fashion; I get a real buzz out of seeing shows. And the fact that my work never needs to be the same--I am never repeating. I mean, sometimes I've been to the same destination a couple of times, but I see it through fresh eyes. There's no repetition in what I do. India will look and is completely different from Saigon, which is completely different than Nicaragua was. The beauty of my job is that fashion changes twice a year. I get to play with a whole new set of equipment, or a whole new bag of toys, twice a year. That's amazing! And then I get to interpret places around the world, or even if I've been to a destination, I get to look at it in a different way. So it's still exciting.

Audio Slideshow: Mark Connolly on a shoot in Vietnam

Want Mark to blog more? Make your pleas in comments and we'll convince him to stay. And stay tuned because later this week we'll post the story of Mark's worst shoot ever.

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