Palm Springs area gets its close-up in fashion photo shoots
Mariecar Mendoza, The Desert Sun
March 17, 2012 Fashion Week El Paseo — a nine-day showcase of Southern California style — is in full swing with renewed relevance, given the fashion industry's fascination with the Coachella Valley's signature mod style and palm tree-dotted landscapes.
With its predictably blue skies, chic midcentury modern architecture and raw desert landscape, Palm Springs and its surroundings have long provided ideal settings for retail and high-fashion photo shoots.
“The variety of looks that we have really makes this a dream for people,� said Sylvia Schmitt, a location scout with the Bermuda Dunes-based Locations Unlimited Inc. “We really have it all.”
Sheri Davis, director of the Inland Empire Film Commission, a nonprofit agency that markets the region to producers, said photo shoots are one of the biggest moneymakers for the Coachella Valley.
In 2009, photo stills comprised nearly 55 percent of the revenue brought into Riverside County
from the entertainment and advertising industries. And the bulk of those images were shot in the desert.
Schmitt, who was recently named the Best Location Scout in Inland Empire Magazine, knows this firsthand.
“In September, usually right after Labor Day, is when the phone starts ringing after a three-month summer hiatus,” Schmitt said. “This season, it's been the biggest yet for the desert and it's still going strong.”
The calls come from around the world requesting various hot spots in the valley, including the Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway (Playboy featuring model/actress Jenny McCarthy); The Classic Club (Victoria's Secret); the Elrod House (Hugo Boss); Joshua Tree National Park (Men's Health Magazine shoot involving actor Matthew McConaughey); and the Palm Springs Air Museum (Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition).
Schmitt began securing photo shoot locations in the desert in 1989 with Spiegel, a women's fashion catalog. But it wasn't until three years later when Annie Leibovitz's office called about finding a midcentury modern home for a Rolling Stone magazine cover that the boom hit.
“She really put Palm Springs on the map for photo shoots,” Schmitt said, “and it's just kept growing from there.”
Brad Bruskotter, a producer for New York-based Bam Productions, said his company shoots in the Coachella Valley for various clients anywhere from eight to a dozen or more times a year.
Bruskotter said Next, a UK clothing line, particularly likes to use the stark white, mod-sleek buildings of the desert for its backdrop.
“The clean lines and natural light really help enhance the products we shoot,” he said, adding that when a client wants to shot a midcentury modern-inspired fashion line, Palm Springs is definitely a go-to location.
But Schmitt emphasizes that the valley's diverse landscapes makes it appealing beyond midcentury modern fashion shoots.
One of Schmitt's more memorable experiences was in Thousand Palms, where she was asked to transport models to an exotic land. The four- day-long shoot was set just north of Cook Street and Interstate 10 for a Macy's magazine insert.
“They didn't want to travel to Africa so they shot it here,” Schmitt said, adding that she even had to bring in a baby giraffe for one day.
The biggest advantage, experts say, is that the mild desert climate works with fashion campaign schedules.
From September through December, retailers and fashion collections are focused on their spring and summer collections.
That's what brought Bobbi Peacock, a Minneapolis-based freelance print producer, and Target to Palm Springs for two weeks this past December.
“We needed the green grass and the weather for that summertime feel that Palm Springs provides,” Peacock said.
Several images for Target showed the distinct blue outdoor carpets of Rendezvous that lines the Palm Springs bed and breakfast's pool, while other photos featured manicured green grass and palm trees in the background.
“In December, how many places in the country can you go with blue skies and flowers?” Schmitt said, adding that the Coachella Valley's two biggest competitors are Los Angeles and Miami.
She backtracks, however, and adds: “We have something that Miami and L.A. doesn't, which is desert terrain.”
During the valley's winter and spring months, Schmitt said her clients are looking ahead to their fall and winter spreads, and turn to the cool but not frigid temperatures of the desert. Eddie Bauer is just one client slated to come to town for a shoot later this month for its fall catalog.
“I do a lot of location work in the country, but for Target I think Palm Springs was a perfect fit,” added Peacock, who has been in the industry for more than a decade.
“It just seemed like there was something for everyone to do when we weren't working,” she said. “And it really was a beautiful backdrop to work with.