Traditionally, Damaris & I have shot the Mimi Holliday & Damaris campaigns against a white backdrop in a studio environment. In the past, we toyed with changing it up and using a location but it just hadn’t come into fruition. We’d often worked with the fantastic Props Stylist Anna Siberia who’d brought her magic to the studio and so far, it had worked really well.
In mid-October last year, I got a call from Sarah Jenkins, Mimi Holliday’s fantastic PR/Producer at the time, asking if I could go to Paris in November.
“I know it’s last minute,” she said.
“It’s to shoot the AW17 Campaign, we’ve decided to go for it and shoot on location, it will be amazing! I have a great place in mind.”
“Oh Wow,” I replied.
“Of course, I’m sure I can make it work, I’ll check the dates but I’d love to do it! How exciting, Paris, I love Paris!”
Sarah said she’d be in touch and that they were hoping to organise it as soon as possible. A couple of days later, my email pinged and there in my inbox was a picture of the most beautiful, idyllic forest cabin I’d ever seen. The email was from Damaris. “What do you think?! Isn’t it heavenly? Norway, not Paris!”
“Absolutely!” I replied, “It looks amazing, but Norway in November for lingerie?! Err, won’t it be pretty cold? And dark?”
“Noooo, it will be heaven!" Damaris assured me.
"It’s SO beautiful! I’ve just fallen in love with the cabin.”
Our traditional Norwegian cabin in the forest.
Back to basics: inside the cabin.
OK, why not?! I’d never been to Norway, heard the light & scenery was incredible and if we could get it right the pictures would be amazing. Sarah & I set about starting to see if we could get the wheels in motion on getting a team to Norway in time & on budget. It was decided we’d keep the team small and Damaris really wanted a model who was very naturally beautiful, with a slightly Scandinavian feel to her.
The original inspiration mood board for the shoot.
I had a clear picture in my mind of the right girl and it was decided that if we found her, we would go without someone to do hair & make-up; the model would do this herself and rather than that being purely about budget it was also about the girl being ‘real’. Damaris and I have both always agreed that the often over made up, over glamourised approach to shooting lingerie is, as women, not something we can relate to. So, we started the search for our Norway Mimi Girl!
Towards the end of October, Sarah started casting for models. It’s really important to meet the ladies in person to see how they fit the lingerie, but also because you’ll be away as a team for a period of time, sleeping, eating and working together so you want to know you’ll all get on! It’s probably the most vital thing for me to know I can have a laugh with the model I’m photographing. It doesn’t always work like that, but you certainly get better pictures if there’s a good relationship there. I got a WhatsApp from Sarah towards the end of the casting with pictures of an elfin faced blonde model called Alice Topps. She fitted the lingerie perfectly and had that slightly Scandinavian look we were after. After seeing Alice, the shoot began to fall into place in my head - I just hoped that she was free on the dates we wanted to go!
Casting our gorgeous model Alice.
After much back & forth with planning, it turned out the cabin had no electricity or running water; it was fuelled by fire wood and lit by candles. I had to make sure all the photo kit I was bringing from London was battery powered because there certainly weren’t any plug points in the forest. Also, it was going to be -13 degrees, so I needed to pack lots of layers, a warm coat & gloves that I could still move around in to take pictures in relatively easily. We tried & failed to organise getting a generator delivered to the cabin, so we’d just have to make it work. The cabin, situated in the forest above the centre of the city of Trondheim, overlooking Litjvatnet Lake was called ‘Sommerro’, which translates as ‘Summer Calm’. We would however, be bringing the Winter madness to the forest! Traditionally these cabins are summer holiday homes, so they sit mainly empty in the winter & the lake would be frozen, with thick snow covering the surrounding area. We were up for the adventure!
Aside from the challenges an absence of electricity brings to a photoshoot, the Winter in Norway also means very few daylight hours. It gets light around 8.30-9am and it starts getting dark at 3pm so I’d need to bring lighting from London too. I’m a big fan of natural light so it was a concern that we’d be able to make the pictures look naturally beautiful in the time frame we had.
The Mimi Holliday collections are big so, I knew I’d need to shoot quickly to get everything done. To our delight, we got our favourite model Alice on board and a small but perfectly formed team: myself, Damaris, Sarah, my Photo Assistant Michaela, and Alice. The five of us traveled from London to Trondheim the first week of November. Finally, we were off!
Aeroplane Goodbye England! The view from the skies over Norway.
The cabin wasn’t big enough for the whole team to stay in so, Sarah had booked us an Airbnb apartment in Trondheim city centre. We’d have a hire car and travel back & forth from our temporary home to the location. Arriving in Trondheim, the first thing that hits you is the bracing cold! But it’s very dry in the air so it feels fresh and the light is beautiful, both blue and golden.
Damaris kindly took the wheel of our car on the drive from the airport to Trondheim. She is a fearless driver and perhaps has a second career in Formula1 waiting for her, icy motorways in a foreign country are not my forte! On the way, we passed a lake that looked almost liquid black as the light faded. I’d heard Norway was incredibly beautiful and that first glance is as clear in my mind’s eye now as when I first saw it. We were all so excited to have arrived!
The 'black lake'.
The beautifully quaint town of Trondheim.
The first evening would be spent at our apartment, unpacking and planning the shoot the next day. We’d be getting up early to drive to the cabin, so we settled into our cosy town flat, ventured out for a quick bite to eat then back for a good nights rest!
Rising early for the first shoot day, we wanted to be on the road by 7am as the cabin was around a 30-minute drive, even longer when you don’t know the roads! All five of us piled into the car with the Mimi AW17 collection & camera kit on what was a beautiful sunny start to the day.
The stunning sunrise over a frozen lake, en-route to our cabin.
As we weaved our way from Trondheim into the hills & forest it was clear we were entering fairly uninhabited territory. The snow got thicker and the roads icier the higher we climbed, we didn’t pass another car and the houses got fewer and fewer. About half an hour in, we realised we were totally & utterly lost!
Driving in circles around the snow covered roads on the outskirts of Trondheim.
No matter how many ways we put the postcode into our Satnav and iPhones, we could not find the cabin. After driving around in circles with everyone getting increasingly anxious that we were missing the best part of the daylight, we stopped to get directions. Soon we came across a steep incline opposite a house and there above us, up a narrow snow covered and very steep path, was our cabin! Incredibly relived to have found it, we charged up the hill to take a look around. The setting was perfect, sitting in a nook of trees with an incredible view of the surrounding lake and icicles hanging from the roof. What wasn’t so perfect, however, was the inside of the cabin. Many guests coming and going had left the inside a little unloved and a lot of the lovely interior details from the pictures we’d seen didn’t seem to be in place.
Undeterred, we set about getting our kit inside and getting the cabin looking and feeling a whole lot warmer. We’d brought some props and candles from London and there were plenty of candles in the cabin. At the bottom of the hill lived a very helpful Norwegian family who had plenty of firewood we could use and the magic of what we’d seen in the pictures started to come alive. There was an old chimney stove to heat up water and food, one outside toilet, all incredibly basic and a pretty good test for a team from London who were used to having everything at their fingertips!
Getting warm by the fire.
Once the fires were all going and the cabin was heating up we all started to relax. We needed to get Alice warm enough to get her into the first set of underwear and slowly inside began to get toasty. The plan was to start shooting in the cabin; the surrounding area outside was amazing, but it’s always good to get the model comfortable first and find your feet with the first few pictures. Inside the cabin was incredibly dark, but with all the candles lit and my tripod handy we decided that long exposures would work best to make the images feel dream-like, with that old 35mm film quality. Keeping the shots in focus was tricky - there were quite a few times when Michaela, my Photo Assistant, had to help me out with shining a torch on the model or holding something up for me to focus the camera on. It worked out in the end! I had brought some flash heads, so we positioned them to ‘fake’ the daylight so we could keep shooting past daylight hours. It’s so great when you finally take the first picture. A photoshoot is a bit like an ever-emerging picture puzzle and until you have that first frame, no matter how organised your plan, you can’t predict which direction the day will take. We sat Alice as close to the fire as possible, put the warmer styling pieces on her and, would you believe, the very first frame of that first picture made the cut in the final campaign! Alice was perfect in the setting & had the relaxed disposition we’d wanted.
The first frame from the first shot, that actually made it into the final campaign!
Michaela helping me test the focus. We got there in the end!
The first morning we made really good progress and we all felt confident that the images were turning out well. As we started to near midday and our picnic lunch of fish pie was put on the stove, we were all a little distracted and focused on the pictures. I noticed a smoky smell, not sure if it was the wood fire, the immense number of candles we had on the go or potentially just how the stove smelt in a Norwegian forest cabin. We weren’t too worried until it became evident that the chimney above the stove had caught fire! After a rather dramatic exit from the cabin and Sarah putting the fire out, we wondered if we had potentially lost our location for the next couple of days. We went to find the Farmer from the bottom of the hill to see if he could help and lend us some more firewood. You burn through it at an incredible rate at -13 degrees!
Not just a pretty face; Alice and her firewood!
It was rather strange seeing this incredibly tall, old Norwegian Farmer standing in the cabin surrounded by women, candles and lingerie. He probably wondered what on earth we were up to, but he took it in his stride. He very kindly suggested we leave the stove alone and showed us how to use the gas heaters instead. After the cabin had been aired, we returned to business. Never one to be deterred, Damaris transferred the fish pie into an open kettle that hung in the fire place to heat up. Alice said this was one of her favourite moments of the shoot - I guess it’s not often you get your lunch heated up over an open fire in a kettle!
We shot quite late into the evening that first day, but once the dust settled everything flowed perfectly and our little cabin twinkled into the evening with beautiful Alice being a total trooper. It ended, of course, with one of Damaris’ famous and seriously strong homemade Cosmopolitans!
Shooting in the evenings.
Shoot Day Two!
Driving back to our cabin early morning once again, a little less lost, today was time to brave the outside! The surrounding forest outside the cabin and the jetty that led down to the frozen lake were absolutely stunning. We were treated to another beautifully sunny day and everyone was in good spirits. We would need to keep Alice really warm today if she was going to be willing to strip off outside down to her Mimi undies. We brought all sorts of heat pads, blankets & small hot water bottles with us to keep Alice at a decent temperature.
Preparing to shoot down at the lake - hot water bottles and blankets at the ready!
We eased Alice into the day by shooting some pictures of her leaning out of the cabin windows in her bra and in the immediate surroundings of the cabin.
Testing the temperatures; Alice looking gorgeous in the 'Kiss Chase' collection.
Mornings at the cabin.
As we headed through snowy fields down to the lake, the sun streamed down and the little waterside house by the lake remained quiet. We were definitely here out of season! But luckily for us it meant Alice would be able to get (nearly) naked without any onlookers. Even wrapped in blankets and with ear muffs firmly in place it was absolutely freezing, and the wonderful Alice didn’t once complain about the fact she was about to take her clothes off in sub-zero temperatures!
Staying warm until it's time to shine.
The whole team down by the lake, prepping for a day of shooting.
I took a few test pictures of my lovely Photo Assistant Michaela, and Damaris, who were both far more wrapped up in their many layers. Whilst testing the light, (which, by the way, looked heavenly in the shots) I appreciated exactly how cold it was when my gloves had to come off and my fingers were numb after about two minutes!
L: My lovely Photo Assistant Michaela, and R: Damaris Evans, both helping me test the light by the lake.
Once Alice was in position down on the jetty, Sarah would stand as close as possible out of shot with Alice’s dressing gown, ready to wrap her up. The sun certainly helped and Alice was amazing, posing as if she were in Caribbean heat. It meant we flew through the pictures! We all agreed the light & the setting were perfect and as long as Alice was happy to keep going we’d shoot for as long as we could by the Lake.
A true professional - amazing Alice showing no signs of the freezing cold!
As the light began to fade, the lake remained beautiful and the last shots of Alice in a black bodysuit as the evening light turned blue are some of my favourites. Different from the fresh sun & shimmering water of earlier in the day, but still so beautiful.
Some of my favourite shots - by the lake as the light fades into the evening.
We found out whilst we were over there that one of the shareholders of Mimi Holliday, Yontorre Eastmond's triple great grandfather was a great warrior of Norway called Tordenskiold. We visited one of the many statues of him - there's ten in total! Another fun fact - his great great great uncle was the artist Edward Munch.
The statue of the Norwegian Warrior in Trondheim.
As we neared the end of the shoot, we were keen to get a picture of Alice in the amazing pom-pom bodysuit in one of the snowy fields. We hot footed it to our friendly Norwegian Farmer to ask if we could take the picture in the field below his house that was covered in thick snow. Having had a sneak peek of the lack of clothing Alice was wearing, he explained it would be fine but that his house doubled up as a nursery, so the picture had to be taken before the parents came to collect their children that evening! We had to move quickly but Alice was amazing as always and gave us all her energy for the last picture. Even though we’d stuck to the time frame the farmer had set, to our surprise the parents began arriving early, so instead of their usual view of fields, forest & tractors they were greeted by Alice’s lovely naked bottom posing in the snow! Before we got into any more trouble we wrapped Alice back up and headed up the hill to our little cabin to pack down.
Shooting the final frames in the snowy Farmer's field.
Oops! The parents arriving early, with a full view of Alice in a rather revealing bodysuit...!
All of us happy & relieved we’d managed to get everything photographed in time, bags packed & sad to leave our magical cabin, we made our way back to the car to weave ‘home’ to Trondheim. The last bag in the boot, we stared up at the night sky and there on that clear frosty night was a glimmer of green, then yellow, swirling and dancing in the dark. My first thought was that it was either strange smoke from a factory, or that we’d set something ELSE on fire! But no… It was the Northern Lights. We’d all completely forgotten that at this time of year you were likely to see them & however faint it was, they were definitely there in the sky! It was a magical end to a beautiful day as we drove off into the night, Damaris speeding through the snow.
L: My (slightly blurry!) photo of the Northern Lights. R: Ice, Ice, Baby - Alice showing just how freezing cold it was!
We all felt it had been a really special trip, and that it was definitely time for a strong Norwegian drink!
Fun & laughter behind the scenes.
Mimi Holliday AW17 is available online now.