Styling jewelry lookbook shoots can be complicated business. On the surface it may look like a bed of roses, but, as someone who has worked on many a jewelry shoot in my life, trust me when I say that what you see in, say, behind-the-scenes videos on Instagram are all smoke and mirrors. Unless yours is a brand that also offers clothing, it can be pretty daunting trying to figure out where and how to get clothes to style the jewelry with. When the RIVA New York team and I were planning out our spring/summer 2022 lookbook shoot, we were definitely, for a while there, confronted by this dilemma.
Some people were saying, “Just do away with clothing and just have them wear the jewelry, period!” This would almost be the default suggestion, and perhaps understandably so, because aren’t most of the jewelry imagery that’s indelibly imprinted in our minds those that involve, say, a model surfacing from the water, clutching herself, and completely au naturel, save for that one statement necklace? We had to say no to this, though. Not just because it’s off-puttingly retrograde, but because it belies the purpose of the lookbook—isn’t the lookbook supposed to show how the pieces can be styled in real life? Certainly no one is going through life wearing only their jewelry and calling that a look. Also: au naturel is just not the RIVA New York vibe. Others suggested just taking the model out of the equation altogether and that would obviate the need for clothes. They’re right, but it's still a tricky case to make: while still life photos or flat lay photos are increasingly cited as the go-to formula for jewelry marketing (one look at Instagram and Pinterest and it’s not hard to see that they’re proliferating), it still defeats the purpose of having a lookbook if you’re not showing how something is worn—I would pepper the lookbook with still life shots, yes, but would still prefer “on-model” photos to be the meat of it. And then there was the third proposition which was to just hire a professional stylist to do the work for us. Tempting, but out of the question—unless you’re a fairly established brand buttressed by a robust marketing budget, the thought of hiring outside help is best left as such: a thought.
Thankfully, we figured out a way to quash this quandary: we only had to unpack our brand values, and therein lied the solutions to our problem! (And this is a good measure for your brand values, whether you’re a small- to medium-sized business or a big one: if you cannot count on them to guide you through any challenge, then they’re nothing more than vague missives at this point, and maybe it’s about time you re-evaluate them.) First up: sustainability. Did we want to pair our jewelry with clothes that are on-trend but are products of the fast-fashion machine? You already know our answer to that: a resounding no. Ideally we would have items that were secondhand or thrifted or reclaimed (to keep them from entering the landfills), and also, where possible, trendless (to promote “fashion for keeps”). Next: ingenuity. Did we want to limit ourselves to clothes in tip-top shape? If they’re secondhand/thrifted and still in tip-top shape, we'll take 'em! But it should also be a fun challenge for us to do some artful upcycling in order to update and save those that have some wear and tear, right? Third: community. Did we want clothes from big-name brands from far-flung corners of the earth? If they are known for being responsible, why not? But wouldn’t it be doing a great disservice to our own immediate community if we didn’t consider supporting local businesses that are right under our noses? And lastly: inclusivity. Did we really want to dictate the styling 100%, and run the risk of being biased to our own personal tastes? Absolutely not. After all, wasn’t the whole point of our Expression Collection of modular jewelry to embrace and celebrate each and everyone’s personal style?
In this photo for RIVA New York’s spring/summer 2022 lookbook, model Brianna Valdez wears a floral embroidered lingerie thrifted by our creative director Rebecca from a MyUnique Thrift branch in New Jersey. The model is also wearing her own ‘90s-style baggy denim jacket, and her own pair of baggy jeans. Featured jewelry: the Madison Paper Clip Chain Necklace in Sterling Silver; the Script Initial on White Enamel Pendant Necklace in Sterling Silver; and the Madison Paper Clip Chain Bracelet with Celestial Charms in Sterling Silver.After revisiting the abovementioned four values, finally armed with reconnected purpose, our team set forth to assembling the looks for our spring/summer 2022 lookbook photo shoot and video production with appropriate brio. Funny to think now that what had seemed like a dreaded task at the onset turned out to be a very smooth-sailing one once we kickstarted it with our values as guiding force. Mood boards and Pinterest are helpful, sure—for defining the aesthetics, the visual pizzazz, the color palette. But ultimately it’s your brand’s essence that will help you and your team get the work done. When I look at the resulting photos and video, yes, it makes me proud of our styling skills
—our astute eye for color combos, textures, silhouettes, shapes, etc. But more that, this lookbook is a triumph of RIVA New York’s core beliefs and of how much we, as team members, are aligned with them. And did I mention we only spent $150 or less on the styling? In the jewelry industry, that’s unheard of!
In this blog article I am breaking down the ways we styled the said lookbook shoot in keeping with our values, in the hopes of passing them on as useful tips to other creatives and stylists and photographers out there (and other small brands, even!) who would be willing to give them a shot. And, you know what, some of these tips apply not just to photo shoots, but to updating your own wardrobe, as well (if you are looking to transition to a more eco-sensitive manner of dressing)!
Thrifting, thrifting, thrifting
Of course, thrifting gets top billing on here. I mean, did you really think otherwise? Long before Miley Cyrus declared that “previously loved/owned clothes = most sustainable fashion source,” I was already living by this mantra. Actually, everyone in our team is obsessed with secondhand shopping, and flaunting our favorite thrift store finds is almost like a ritual in the office. For almost 90% of our past photo shoots we had gone the thrifting route, so why should the lookbook shoot be any different?
Our creative director Rebecca was saddled with the task of hitting the thrift stores. She has many favorite haunts in Brooklyn and Manhattan, but she had gone to them for many a shoot in the past, so for this particular assignment she decided to hit a chain of thrift stores in New Jersey called MyUnique Thrift (they also have locations in Queens and The Bronx) for a change. She was able to unearth a couple of colorful, texture-rich boho-chic tank tops (might sound trendy, but actually trendless in that it has been around for decades, from late ‘60s Talitha Getty to early 2000s Kate Moss to Anna Sui’s spring 2022 ready-to-wear; plus, it can be dressed up, or dressed down), and a few ultra-feminine lingerie pieces with dainty floral embroidery and floral lace trims! (She was also able to find a few oversize summer shirts with fruit prints that we did not end up using for the lookbook, but we got to use them for e-comm photos, and she also got to take them home for personal use!) Thrifting does require some patience, especially when the stores you’re hitting are the larger ones; you will also need to be prepared to spend a good chunk of your time scouring the racks and bins. But the trick is to plan ahead, have your moodboard with you so you know to focus only on the specific styles you are looking for, establish good rapport with the store attendants so you can easily ask for guidance, and you’ll be fine.
In this photo for RIVA New York’s spring/summer 2022 lookbook, model Olivia Lusala wears one of the boho-chic tank tops thrifted by our creative director Rebecca from a MyUnique Thrift branch in New Jersey. Featured jewelry: the Cobble Recycled Glass Bead Necklace, paired with a high-polish Marquise-Shaped Invisible Clasp in Gold Vermeil and our Moody Charm in Gold Vermeil; the Tribeca Paper Clip Chain Necklace in 14K Yellow Gold; and the Cobble Recycled Glass Bead Bracelet, paired with a high-polish Heart-Shaped Invisible Clasp in Gold Vermeil.
Shop your own closet
I have been a practicing stylist for many, many years—since my mid-teens, actually—and even when I was only starting out I was already wise enough to know that, in order to do an effective job, my own closet has to also serve as kind of arsenal for me to dig into whenever there’s gaps in the job that need to be filled. Unless you are given months to prepare for a shoot, and unless you have an interminable rolodex, there will always be that thing or two missing to complete a look—a belt here, a pair of gloves there… Browsing through my portfolio now, I am proud that most of the fashion editorials I have ever worked on have one or more items labeled as “stylist’s own.” There are some models who might balk at the idea of wearing someone else’s clothes for a shoot—in which case they probably won’t be comfortable wearing thrifted or secondhand pieces, too—but it has been my experience that so long as you can explain (and prove) to them how they have been thoroughly laundered and steamed for the session, you can easily sway them.
For this shoot I brought two of my favorite distressed acid-wash long-sleeved T-shirts that I got the Buffalo Exchange down my street. (Thankfully our male model Avery did not mind wearing these and the thrifted pieces.) Rebecca and her mom also contributed items from their own closets!
In this photo for RIVA New York’s spring/summer 2022 lookbook, model Avery Provin wears a distressed acid-wash long-sleeved T-shirt that our photographer borrowed from his own closet. Featured jewelry: the Luna Recycled Glass Bead Necklace paired with high-polish Marquise-Shaped Invisible Clasp in Sterling Silver and our Lapis Lazuli Charm in Sterling Silver; a pair of Astor Paper Clip Chain Bracelets (one in Gold Vermeil and one in Sterling Silver); and a pair of our popular Moody Stud Earrings in Sterling Silver.
Shop/borrow from small and local businesses in your community
As you might already know, apart from sustainability, ingenuity and inclusivity, another value that we at RIVA New York hold dear is support for community—or, as I like to call it, the “Lift as you climb” ethos. (People will say that this sounds exclusivist and goes against our commitment to inclusivity, but come to think of it: you uplifting fellow businesses and makers in your communities will push them to pass it on among their own circles, and so, really, it will only have a ripple effect that is sure to extend far and wide.) Do you have someone in your circle of friends who is into making upcycled clothing or hats or bags? Is there a fashion design student that you follow on Instagram whose thesis collection caught your eye? Do you have a favorite secondhand store in your neighborhood? Buy and item or two from them for you to use incorporate into your shoot! They will appreciate the support, plus it will give them the motivation they need to keep doing what they’re doing. If you do not have the budget to purchase items, you can also pitch a trade: borrow some of their items for your shoot, and offer to provide them with the resulting photos for them to use for their own marketing efforts!
For our lookbook shoot we made a list of the businesses and creators in Brooklyn that we have been following since the start, and those who share our values—there were so many! Ultimately we zeroed in on FABSCRAP, a textile reuse and recycling nonprofit, whose warehouse was right under our nose (they’re in the same building as us!). Aside from fabric by the yard, they also have a whole rack of what they call “mendables”—unworn clothing samples with edits (markings and cutouts) recovered from designers' studios and manufacturers that would otherwise go to landfills. We had so much fun going through these racks, we were like kids in a candy shop! My hands were quick to snatch two gingham maillots—one in seafoam green and the other in navy blue—with playful ruffles that trace the neckline and the straps. You can tell they were my favorite finds because I made our two female models wear them for the cover photo of the lookbook! (In the cover photo you can’t tell that they’re “mendables” because I photographed the models from the bust up, but in the other photos where I show their torsos you will see that the swimsuits each have a huge tear in the belly area, revealing the lining underneath, which I thought were going to be off-putting at first, but instead really gave them a quirky, grungy charm.)
In these photos for RIVA New York’s spring/summer 2022 lookbook, models Olivia Lusala and Brianna Valdez wear a pair of gingham maillots that our photographer snagged from (our neighbor) FABSCRAP’s “mendables” rack. (“Mendables” are unworn clothing samples with edits, markings, cutouts, etc., that FABSCRAP recovers from clothing designers or manufacturers before they can hit the landfill.) Featured jewelry: the Sunset Recycled Glass Bead Necklace, paired with a high-polish Cushion-Shaped Invisible Clasp in Sterling Silver, our Daisy Charm in Sterling Silver, and our Jadeite Charm in Sterling Silver; the Sunset Recycled Glass Bead Bracelet, paired with with a high-polish Carabiner-Shaped Invisible Clasp in Sterling Silver; the Luna Recycled Glass Bead Necklace paired with high-polish Heart-Shaped Invisible Clasp in Sterling Silver and our Moody Charm in Sterling Silver; the Astor Paper Clip Chain Necklace in Sterling Silver; and the Astor Paper Clip Chain Bracelet in Sterling Silver.
Upcycle—and make it fun!
While the term upcycling has only recently entered the broader fashion lexicon, what with the nascent circular fashion movement, the concept has really been around since forever, and most of us have been doing it for years. In my early teens I used to snag my Dad’s old Pendleton flannels so I could cut them up and fashion a patchwork shirt out of the pieces…and I would do the same to my Mom’s concert T-shirts from the ’70s and ‘80s! I know it was a little impolite of me to be raiding my parents’ closets, but I am pretty sure you had moments like these, too! Point is, there’s a little bit of “upcycler” in all of us, so don’t be afraid to unleash that beast when it’s photo shoot time!
For our shoot Rebecca and our content creator Hannah were saddled with the task of taking some of the abovementioned “mendables” that we bought from FABSCRAP and jazzing them up to give them a new look and to make them fit our colorful spring/summer theme. We had these two identical-looking organic cotton cropped tops in our pile of “mendables” that I really, really liked—with gorgeously exaggerated puff sleeves, a sweetheart-style neckline, ethereal draping on the front, and smocking in the back—but then they were all-white. So Rebecca and Hannah decided to go the tie-dye route, using pastel colors (this little project of theirs will live on forever on our Instagram), and the results blew my mind! These tops also came with tailor’s chalk markings, some of which dissolved or were covered up during the tie-dye process. The elastics that were supposed to hold the sleeves in place had dried out and crumbled, so I just pulled the sleeves outwards to make them sit off the shoulder, and—voila!—from sweetheart neckline to sweetheart-portrait hybrid in a snap! The drapes in the front were also starting to sag, but we just held them up with safety pins (and intentionally made the safety pins visible for a touch of punk rock je ne sais quoi).
In this photo for RIVA New York’s spring/summer 2022 lookbook, model Brianna Valdez wears an organic cotton cropped top with puff sleeves and front drape details that our photographer snagged from (our neighbor) FABSCRAP’s “mendables” rack, and that our creative director Rebecca and videographer Hannah tie-dyed in pastel colors. Featured jewelry: the Sunset Recycled Glass Bead Necklace, paired with a high-polish Cushion-Shaped Invisible Clasp in Sterling Silver and our Clear Quartz Charm in Sterling Silver.
Ask models to bring some items from their own closets
This will sound kind of subversive to most people, because isn’t the models’ job just to bring themselves to the shoot without bringing much else, sit in the makeup chair, be styled, and then pose for the photos? Isn’t it a bit too much to expect them to bring their own clothes? Well, we like to think of ourselves as misfits in the canon of photo shoots, and so we’ve adopted a different approach. Of the many things that RIVA New York is deeply passionate about, pushing the “You do you” agenda and celebrating personal style are on top of our list (along with sustainability, transparency, etc.). If you’ve been following us long enough you will know that our premier collection, the Expression Collection, was born out of our desire to create modular jewelry pieces that people can mix and match to tailor to their personal style; we are of the belief that jewelry should not be made to dictate someone’s style—rather, it should be versatile enough to adapt to your style! That being said, it's only reasonable for us to encourage models to bring their own clothes and style themselves for our shoots! And we’d like to think that they appreciate this—they wear disguises and are transformed into other characters in most of their other assignments, but with us they get to be themselves!
In this photo for RIVA New York’s spring/summer 2022 lookbook, model Olivia Lusala wears a chalk-striped suit in lemon chiffon from her own closet (with a bubblegum pink bandeau maillot snagged from FABSCRAP’s “mendables” rack). Featured jewelry: the Script Initial on White Enamel Pendant Necklace in Sterling Silver; our popular Bowery Curb Chain Necklace in Sterling Silver; the Citrus Wedge Ring in Sterling Silver/Orange Enamel; and our Classic Hoop Earrings in Sterling Silver.
We absolutely loved what our models brought to the shoot. If you are loving the photos of Olivia in which she’s wearing a chalk-striped suit in lemon chiffon, you should know that she styled that outfit herself—the suit is hers, and is something that she wears regularly in her everyday life! The ‘90s-style baggy denim jacket that Brianna is wearing in some of the layouts is the very jacket she was wearing as she walked into the shoot—she looked great in it, so we asked her to incorporate it into a couple of frames! As for our male model Avery, one look at his Instagram profile and we deduced that he had a penchant for square-neck ribbed tank tops, so we asked him to bring those. He also brought his favorite worn-out overshirt, and a pair of floral-print pants (by the designer Keith Kelly), and we squeezed those in, too!
In this photo for RIVA New York’s spring/summer 2022 lookbook, model Avery Provin wears a pair of Keith Kelly floral-print work pants that we borrowed from his own closet (he is also wearing a muslin boating blazer that we found in FABSCRAP’s “mendables” rack). Featured jewelry: our SoHo Paper Clip Chain Necklace in 14K Yellow Gold; our Chelsea Paper Clip Chain Necklace in 14K Yellow Gold; our Classic Hoop Earring in 14K Yellow Gold; and our popular Hinged Ear Cuff in 14K Yellow Gold
And so now it should be little wonder to you that our models looked stunning in the final lookbook photos. We let them be themselves (for the most part, anyway)! And as we have illuminatingly pointed out in our Vision Statement (and other parts of our Website): when you embrace your personal style, you let yourself shine!
* * * * * * * * * *
And there you have it: our tips for responsibly styling photo shoots. You might be wondering why we, as an e-commerce, direct-to-consumer brand, are writing blog articles like this—shouldn’t we be focused on jewelry styling tips for customers, you ask? Well, to address that, again, we circle back to our values, and one in particular: our love for community. From the outset, we have committed to uplifting not just our customers and our followers, but our fellow creatives and fellow small businesses, as well—as our founder Rebecca likes to put it, “there is no competition, only friends!” We like sharing helpful articles like this because, hey, if something is working well for us, then it’s guaranteed to also work well for other creators/teams/businesses—so why not pass it on? Gatekeeping is so not our style. We thrive off sharing ideas! A good creator creates—but a great creator propagates! As for our customers and followers, don’t worry—we have plenty of articles and content lined up for them. And, as mentioned above, more than half of these tips apply not just to photo shoots—they also come in handy if someone is looking to transition their personal wardrobe into a more responsible one!
Article and photographs by Angelo dela Cruz