The Fashion Conspiracy

Felicia Ann Ryan

New Hollywood

Reintroducing: The Female Lead, in the same light but seen differently.

Actor / Director, Serinda Swan wearing jewelry by Messika and jumpsuit by Stephan Caras / Photography by Valerie Burke

She walks in, bright and smiling, luminescent in contrast to the dark coordinated sweat suit she wears; the hood pulled up over her head, short bangs peeking out; protection from the snow falling from a dark Toronto sky.

I glance up from what I’m doing and say a quick hello, although the encounter is brief, my stylist’s eyes take everything in, calculating the best look to start with now that I’m seeing her outside of the big screen. I mentally cross a few things out and rearrange the looks in my mind, later to be done on the rack.

She’s early and I’m still stuck in the tunnel vision I have while prepping for a shoot, so our initial hellos aren’t what I imagined. But try as I might, I can’t redirect my focus, which is laser beamed towards lining up the looks, already on a time crunch before we even start; my meager hello, all I have to offer at the time. 

As the moment passes, I instantly feel regret at not conveying a warmer welcome into the studio space; hoping that the excitement in my eyes and the care I was taking would convey that this was all for her, a perfect muse for the theme of the story, titled,  “New Hollywood”. A story that came to me almost instantly when chatting with photographer, Val Burke, about the project. 

Serinda Swan, even the name seeps old Hollywood glamour. Her features and presence, added to the fact that she had just finished filming her part in “Devotion”, in which she plays the iconic Elizabeth Taylor, made it impossible to think beyond the Classical Hollywood narrative. She needed to be in the spotlight, literally, as Burke and I discussed lighting direction, designing ideas to mimic, but also bring into the present, the Mole Richardson Hollywood spotlight style used during the Golden Era of film and theatre.

Serinda Swan wears Messika Jewelry, corset by Dianna DiNoble of Starkers Corsetry, trousers Serinda’s own

Named “New Hollywood”, not just because of its present place in time, but because Hollywood is changing, reflects a new golden era, not of film but of industry. The echo of change has reverberated from within the parameters of its behind the scene walls, has spanned its reaches to be heard by the audience. On the other side of me too, which happened on its own stage; watched by the world, equal pay discussions and gender biases in behind the scene roles (a study sponsored by San Diego State University focusing on the top 250 highest-grossing movies of 2021 in the U.S., found that only 25 per cent of behind-the-scenes roles were filled by women. The percentage of female editors was 22 percent and was even less at 17 per cent each for directors and writers, Forbes) much has happened to influence transformation within every industry, including those outside of film.

Hollywood is changing … The echo of change has reverberated from within the parameters of its behind the scene walls, and spanned its reaches to be heard by the audience.

Swan is ideal to embody this layered editorial paying homage to the progression of the female lead as she herself ascends between roles of model, actor and director; a symbol of fierce femininity; an example that beyond mere appearance lies substance.

Reintroducing: The Female Lead, in the same light but seen differently. A New Hollywood.

Gown / Stephan Caras, Jewelry / Messika, Heels / Black Suede Studio

I look back down to study the Messika diamonds laid out on the accessories table in front of me, speaking with my assistant in a voice that carried more urgency than just a minute before our leading lady walked through the door; already time passing that could be used to shoot. 

The entire team squeezed this story in on a Sunday, between demanding projects and shoot schedules.And yet, all aware that this Sunday session was special and worth the squeeze. 

Gown / Narces, Blazer / Silk Laundry, Heels / Charles David

Serinda Swan hands me a garment bag as she explains its contents; a custom made-to-measure suit with her name embroidered on the inside, crafted especially for her (or was it for Dr. Jenny Cooper, the lead from ‘Coroner’, played by Serinda Swan, a role in which the suit would be perfect for.) Either way, I’m excited to incorporate it into the story, a piece of Serinda and the characters she invokes while on screen mixed with the character she has off of it. 

I hold the suit up and appreciate its tailoring while noting that it’s a bit big for her, just as Serinda says out loud that it fit her at her “happy weight’. I can’t help but mention my appreciation that her “happy weight” isn’t ‘as thin as possible’ like mine is, as I mentally note the adjustments the suit will need.

She fills the team in on her myriad of current happenings, as we get ready, referencing her feelings of being creatively stagnant in her most current role, the excitement for past and upcoming projects (like playing Elizabeth Taylor in the film “Devotion”) and returning to her home in LA, a move made at the right time both for her personally and as far as weather goes (we shot this story in November, right at the tip of the beginning of a long cold winter in Toronto).

Jumpsuit / Stephan Caras, Jewelry / Messika, Heels / Black Suede Studio

The transformation complete, Serinda eats up every look served, offering a feast for the eyes. As we move fluidly from one look to another, she expertly poses, breezing through the brief with precision and poise, her roles interchanging from model to actor to director before our eyes as she strikes poses, and dances, with a range of expression and depth while deciding what lip colour works best.

I’m new to the crew, the makeup and hair artist have both worked with Serinda before on her show and all of my notes have been communicated through the voice of the photographer.

Meeting today is the first that Serinda and I have ever conversed and I catch myself wondering, as I often do, whether my struggle to chit chat outside the parameters of the work at hand is noticed. I have a bad habit that I can’t seem to kick. A one track mind while shooting … get the shot … get the shot … get the shot and often leave a shoot hoping that my intentness on the imagery wasn’t mistaken for aloofness.

Not a unique problem, this is the plight of many creatives, and likely the reason why wrap drinks and parties are popularized, so that we can all have a chance to reflect together and say the things our focus wouldn’t allow us to say while shooting. I’ve learned to (mostly) dismiss the paranoia that can sometimes follow constantly working with new people who are not yet used to my single minded focus. And yet it still creeps up, especially during a project when there is so much appreciation I would like to share. 

Blouse / Frame, Jewelry / Messika, Corset / Starkers Corsetry, Skirt / House of Nonie

On the last shot of the day, which culminates into a sizzling finale, a gold cutout gown by designer Stephan Caras, that had Serinda’s own cuts on display through the peek-a-boo design as she held herself taut to a rigid apple box, the team makes a discovery that despite all of my self proclaimed intuitiveness, surprises me.

Serinda suddenly crumples, unable to hold herself up any longer, and announces that she  sustained an injury while training, a slipped disc that has been giving her immense pain throughout the entire 8 hour shoot day, pain that not once touched her face in any of the shots.

Hidden within her professional prowess, she had been secretly suffering, unannounced to anybody, as she contorted, danced and posed in scintillating stilettos, without a hint of how it was affecting her. A performance of the fierceness her characters are known for, clearly drawn from her own well of inner strength.

Blouse / Silk Laundry, Jewelry / Messika, Belt / Stephan Caras

Swan has waited until the very last moment that she could take no more to say something, which also happens to be the last look of the day, and we all agree ‘That’s a wrap’ and move onto packing up. Val and I review what was captured, and I can’t help but feel bad that I hadn’t noticed Serinda’s discomfort earlier. But in no image could I find a clue to Serinda’s suffering. It’s never mentioned in social media; it’s barely mentioned again on set, an indication of Swan’s level of professionalism.

Out of the heels and back into the sneakers she came in, Swan’s brightness reemerges as she asks if the corset used in look 3 is for sale because, “She’s been looking for a corset forever, my Pinterest is full of them.”

I’m happy to play matchmaker, after all Serinda and the corset are a perfect pair, and make a call to the designer, Diana Noble, of Starkers Corsetry, who officiates the pair.

Jewelry / Messika, Dress / Narces, Boots / Stuart Weitzman

The team says our goodbyes, and each of us go our own way, back to our studios, our homes, L.A. 

I leave thinking about how I can’t wait to see what Serinda does next, on screen and off. Especially curious with what she’ll do with the little package she tucked under her arm; the corset, with its sheer panels, voluminous bows and dark boning.

I can’t wait to see. 

Jewelry / Messika, Jumpsuit + Belt / Stephan Caras, Heels / Charles David

All images copyright and captured by Valerie Burke

Fashion Direction / Styling / Words by Felicia Ann Ryan Assisted by Rima Alkhatib, Makeup Artist / Lou Swinden Payne, Hair Stylist / Duyen Huynh

Images originally published in House Magazine