I think one of the questions that people ask me the most is: "Where do you get all these costumes"? or "How do you manage to get these amazing names to work with you?!"
The biggest part of my artistic portfolio has been build upon years & years of second hand hunting down dresses but most of all: working together with international teams of designers supplying me headwear, jewelry, dresses to even cloaks and wings.
While this may sound like a piece of cake, collaborations are one of the most rewarding and stress-filling obligations you can take on. It's easy to admire the result, but not many people realize the work and communication that goes behind it. It's not simply a "send me that cloak" and get it shot when you feel like it. By far.
I've build many years on establishing relationships, starting from the very bottom and working my way up to where I'm able to work together with huge names like Agnieszka Osipa and my upcoming collaboration with Royal Black Couture. While my own portfolio plays a big roll in that, without my previous collaborations I would never have been able to do this. It's a snowball effect. And it's extremely powerfull.
I want to cover some pointers here for a succesfull collaboration, no matter the level of person you're working with. I heard (and saw) many horror stories and results from collabs from designers I'm friends with. And I do can tell you a few crucial pointers:
Like every shoot, communication is key. Especially when you want to borrow pieces from someone you probably don't know.
Approach politely & respectful.
You are asking from a total stranger to borrow stuff from a shoot. Keep that in mind.
Don't send "cold call" messages because designers do smell when they're just one of the many you have been looking up and sending the same copy pasted message. Its the biggest turnoff ever as they (rightfully) want to feel like they have the value you contact them for.
When I approach a designer (still to this date) I carefully write a personal message because I want to work specifically with that person and/or brand. Not because it's "one of the cool people like the five other I messaged". They inspire me. Not because they got x-amount of likes or because great contacts. Its important to keep that always in mind.
Know who you are approaching
If you're just starting out with a portfolio, there is no point in mailing someone huge. They will say no 99% off the cases. Start small, contact beginning and emerging artists. Before you know it, they're the next big thing (which is what happened between me and Hysteria Machine. We grew so immensely together we have became one of the best know teams out there I guess ...).
Make sure you can work with designers first, build up relationships and your name. Enjoy the (slow) ride. A portfolio is your biggest strong point and make sure you got one that blows people away before you try to connect to "the higher levels" (which is something that never ends either ... There is always "a bigger name" out there). Collaborations are very stressfull and demanding, don't make it too hard for yourself. It's a whole industry on itself (one that can also be incredibly valuable in knowledge and handling clients in the further future!)
Don't be passive aggressive
If they don't reply, they're maybe busy. They don't want to reply. They didn't see it. There are so many reasons. If you get a "no", stay professional & thank them for taking time to reply. It happens because you still ask someone to trust a complete stranger & work "for free". No matter how good you're; I got "no's" as well. Still. It's part of the job. Keep it short. Keep it indoors. Don't go ranting on your wall. It will come out.
Never ever send something like "oh but I wanted to work for free with you!" or even things like "???". Just no. Just dont. Be professional, you asked for free stuff to borrow & you didn't get it. It can happen.
You got a yes. GREAT! Now what?
Communication, communication, communication! Discuss a date from when until when you can hold on to the pieces, discuss the concepts and models and wardrobe, make sure everything is clear. Don't overdue shoots (datewise). If something does happen: communicate! Shit can go down. Always. You broke something? Tell them. It can happen. I cannot stress enough how important it is to discuss your concepts. It will make or break a shoot and/or relationship with a designer! Even to the tiniest details.
Things you should never do (ever)
Going creative is fine. But if you work with a (new) designer, warn them when you want to do something entirely different then what you got in your portfolio (communication 101). Nothing freaks out a designer more when (s)he thinks (s)he's getting a gorgeous editorial set with colorgels and suddenly a contemporary piece with smokebombs falls into your inbox.
Often they say "yes" for a reason to you. If you're the asking party, you don't have anything to say about how & what in my opinion. If they say yes, go with their wishes and make sure its something worth for them too & what they want. Its blunt, but it's the truth. Dont think "you know it better"; talk and communicate.
Also never ever edit a piece beyond what it is. Actually: don't touch a piece at all. If you get a medium sized set of horns, dont make them extra large and extra thick. For a designer its pointless to put online because it's not what (s)he has given you. You're shooting a certain product & false advertising isn't worth anything for them. Make sure the piece is reconizable like it is without alterations.
Overdue pieces. Shit can happen, like I said. I had it a few times and I always discussed the options with my designers: do I ship it back? Do I do an allnighter and do a last-minute shoot anyway? If you have an expiration date, don't forget to ship them back IN TIME. Maybe they got a rental, mayb its sold, but most of all: you agreed on something. Honor that!
Oh and: don't lie. For whatever reason. They can smell it from a facebook post away. Things can always happen. If you made a mistake, broke something, lost something, forgot to mail, forgot to edit, oversaw something, ... whatever. Apologize if necessary (no harm in that!) and fix it. We are all humans in this game and it can happen. Its good to be upfront about it and say it yourelf instead of sticking your head in the sand and waiting for the storm to be over.
And last but not least least: don't overdue editing time. There is no point in getting collaborational pieces weeks after the shoot. The piece(s) might be sold, it isn't accurate anymore, it isn't "good enough" or what they needed at the time. I always make sure I get results out within 48 hours if I can, up to a week if I'm busy. And up to two weeks after the whole set. Don't let it hang around. You took a commitment, so live up to it.
Oh and most of all: we gossip. Its an extremely small world and we all know each other one way or another (in)directely. I know from experiences multiple times designers have known about me & my work because other designers told them I'm "one of the good ones" to work with. If you do something wrong, believe me ... they all know. And I got often a "yes" because I'm one of the few who gives good results in a short time with a clear communication.
Most importantly though: While I make everything sound very harsh: designers are people. Sometimes things don't go as planned and sometimes collabs grow out to friendships. Approach people like you want to be approached. Collabs can be such a rewarding opportunity for everyone involved and it will greatly improve your portfolio! A lot of collaborations grow out to sponsorships for me even, allowing me to go absolutely bonkerscrazy with pieces. Sometimes I build up friendships allowing me to borrow even more stuff over time. It all comes down to honesty, hard work, respect and appreciating your team members.
Hope this gave a little insight, feel free to ask if there are any more questions!