MARY HOWARD – Interview with the Art Director & Prop Stylist

mary howard
Image courtesy of Vogue Italia. Styled by Mary Howard & shot by Steven Meisel.

 

1. WHAT EXACTLY IS ENTAILED IN YOUR PROFESSION AS AN ART DIRECTOR AND SET DESIGNER? DO YOU GET THE FINAL WORD?

We help create and enhance the environmentIn which the model or talents are in. It can be a set in a studio or on location. Of course I wish I had the final word! But our work is always a collaboration and I would say that in most cases the photographer has the final word. I enjoy presenting a more-or-less refined and finished idea with the sets and art direction. Then I make alterations and changes as directed by the photographer.

2. WHAT IS THE LATEST ART DIRECTION PROJECT YOU HAVE WORKED ON?

We do three to five jobs a week during the busy parts of the year. On Friday we did a cosmetics ad along with another job that was avery elaborate Christmas/Holiday set for a department store. We succeeded in creating a snowfall in June! We had a job yesterday for a magazine editorial and though today is Sunday there is a large build going on at Milk Studio for a fall fashion days a week!

3. YOU SEEM TO HAVE BEEN A PART OF EVERY MAJOR FASHION CAMPAIGN THIS SIDE OF THE KNOWN WORLD-WHICH PROJECT HAS BEEN THE MOST FUN TO BE INVOLVED IN

Each project is such a different experience. The jobs that last more than one day seem to be more satisfying since there is more time to get into it and think while working with the photographer and other styling teams. The ads that tell a story enhance the ‘cinematic’ aspect and seem to be the most fun since you can immerse yourself in that world for a few days while exploring it more fully and in a more refined way.

4. IS EVERYDAY IN NEW YORK FOR YOU A SEARCH FOR THE ULTIMATE AMAZING SET PROP, AND DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE PLACE IN WHICH TO SOURCE THESE SET GEMS?

I am constantly looking for new ideas, it can be in a dumpster or at a very high-end store. You never know what you will see at every turn in a place like New York. I also absorb things when I travel as well. The grey moving blankets in Africa were so nice I brought a couple back recently and I use them in grey sets when I need a throw.There is a very small store near me that I love, the owner has very little furniture since there is no space but he has such a good eye that I love everything he brings in. If it is something I can use for several projects I buy it without hesitation. The best props are the most classic and most universal.

5. WHAT IS THE MOST EXCITING THING ABOUT CREATING NEW AND EXCITING SURROUNDINGS FOR AN ADVERTISEMENT OR PUBLICATION?

The process of building the look with the various set elements. Creating the world. I guess I think in the narrative so that even though we are doing still pictures I like to think of stories surrounding the image. And I think really the most exciting thing is getting to see new ideas in the process and finally to see the set.

6. WHAT ROLE DID YOU PLAY IN THE FABULOUSLY PROVOCATIVE, CRITICALLY ITALIAN, BLACK & WHITE DOLCE & GABBANA AD STARRING MADONNA?

There is a lot of preparation on these jobs. Steven Klein is great with inspiration photos,movies stills, etc. He looks at everything for inspiration and is very thorough. I have loved any movie references that he gives, especially since they are usually more obscure films thatI have never seen. The image research is the beginning of the process. Then finding the best NY location (but with a feel of Sicily) for the past two Dolce and Gabbana campaigns has been a huge part of these jobs, while the location scouting goes on for a week and is exhaustive.Then, finding all of the particularly Sicilian sequel set pieces and food because Domenico and Stefano are very serious about these aspects. Then, pinning down the shot list with Steven of what Madonna is doing in each picture, though with Madonna, she likes to stay busy and have as many props and things to play with on set, so we need to keep up with her and have several scenarios planned.

QUICK RANDOM ONES

FAVORITE FILM OF ALL TIME?

As a southern woman I am obliged to say ‘Gone with the Wind’ as well as ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. Films are a huge inspiration for me, I watch several a week when possible. But not just great production designed movies. In addition, I love silly movies like ‘The Hangover’ and would have loved to have done the trashed Vegas hotel room set in that! Or any sci-fi or horror movie like ‘I am Legend’.

​FAVORITE GALLERY SPACE IN NEW YORK?

I am nostalgic about all of the small galleries in the East Village in the 80’s. I loved that time and since the spaces were so small and right next to each other you could hit several in a row. The period-decorated rooms at the Met are my favorite.

GREATEST SAYING THAT YOU LIVE BY?

These are not ‘great sayings’ at all, but I am guilty of saying cliché sayings constantly on set. “Chop Chop People”, “Go for it”, “Stop spinning your wheels”. My husband is a former Marine. If I am having a tough day on set I call him and he can give me some ridiculous Marine sayings—“Are you a woman or a wouse” (which is altered from ‘Are you a man or a mouse’, or “ when the going gets weird, the weird get going’. Somehow this is helpful to me.

BEST PLACE TO SHOOT AN AD IN NEW YORK?

I get excited about locations all the time in NY. I have been here so long but there is always a new place to discover and shoot. People are starting to shoot in Red Hook, Brooklyn where I live and discovering the strange industrial waterfront landscape here. It is on the Buttermilk Channel and I get loads of light and ocean air. There are few tall buildings and strange dilapidated small buildings and structures. We are doing an Italian Vogue shoot this week on the waterfront here, four blocks from my house!​

BIGGEST VICE?

I am impatient; I like to see the sets completed ASAP and get frustrated if I have to wait. Doing sets is like being in labor and finally giving birth. I guess I want to have the baby already!​

 **THIS INTERVIEW CAN ALSO BE VIEWED VIA THE MFD SITE – http://www.mfdirectory.com/interviews.
THANKS TO ANGELIQUE MAX, EDITOR OF MFD, FOR ARRANGING THE INTERVIEW.
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