Photoshoots are demanding enough at the best of times. But organising one from a far flung part of the globe under lockdown was not really what I had envisaged when I started planning the relaunch of an old family business, rich with years of genuine heritage.
With hindsight, perhaps buying a business in the month prior to a pandemic shutting the world down also wasn’t the best idea I’ve ever had. But, nothing ventured and all that, so here we are… Like a blissful new Mother, I’m scrolling through the beautiful photographs of the newborn website, with an immense sense of exhausted-on-the-verge-of-tears relief — as well as a heart-splitting pride.
I started obsessing about Le Tricoteur during our summer holiday in 2018. We’d been cycling the West coast road, had popped into the factory on a whim to buy my husband a guernsey (because quite frankly, you cannot be married to a Lainé and not own a guernsey. It’s practically part of the marriage certificate...)
My kids weren’t interested in the jumpers. Way too hot for Singapore, which was where we were emigrating. But they did love the beanies. Cute colours, kookie & original and knitted with such incredible quality. The kids did think they were cool. They didn’t take them off till we left for Singapore.
Obviously, because they looked so great, I posted a few pics on Insta, and immediately a dozen friends asked me where they were from. “Please bring some back to London” they begged.
Twenty Four hours later, I was back in Le Tricoteur talking to Neil about what his plans were for the business with a (real) potato sack full of beanies bought for all my mates.
A year and a half later, and I’m watching flights from Changi to Guernsey get cancelled one by one. How the hell am I going to relaunch the brand in time for Christmas? And how the hell do you do a lockdown photoshoot?
I needed a photographer, models, a make-up artist and a wardrobe. Oh, and a stylist and they all had to be on Guernsey already. Their borders had already been closed in a blink of an eye. It’s easier to keep a pandemic OFF a small island, and Guernsey is one of the smallest. 10km long and 5 miles wide with a population of 67,000 (and around 1,400 cows).
“The Channel Islands are small fragments of France that fell into the sea and were picked up by England” said Victor Hugo of Les Mis fame. And here I was trying to put together a crack team who I couldn’t meet and who I would have to trust to create my entire vision for the brand. I wouldn’t be there. I felt a bit sick. This was my worst nightmare. I am usually very hands on.
However, I had chosen Etienne Lainé as my photographer. Just like the man himself, his photos were relaxed, friendly, authentic and everything that Le Tricoteur stands for. But he’d never done a shoot like this before and there were kids involved. You have to have a certain knack to work with children. I hoped he had a great line in jokes about farts & wobbly bums… plus check the surname ;)
In turn, he recommended Bianca Sarre who has worked with some great fashion photographers in her time. She also happens to be the childhood friend of the previous owner’s daughter and those kinds of mystic coincidences tend to clinch a deal. Our MUA Lauren had just moved to the island and was up for the adventure.
But what about the models?
Launching a brand to an International audience means trying to use as diverse a variety of models as possible to represent anyone who might be tempted by a jumper. So that’s no mean feat when Guernsey has a MINISCULE population (including islands Alderney, Sark, Herm, Jethou, Brecqhou, and Lihou)
As luck would have it, I was in touch with some local children who we cast for www.salt-watersandals.com a few years ago. They were swiftly signed. Finding the adult models I thought was going to be harder.
Many whatsapps later, a scroll through social media and a small chase down the high street we had created a wonderful line up, some with experience and some with none whatsoever! We had an Optician, a Furniture restorer, A painter & artist and a School Caretaker. We did manage to find a couple of models who had dashed home when the lockdown was announced, plus a few local beauties who had modelled for Creaseys (the St Peter Port department store) One of our first models was a student who hadn't quite made it back to University.
I might have been directing from afar, but I knew exactly where I wanted us to shoot: well known tourist locations but also ones that have meaning for the islanders too.
At Le Tricoteur we are justifiably proud of our reputation as “the original guernsey from Guernsey” and I wanted to highlight everything that makes Guernsey just that little bit special: the cliffs, the beaches, the lanes, the harbour, the people.
Etienne rolled his eyes when I said I wanted to feature Fort Grey because he thought it was a cliché. But with the cup and saucer only down the road from our factory, I knew it would be rude not to.
I also wanted to show off the reinforced concrete sea defences & bunkers that don’t always make the “picturesque” tick list. Pleinmount is a historic landmark and it’s not every day you are allowed to get up close and personal to a unique piece of 1940’s history.
All my family have learned to sail so several shots at the Marina (with the childhood home of my Mum peeking out from the distance) was a given. Plus we’ve all jumped off the wall at high tide so it has special memories for this generation too.
I have also always loved the wave like lip of the curved wall at Vazon beach and have spent many a late summer afternoon huddled into it after an exhausting day at the beach.
So, where does that leave me (apart from still in Singapore)?
Crew – tick
Models – tick
Jumpers - not yet ready (no tick)
Ah, yes. The jumpers themselves! In a slightly problematic move I had chosen to launch with an extended range including some more non-traditional colours. I really want this garment to become an integral part of everyone’s wardrobe and some customers might just want something a bit brighter.
However I hadn’t reckoned on the fact that Guernsey is 31 miles off the coast of St Malo, France and 75 miles south of Weymouth, England. If I wanted new coloured jumpers, I’d have to ship in the new coloured yarn. But if the weather gets rough, the yarn gets stuck: no boats or airplanes can land. Our ladies can’t knit jumpers, hats or scarves out of nothing — so we decided to start shooting what we could out of existing inventory.
guernsey jumpers can be a bit like marmite. Most adults are passionate about them & their history but some kids can be vocally dismissive of the thick felted weight. When I was young I used to cry “Too hot, Too itchy” or the unintelligible (to anyone over the age of 5) “Too Woolly” so trying to persuade kids to model a heavy knitted jumper on a hot summer’s days is no easy feat – plus shooting indoors when outside is 32 degrees was a trial, but we did it.
A test shoot on the fields near Pleinmount proved our golden hour and although it doesn’t seem it - quite a few shoots had a gale force hooley screaming in the background. The weather is pretty changeable on an island in the middle of La Manche.
Our new yarn did finally arrive and 10 days before launch we shot the new range.
There is nothing like leaving things to the last minute really…even if it means staying up until 3am on the other side of the world having video calls bleary eyed and in my PJs with a very patient stylist about how to style the beanie on a model (who has never modelled) whilst they try and stand upright on a cliff in a force 10 gale.
But I wouldn’t have it any other way.