Inspired by the unique elegance of working class English women, the photographer brings the exclusive world of haute couture to a south London community centre
Taken from the Autumn/Winter 2014 issue of Dazed.
With a front row made up of senior citizens and local ladies, in this shoot photographer Robi Rodriguez and Dazed's fashion director Robbie Spencer set out to turn the camera on a rarely represented set of fashion fans. Riffing off the intimate, private nature of historic salon shows, a couture showroom was brought to the unlikely setting of a south London community centre – where pieces from the likes of Maison Martin Margiela and Valentino were exhibited for the audience. Here, Rodriguez discloses his favourite parts of the shoot, from a newfound admirer to plans for another pensioner fashion extravaganza.
Could you tell us a bit about the centre where you volunteer, and what inspired you to stage 'Ladies Night' there?
Robi Rodriguez: Volunteering at this centre happened after the staging of the shoot. I wanted to shoot a story about cockney or working class English ladies, who I find so amusing and elegant in their own unique way... So the idea of a fashion show with them as an audience came to mind. I was so touched by these women, and especially the lady who runs the centre, Tina, that I offered her three hours per week for whatever they needed from me. I've worked there for a month and a half so far.
What are the women there like, and did they have any experience with high fashion?
Robi Rodriguez: They are women full of positivity, despite the condition that some find themselves in. On Fridays the centre focuses on those who are blind, and it's a favourite day for me as that's when I see my favourite lady – Edna – who funnily enough had been a seamstress back in the 1930s and 40s. She has mentioned a few times “Schiaparelli was the best fashion back in my day.”
“They loved it ... Edna keeps telling me she wants an open relationship” – Robi Rodriguez
How did the women from the centre find the experience?
Robi Rodriguez: Some of the older ladies were asked if they could be dressed a bit, and most of them made it very difficult on the stylist, Robbie Spencer, and his assistants. They showed “attitude” – their usual complaint was “I can't wear that, I'll get too hot.”
How did the residents enjoy the show and being styled?
Robi Rodriguez: They loved it. Tina, who runs the centre has asked me to help her stage a real fashion show there where the residents will be the models.
Which garments drew the biggest reaction from the audience?
Robi Rodriguez: With the Viktor & Rolf pieces they kept saying “she is wearing a rug isn't she?” I think they loved Valentino because it probably was something they could relate to more.
What do you think our relationship to fashion should be as we age?
Robi Rodriguez: It should be what we want it to be. We should feel free.
What was your objective on the shoot?
Robi Rodriguez: My aim was to be able to show incredibly interesting older English women – within a fashion magazine – accompanied by beautiful fashion, and hoping that the juxtaposition of both would make good images.
Have the residents imparted any gems of wisdom or life lessons to you?
Robi Rodriguez: Edna keeps telling me that she wants an open relationship with me.
Photography Robi Rodriguez, styling Robbie Spencer, hair Tina Outen at Streeters; make-up Gemma Smith-Edhouse at Total using M.A.C; models Emma Waldo, Kinga Rajzak at Elite, Manuela Frey at The Society; photographic assistants Will Corry, Frederico Radaelli; styling assistants Lizy Curtis, Fabio Merche; hair assistant Chrys Chamaldis; make-up assistant Anne Sophie Costa; Digital Operator Marco Mendia; casting Noah Shelley; special thanks to Lizzie Richarson, Jeanne Tonks, Cassie Forte, Georgina Johnson, Pat Johnson, Lee Kempster, Gerry Daniels, Doreen Duffle, Cathy Gibson, Bridie Collins, Sylvia Powel, Polly Brieley-Jones, Edna Muldord, Susan Anderson, Elfreda Drummond, Lillian Bartholomew, Mary Cooper, Alice Woodgates, Anne Williams, Pat Putman and Tina Johns