Behind the scenes of FQ’s Magritte-inspired beauty shoot

The making of Fashion Quarterly’s summer beauty opener was an eye opener for features writer, Phoebe Watt. She gives a rundown of exactly what went down…

Sometimes an idea just falls into place – such was the case with the Magritte-inspired beauty shoot on page 161 of Fashion Quarterly‘s art-centric summer issue.

“We have to do something with this artwork,” said FQ’s creative director, Marcel Gull, brandishing a printout of René Magritte’s ‘Les Valeurs Personelles’. “Just look at the use of scale!” (Fun fact: Marcel is a little scale obsessed).

Marcel Gull's re-imagined Magritte still life

A Miu Miu EDP in just the right shade of aqua had, by chance, landed on the desk of our beauty editor that week. As other beauty products that matched exactly the scale and colourway of the objects in Magritte’s painting started coming to mind, it occured that we were looking at our beauty opener.

But first we had to figure out what was tying our substitute objects together. “What are we saying about these products?” said Marcel, who was unimpressed by my suggestion that, maybe, we were just saying that they’re cool and people should buy them.

Luckily, a bit of research yielded Magritte’s fabulous quote about the objects in his painting being items of “useless luxury”. For the record, we consider none of our featured “luxuries” anywhere near useless, but considering that the duty of art is to provoke, this statement suited our needs to a tee.

Marcel Gull's re-imagined Magritte still life

But here is where things got interesting. I have to confess that, before I started at FQ, I had no idea of the work that went into these styled shots. I assumed that they were all 90% Photoshop. (“That’s ridiculous”, says Marcel, through pursed lips. “People think Photoshop is this button that you press and everything you envision just magically appears. It doesn’t work like that”).

In fact, as I learned (and as you can now see, for in the name of correcting this no doubt very common misconception, we decided to document the project from start to finish) a shot like this is not produced on a screen. This one in particular was the work of one man, his craft knife, and his secret talent for building miniature furniture (that bed, those walls, dem floorboards – all made from scratch).

And yes, of course a few digital tweaks went into the making of this work of art. But three months later, with a still “emotionally exhausted” Marcel Gull dramatically declaring: “I feel how Magritte must have felt when he finished painting the original”, I know that I will never again overestimate the abilities of a machine, while underestimating the dedication and skill of our creative director.

Marcel Gull's re-imagined Magritte still life