Interviewing somebody you know so closely and are such good friends with is tricky business, as you often forget to ask the important questions. It was our third go at this before we actually got down to business and turned the tape recorder on, and even then it was preceded with 2 hours of scandalous industry gossip (thankfully off the record and not recorded… or those tapes could cause a Watergate scale disaster.) 3 lipstick stained drained coffee cups down…
Bea instead of writing your introduction I’m going to describe you now to your face.
Oh God. This will be fun.
You are a make up genius
When you apply yourself
*Because of her ethnic head wraps, cats eye speccys and junk in the trunk (and also because she is a Brixton girl); Bea is always being mistaken for the style icon, founder of Kid’s Company charity and woman P&P would vote to be Prime Minister; Camila Batmanghelidjh. Bea doesn’t really mind being likened to the smartest woman in London but she can’t escape each morning having thirty school kids follow her to the bus stop asking “is you Camilla though?”
If I had to describe ‘Bea Sweet’ in five words one of them would be fat (the other four: gorgeous, talented, hilarious and genuine). I can’t be doing with all this “see me, not my size” business.
Do you mind that?
Not coming from you because I know you are in tune with the politics of it
What about when people aren’t? I mean what when they book you for a job from Ugly* and you have no idea of their motives?
*Bea is not only a full time make up artist she is also on the books with Ugly agency as a model.
I do get nervous, because usually I’m a creator – working with teams I trust and then going into something blind as a model it’s a whole different situation…
What are the clichés of other stylists dressing somebody fat?
Oh the classics! Capes. Draped fabric. Nude. Nuns. A big favourite is accessories. Anything to avoid clothing really
Oh god – all the things I have done to you
But I trust you!
Why is it do you think? Is it purely logistics?
Yeah I think it’s just because there isn’t any clothing available at my size and there aren’t the budgets for production.
Tell me about the worst styling anybody has ever done on you.
Oh cringe. Let me just say luckily I was dressed well that day because when I arrived there was pretty slim pickings. They basically just shoved legwarmers on my arms that didn’t even fit- they cut holes for my thumbs and had my sausage fingers poking out. It was useless.
What about when people shoot fat girls with food?
Really? It’s like shooting frigging Japanese girl with a bowl of miso soup… I’m like “there’s so much more to me than that!”
But what about the Crystal Renn French Vogue* shoot?
*For August 2010 Terry Richardson shot the most incredibly chic and hot and sexy editorial of post-plus-size model Crystal Renn, fully clothed and swathed in diamonds and shovelling pasta, steak and lobster into her perfectly painted gob. It is really a stunning editorial. More irreverent than offensive.
Okay that was really beautiful.
So you don’t mind if it’s done really beautifully?
I think I do mind actually. One thing that is the worst that I got asked to do once was a 1930s Freak Show shoot. Horrific!
What if it was by Paolo Roversi for Italian Vogue?
Hmmm that’s a tricky one. I would trust him so in that instance I would take the job but it wouldn’t be ideal!
Tell me the funniest casting call you ever got?
Oh my god it was for that film Adulthood and I was meant to play the part of ‘fat girl on the sofa’ who steals a bucket of chicken off a black boy and eats it seductively in front of him.
And there was one for MTV where it was meant to be a close up of a booby cleavage and then the camera zoomed out and it was actually one of my rolls of fat and I’m sat there looking like a beast!
I think, even when it’s done badly I’d rather see a fat girl in a fashion magazine or ad campaign or TV show rather than not at all.
Fat has not got to the stage where it can be used without stereotype.
I pull out of my bag Adele’s British Vogue cover. Although she looks absolutely stunning for some insane reason Vogue decided to closely crop in on her face, hoping to distract the reader and make them forget that she has a real body. Very poor form Vogue… lazy lazy chickens. Bea and I wanted to make a huge lifesize photocopy of Bea’s naked body that folded out like a tube map- and go round all the newsagents in London sellotaping it to every copy of Vogue.
Do you think it’s fair to say we are, at least whilst the fashion industry is in its current state; that we have a tendency and a desire to shoot non-white models, a lot more than Caucasian ones?
Yes we’re positively obsessed.
I’m a bit torn over it. So ethnic diversity is so at the forefront of my thoughts and we all want the fashion business to eventually get to a place that is truly, authentically diverse, however in putting together imagery that is plugging straight into let’s call it ‘non-white identity’ I/we are making photos that embrace certain stereotypes and in a lot of ways highlight the ‘otherness’ in our choice of models… thus fetishising them further and perhaps doing the opposite of diversifying fashion; rather ghettoizing non white models and their representations further???
Whoa. That was a serious mouthful.
Haha I know… I’m just very aware of what we are doing
I know what you mean
I’ve been thinking about it a LOT. I see my work challenging ethnic stereotypes in fashion as an on-going… almost ‘life’s work.’ It’s something that becomes more interesting the deeper I go.
Yes totally. I think the more shoots we do that engage with it, the more interesting our body of work becomes. The messages become less one dimensional too. How was Babes of Benin* received?
*Babes of Benin was the covers story of Issue 4 of P&P. Shot by Saga Sig the editorial featured three dark skinned models styled with and against a mix of vibrant West African printed fabrics. The models were made up by Bea to look hot as hell-literally glisteningly moist.
Really well, people think it’s totally beautiful and I think it’s because they recognize there was a reason for all the styling and casting choices.
It does engage with a very stereotypical version of African beauty though
Totally. Being very open about it-with my work personally, I feel like when I first started creating imagery that head on confronts non-white representations within fashion, especially being white, there were almost these giant looming, overpowering clichés that I had/have to tackle before moving on to create work that is more subtle or surprising. Does that make sense?
Yes. And also because you’re so neurotic and such a brainiac you overthink everything so much even the most stereotypical work you can see it’s created from a positive and thoughtful place. On a much simpler level especially for me, it’s also what I find the most beautiful aesthetically.
Yes. We’re not ‘supposed’ to say stuff like that but I agree.
Before I moved to London I had never even thought about race… Where I grew up was very white and I remember when I first moved to London I was so stimulated by how multicultural it is. It made me think about race for the first time. I was seeing all of these beautiful people who weren’t white and then the penny dropped – why wasn’t I seeing these people in the pages of fashion magazines. Why was this a world I was previously unaware of?
Ditto. I think this is why I like to use a lot of cliché… It’s like taking what the fashion industry is afraid of and rubbing it in their faces… I’m not a subtle stylist and for me I think I get so would up with the fact these faces; we are not seeing them, so I’m actively choosing to use them… and with the characters or stories I’m creating…they are fantasy, fashion is a lot about fantasy but that fantasy is always about some skinny rich white girl. My fantasies are a lot more interesting than that…
I bet they are haha. I think it’s worth talking about how sometimes when we work with people who are not used to shooting black models there’s an awkwardness and an embarrassment there.
Yes. They get so scared of offending anybody they end up skirting around the model. People feel the need to put a prefix before they say the word ‘black’.
Oh god yes – or the awkward pause… “we have this…black model booked.” “Oh she’s…black.”
And they’re obsessed with putting the word ‘beautiful’ in front of it too… as if they’re justifying it.But you know when they have got it out of their system they can then go on and work like a normal human, working with black models knowing they’re not aliens made out of eggshells.
Mostly it’s just unprofessional! The amount of hair and make up artists who don’t know what they’re doing with non white skin mostly because they’re too embarrassed to talk to the models.
When was the first time you worked with a black model?
Oh god it was awful. The skin was fine but I was doing her hair and she had this relaxed afro hair and I was trying to backcomb it and nothing was happening and I got so stressed out I didn’t know what was happening!
A different story to now ey?
And don’t even get me started on the spectrum between black and white…
That’s a whole other talk. I really believe that whilst there are people in fashion who are purposefully only working with white models for whatever reason there needs to be people like us who are purposefully casting non white models.
What do you hate the most about fashion?
Let me tell you a story. So I was working on the XXXXXX XXXXXX show at Fashion Week and it was one hour before the runway and we were all frantically finishing the hair and make up, full steam. This stupid stylist was wearing these giant heels and could hardly walk, and she had all this giant hair that was getting in the way of everything and I just thought “tie your hair up, put on some flats, sort it out and WORK!” Then this minor celebrity came backstage after a blow dry and the stupid stylist forced one of the hair guys to stop working on his model and give this bimbo a hair do. I was like “this is your show you stupid cow!” It’s all well giving that girl a blow dry and make her feel special but what happens when the model isn’t ready and has to walk the runway with shit hair?
So you hate all that kissy kissy stuff
It just doesn’t feel real.
I hate it when stylists don’t dress models themselves. I REALLY hate it when people don’t say thank you.
I know. We all work so hard, usually for free and manners don’t cost anything.
By this point the tape had long ran out and the waiters were giving us evils (we’d been pretty rowdy for a café the size of a shoebox) so it was time to move on. Bea and I could witter on for days about this stuff. I think what’s important that creative people look around themselves once in a while and then question the work they are creating. Keep it real. Keep it fantasy. Have a voice. It’s not about having the answers (listen to us two- we clearly don’t!) it’s about opening the doors to debate, opening your mind… even just opening your eyes.