Dive beneath the scenes of our underwater fashion shoot in the Bahamas. Words by Damian Foxe and Millicent Simon
Suited and booted for a British winter, the model wears neither protective chainmail nor mask while filming. He shuts his eyes against the salty water while technical adjustments are made by the crew – something that “takes some balls” while surrounded by sharks, says photographer Zena Holloway.
While the model, photographer and three-person dive crew are on the ocean bed, junior fashion editor Millicent Simon remains on the support boat preparing the clothes for each shot. Battling motion sickness, tropical sun and intense humidity, she wrestles with bulging suitcases. The choppy sea hurls waves on deck, drenching the contents. She unpeels the soggy coats, jackets, shirts and trousers from the cases, deploying air tanks, steering wheels, metal railings and ladders as temporary clothes rails and mannequins.
The shark wrangler has nine boxes of dead fish to attract and “manage” the sharks. For each underwater session, he attracts around 20 Caribbean reef sharks, some up to 3m long. They aren’t man eaters, but even an unintentional nip can slice off a finger, so he wears head-to-toe chainmail.
Twelve metres is much deeper than underwater photographer Zena Holloway usually works; it’s a long way to carry the kit for each of the shots, but it’s the perfect location for the shoot. Four battery-powered lights, two stands, 60lb of lead, two video cameras, two Canon cameras in Seacam housing, plus alternative clothes and accessory options for each shot have to be taken down in as few trips as possible to avoid the bends (too many deep dives in too short a time cause dissolved gases in the bloodstream to form bubbles inside the body when depressurising on ascent – resulting in joint pains and, in extreme cases, paralysis and death). There’s a limit to the number of sessions that any diver can do in one day, so the shark-wranglers role stretches to ad-hoc modelling in a natty Kenzo coat and trousers and Jimmy Choo shoes.
There are just 40 minutes of each dive-time, so the crew have to work fast. Lights are quickly secured with weights, and as red is lost from the colour spectrum at this depth underwater, red gel is applied. Every so often a shark rams into the photographer’s strobes or clips the crew with a fin as it streaks past. They also stir up great plumes of sand and debris, so the shoot has to move to a sunken wreck – the 200ft former Haitian freighter Ray of Hope.
After a second challenging day underwater, the team are left with 40 empty air cylinders, nine sodden designer outfits, one set of very bloodshot eyes – and an amazing set of pictures. It’s a wrap.
With special thanks to the peerlessly elegant One&Only Ocean Club Bahamas, which not only provided the How To Spend It team with blissful bed and board for the duration of the shoot, but also helped to restore the brine soaked clothes to their former glory. And to the luxury brands that loaned those clothes and accessories, which, despite our best efforts, may not have been returned in quite the pristine state in which they were supplied.