COSMO Cover Girl: Behind the Scenes

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Cover photograph of Kathy Speirs by Francesco Scavullo. Jewelry by VanCleef & Arpels. Makeup by John Richardson for Clinique: Everywhere Colour shadows eyelid with "Pure Mulberry"; glows skin with "Pure Primrose." "Gentle Brown" Transparent eyeliner; "Bronzed Apricot" Cheek Gloss; "Different Apricot" lipstick. Hairstyle by Leonardo De Vega of the Charles of the Ritz salon. Slip by Scott Barrie.



Francesco Scavullo has long been acclaimed as one of the greatest beauty and fashion photographers of the late twentieth century. As a young photographer in the 1950s he developed lighting techniques that were universally flattering to the subject, which helped make him a favourite of models and movie stars for decades. His books, Scavullo on Beauty (1976) and Scavullo Women (1982), contain the apotheosis of gorgeous portraits—if you were a famous actress and he photographed you, then you never looked better again.

Though he worked for just about every magazine during his fifty-year career, his long-running association with Cosmopolitan is perhaps what he is best known for. Not only did he photograph the covers but he also produced the shoots, cast the models and supervised the hair, makeup and clothes. Helen Gurley hired Scavullo when she took over the helm at Cosmopolitan in 1965, starting a thirty year relationship in which he shot every cover. Below is a story featured in a 1972 issue of Cosmo, giving a play-by-play of a cover shoot with the legendary photographer. While the writer lightly touches on his mood swings, in 1981 Scavullo was diagnosed as manic depressive; something he believed contributed greatly to his work. ''It has influenced my life, my photography, my everything. When I'm manic, everything is intensified. It's exciting and scary—my creativity peaks, my mind races, I work through the depressions photographing intensely.'' Much of the shoot description sounds like one today—except with remarkably little magazine interference—and far better clothes (Halston! Sant'Angelo!)!


All text and images from Cosmopolitan, August 1972.
(Text by Rosemary Armmia Kent / Other photos by Hank Kemme)


You look at the COSMO cover and see a provocative girl, a pretty face, and think… that looks easy. Brush the hair, freshen the lipstick, slip into a little something great, smile maybe… the photographer snaps the picture and everyone goes home. Well, come with us to a cover shooting today and see what really goes on behind the scenes.




9:02 A.M. On a bleary March Thursday, Pat Dow, a regal-looking redheaded model from Australia, walks through the door of photographer Francesco Scavullo’s Upper East Side studio. Pat, who’s with the Ford Model Agency, is wearing Donald Brooks’ raccoon midi-coat with a pleated tartan skirt, wool pullover, no makeup. She looks like she’s on her way to a 1959 Yale football weekend. This is a COSMO cover girl?


9:15 A.M. “Yes, I have my own idea of what the COSMO cover girl should look like,” says Pat, having a quiet pre-shooting chat with Frank Scavullo in the tiny, harshly lit dressing room. “She’s feminine, yet liberated. That’s the image and the feeling I try to project in front of the camera.”




9:32 A.M. Frances Patiky Stein, freelance stylist, has been working hours organizing clothes and accessories for this shooting… all picked by her over the past week. “I don’t really think of myself as a stylist. I’m a fashion editor,” says Frances, a rail-thin dynamo many top photographers hire for important assignments. For days, Frances has been haunting designer’s showrooms, finally selecting eight outfits—Halston, Yves Saint Laurent, Giorgio di Sant’Angelo, Scott Barrie. “We’ll probably end up using four or five of these.
“Once in a while, nothing I’ve chosen looks right on the model, and we have to start all over again—new clothes, new shooting—the works. Something just doesn’t click. This is a quirky job. It takes a little mystery and a lot of hard work to get that perfect COSMO cover. Sometimes, the more you plan, the less things come together… but when the elements do snap into place, I feel it. That’s why I like to work with Scavullo. We have a secret communication going on. With him, I never scream in the middle of a shooting because an earring or scarf I’ve picked has to come off. It’s weird, but Scavullo and I both kind of sense what’s right or wrong with the look.”


9:47 A.M. The atmosphere in the studio is picking up… gaining speed. Scavullo is on the telephone. His assistants set up several cameras and huge lights while Pat finishes her nails and hairdresser Leonardo De Vega finishes putting up her hair. Frances and her assistant unpack numerous boxes of jewelry that may or may not be used for the day’s shooting. John Richardson, the makeup artist, is about to arrive with his box of magic.


10:00 A.M. Richardson, who looks lie an ex-rodeo rider, ties Pat’s green sweater around her bosom and starts covering her shoulders with makeup. In front of her is the makeup man’s ten-pound tool kit—actually a candy salesman’s sample case – crammed with makeup, some chosen by COSMO’s beauty editor, Mallen De Santis, for this shooting.


10.22 A.M. Scavullo, who’s done dozens of COSMO covers, waits for the makeup man to finish: “There’s really nothing for me to do until Pat is ready. A model usually spends about three or four hours in the dressing room. Once she’s dressed, made up, and her hair is combed, then the actual photography time is probably about twenty minutes per outfit.” A dark, intensely energetic man, Scavullo does most of his really hard work before the shooting. “I talk to the COSMO editors. Get into their heads a bit. Then I scout around. I’m always on the lookout for girls, not just models, who might be potential COSMO covers.” Scavullo has his own criteria. “ A girl’s personality can make her easier to work with, but it doesn’t really show up in a photograph. She has to have unique quality that gets to me… that special COSMO girl look. Either she has it or she doesn’t.”


11:00 A.M. John is stroking a last touch of robin’s-egg-blue eye shadow on Pat’s lids. John is pleased with his makeup job on Pat. So is Pat. “Her face takes well to makeup. She’s a Technicolor girl. I use more makeup on her for the camera, because you need stronger color for magazine reproduction.”




11:17 A.M. Leonardo tests a roller in Pat’s cinnamon-colored hair—bouncy enough and he’ll do the brushout later. Frances is on the phone to a designer. Her assistant unpacks still more boxes while a messenger boy waits in the doorway with another outfit. Oh-oh, a mix-up… the boy’s at the wrong photographer’s studio.


11:48 A.M. The hairdresser gets out a roll of Johnson & Johnson’s one-inch white masking tape… he’s going to tape Pat’s breasts slightly together. “Even though she’s bustier than most models, I still use tape to create the illusion of more fullness in the breasts. The effect is very sexy—just the way a COSMO cover girl should look,” grins Leonardo. “I’ve got bosoms. They just need to be reshuffled,” laughs Pat. “Her breasts are too pink,” says Leonardo. John sponges the tone down on Pat’s shoulders and chest, and Frances lowers Scott Barrie’s black-lace slip-dress over Pat’s rollered head.




12:25 P.M. Leonardo starts fluffing Pat’s hair. “I think of the COSMO cover girl as the woman every man would like to be seen with. She’s feminine, elegant, beautiful, with a certain quality of freedom. I want her hair to be begging for a man to run his fingers through it,” says Leonardo, flipping his brush through Pat’s hair. “Or better yet, to look like she’s just tumbled out of bed—with him!”


12:39 P.M. Minicrisis develops. Pat’s slip-dress is wrinkled. “It has to come off,” cries Frances. Her assistant rushes forward with an iron and Frances starts repressing the garment. Pat puts on a white terrycloth robe. “I’m hungry,” she says suddenly. So is everybody else. “I’ll just have cottage cheese, California-style, and some fresh fruit, not mashed up. I’ve been dieting for a week now. My diet secret is to take my own food to dinner parties,” explains Pat. Since nearly everyone in the studio is on some kind of diet and Scavullo is into macrobiotics, a health-food lunch order is placed at Butler’s, the chic new organic restaurant owned by Michael (Hair) Butler.




12:59 P.M. Four hours have passed, and now Pat steps onto the pinky-red backdrop paper. Photography time! An assistant snaps a Polaroid shot of her in the black–lace slip… a preliminary step the photographer takes to check his lighting. Another light is dragged into the studio. Pat stands restlessly, eager to begin. Scavullo scans the print with his half-bifocals and then claps his hands. “I’m ready to start.” The air becomes electric, things start popping – especially Scavullo’s Hasselblad.


1:00 P.M. Standing on a wooden crate, Scavullo peers into the camera, waves his hands at an assistant for less light, and starts talking rapidly to Pat. “Hold that… that’s good… turn a bit more this way… stick your rear out… that’s it… great… fabulous… very sexy.” Pat is getting into the mood. “Think sexy… think about it… let’s take off the jewelry…” Frances scurries in to dismantle the bracelet. “Doesn’t she need more color on her arms? Make her hair more messy.” Leonardo and John jump in with hairbrush and makeup base. Overhead, the sound of Marvin Gaye pounds out fro the studio stereo. The shooting resumes, then halts. “I can’t work with that artificial jewelry. This dress needs real diamonds. Get me some diamonds. Call Van Cleef’s, Frances,” shouts Scavullo. Frances rushes off to call and comes back. “It’s a bit difficult to get diamonds this quickly, something about the security problem.” “Then let’s do another dress,” Scavullo growls.


1:36 P.M. Lunch arrives. Scavullo insists they shoot one more outfit before breaking, even though the model complains of hunger. Frances helps her into Giorgio’s multicolored bird-print jersey pants outfit, a favorite of Pat’s. “This Sant’Angelo is better than the slip-dress… I don’t feel so self-conscious,” she says. Scavullo nods approvingly, “You look fabulous.” Again, excitement in the studio picks up. Pat is back in front of the camera, hand on one hip, dropping her head from side to side. “No, give me a profile… no, the other way… yes, that’s it… right… great… head up… feeling good?... feel beautiful… that’s the way… O.K., push your body back this way… toward me… yes, yes, that’s fabulous… get very sexy… mouth open… uh huh…. right… great. That’s the look!” And that’s the magic sentence everyone on set has been waiting to hear. Scavullo is pleased. Everyone can eat now.




2:25 P.M. “Let’s get Pat into the yellow,” says Scavullo, signaling the end of lunch. Pat pulls on Halston’s strapless yellow halter and pants. Leonardo pulls her hair forward while John touches her cheekbones with color. Scavullo says he’s already used twelve rolls of film. “I usually shoot a total of about fifteen rolls. This is a hard day.” Pat’s bosom has to be retaped. Scavullo wanders off upstairs to his living quarters “to breathe.”


2:48 P.M. Pat goes in front of the camera again. “I’m a racehorse and I can’t wait to get to the finish line,” sings a refreshed Scavullo, making everyone in the studio smile. “Let’s go… don’t hide your cleavage with your arm… that’s it… where’s that sexy look?... great…. More… fabulous… hold that… beautiful… that’s good… get that hand under the bosom… wonderful… take it away and put it back again…yes… stay that way… great.” Scavullo is snapping faster than a cap pistol, and Pat is his moving target. Frances crouches behind Scavullo, taking it all in. John and Leonardo stand by on the sidelines like a couple of anxious coaches. “We’ve got some great shots, but I’d like to see you in the white dress.” The mood drops. Pat walks off the set very quickly.


3:20 P.M. “You have to have good feet in this business,” says Frances, drops of sweat dotting her unmade-up face. The assistant is repacking boxes with leftover accessories. Pat puts on Halston’s white crepe dolman-sleeved dress. “It needs to be cleaned. There’s a spot on it,” shouts Frances, running to the rescue. For the fourth time today, Pat goes in front of the camera, and the mood in the studio again picks up.


3:55 P.M. “This will be a soft picture, I can just tell.” Scavullo is directing again. He’s happy. Pat has no shoes on and her feet are cld. “Get those Chinese slippers in the dressing room and a phone book for her to stand on.” Leonardo refluffs her hair. John powders her nose. “Her bosom needs more shine,” says Leonardo, pulling a jar of Vaseline from his pocket. “I’m like a Boy Scout, always prepared.” Scavullo hops back on his crate. “Again… there… there… that’s the way… turn against me… again… hold that… I love that…. Yes… so sexy…” In an aside Scavullo admits that the model must feel the photographer is in love with her during those few minutes she’s in front of his camera. “Give it to me… yes… bring that hand down… wet your lips…” Pat stops. She’s tired. Her back aches. John comes over and rubs her shoulders. Scavullo’s voice gets louder (Marvin Gaye was drowned out hours ago). “O.K., we’ve almost got it… this is going to be it… think sexy… marvelous… you’re getting better and better… you’re beautiful…. Yes, yes…” “O.K.,” Scavullo booms. “That’s it… that’s the cover!” Suddenly, all the tension evaporates… the session is over. Scavullo runs to hug Pat. They kiss each other. John and Frances and Leonardo and the assistants hug too. Everyone is definitely up!


4:24 P.M. Pat climbs back into her Shetland sweater. Leonardo and John pack. Frances and her assistant call the messenger service to pick up the clothes. Scavullo announces he’ll take his dog for a walk. “I’m pleased with the shooting. I know we’ve got several really great shots. But it was hard,” he says, grabbing the dogs leash. Pat wipes all her makeup away. “I’m pleased too but I’m very tired. I ache all over. Yet the satisfaction I get from being a COSMO cover girl is so great. It means a lot to me. Personally and professionally.” Exiting in her raccoon coat and no makeup, she adds, “I’m going home alone. I had to turn down a date for tonight… too tired!”


EPILOGUE: As Scavullo predicted, the cover photographs were beautiful. But the background color was wrong… too much like the red of the July cover… how come everybody forgot to worry about that?! The picture had to be reshot. Pat Dow was called, but since she was booked for another job, Kathy Speirs got the assignment. Yes, she’s the girl on this cover in the black slip. Look for Pat on our October cover… shot after a while new day of  photography, hair sets, makeup, backaches… and glory.



Cover photograph of Pat Dow by Francesco Scavullo.

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