On Saturday 11 May, eleven seemingly ordinary Harpenden women shook out their faux furs, slipped on their sexiest heels, fluffed out their hair, brightened their lippy and took up their positions for a Vanity Fair style photo shoot for pennybird and camera. Each of them career women, nearly all of them mothers - even a grandmother. Funny, vivacious and courageous - with depth of character, varied interests and passions - their ages spanning five decades. The only thing slightly amiss about this lineup is that they are wearing nothing beneath their coats.
the story in brief - or briefs?
A couple of months ago, a friend of mine mentioned that Harpenden women were occasionally referred to as “fur coats and no knickers”.
The term was new to me, so I consulted Google, and came up with this definition:
“Have an impressive or sophisticated appearance which belies the fact that there is nothing to substantiate it.”
‘the government's policies are all fur coat and no knickers’ (lol!)
And not the women I have met. Time for a bold statement.
My creative juices started working overtime - I was thinking a group portrait, faux fur, pearls and heels, and some leggy ladies who couldn’t bare being coated with this brush!
I published the request on my Harpenden through the lens Facebook group and crossed my fingers. The response was immediate and hugely positive - I had a dozen volunteers within 24 hours - there is nothing wallflower-ish about Harpenden women. Thrilled, I got straight to work organising the models. After a flurry of activity involving hair, makeup, posing and accessories, we were all set for the shoot date.
the vanity fair style shoot
This began, rather fittingly, with the popping of Prosecco corks. A dose of Dutch courage was needed to remove all underwear before the models took up their positions. And, with a saucy twist, the ladies decided to spice things up by insisting that I do the shoot without my knickers as a mark of solidarity. (Well, in for a penny…).
The eleven models were grouped and photographed in three separate images which I combined into the finished composite. My inspiration is from the famous Vanity Fair Hollywood Covers - which have been published since 1995.
When I was researching Vanity Fair, I came across this quote from William Makepeace Thackeray, author of the novel of the same name, which I found very apt:
“Good humour may be said to be one of the very best articles of dress one can wear in society.”
To thank these extraordinary women for their good humour and participation in my project, they each received a fine art print of the portrait - which I hope will make them smile secretly to themselves every time they glimpse it.
As always, I love the stories my clients bring to my studio, as they add texture and meaning to their portraits. So I asked the models if they were willing to share their motivations for taking part in my latest project - and here are some of the lovely contributions I received.
to celebrate strong women…
This is a fabulous way to celebrate strong women across all generations. The lady I bought my fake fur coat from told me it had belonged to her late Grandmother - Madeleine - who would definitely have approved of the shoot!
don’t judge a book by it’s cover…
I was excited to take part in this project because it’s important to remember the truth about not judging a book by its cover. There is so much more to women than meets the eye. The women of Harpenden (as elsewhere) are women of substance; friends, mothers, lovers, daughters, sisters, professionals - experts in many fields from domesticity to hedonism. We are fighters and achievers, have depth, humility, hunger, brains and brawn, and yes, love a (fake) fur and, as for the knickers? Well, that’s our little secret!
because i could…
Why did I want to take part? Three words. Because I could. It’s as simple and complex as that.
opportunities to grow in confidence are rare…
I was given many reasons why I shouldn’t do the shoot, but opportunities to grow in confidence are so rare that I did it. And I don’t regret it.
we are set apart by the crazy things we do…
I wink at challenges…
I took part in #furcoatnoknickers because I am a strong woman who takes a look at challenges, and gives them a wink!
laughter is wine for the soul…
I love an adventure and a project and Penny’s latest idea was a great opportunity to be part of a local community collaboration.
My passion is having fun and spreading kindness and happiness. Life needs to be full of joy and slightly off the wall experiences either alone, or with friends and family.
The #furcoatnoknickers project was great fun with lots of laughter and was definitely wine for my soul!
i felt liberated and VULNERABLE at the same time…
As a coach I’m always encouraging clients to step outside their comfort zones and do things they have never done before. What better way to do that myself than take part in a photoshoot in only a fur coat? The sensation of my naked derriere perched on the wooden stool was definitely new to me, making me feel liberated, but very vulnerable too - interestingly much more than my coat-clad appearance shows!
About my photographic projects
Harpenden, Hertfordshire has been my base for almost 15 years. I began my photographic journey five years ago and collaborate with the locals every year to showcase some of the unique character of the town. Projects I’ve completed include Harpenden Doors, Harpenden Shoes, Harpenden Letters and Harpenden Reds. These can be viewed online or at my home studio in Ox Lane, by appointment.
I also run #SHEINSPIRES during international Women’s Month each year to recognise Harpenden women in our midst who inspire others. I believe it’s vital to stop and appreciate the people around us and to say thank you in some way for their efforts, even if it’s a virtual hug. These shining people - with their strength of spirit - spur us on to make a greater difference in our own lives.
If you would like to be involved in future projects, or have an idea for a project, please join my Facebook group Harpenden through the lens.