The first time I met Shawn Black was at a coffee shop a few blocks from my Boutique. I had been drawn to his photography for some time; his use of lighting made for very distinct and dramatic images that I had not seen anywhere else and his photographs oozed sensuality in the most editorial way. I needed to work with him. When I contacted Shawn to collaborate on a photoshoot I was planning to style for my business, I had no idea that we would be there for well over an hour and that we had so many similarities in our work despite using different mediums. We shared many of the same views regarding society’s misrepresentation and degradation of women’s bodies and esteem through media, and how we were both determined to bring body positivity and self-love to our clients. We scrolled through recent images of women he had photographed in the studio and all of them were stunning. I could not believe that every woman looked like a supermodel; the clients had been all shapes and sizes and each one radiated beauty. I was well versed in the transformative power of clothing, but I had never experienced the power of a Boudoir shoot. I was intrigued and ultimately, I decided to book a session for myself.
The first time I visited the Couture Black Studio, I was greeted by Shawn and Michelle and was given a tour of the space. I was in awe of their infamous Inferno Wings and I had never seen anything like these before outside of a televised Victoria’s Secret runway show. Michelle in her creative genius had managed to build multiple pairs in numerous colors just for clients of the studio. When I tried on the fiery red pair I felt like Nike; the red feathers eclipsed me cascading down my sides to the floor and they moved with me as I walked. That moment made me excited about the possibilities of what my own shoot could be. We sat down and discussed my thoughts for the shoot, what kinds of pieces would look best on camera, and what I should do to prepare. It was new for me to be on the other side of this conversation; while I had worked with lingerie before I was not versed in outfitting my own body with it especially for something like a photoshoot. I left feeling inspired and elated; my brain was cycling through ideas and I was ready to start shopping.
Shopping for my looks, however, proved to be a difficult task. The stylist in me wanted pieces that varied in color, texture, and style. My brain insisted that nothing would look good and flatter my body. As I scrolled through countless images online, I couldn’t help but feel like I was an imposter. I doubted anything would actually look good on me. Who was I kidding? I was the girl who was tormented in grade school for my appearance; for my weight and for having a bigger butt. Despite years of commitment to a healthy diet and rigorous daily exercise, I still have some loose skin on my stomach from years of battling anxiety and depression along with weight issues caused from hypothyroidism and hormonal imbalance. I had colleagues in New York that had been professional models and even with plastic surgery I could never look like them. Me falling into the world of luxury fashion was an accident in and of itself; even when I worked in Manhattan, I knew my place and that most of the product I worked with was not created for people with bodies like mine. My first job had been on the 6th floor of Barney’s New York and beyond the racks of Dries Van Noten, Miu Miu, and Stella McCartney was a little slice of boudoir paradise. It was there I was exposed to the delicate laces of La Perla, the elegance and simplicity of Eres, and the ultra-luxe silks with a twist of kink from Kiki de Montparnasse. I had fitted many women in these pieces and admired them from afar, but I never once dared to put them on myself. I didn’t believe they were for me. I was not worthy.
I scrolled desperately online for weeks until I finally had a breakthrough when I discovered the lingerie of Honey Birdette. The pieces and styles spoke to me and I found a few sets that I loved so much I had to have them. I was not hung up on how they would look; I decided I would make them work.
When the boxes finally arrived, I was in love. Every detail of the packaging was luxurious, and the pieces were as beautiful as the ones I remembered from my time in New York City. I tried them on and when I looked in my bathroom mirror, I realized they weren’t that scary or intimidating. A navy set I purchased even made me think I looked sexy. From that point on I became obsessed. I discovered many more fantastic lines including Bordelle and Bluebella. I even made a special trip to L’Agent Provocateur during my market trip to look for something extra special. Everything was so beautiful and feminine in a way that regular clothing was not, and I could still create distinct looks with my choice of shoes and accessories. I found I was really enjoying the process.
When I pulled up to the Couture Black Studio the morning of my shoot, I got out of the car was trying not to look flustered. It was late June and I felt completely drained from the previous four months of dealing with the new normal created by Coronavirus. I had spent that time fighting for my business, driving to my client’s homes to drop off packages, delivering PPE, and ultimately packing up my boutique at the end of my lease. Despite having packed my car with a carefully curated and prepared wardrobe and my entire stylist’s bag of tricks, I couldn’t help but feel anxious about getting in front of the camera in just lingerie. I was not feeling very sexy. I took a deep breath, climbed up the stairs, and tried to put myself at ease.
Inside the studio I was inside a whole other world where I could just be in the moment and be myself. After unpacking my wardrobe, I had the opportunity to relax and have my hair and makeup done which was a real treat after month of not even being able to go into a salon. Shawn looked through my pieces and selected what we would shoot, and once I stepped out in my first look, a lacy red bra and panty with thigh highs and heels, I knew there was nowhere to hide. It was time to get in front of the camera and bare all.
When Shawn showed me my first behind the camera sneak peek, my reaction was disbelief. “That’s me? HOLY SHIT. I don’t look like THAT.” It was me in the frame. Just me. I understood then that this was the whole point of boudoir; in your nakedness you can be unabashedly and unapologetically yourself. You embrace all of yourself: your body, your sexuality, your power, your story, your spirit. The experience was special because it afforded me a moment to transcend everything I had ever believed or projected on myself. The negative self-talk and body image issues I carried into the studio with me where nowhere to be found when I finally saw my images. In fact, it was really challenging to select the ones I wanted because there were so many that made me feel a sense of self pride and love. I needed to feel loved and beautiful and I know that so many women need to feel that. Loving yourself for who you are is a such a gift and sometimes we need someone to give us a different lens with which to appreciate what makes us who we are. This is what it means to become a Bombshell.
*Special thanks to the Couture Black community online for supporting me and my experience; I love supporting others and following their journeys as they too become a Bombshell. For more information on Couture Black, please check out www.coutureblack.com and The Couture Black Lounge on Facebook.