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Assembly-Line Glitz: a 2-Hour Photo Finish

Times Staff Writer

They walk into the mall looking like Kate and Allie. They walk out like Alexis and Krystle, glamorized full tilt, all in about two hours. They’ve been painted, curled, brushed, sprayed, and otherwise primed for the grand finale: a photo session using every visual trick known to flatter womankind.

Tender golden lighting and soft-focus lenses create the sun-kissed impression of natural delicacy. Pound-slimming poses, a wind machine and hair teased to the maximum allowable limit make for a wild, brazen-hussy look.

No, they aren’t fashion models sitting for portfolio shots by Scavullo, they’re teen-agers, homemakers and businesswomen at the Del Amo Fashion Center in Torrance. They’re here at the new Headshots studio to take advantage of a unique, budget-priced, assembly-line approach to glamour photography. Mall habitues say the studio, open since August, is increasingly packed with women eager to be transformed--often with twice as many spectators looking in on the makeovers-in-progress.

Once a Pricey Business

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High-glitz photo services are not new, but they have been largely reserved for actresses, models and those who can afford their traditionally steep prices.

For instance, Harry Langdon, Hollywood’s best known glamour photographer, says he charges a minimum of $2,000 (plus $600 for hair styling and makeup) for the simplest photo session and estimates there are about four or five local photographers working in a similar price range. For an intense, pressure-filled series of commercial photos--perhaps Joan Collins advertising four different products in a four-hour shoot, he says--Langdon’s fee is $12,000. At the low end, he adds, there are photographers who will do glamour portraiture, sometimes including hair styling and makeup, for about $350. But at systematized Headshots, the fee (for everything except prints) is $55--the price of a pair of designer jeans. And the Honolulu-based firm, which opened its second outlet in the mall, intends to keep the fee low enough for the pocketbooks of women who don’t “have manicures and their hair done every week.”

“We’re into discovering normal women and making them look like stars,” explains 27-year-old Headshots President Caree Waltz, a Honolulu-based photographer who founded the company last year with her partner, 30-year-old Honolulu makeup artist Karen Rego. The two, who had worked in the fashion industry, got tired of working with “snobby models.”

Favors the Natural Look

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“I’ve had women (non-model clients) tell me they haven’t felt good in 15 years and this was the first time they’ve felt pretty,” says Waltz, a blonde who, for herself, favors a natural rather than flashy look. “It builds self-esteem. We’re not just offering a product. We’ve seen girls get tears in their eyes. Every woman can be gorgeous. Every woman has something. You just have to find it.”

As for the quality and style of the pictures, Diana Lanham, director of Honolulu-based Susan Page’s Modeling Agency thinks Headshots photos are “great” for the non-modeling public but almost useless for models.

Says Lanham, “I have to see them (would-be models who send the agency Headshots photos) in person because (Headshots photographers) photograph them beautifully. They look great, but a lot of times they don’t look that good in person.”

For models, Lanham contends, the look in which Headshots specializes, is “too glamorous, too made up. That look isn’t selling now. What’s selling is girls looking real natural, as if they’re wearing no makeup.”

But none of those concerns bothered 17-year-old Deanna Taylor, who came to the studio on a recent Monday night, and was frankly astonished with the results.

“My father said if he saw me walking down the street like that he’d wouldn’t even recognize me. When my friends saw the picture (a Polaroid taken before the shoot), they said ‘There’s no way that’s you.’ This one lady in an office where I work said that I could play a witch on a soap opera,” recalls Taylor, a senior at Redondo Union High School, describing the pretty, Jezebel-like Polaroid. “There’s this one guy in my economics class who keeps asking me if I’ve gotten my pictures back yet.”

What’s Best for Her

Taylor arrived at Headshots wearing no makeup and sporting freshly washed, unstyled hair, as instructed. While some patrons request a specific look (among the hundreds of choices available: madcap model, innocent romantic, steamy vixen, and responsible businesswoman, which requires the customer to bring her own wardrobe), Taylor asked the staff to create whatever look they felt would be best for her.

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Makeup artist/hair stylist/company vice president Rego decided to go all out with a high-fashion image reminiscent of Brooke Shields on the cover of Vogue.

First, Taylor slipped into a strapless, cotton print pareu (a garment traditionally worn by Polynesian women) and her long brown hair was wound and twisted on flexible heated rollers called Hot Sticks. Next, Rego applied a heavy foundation base and heightened Taylor’s cheekbones with contouring powders. Her prominent chin was diminished with more powders; smoky eyes and deep, pouty lips were painted on. Rego warned that the strong makeup would look terrible in the mirror--but great on film.

Because the look was intense, Rego decided it needed little else. No feathers, flowers, veiled hats or any of the hundreds of other props kept on hand. Taylor’s only accessories were an oversized pair of bronze-like earrings and a piece of bronze-colored fabric, wrapped like a strapless evening gown across her chest.

In the photo studio, Waltz instructed her subject quickly and precisely: “Deanna, put your hands on your hips, bring your right shoulder forward, now kick the other shoulder forward like this. . . . If your eyes start to water (because of the wind machine) just close them and tell me. If you wait for them to get better, it can ruin your makeup . . . part your lips, just slightly . . . That’s beautiful . . . bring your chin down. . . . Use your eyes for me, Deanna . . . eyes right here . . . beautiful.”

Then, glancing at a just-shot Polaroid, Waltz consulted with her partner. “Karen, would you say I should lighten it just a touch? Maybe a quarter of a stop? It’s looking a little sallow.”

Standard Eight Shots

After adjustments and a second Polaroid, the standard eight shots were taken, poses from which clients can choose prints--from wallet-to mural-sized.

Total time elapsed: about an hour in the makeup/styling chair, 20 minutes in the photo studio, and perhaps another half hour spent changing, waiting, looking at photo books and handling financial details.

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At the Del Amo store, three such makeovers begin approximately each hour, and lately, customers have had to book appointments well in advance, although the partners say walk-in appointments are sometimes available during the week.

Waltz and Rego say they have been approached by Liberty House, Hawaii’s largest department store and recently signed a contract for a Headshots boutique in that store. A Japanese firm, they add, has made overtures about Headshots outlets in Japan. In the meantime, the two expect to open more stores in malls throughout the United States.

Though success came quickly, the venture was a big gamble, says Waltz. She recalls that after she and Rego began feeling limited working chiefly for the fashion industry, the two teamed up to do portraits of non-models in Waltz’s studio, for which they charged $250 per session. So the fees could be reduced, Waltz came up with the notion of booking several women at once and, in the process, created her assembly-line concept.

The two decided to take the concept to the broader public at the Ala Moana Shopping Center, near tourist-laden Waikiki Beach. They drew up a business plan and presented it to the center’s leasing agents, but the idea was rejected as likely to fail. According to Rego, the businessmen at the center didn’t understand the service’s psychological appeal--that “every

Warnings Ignored

However a female leasing agent did, and she had the authority to give them a temporary space at the mall during the Christmas season, says Waltz. They frantically prepared to open in two weeks, using their available savings and credit card funds and ignoring the warning that they should expect to lose money for their entire first year in business. The paint on the walls was still wet on their opening day.

“But we paid off all our bills and made a $25,000 profit the first month,” Rego enthuses. Some of that profit has even come from the models they once tried to escape. “We do have models who come in but we don’t cater to them,” sighs Waltz. “We teach our people, ‘You don’t give the models more attention than the 250-pound woman. They’re both gorgeous to you.’ ”


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