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The Hourglass - The Pinup Experience





The Hourglass - The Pinup Experience


Digger talks to Nicole at The Hourglass. As a stylist and photographer, Nicole recognised a gap in the market for real women to be photographed in 30s, 40s and 50s pinup style. She has built-up a strong and faithful client base and has gained a reputation for offering enjoyable and rewarding photoshoots. You could even say that for a number of clients these shoots have been life-changing, providing much-needed confidence and self-esteem about their body image. And several of Nicole's clients have gone on to have careers in modelling and fashion photography.

The Hourglass - The Pinup Experience


Digger: Hello Nicole.

Nicole: Hello there David.

Digger: Please tell us a bit about your background and the background to The Hourglass.

Nicole: My background - I was born and bred in Germany and I came over here just over six years ago.

Digger: It's funny, 'cos I bet people have told you that your accent could be confused with somewhere else?

Nicole: That's good, because I don't like a German accent.

Digger: Have people said where they think you might be from?

Nicole: I've heard Holland, Denmark, New Zealand.

Digger: Yes, I'm thinking much further south like The Antipodes or South Africa maybe.

Nicole: That's quite fine by me and I can live with that.

Digger: You haven't got a very German accent at all.

Nicole: If I hear other people speak with a German accent it always makes me cringe.

Digger: How did you manage to not have an accent?

Nicole: I started learning English when I was ten and then I studied at university and had a British phonetics professor. He was fantastic and really good. I can't really put my finger on it.

Digger: Even the way you say 'No' it sounds like an Australian or New Zealand thing going on. People will never know that you're German (laughs)

Nicole: I always say "Have a guess" when people ask, not because I want to play them up, but I'm just interested to hear what they think.

Digger: I worked for a Japanese company and there was a Japanese gentleman there who studied at Birmingham and he had the poshest English accent I have ever heard. Doubly ironic seeing as he studied at Birmingham! It was really funny to hear this posh voice coming out of a Japanese guy. Sorry, we digressed...

Nicole: So, I'm a fully-trained hair stylist and make-up artist. And when I say fully-trained, the Germans are very thorough in that sort of thing. So I learned hair styling and make-up and then photography was something that I picked up on the way. Because I wanted to capture my make-up designs and I didn't want to pay a photographer every time I did something new, so I did portrait photography. When I first came here -  you make new friends and a new life and I started meeting more women that were utterly unhappy with themselves. It didn't matter what it was - legs too short, nose too crooked, but there was a always something wrong with them and I never met a woman who said "I actually really like myself."

Digger: I don't know if it's true of guys as well, but it's weird that women can be absolutely beautiful and attractive and yet they have a low self-esteem. You can look at somebody's face, for example, and when you look at the constituent parts you can say it's a rather pointy nose or big ears or whatever but when they are put as a whole they work and the woman looks incredibly beautiful. And I don't know why they have these hang-ups and always seem to focus on what they see as their bad bits. Most other people when asked about them would see them as perfect.



The Hourglass - The Pinup Experience



Nicole: No, I do have my own theories about this. First of all, female hang-ups aren't about men. Men, generally unless they are gay, like women and it doesn't matter what shape, size or age they come at. It's more about other women because, simply speaking, women compete with each other with the way they look.

Digger: I've noticed that and it's quite funny the look they do when they're checking other women out.

Nicole: It's her insecurity - is she pretty and is she a threat? I thought "Can't there be a way to break that kind of behaviour? The way that we look at ourselves in the mirror and concentrate on what we don't like instead of the ten other things that are probably alright."  So I thought to do that you'd have to change somebody's perspective of the way they look at themselves. And I thought I can do hair and I can do make-up and I've learned a lot about photography since I've been doing it so I tried it on a few friends and family and saw what they though of it. I did their hair and make-up and the reaction was unbelievable, because they'd never seen that before. The celebrity pictures that you see in the magazine, quite apart from the fact that they're airbrushed to the nines, but just the picture itself - they have their hair done, they have their make-up done and somebody telling them EXACTLY which way to look and they have the right light on them. If I do that for someone they look at least as pretty as that and I set out to prove that and that's the reason that The Hourglass started. I do not airbrush my girls because I find it utterly pointless. If I want to make someone feel better about themselves and then I take their picture and make their legs longer, waist slimmer and boobs bigger then that would make them feel worse rather than better. So I don't do that.

Digger: So you must be delighted with what Gok Wan's doing on telly?

Nicole: I do like him - he's a bit over the top.

Digger: He is, but I like him. He's very genuine and I like his character.

Nicole: But I started a lot earlier than him.

Digger: He's stolen your idea, hasn't he? (Both laugh)

Nicole: As long as the message gets out there I don't really care.

Digger: It seems to. How long it sticks for I don't know?

Nicole: I keep trying and telling people and pushing it and that's the idea behind The Hourglass. Not just going to the studio and having your photo taken.

Digger: Are people meeting others of a similar mindset as well?

Nicole: On my website I've got a forum and that is a very important part of what I do because the girls can chat to each other. Quite apart from firing mad shopping lists at each other, which they do, because they spend so much money on The Internet it's insane. Every now and again someone new pops up on the forum and says "I've been looking at this for so long and don't know if I should do it." And if she asks the question "Do you think I should have a photoshoot?" she will instantly have fifteen girls jumping on her say "You won't regret it. Do it, do it, do it." That for me is great - I can't ask for a better advert than that.

Digger: What would you say are the main reasons people enjoy having vintage and Pin-up photographs taken of themselves?

Nicole: There are several reasons. I would say that 95% of girls come to me because they do need a bit of an ego boost. They can't quite put their finger on the idea that they could actually be quite pretty or that they are.

Digger: It makes me cross that they can't see it - I've know quite a few women who've been like that and no matter how many times you tell them that it's not a problem, the next day it's a problem. They just can't get over that hang up.



The Hourglass - The Pinup Experience



Nicole: I know. I'm a woman and I suffer from the same thing and I fight it. I just try to ignore the voice in my head that says "You're not good enough." I don't know what it is.

Digger: I don't know if gay men, or straight men who are more image conscious, have the same sorts of hang ups too? It sounds like a blokey thing to say but I'm really glad that I was born a bloke because it seems so complicated to be a woman sometimes.

Nicole: I started venturing into male photography and, funnily enough, there it comes again - it wasn't any better. I got them saying "No, I can't do that - I'm not photogenic." It's a cliche but men don't talk about it as much as women. 

Digger: Why the retro thing?

Nicole: I think the retro thing is appealing because a) it flatters far more shapes and sizes than the size zero debate does - the hipster jeans and the skinny stuff. It caters for more ages and sizes and b) doing a pinup shoot you can be a bit naughty but remain family-friendly. You don't show anything - you can hang your picture on the wall even when Auntie Becky is coming. Your grandma won't be offended because she'll remember them the first time around. So kids can look at it and there's nothing offensive in them all. My son has seen mine and he's never even raised an eyebrow or asked me awkward questions. It's just a pretty picture of a pretty woman and she's smiling, she's happy and it looks so different to something you'd find on page three.

Digger: It doesn't have to have an overtly sexual thing going on.

Nicole: There's nothing in your face about it. It's a bit cheeky, a bit naughty, a bit sexy but it's not offensive. It is very appealing to discover that cheeky feminine appealing side but still be able to show the pictures around.

Digger: Is there a certain sort of person who does this or can anyone come along, no matter what age, shape or size? 

Nicole: I normally say to them as long as I can bend them in all sorts of poses and they don't need an oxygen tent afterwards... (Digger laughs) They have to be eighteen at least.

Digger: And can be eighty.

Nicole: Yeah, of course - if you're fit enough to get up the stairs to my studio and I don't have to worry if I'm going to give you a heart attack any minute, then please come. As long as you're healthy and fit and female then you're mine!

Digger: What should people do in the way of preparation and what, if anything, should they bring along with them when they come to you?

Nicole: They have to bring their own clothes and if they have any props from feather boas to whatever.

Digger: Those props aren't yours in the photos?

Nicole: I do have a few - I've got a client who brings her own props and I just can't believe she manages to get them in here. On the calendar we did now - my partner John worked in the film industry for a long time in props and he made her a cauldron to sit in. That's quite unusual. Most props are brought by the girls but I've got a selection of smaller stuff here. Parasols and old suitcases - that kind of stuff. Every time I see something for the studio I buy it but most things are brought in by the girls themselves.

Digger: And the clothes obviously.



The Hourglass - The Pinup Experience



Nicole: Yes, my house wouldn't be big enough if I had to store all the clothes. It is underwear and I wouldn't want to share that. I do have help for the girls though because I've got seven companies that I work with now that offer the girls discounts if they have a shoot with me.

Digger: I recognised some of the names on there like What Katie Did.

Nicole: Yes, so they offer a 15% discount or whatever - if they book a shoot with me they get a code and then they can use it.

Digger: So, what sort of feedback do you get about your service and the photographs from customers?  

Nicole: To be honest, sometimes I look at it and I can't believe it and it makes me so happy. I get feedback like "Oh my God, I can't believe that's me." That's one that I hear a lot. I have other people who say I've changed their life which is unbelievable - it's flattering, and humbling actually, when I think that it was just a few pictures. But it obviously has an incredible impact on them. I've had girls that came to me for the first time four years ago and after that became proper models.

Digger: Wow.

Nicole: I've got Fleur de Guerre, who is quite a name in the vintage modelling scene now. She was here before anywhere else and this was the first time she did a photo shoot. She's got her own website now called Diary of a Vintage Girl. She's involved with magazines like The Chap and that kind of thing. She was working at Goodwood Vintage and is quite well known. I've got another girl called Stephanie Green and she's a proper fashion model now - she models bridal wear for fashion magazines.

Digger: And that's because she originally came to you?

Nicole: Yes, she'd done three or four shoots with me and I get people coming back. I've got people who get addicted to this and they come back again and again and again because they think they can do better next time. They plan it for a whole year and say "I know exactly what I want to wear this time." So it's incredible. Luckily, so far, I've only had one shoot where I wasn't happy with it and afterwards I thought it was a disaster. Apart from that one the girls have so much fun.

Digger: Was it an attitude or state of mind thing with the lady on the disastrous one?

Nicole: Yes, it was the whole thing because she was just rather bitter about everything and I could not get through. I'm usually quite good at finding out how people tick. I couldn't get through and it was really sad.

Digger: It's going to happen very occasionally.

Nicole: Normally, I get girls saying that it makes them feel like a million dollars when they look in the mirror. And on the day they have a laugh and feel special. And when they get the pictures and the reaction of other people who say how beautiful they look. It just gives you the high of a lifetime.

Digger: Does digital make it any easier compared to the old-fashioned technology?

Nicole: I think it does, in the sense that I basically don't have to develop the films like in the old days. I use Photoshop and I can do this at home and crop or take out things that went wrong in the picture.

Digger: But you don't airbrush?

Nicole: No, but if a girl has a problem skin and spots which I can't cover well with make-up then I will take it out because, simply, it is not really her. They will heal up eventually and she will look different again, if you see what I mean? What I will never do is change the age or the shape or the size of somebody because that's not necessary. So I use Photoshop as a tool. 

Digger: What are the most enjoyable aspects of what you do?

Nicole: Simply making people feel better about themselves. When they go away I can see in their eyes that they got something out of it - I made them smile and feel good and that is better than any payment, it really is. It makes me feel better as well, it's such a simple thing.

Digger: Everybody wins.

Nicole: Exactly. The most important thing is people's positive reactions and I love it, I really love it.

Digger: What is your retro/vintage passion?

Nicole: Clothes. 

Digger: (Laughs) That comes as no surprise!

Nicole: And cars. Unfortunately I don't have one but I love the vintage cars.

Digger: Because there are some people who live the life, aren't there? Vintage house, vintage car, vintage friends.

Nicole: I know. I don't want to live in the forties - not in a million years. I say to people "Have a look at the forties, there was nothing left because it was just after the war." I do love my microwave, my dishwasher and my computer. I couldn't live without it and I couldn't run the business without it. I love the fashions and the look and the movies and also fifties Rockabilly music. The cars are so beautiful.

Digger: Coming from Germany do you bring a different perspective to it compared to somebody who was brought up in the UK or the USA do you think? 

Nicole: I suppose. It's quite interesting with the history thing, at the moment it's the 70th anniversary of The Battle of Britain.

Digger: You must notice how obsessed we seem to be here with the war?

Nicole: I was following a discussion with Paxman yesterday evening and there was a German journalist there saying how it was seen in Germany. I found that rather interesting.

Digger: They probably don't even care these days.



The Hourglass - The Pinup Experience


The Hourglass - The Pinup Experience



Nicole: No, I wouldn't say that. I was brought up with guilt because there is a huge difference in living in the winning or the losing country. It is seventy years ago but we were brought up to be ashamed of what our ancestors did and that we should never forget what they did. And that's quite alright, but the thing is, living here, I've learned more about the German history in World War II than I did in Germany. I do find it rather weird that the Brits do have an obsession with war history.

Digger: Yes, there are lots of reasons for that. Our Empirical past and the loss of Empire. And you think we can't forget World War II? -  we can't forget Waterloo or Agincourt either, hence our rocky relationship with the French.

Nicole: Isn't that the same with football? Every time Germany and England meet they expect there to be a palaver.

Digger: We seem to care much more than The Germans about what the total score is.

Nicole: I find it a strange mixture, because I was brought up to have no passion for the military and I think that does come from the German thing.

Digger: The forties scene is HUGE here.

Nicole: Yes, the burlesque scene is getting bigger in Germany, much bigger and you get dedicated clubs. Hamburg, for instance, has an enormous number of burlesque clubs and the retro fashion is coming there as well but it isn't quite as big as it is here. But then it's also incredibly big in America.



The Hourglass - The Pinup Experience



Digger: There are hundreds, if not thousands, of companies satisfying our demand for retro, vintage and nostalgia. Why is retro, vintage and nostalgia so enduringly popular? 

Nicole: Good question. I don't know is the simple answer. I have no idea why somebody would properly want to live vintage, I mean grow your own veg and do everything by hand - don't have a telly. I think that's over the top. But from a fashion point of view. If I look at women's fashion at the moment, women have come a long way over the last fifty to seventy years because we are now almost equal.

Digger: Yes, and men are almost equal sometimes. I mean, in this society, sometimes men are actually treated as inferior.

Nicole: That's where it becomes problematic because in some ways women have overtaken men and not in a very nice way. Because there are now certain things that women can do that men can't. For instance, as a woman you're allowed to be sexist - you can't do that as a man. Somebody would sue you for it. I was watching an advert the other day and I said to my partner John "My God, a women gets rid of her partner by throwing him off the sofa." Can you imagine that happening the other way round, it would cause a huge uproar.

Digger: They'd argue, if challenged, that's it's ironic.

Nicole: It's not on, so in the whole terms of being liberal and equal we did shoot ourselves in the foot a bit because we have to be supermums, superhousewives, supercareerwomen.

Digger: Superlovers.

Nicole: Yes, pretty all the time but then when you look at the vintage thing and, on the surface, it makes things easier. There were clear rules for men and for women. But we want the positive side back - we want the gentlemen. We suddenly do like the idea that a man opens a door for us whereas twenty years ago it was frowned upon. "I can open my own doors." Yes, but isn't it nice?

Digger: I'd do it for men or women as a courtesy.

Nicole: And with fashion now, as well, we wear jeans and T-shirts. A busy woman, be it a housewife or someone with a career or both. You get up in the morning, have a shower, dry yourself, put your jeans and T-shirt on or whatever you have to wear for work and off you go. You have no time for standing in front of the mirror doing your rollers, your pin curls, your make-up - that's not happening anymore. So when you get the chance, it's such a nice change to suddenly look in the mirror and look like a forties film star.

Digger: Retro and vintage generally seems to be very popular these days, be it fashion, music, furnishings, accessories, motoring or whatever. It's a huge genre because it's everything that's happened in the past. I think people are retreating back to what they perceive as better times because the times now are so unpredictable.

Nicole: Are we going up, are we going down? We can hark back to something that we already know.

Digger: Can you tell us about your future plans for The Hourglass?

Nicole: Well, upwards and onwards I would say.  I like being surprised by things. And sometimes opportunities arise from things when you didn't even know they were there.

Digger: Yes, that's good when that happens - I like that.

Nicole: Yes, when you go "That's amazing." I always dream into the future and I don't give up on it because, sooner or later, it will happen, And I would love to have a proper, bigger, dedicated studio just for me and my girls basically. I do have a studio which is mine at the moment but it is quite small. It can get a bit cramped in here.

Digger: Other countries?

Nicole: I don't know. I like it here. But if you said you'd pay me to shoot somewhere else then, of course.

Digger: I'm just thinking about The Internet because it offers all sorts of opportunities internationally, but what you're doing taking photographs means you do have that physical requirement to be there.

Nicole: I did have a positive surprise this morning because I overtook everyone on Google and reached the top for Pinup Photography. That is quite nice because I was second place for some time. This morning, I overtook Viva Van Story who is a very popular Pinup photographer from America. But today I checked and was above her on Google and I thought "Bloody hell!" Just by the links and the way people click on my site.

Digger: That's very good.

Nicole: Yes, and it has been an amazing journey so far and I would never have thought that I'd be here four years later and that I have enough girls coming here that I can still afford it. And as long as there is somebody knocking on my door wanting to have a photoshoot then I'll be doing it.

Digger: That's a great story Nicole and I wish you continued success and enjoyment with your business.

Nicole: Thanks David. 



    The Hourglass - The Pinup Experience





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