The Hourglass - The Pinup Experience
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
Digger: Hello Nicole.
Hello there David.
Please tell us a bit about your background and the background
to The Hourglass.
My background - I was born and bred in Germany and I came over
here just over six years ago.
It's funny, 'cos I bet people have told you that your accent
could be confused with somewhere else?
That's good, because I don't like a German accent.
Have people said where they think you might be from?
I've heard Holland, Denmark, New Zealand.
Yes, I'm thinking much further south like The Antipodes or
South Africa maybe.
That's quite fine by me and I can live with that.
You haven't got a very German accent at all.
If I hear other people speak with a German accent it always
makes me cringe.
How did you manage to not have an accent?
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.
Even the way you say 'No' it sounds like an Australian or New
Zealand thing going on. People will never know that you're
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.
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
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."
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.
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
I've noticed that and it's quite funny the look they do when
they're checking other women out.
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
So you must be delighted with what Gok Wan's doing on telly?
I do like him - he's a bit over the top.
He is, but I like him. He's very genuine and I like his
But I started a lot earlier than him.
He's stolen your idea, hasn't he? (Both laugh)
As long as the message gets out there I don't really care.
It seems to. How long it sticks for I don't know?
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.
Are people meeting others of a similar mindset as well?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Why the retro thing?
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.
It doesn't have to have an overtly sexual thing going on.
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?
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.
And can be eighty.
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?
They have to bring their own clothes and if they have any
props from feather boas to whatever.
Those props aren't yours in the photos?
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
And the clothes obviously.
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.
I recognised some of the names on there like What Katie Did.
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?
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
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.
And that's because she originally came to you?
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.
Was it an attitude or state of mind thing with the lady on the
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.
It's going to happen very occasionally.
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.
Does digital make it any easier compared to the old-fashioned
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.
But you don't airbrush?
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
Digger: What are the most enjoyable aspects of what you do?
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.
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?
(Laughs) That comes as no surprise!
And cars. Unfortunately I don't have one but I love the vintage
Because there are some people who live the life, aren't there?
Vintage house, vintage car, vintage friends.
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.
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?
I suppose. It's quite interesting with the history thing, at
the moment it's the 70th anniversary of The Battle of Britain.
You must notice how obsessed we seem to be here with the war?
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.
They probably don't even care these days.
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
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
Isn't that the same with football? Every time Germany and
England meet they expect there to be a palaver.
We seem to care much more than The Germans about what the
total score is.
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.
The forties scene is HUGE here.
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.
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?
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.
Yes, and men are almost equal sometimes. I mean, in this
society, sometimes men are actually treated as inferior.
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.
They'd argue, if challenged, that's it's ironic.
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.
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?
I'd do it for men or women as a courtesy.
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.
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
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
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.
Yes, that's good when that happens - I like that.
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.
I don't know. I like it here. But if you said you'd pay me to
shoot somewhere else then, of course.
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.
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.
That's very good.
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.
That's a great story Nicole and I wish you continued success
and enjoyment with your business.