The Perks of Being a Plus One
In her new photo book, Sharon Socol goes behind the fashion world's closed doors as her husband's plus one.
February 13, 2013
Sharon Socol, author of Plus One: An Outsider's Journey Into the World of Fashion
While the fashion industry's eyes are fixed on New York Fashion Week, we’re focused on a pair of eyes that have seen it all. As the wife of former Barneys New York CEO Howard Socol, photographer Sharon Socol has had elite, “plus one” access to some of the most exclusive fashion shows, events, and closed-door tête-à-têtes. She began snapping candid images as she hopped from afterparty to runway show to backstage and beyond, and has now bound them into a book, Plus One: An Outsider's Journey Into the World of Fashion. And while New York is her playground, Miami is her home; Plus One was published this month by South Florida’s own Books & Books Press. Earlier this month Socol celebrated the book’s official launch with a signing and photography exhibit at Books & Books Coral Gables. Here, she describes her journey from outsider to insider to author.
Getting into the party is one thing, but feeling like you belong is another. As an outsider, how did you find your place in those high fashion social circles?
SHARON SOCOL: I am smiling with this question. Entering into my husband’s new world of fashion was a challenge. I did not feel at ease for a long time. Even now I still feel stomach jitters. I immediately selected a personal shopper to help me get with the dress code. As far as the people part of [Howard’s] world, getting to know those with whom he worked with was easy. The management at Barneys was most friendly and very open. The ‘players’ in the fashion world—designers, celebrities, etc.—were harder for me because I didn’t speak their language. I started to make the transition a few years in when I learned I could bring who I was to the moment and allow those with whom I interacted to meet me.
Did anyone ever disapprove of your taking photos at private events?
SS: Not really. In fact, many of the attendees at the parties and events had their own cameras.
Which of your photos is most dear to you?
SS: The question reminds me of who is your favorite child! [But] one of my favorites is a photo with Isabella Blow, English magazine editor and [milliner] Philip Treacy's muse. The photo was taken at one of the first Paris shows I attended. I had no idea who Isabella was. I saw a woman in a very remarkable hat alongside many others who were attending. She was sitting a few seats away. I was caught up in her hat and when she glanced my way I clicked the shutter. Later, when I viewed the image, I saw a circular shadow on the floor in tandem with the hat and a ghost-like model on the runway. I felt magic. When I included this photo in my edits, someone said, ‘Oh, that’s Isabella.' Since this photo was taken before she died, its meaning has increased.
Aside from the photos you collected for the book, what are the perks of being a plus one?
SS: I like this question. I liked meeting very nice people, learning about the history and art of fashion, getting very good tips about dressing, having my makeup and hair done for special events, and sometimes having a designer fit a dress, which is the story I tell in the essay of Plus One. I could experience this world one moment and go back to my world the next.
You shot many of these photographs before Instagram blew up. What are your feelings on this new era of mobile photography?
SS: It probably adds to the allure and is changing the effects of fashion. The phone is the most immediate tool to record what’s happening in fashion, or anything. Film needs processing, digital downloading, but phones need nano seconds to enter the world and reach millions, many of whom had never been reached before.
When did you decide that your photographs should be turned into a book?
SS: Plus One evolved from a life goal to publish. If I couldn’t be a novelist, then substitute a photography book. When I was switching to digital from film, I showed my fashion world photographs to my digital teacher. He immediately said, ‘There’s a book project here.’ Also, my husband had been encouraging me to do something with the photographs I have made during the last 35 years.
And the decision to use Books & Books Press?
SS: In early 2011, I edited and collated the images into a dummy version. After about six months, I found a New York publishing house that took interest. Three months later while waiting for them to respond, I decided to show it to Mitch Kaplan at Books & Books. I still marvel at how quickly Mitch responded by saying, ‘I want Books & Books Press to do this.’ I turned down the New York house and signed with Books & Books Press. That was a year ago.
Tell us about your "Photographing Ourselves" project.
SS: I developed this program for foster care children and adjudicated juveniles in Miami, and for children and girls at risk in the Lower East Side of New York and in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. These programs were conducted from the mid 1990s to around 2005. The children intertwined photography and writing to help improve their self-awareness and confidence. At the conclusion, an exhibition opening took place where the participants had the opportunity to share their accomplishments with their communities.