Behind the scenes of every fashion shoot is a boiling frustration shared by thousands of fashion professionals all over the world. They all want one thing, the Holy Grail of glossy magazine spreads – a pull letter! In the fashion photography world a pull letter, otherwise known as a letter of responsibility, is basically exactly like the golden ticket in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It allows a wardrobe stylist to gain access to some of the best clothing, and a fashion photographer to some of the best models. Overall, a pull letter has the power to take a mediocre editorial, and transform it into something magazines would claw at each other to publish.
So how does this work? There is a stream of invisible symbiotic exchange happening between stylists, photographers, fashion magazines and designer showrooms. The fashion photographer wants the pull letter from the magazine to gain access to exclusive showrooms, of course the magazine wants beautiful photography, and the showrooms want their designers be featured in beautiful magazine editorials. Everyone wins in this system. At this point you may be wondering, then why don’t showrooms just open their doors to all these young creatives dying to get their hands on some designer fashion. Why bother going through the magazine in the middle? Well because there are some sketchy as hell, talentless, and generally irresponsible people out there. The clothes could get stolen, damaged, and the editorial could come out looking amateur thereby tarnishing the designers image. These are all very bad for business. So a system of pull letters was put in place, with the media acting as filters allowing only the worthy to pass. The pull letter is a contract written by the magazine, basically vouching for the integrity and talent of a photographer and stylist. In most cases, if something were to happen to the wardrobe during a shoot where a pull letter was provided, the magazine is responsible for replacing the clothes. When you’re dealing with $20,000 dresses, it’s not surprising that most magazines are hesitant to give out pull letter to just anyone. Fundamentally what we’re dealing with is trust in a photographer’s talent and integrity as a professional. So how does one go about getting fashion’s golden ticket? For now, the only way to do this is to get a magazine to commission your shoot, and when you consider that most print magazines only have about 100 pages of actual editorial space, it becomes clear why getting commissioned is almost exactly like getting invited to Wonka’s chocolate factory.