Like so many endeavors that produce a glamorous result, photographing the models for the SI swim-suit issue is an arduous process that leaves those involved little time to enjoy the romantic surroundings. Indeed, because the work is so intense and intimate, senior editor Jule Campbell takes personalities into consideration when she selects the year's models—and the photographer, for that matter.
Ideally, an SI swimsuit shoot should take six weeks or so, with each model brought to the location for about a week. Campbell has found through experience that two models sharing one photographer can be an infelicitous triangle. Often one of the women feels she's playing second fiddle. Sometimes both models think the other is being favored. So overlapping is kept to a minimum. And when it's unavoidable, Campbell says, "careful casting helps."
Just as she scouts for models all year long, Campbell also stays in touch with swimsuit designers. And she doesn't confine herself to well-known manufacturers. In 1987 Elle Macpherson appeared on the cover of SI wearing the very first suit that Lisa Lomas, an American designer, had ever made.
Each year Campbell chooses about 700 suits (all of which will eventually be returned to the manufacturers; there are no souvenirs) to bring with her on the shoot. She takes only size 8's, although even among the teeniest of bikinis there's considerable variance in how a garment fits—some 8's are too small and some too large for the standard size-8 model.
The models vary too. "Contrary to what most women think when they look at our models, they're not all perfectly proportioned," Campbell says. "Some have longer torsos and shorter legs, while others have more compact torsos and miles of legs. Some have wide rib cages, which may not sound like much, but it makes it difficult to define the waistline.
"And—women really can't believe this—you must have hips if you're going to look good in a swimsuit. Christie Brinkley has the best hips in the business. Sometimes a very young girl, say 16 or 17, has very slim hips, so we have to photograph her from the side."
Of course, Campbell has her own vision of what constitutes a good-looking swimsuit model, rejecting as she does the emaciated look that used to be de rigueur for high-fashion models. Her first cover girl, Sue Peterson, a California teenager, still had some baby fat on her, and when Campbell found Brinkley, her weight approached 140 on a 5'8�" frame. Campbell has occasionally astonished models (and endeared herself to them) by saying words that these women have never, ever heard before: "I might consider using you if you'll just put on about five pounds."
If the shooting location is a couple of hours from the SI crew's hotel, a day can begin as early as 3:30 a.m., for the first light is the most flattering. Campbell came to SI from Glamour magazine, where, at the time, most of the photography was done in studios, and at first she didn't appreciate how important it was to capture the early light. On her first swimsuit expedition, to Baja California in 1965, one of the models dillydallied and the dawn was lost. The photographer, Jay Maisel, turned to Campbell and snapped, "The sun doesn't wait for you. You wait for the sun." Campbell hasn't missed a sunrise since.
By nine or 9:30 a.m., even 8:30 near the equator, the sun is too high, and the soft morning light—silver upon the water—is gone, replaced by a glare that gives the models what are called "nose shadows" and "owl eyes" in the trade. At that point the SI troupe returns to its hotel for a late breakfast, fittings for subsequent shootings, and additional strategy meetings. Campbell & Co. also packs up the used suits and readies the props and the next batch of suits for the afternoon session. Shooting usually resumes around 3 p.m., when the light is warm, with oranges and golds in evidence, and work continues till the sun sets. It's rare for anyone on a swimsuit trip to get more than four or five hours of sleep a night.
Under these circumstances, it's almost incredible that three models have met prospective husbands while shooting the swimsuit issue. Kim Alexis met James R. Stockton III, a Florida real estate developer, in Kenya in 1981; they were married in 1983 and now live in Florida. Libby Otis married a businessman she first encountered in Puerto Rico during the '74 shoot in Palmas del Mar; their marriage ended in divorce. Peterson met and later wed Jack Olsen, the SI writer who was doing the travel story on Baja that would accompany the '65 swimsuit photos, though as a general rule, writers don't tag along on a shoot. The first time a managing editor ever showed up to watch swimsuit pictures being taken was in 1987, when Mark Mulvoy made an appearance.