Michigan portrait studio combines vintage, glam, pin-up
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — There’s a lot of pink, a lot of glam and then more pink.
Even the stairway walls are a shimmery, textured pink all the way up to the magical room.
“This is the pin-up room where girls come pick out their clothes, get their hair and makeup done,” Autumn Luciano told the Lansing State Journal .
There are unicorns on the walls. Mirrors with fancy lights around them, black bar stool chairs to sit in while hair and makeup is done.
A rack holds frilly and vintage dresses, corsets, lingerie in all colors. Marabou bedroom slippers, mules, and pumps hang in a shoe rack on the closet door.
“A lot of people want to play pin-up, but they don’t live pin-up,” Luciano said. “So it’s hard for them to wrap their mind around what to bring to a pin-up photo shoot. ... I probably have hundreds of outfits. I have swimsuits, tops, shorts, skirts, sweaters, dresses, nightgowns and robes, underwear, garter belts. I just want to make it really easy for people.”
Luciano is the owner of Decadence Dolls Portrait Studio, which specializes in vintage and pin-up portraits.
She lives and works out of her house. A few of the rooms are private, but most of it is her studio. Her husband, Kevin Laitala, and her six cats live there also.
One of the sets she uses for photo shoots is vintage glam, with a white, mid-century style couch with Hollywood Regency tones. The couch has two white faux fur pillows on it. A small table is covered with white faux fur resting on a white faux fur rug.
A set on the first floor is a vintage bathroom, complete with bathtub, shower curtain and toilet. And there’s a kitchen set, one of the most popular, with a vintage stove.
“Pin-ups have been around for a very long time, but the term kind of got popularized during World War II,” Luciano explained. “Soldiers would pin pictures up of beautiful women on their walls while they were across seas. ... That was the golden era of pin up, 1940s through 1950s. But pin-ups have been around forever. I would say even old classic nude paintings of girls, from way back would be considered pin-up in its own way. I honestly think you could be a pin-up in any generation.”
She’s sneaking up on 10 years in business. In a busy month, she’ll shoot maybe six out of seven days a week, sometimes multiple shoots in a day. But she has slow periods, too.
You can bring your own wardrobe, though you don’t have to. Luciano recommends bringing at least a pair of thigh highs and a pair of heels, just so you have something that fits you. Also, some basic light-colored undergarments to wear underneath the outfits. Other than that, she provides pretty much everything.
“With pin-up, you could be in a dress, you could be in a swimsuit if you’re not comfortable being in full-on lingerie, but want to do something more skimpy and cute,” Luciano said.
Keli Elphinstone of Williamston heard about Luciano from a girlfriend who had photos taken last winter. She looked through Luciano’s website and thought “every picture was beautiful and sexy.” And, so, in April, she decided to have modern boudoir shots taken for her personal collection.
“I was super nervous,” she said. “I had told her that I have low self-esteem and body dysmorphia, so I do not see myself as others see me. Plus, I’m 52 and going through a divorce, so I thought that I wanted to do this for myself. She told me I could bring a friend and I did. That helped.”
She said Luciano made her feel at ease the entire time.
“The best part about the whole experience was when we were going over the proofs, I started to cry. I said ‘I didn’t think I looked like this.’ Meaning beautiful. I didn’t know my body looked like this and her response was...‘You’ve always looked like this. You’ve always been beautiful. You just didn’t have the right photographer taking your picture.’ I thought that was awesome.”
Sometimes, clients are nervous, not sure they’ll be comfortable. But Luciano says she’s usually able to calm them down just by talking with them.
When they arrive, she gets them settled in, and they start looking for clothes in advance. By the time they get the hair and makeup going, they kind of ease up a bit.
“They’ve been talking with me, they’ve been talking with the stylists, they can see themselves as a vintage pinup now,” Luciano said. “So it kind of puts them at ease. By the time the shoot’s over, I usually hear, ’That wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be.”
Detroit comedian Kara Coraci was looking for some unique photos to share as promotional items. She learned about Decadence Dolls from a friend who’d had a shoot with Luciano.
“This was a first, and I can’t wait to do it again,” Coraci said. “Autumn has such an eye for detail that she thinks of everything needed for your photo session — right down to the earrings and necklace. ... Autumn made great suggestions for what I should wear and gave me plenty of time to try on outfits and mix and match. She is calm, cool and collected. You really feel like you’re going to a friend’s house to play dress up.”
Luciano took “vintage glam” photos of Cocaci holding a vintage microphone and photos of her in the vintage kitchen.
“It felt just like my grandmother’s kitchen,” she said.
Luciano, 31, didn’t plan this journey. Not at all.
She grew up on the north side of Lansing, in a pink house with red shutters. She’s always had “kind of an affinity” with vintage things.
Her grandmother raised her watching TVLand shows: “I Love Lucy,” ″Petticoat Junction,” ″I Dream of Jeannie” and “Bewitched.”
“She played Big Band music, and I watched “The Lawrence Welk Show”, so I grew up around that,” Luciano said. “It’s always been something that made me happy. And I love going antiquing and finding old treasures that nobody wants anymore, kind of giving them a new life.”
Around age 18, she took a job at Sears Portrait Studio in Frandor.
“During Christmas season, you had to shoot nine poses of a kid in like 5 minutes flat,” she said. “It wasn’t fun. So I don’t like to rush people when they’re here. I want everyone to enjoy the experience.”
After a couple of years, she became the photo editor for Lansing Community College’s newspaper, and then took a job as an assistant at a studio in Okemos. She thought it would be full-time for that summer, but it only lasted a few weeks before the owner picked up and moved to Detroit. Luciano was without a job.
“So I had a big yard sale, made enough money to order a set of lights and a background and I started working for myself,” Luciano said. “I’ve never worked a day for anyone else since.”
When Luciano started her business in 2009, she says she was “just doing what I was used to,” kids and family photos.
“Then I inherited a bunch of vintage clothes that were never going to fit me,” Luciano said. “So I put them on my friends, styled them like pin-up girls, took pictures of them and then put them online. It just kind of took over my life after that.”
Luciano estimates she has shot thousands of folks for pin-ups. She can’t even begin to guess a number, she said.
She has clients from all over Michigan. She’s shot people from Ohio, Canada, South Korea, Hong Kong and Florida and New Jersey. She’ll travel, if people are willing to hire her.
She’s even shot men.
“I’ve done a few, not a ton,” Luciano said. “I’ve done some ‘boydoir.’ People call it ‘dudeoir’ a lot, but most of the guys I’ve shot have been more boyish than dudeish.”
Luciano is also the producer and host of Tease A GoGo, a burlesque variety show and has been involved in the REO Town Thrift Store Gala and Burlesque Extravaganza and several other events.
“I met Autumn about five or six years ago, when we were kind of brainstorming the first REO Town Thrift Store Gala,” said Ryan Wert. “We kind of had the loose idea of people showing up in historic clothes. We didn’t have a good plan for entertainment, of how to make it a more cohesive thing.”
Wert happened to see that Luciano was doing a burlesque show at Spiral. They struck up a conversation, and he told her about this weird event and how he thought burlesque would be perfect.
“She kind of took a chance on it, and now we’re five years deep,” Wert said. “She works really hard on Thrift Store Gala. She books the whole kind of performance thing and organizes the pageant portion. And she does it all as a volunteer for REO Town. The amount of effort she puts into that for us is pretty exceptional.”
Luciano’s goal is to show women that they’re really beautiful.
“I want to take the best portrait anyone has ever seen of themselves,” she said. “Sometimes I’ll see comments on the Facebook page, things like, ‘Maybe I should drop 10 to 15 pounds before doing the shoot.’”
But she said her way of posing alone is good for those 10 to 15 pounds.
“You combine that with the right corset, a little bit of retouching just to fix shadows, and bumps, you’re good,” Luciano said. “You’re going to look amazing. ... I’ve had some people who come in and are just not in a good place with themselves. Then they see the photos and say, ‘I never thought I could look like that.’”
Information from: Lansing State Journal, http://www.lansingstatejournal.com