Dôen Fall 19: Behind the Scenes of a Dream Come True

Behind Dôen Fall 19

This summer, one of my absolute greatest dreams came true. I was lucky enough to have my family watch what I do for a living, with people I love and adore, in a country I love and adore, doing a job I love and adore. It was always my dream to someday shoot in France (my birthplace) and have my grandmother, the one who sparked my love for beauty and fashion, with me.  Never could I have dreamt that it would someday happen in the way it did; it was an absolute dream come true.

Thank you so much to Katherine, Margaret, Phoebe, Hilary, Helen and the entire team. Thank you from the bottom of my heart:

Katherine Kleveland 

Margaret Kleveland 

Phoebe Dean 

Hilary Walsh 

Helen Shaper 

Sebastian Sergeant 

Travis Farrell

And now, some behind the scenes photos and words of Dôen Fall 19!

Welcome to Chateau de Gudanes

This is Chateau de Gudanes, our beautiful shoot location, an 18th century castle nestled in the Pyrenees Mountains in the small village of Chateau-Verdun.

“Chateau de Gudanes was constructed on the site of an earlier fortress, dating back to the 13th century. However, the previous castle was largely degraded in 1580, during the religious wars. Over time, just like its predecessor, Chateau de Gudanes also suffered tremendous neglect and fell into disrepair…”

Fortunately, the chateau was purchased in 2013 by  Les and Karina Waters from Australia, and soon restoration began and continues today, chronicled on their website and Instagram.

While staying at Chateau Gudanes, I was lucky enough to meet the family (along with their team of inspired interns, artists and chefs) taking on this incredible feat and renovation. They are kind, gentle, soft-spoken and warm. As a French person, I felt proud and thankful for this family and their delicate, dedicated work. Along with preserving a beautiful castle, they are restitching a piece of French history back into the beautiful quilt that is the country of France. Sewing and threading life, hope and energy into a place that otherwise would have been long forgotten, this Australian family, in my view, is heroic. Far from their home and faced with many years of tedious work ahead of them, their determination and positivity is inspiring. My heart feels immense gratitude and awe toward them.

Scott and I arrived in Chateau-Verdun a few hours before the Doen crew. We’d already been in France for a few weeks, mostly visiting family, and the drive had only been around five hours or so. Meanwhile, Katherine, Margaret, Phoebe, Hilary and their team had spent all day traveling from Los Angeles to Paris, followed by another plane trip and another car ride.

Exploring Chateau-Verdun before the team arrived. Like a Beauty and the Beast village!

Once I received everyone’s group messages saying they were arriving shortly, Scott and I made our way toward the castle. By then it was evening, with no light to be found except for soft, glimmering candlelight, shining in the distance, greeting us on the steps of the castle. In a way, even driving up to the castle felt like a movie — or a sequel of one (or a book series, like The Magic Treehouse! Anyone?), about a group of friends being reunited in a new, mysterious and wondrous place, unknowing of the adventure ahead. Oh, the thrill!

We said our excited (and kooky tired) hellos, grabbed our bags and were quickly greeted by Karina Waters and her family. We entered past the castle doors (enormous, heavy wooden ones, as you can imagine) which opened up to the entryway, a regal, high-ceilinged room with a dazzling, jaw-dropping candle-lit staircase. I should note, the castle is almost entirely without electricity, except for the downstairs bathroom and kitchens. Every other part of the 94-room castle has to be candlelit, meaning we entered a very dark castle that first night — but absolutely magical, nonetheless!

Scott and I entered our candlelit bedroom, in awe of the princess-like bed, the tall, mirrored chimney, reflecting the light of the candles. Standing in that room, with a view of the starry sky, framed by tall, castle-like windows, felt surreal. The lack of electricity, soothing quiet and coziness of candlelight was calming and we soon drifted into slumber. What a dream! Was this all a dream?

I asked myself the same question the next morning.

As the morning sun rose, gently peeking through our windows, I felt myself drifting in and out of sleep, waking, slowly. My eyes would open slightly and then shut again, as consciousness came and went. Then, I heard a door creaking. I opened my eyes again ever so slightly, but saw nothing and brushed it off, thinking it must have been wind or the natural sounds of an old castle. Next, I heard a gentle scratching (kneading) sound to the right of me (it wasn’t Scott, he was sleeping to my left). My eyes opened ever so slightly once more, still hazy and fuzzy with sleep. I looked to my right and saw slight movement. My eyes quickly widened and to my disbelief was a beautiful cat staring at me! A beautiful, tiny, white and orange cat, sitting comfortably on the bed beside me, next to a bouquet of colorful flowers, gently observing. Was this a dream? I lightly tapped Scott on the shoulder to have him see, and soon the cat jumped onto our bed and immediately curled onto my lap in a flurry of love. If you know me, you know there couldn’t have been a better way to wake up and start the day. Absolute magic!

While the following days had earlier call times (lingo for a photo shoot’s meeting time), the first morning in the chateau was calm and relaxed. After melting over our furry visitor (who’s name was Claude, by the way), Scott and I dressed and made our way down to the first floor of the chateau for breakfast. Walking down the spiral steps, I rediscovered the chateau and all of its detail and light, things I couldn’t notice the night before when it was far too dark to see anything other than our feet by candlelight. My first view walking down the steps was of Margaret and Katherine, discussing (I assumed) the plan for the day. We all said good morning, then made our way to the light-filled dining room, with a table fit for a princess! Delicate notes, fresh flowers and bountiful fruits, with chefs (and a few culinary interns) in the kitchen ready to make omelettes if desired. I think it’s safe to say at this point we were all wide-eyed and in awe, feeling like we were in some sort of fairytale. 

breakfast featured in Vogue!

Post breakfast, it was time to get on with our shoot! Phoebe, Katherine and I assembled in the bathroom to prep hair and makeup. As you can see in the photo below, not one cable on the power adapter was left unused. It was the only source of charging power! I love this photo for a few reasons. It captures sisterhood, us uniting in an intimate way, collaborating to bring a vision to life (as we typically do!). I also love that it shows Katherine, the founder of Dôen, doing my hair. It’s fairly rare to see founders jumping into the nitty gritty areas of shoots, but it’s inspiring when it happens, and this was no exception. I have no doubt that part of the reason why Dôen has had such great success is because of the “group effort” mentality — making sure the vision for Dôen is unified (which can otherwise be a difficult thing to do if there are too many cooks in the kitchen). On this shoot, Katherine wanted my hair to be slightly straighter than it usually is. A little less wild, a little more neat or “soignée,” as the French say.

the shoot begins!

Now, for one of the most special moments of my career… when my grandparents and brother met my Dôen family. My family was SO excited to be there, in an environment they’d never witnessed before (that of a photoshoot!), watching their granddaughter/sister do her thing. When their car rolled into the chateau’s driveway, as they walked (slowly) up the stairs, Katherine ran out to greet them with me. She thanked them for being there, and said, “We love your granddaughter very, very much,” and I instantly had tears in my eyes. I felt so grateful to Katherine and Dôen for their love and allowing my family to come visit. I felt so loved that my family would make the time to be there. It was a dream come true and I still have a lump in my throat writing this! I will never, ever, ever forget this moment.

More behind the scenes of the shoot! In total, we shot for almost three full days. This season was the largest Dôen had ever done, so there was much to shoot!  Luckily, the location was filled to the brim with magical corners to photograph. Everywhere we looked was picturesque and beautiful, from the majestic indoors to the lush outdoors. The weather outside couldn’t have been better, aside from one instance (pictured in film series below) when it began to rain unexpectedly, causing us to gather our props and rush back inside! Speaking of props — this was my first Dôen shoot where we had a prop stylist, Sebastian. He drove there from Spain (where he resides), bringing a truck full of wonders — chairs, flowers, baskets, bikes… you name it. He also sourced a candy red, vintage Citroën car which was pretty awesome! He did a wonderful job. 

As usual, shooting with Hilary is a dream. She moves and immediately flows with her subject in a way that makes a shoot completely easy and effortless. She photographs quickly, knows exactly what she wants, and really doesn’t doubt herself, instead trusting her knowledge, skill and intuition — she’s just that good (and she knows it, though she would never admit it)! Hilary is one of the best photographers I’ve ever worked with.

One special treat on this shoot (other than the entire shoot being a treat in itself) was having Scott with me, and having him take behind-the-scenes photos and videos. He primarily focused on shooting 8mm and 16mm film, which he had (brilliantly and luckily) offered to do. Brilliantly and luckily, because the video turned out to be absolutely beautiful. I can’t wait to post it here!

more behind the scenes photos:

photos on film

After each day of shooting, we gathered around long, candlelit tables in dim, warm, candlelit surroundings. Each meal was a beautiful surprise, with colorful, floral and delicate dishes and deserts made up by the chateau chef and pastry chef, Larissa Mamprin. (During the day, Larissa would sometimes bring us surprise homemade sorbets or aperitifs; sometimes we’d catch her in the pastry room rolling out dough or churning ice cream. It was magical to say the least.) Back to the dinners … each one felt festive, a celebration of the day that had passed. Especially without electricity, the atmosphere was cozy and intimate. We’d spend hours at the table talking and laughing. One particularly fond memory is when my grandparents and brother dined with us one evening. They were so thrilled to be there, and my grandpa looked happy as a clam to be talking with Helen, who also happens to speak French (and who is adorable)! Watching the light in their eyes was priceless. All of these moments were priceless!

Then came our last evening at the chateau, which was as magical as the others. We dined outside on the back patio, overlooking the village and trout stream below. The air was warm and soft, like a perfect summer’s night. We were all happily exhausted after long days of shooting (and travel days for the rest of the team, prior). I was feeling peacefully happy but slightly melancholic, too. As I took my last bite of the chateau’s homemade lavender sorbet, I realized this too would be one of my last bites of this trip of a lifetime. Tomorrow we would trickle out and leave, and everything we experienced would be but a memory. (Though thank goodness for photos, because I don’t always have the best memory!)

Morning brought its own surprise and magnificent twist of an ending. After the crew shuffled out and we said our goodbyes, I had a moment and beautiful talk with Brandi, a woman who was also staying at the chateau. We spoke on the topic of dreams and how sacred and special they are. As a fellow artist, she too understood what I understood — how making a life from our art is often a lifelong journey and struggle. But most importantly, that it is a life of heart, and of following, trusting, and surrendering. Of immense joy and awe. In that moment, tears came to my eyes and my heart swelled to what felt like was three times its size. In that moment, I realized I had touched, held, and claimed one of those sacred, special dreams. It happened. It happened better than I could have hoped, in the most beautiful and meaningful way. I am in awe and am so grateful.

 Katherine, Margaret, Phoebe, Hilary, and my Dôen family, thank you for everything. For being my work family, loving me like real family (sincerely caring for my wellbeing and happiness), and for bringing warmth and family together since day one (before we ever met on our first shoot, they’d insisted Scott come along). You’ve shown me it’s possible to have it all, so to speak — down-to-earth-ness and work ethic (being a boss!), relationship and career, softness and strength. I am forever grateful for your presence in my life, your examples, your friendship, and all of the memories made. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for the adventure of a lifetime.