“In the early 90s, in the fashion industry, there was no such thing as a set designer — an assistant would run out and get whatever the shoot required.

Our set design collective, MARY HOWARD STUDIO, was founded 14 years ago. It started in a space on Carroll Street, [in Brooklyn], and then expanded into [nearby] warehouses as it grew.

Three buildings now house the different things — fabrics, furniture, flats, paint, carpets, and table top items — that are used in our work. A lot of our props are recycled: materials found on sidewalks, FIRST DIBS, or in second-hand stores.

This set, which the team put together, includes many of our favorites.”

“The bottle is filled with dirty spray, which we always need on set. The recipe can’t be shared — it’s top secret — but the solution helps create depth, in addition to warming and aging surfaces.”

“Eight years ago, while it rained like hell one day on set in
THE HAMPTONS, we made a funny tent with these tarps. Because they were immediately weathered, they’ve since photographed beautifully, and just keep getting better and better with use. To us, anything brand new is too bright, shiny, pretty, and precious.

The more beat up, the better.”

“We love birds. They’re something we try to include in sets all the time, but they rarely end up being used. This is antique taxidermy, and keeps falling apart.”

“A favorite [piece of furniture] is this 1930s chair that was reupholstered in gray velvet dress fabric. It went to Washington, D.C. for a shoot featuring President Obama and the First Lady, because the furniture at the White House is very stiff. Afterward, we put a plaque on the chair’s back that reads, ‘Barack and Michelle Obama sat here, 31st January 2013.’”

“Apple boxes are important because they act as a support for the model or photographer. Our crew in London made these about a year ago. We call them ‘shorts’ because every inch matters to us.”

“We bring these custom-made stools to every job. There are four different heights — 12, 18, 24, and 30 inches — which makes them convenient for a photographer or model to just grab and sit on.”

“The rugs have been shot dozens, maybe even hundreds, of times.
We have to be careful about what we bring to set — certain editors will recognize a piece if we’ve used it before.”

“Even though it’s become cliché to use them in a picture, we love old wooden ladders. They’re useful because a girl can sit on and climb them.”


Photography bySania Tharani

As told toMichelle Rizzi

Mary Howard Studio is a set and production design agency based in New York City.

Did you see? Production designer Cooper Vasquez takes The Thick Questionnaire, photographer and makeup artist, Sonia Kashuk & Arthur Elgort, talk getting the shot and their friendship on and off set.