Before the Storm
Photographed by Steve Squall


Styled & Written by Christine Fellingham


Photo assistant: Sheperd Ahlers


Styling assistant: Samantha Coburn


Hair and makeup by Karen Stout, Jessie Conity and Amanda Hively for Joseph’s Salon and Spa


Models: Cheyenne Mecier, Jasmine Graham, Chloe Halbeib and Kris Stein for Heyman Talent

This piece, originally titled “The Fashion Forecast,” was scheduled to run in our 2020 Derby Issue, to prepare us for (increasingly expected) unexpected weather on the first Saturday in May. But we never published that issue as planned because, two weeks after the shoot, something else unexpected upended our lives.



On Feb. 28, 2020, a team and I entered the Highlands photo studio of Steve Squall, rolling racks laden with garment bags stuffed with spring fashions, hat boxes filled with feathery fascinators, and a beat-up stylist’s kit containing the usual clamps, pins and lint rollers — but, also, more notably, a big pump bottle of Purell.


At the time — about two weeks before the pandemic shut down our city and much of the world — we were teetering on the brink of an altered reality. We just didn’t exactly know it yet. Most of us still believed we would be going to the Derby, not realizing the pandemic would postpone the race to the first Saturday in September, with no fans in the ghostly stands.


We entered the studio armed with faltering optimism and some of the most beautiful clothes I could corral. My Derby season, like many people’s in this city, had begun in early January. I was planning the shoot for the magazine and also the Kentucky Derby Festival fashion show, which I was creative-directing for the tenth year. The show, which was traditionally staged at the casino in Southern Indiana for an audience of a thousand people, was scheduled for the end of March. The show’s choreographer, Chris Kaufman, and I were having increasingly existential text chats. His slightly quirky interest in epidemiology suddenly gave him the air of a punk savant as we began questioning the wisdom of cramming 33 models into the tight backstage quarters at the casino for a packed house. We were starting to float some shared anxiety and a sense of responsibility for everybody’s well-being, but were unsure of where to land on it.


On that day in Steve’s studio, though, our crew was smaller, the room bigger and the significance of this virus still seemed more limited to cruise ships and maybe subways. I didn’t want to be an alarmist. Spraying down groceries, wearing masks — at that moment, these measures still seemed like surreal figments from a dystopic movie. But as I packed for the shoot, I threw in the Purell at the last minute, figuring it couldn’t hurt.


We spent eight hours styling models spaced as far apart as possible in the dressing area and executing a weirdly prescient theme: preparing for the unexpected and the extreme. (Weather, but still.) Squall and his assistant, Shepherd Ahlers, conjured rain, gale-force wind, harsh sunlight and even snow — sparkling flakes purchased by the bucket at Michaels. (The 1989 Derby did see frozen precipitation.) Models emoted and posed for the impending perils. At the time, it seemed like an edgy juxtaposition: beauty and color pitted against unforeseen foes. We spent the day battling imaginary dangers, oblivious to those we didn’t see coming.


A year later, I look at the photos, remembering time in a bubble just moments before it burst. That photo shoot — like the many, many others I’ve had the luxury of living through — was an immersive experience of bliss and color and creative energy. It was a temporary cocoon in which a bunch of people who share the inexplicable urge to conjure up something beautiful came together and did just that. Revisiting the images now, they seem eerily prophetic, from a moment before life changed for all of us.


So many of the months that followed felt so gray and slow and surreal. We watched too much of the vibrancy and life drain from our existence. I struggled to remain optimistic as one opportunity after another — an editor job I was eagerly anticipating, the dream internship my daughter had begun at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the college graduation-slash-family reunion we had optimistically planned in upstate New York — faded away. We watched bits of our lives slip through our fingers, then gradually adjusted our grip to grab onto what really matters. For me, it was a reminder that what means the most to me — beyond family and friends, of course — is the ability to connect or move people through stories and images.


The photos still look stunning. But their beauty and meaning have changed.

— Christine Fellingham

Jenny Pfanensteil, milliner and owner of Formé Millinery

What do you feel when you look at these photos now?

“It is as if they were predicting what was about to come. Seeing the dark shadow behind the models almost looks like an entity about to strike. Some of the models look like they are being cautious and are unsure about their surroundings and are about to run. Others seem they are trying to be brave and stand against what they see in front of them.”




Steve Squall, photographer

Do you remember your thoughts about Covid the day of the shoot?

“I was very nervous. I remember texting just a day or two before the shoot to ask if we were still going to do it or not.”



How did your life change in the weeks and months after the shoot?

“Well, I used to have money in savings and a pretty regular amount of work. Over the past year, though, I exhausted the savings. I turned to unemployment until that ran out. I had to move out of the studio we shot this editorial in, and I increased the amount of time that I spend at my second job as a bartender at Tim Faulkner Gallery. So work has been a little rough.”



Have your priorities changed over the past year or so?

“I think I have developed a much more tightly knit group of close friends over the past year, and I’ve learned the value of letting go of that which you do not truly need.”



Have your views on fashion changed?

“They haven’t. I have always loved shooting fashion images, but I have very little interest in it otherwise. I wear almost the same outfit every day — jeans and a T-shirt.”



How has the past year changed you?

“There’s this George Carlin quote: ‘Think of how stupid the average person is. Then realize half of them are stupider than that.’ I used to think that was really funny. But the past year made me realize how true it is, and I’ve become a bit more cynical than I used to be.”




Kris Stein, model

Do you remember your thoughts about Covid the day of the shoot?

“I wasn’t nervous, nor did Covid have my attention.”



How did your life change in the weeks and months after the shoot?

“For me it was difficult. First day out of quarantine, I was heading to work at Amazon in Jeffersonville and a truck T-boned me, totaling my car. The protest struck me harder because knowing Breonna Taylor’s boyfriend since childhood, and knowing neither one of them deserved the long-lasting pain (her death) has caused the world, made me cry a lot. No one deserves to lose their life from police violence. As a Black male with a criminal justice degree, I know our city has a corrupt system. Believe it now or you’ll forever be oblivious.”



Have your priorities changed over the past year or so?

“Big time! I will never be a cop in Louisville. My spiritual awareness was awakened during the pandemic and I see things a lot differently now. As a human on this Earth at this time, I will make sure to take action. My voice will be heard when it’s time.


“I’ve become aware. I’ve opened my eyes and I’ve opened my ears and my heart has been shattered. I’m growing and learning that the world is no fairytale land. It’s dangerous, and I’m learning to be strong for me and for the humans around me. The world has too many hard-headed humans. Linking together is the only way to survive.”



Have your thoughts about beauty ideals changed at all or been influenced by the past year?

“Example: If you’re wearing suits for Derby, I’d rather wear something with flow and not a tight suit. My idol for this is Harry Styles. He’s into crossing female and male clothing. With fashion for males, if longer flow-wear could be introduced in Louisville, that would be swaggy!”

Samantha Coburn, fashion assistant

Have your priorities changed over the past year or so?

“I realized how crucial it is that I continue to educate myself every day to be a true ally, and to do whatever I can to support the Black community. In addition, I started seeing who really was supportive in my life and who I needed to cut out. I did a complete detox. Meditation also became a constant for me and changed my life as well as my perspective.”



How have your views on fashion changed?

“I am bolder about what I wear now. I no longer worry about whether what I am wearing fits into society’s box. Sustainability is another concept that I strive to align with. I guess I had never really thought in depth about how much waste I was contributing to in the fashion world, but now I am a lot more mindful and try to make or repurpose a lot of my clothes.”



Have your thoughts about beauty ideals changed at all in the past year?

“I now am not as self-conscious as I used to be and see the beauty in flaws. I used to compare myself to others, but now I embrace my look, regardless of if it doesn’t match what I ‘should’ look like according to social media.”




Karen Stout, hair stylist

Do you remember your thoughts about Covid the day of the shoot?

“Covid wasn’t even on my radar. At that point, I thought it was still in China and never thought it would affect me. I just remember being excited for Derby and doing another crazy Derby photo shoot.”



How did your life change in the weeks and months after the shoot?

“I was off for ten weeks and when I returned back to the salon it was a different world.


“I feel like fashion has been put on the back burner for the past year. I have not purchased many clothes this year because of having no place to go, no events. Beauty has changed because, for ten weeks, no one could get their hair done. When we were able to return, everyone had long gray hair. Some kept the gray. And for the most part people started to wait longer between their appointments and didn’t feel like hair was as important as it has been before Covid.”



Have your priorities changed over the past year or so?

“After the past year I realize how short life can be — how quickly life can change. And now I appreciate everything I do. Just going to dinner has become a huge event.”




Katie Meinhart, owner of Six Sisters Boutique

What do you feel when you look at these photos now?

“Both loss and hopefulness. The colors and the idea of what’s to come still bring more joy than the pain of what we’ve lost this past year.”



How did your life change in the weeks and months after the shoot?

“Life in NULU changed drastically both for my own business and for our community as a whole. With our restaurants shut down, and then being called out as the single gentrified neighborhood in the city, it has been really hard to come back from. But it’s also brought about so many positive changes.


“I had a pandemic baby in May, so mine is probably not the normal perspective. The past year has made me that much more grateful for what I do have, but it’s also created a new purpose to be better as a human and as a small business.”



How have your views on fashion changed?

“Loungewear! Ha. But, yes, with more working from home and fewer in-office visits, I think figuring out how to keep your style while also staying comfortable is an exploration all of us fashionistas have had to explore.”




Rachel Bell, The Hat Girls

Do you have any vivid memories of that day you’d like to share?

“We had actually planned to open up our new store location in a couple of weeks, on March 14. We had the shop set and ready to welcome customers, and then, on Friday the 13th, we made the decision to shut the doors. One year later and we still haven’t been able to open up the retail shop as normal.


“I think the shock of going into a lockdown took a toll on most people’s lives, so for us it was most important to control what we could, and that was our mental health. Taking a short break from manufacturing was necessary for the soul. We actually took a couple months off from hat-making. Kate Welsh Smith, my business partner, was a new mom and trying to juggle the stay-at-home portion of her life, and I pivoted to making face shields for frontline workers for about five weeks.”




Chloe Halbib, model

What do you feel when you look at these photos now?

“I am overcome with nostalgia looking at these photos from a time of normal life. It reminds me to be grateful for the simplicity of life. Quality time with people is something I will never take for granted again.”




Susan Vogt, co-owner and buyer for Rodes for Her

How has the past year changed you?

“Personally, I have completely been influenced by the mandatory shutdown. As we went to open Rodes that morning, we were ready for business. By 3 p.m., we were shut down. It was the day before our 106-year anniversary. Surreal.


“I realize I cannot control everything. It has been a life-changing revelation.”



How do you feel when you look at these photos now?

“Optimistic. What came after the 1918 pandemic? The Roaring Twenties. Those beautiful ladies are ready to soar, so watch out, 2022.  We are going to break out.”

Fashion credits:

(Note: All credits are from last year. Some accessories and items may still be available.)

On Cheyenne: Formé feathered headband ($460) and vintage purple gloves ($35) at Formé  Millinery. Halston pleated dress ($445), Prada shoes ($790) and Mignonne Gavigan earrings ($295) at Rodes for Her. Clearly handbag purse ($68) at Tunies.

On Chloe: The Hat Girls fascinator ($375) at the Hat Girls. Gracia shirt ($86) and Trina Turk pant ($268) at Rodeo Drive. Yves Saint Laurent bag ($1,990) and Pedro Garcia shoes ($675) at Rodes for Her.

On Jasmine: The Hat Girls feathered headband ($320) at the Hat Girls. Alice + Olivia top ($225), Valentina skirt/dress ($346) and petal earrings ($75) at Rodeo Drive. Yuzefi purse ($475) at Rodes for Her. Belt ($15) at Apricot Lane.

On Cheyenne: Tiffany Woodward fascinator ($150) at Six Sisters. TCEC dress ($55) at Apricot Lane. Prada bag ($1,950) at Rodes for Her. Crewe sunglasses ($255) at Rodes for Her.

On Jasmine: Formé  fedora ($450) at Formé  Millinery. Cinq A Sept blazer ($395), Cinq A Sept shorts ($295) and Christian Dior sunglasses ($375) at Rodeo Drive. Affirm bodysuit ($78) at Von Maur. Earrings ($25) at Apricot Lane. Clearly Handbags clutch ($78) at Tunie’s. AGL shoes ($450) at Rodes for Her.

On Chloe: Formé  hat ($450) at Formé  Millinery. Valentino dress ($695), Valentino purse ($1,945) and Pedro Garcia shoes ($675) at Rodes for Her.

On Jasmine: Formé  hat ($440) at Formé  Millinery. Ramy Brook satin trench ($654), Trina Turk jacket ($468) and Trina Turk pants ($288) at Rodeo Drive. AFRM bodysuit ($58) at Von Maur. Alma clutch ($210) at Rodes for Her.

On Kris: Robert Jensen blazer ($895), Eton shirt ($255), Zanella pants ($225), Hanauer bow tie ($75) and Eton pocket square ($65) at Rodes for Him.

On Cheyenne: The Hat Girls graffiti custom hatinator ($1,200) at the Hat Girls in St. Matthews. Bitte Kai Rand dress ($308) at Tunies. Yves Saint Laurent bag ($1,990) at Rodes for Her. Vintage gloves ($35) at Formé  Millinery.

On Chloe: The Hat Girls fascinator ($400) at the Hat Girls. Vince blazer ($445), Vince pants ($345), Prada purse ($1,950) and Lele Sadoughi earrings ($198) at Rodes for Her. French Connection shirt ($78) and Echo scarf ($58) at Von Maur.

On Jasmine: The Hat Girls fascinator ($320) at the Hat Girls. Molly Bracken jumpsuit ($68) at Six Sisters. Deepa Gurnai necklace ($198) at Rodes for Her. Avec Les Filles raincoat ($130) at Von Maur.

On Cheyenne: Formé  fedora ($460) at Formé  Millinery. Avec Les Filles ($130) at Von Maur. Ramy Brook jumpsuit ($495) at Rodeo Drive. Necklace ($29) at Apricot Lane. Avec Les Filles raincoat ($130) at Von Maur.


On Kris: Eton shirt ($270), Robert Jensen tie ($155), AG white denim ($178) and Torino belt ($80) at Rodes for Him.

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