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Employee of the Month: Anouck Bertin

Describe what you do here at Urban.

I help produce the catalog by doing the casting and helping to find the locations. I work the with art director, so if she were the president, I would be her first lady— I make the moment happen. I book travel, make sure everyone is comfortable, find new faces. It's hard because, with Urban, we aren't only looking for a pretty face, we're looking for someone with a personality and charisma. We've been shooting more and more groups of people, so we have to choose people who know each other and get along. The shoots are 10 days, so we spend 24/7 together and start to call it "the family." There have been times we've used pretty, pretty faces, but then the shot turns out more like a painting. Now we look for girls with personality in their faces, someone the customer can relate to. For the guys, we do more and more street casting, because we don't want cheesy model boys—so not right. We want real boys.

What's the best part of your job?

Traveling. I think I live in a hotel more than in my apartment here in Philly. I'm addicted to it, so it's perfect for me. I love hotels so much, I'm obsessed with them.

What do you bring with you from home when you travel?

It took me a long time to build a home, to even have a sofa and furniture. I never know how long I'll stay somewhere, so when I travel I only bring my little camera and my clothes. I try to pack really light because I usually forget my bag everywhere because I'm always taking care of someone else. I'm always running back to search for my bag.

Where did you grow up?

I was born and raised in Mexico City with French parents. Being a teenager there was not great because there were so many security problems, so I couldn't do anything alone. When I turned 17 I was like, "I don't want to do this anymore." When you are French in Mexico, it's a pretty life. My father was sent there by his company, so we had a nice house, but I felt like I was living in this bubble. I speak French like a French person, I'd just never lived in Paris. So I was there for eight years working for French teen magazines.

How did you get into photography?

When I was sent to Paris, my parents' condition was that I would study accounting, which is not good, but I just wanted to get the hell out of Mexico. I started taking pictures more and more, did a part time photography class and knew that's what I wanted to do. Magazines started letting me shoot for them. I shot Polaroids for many years.

Were you upset when Polaroid discontinued its film?

Even my professional book was all Polaroids, so I was really sad when it happened. At the same time, it made me push my boundaries and try something new with other types of cameras.

What do you love about French fashion vs. American fashion?

I feel like Americans envy French fashion and the French envy American fashion, so the grass is always greener. I saw both sides living in Paris and New York, and in Paris it's the same people and trends all the time— very classic and traditional. You want to shake them and say, "Come on, get a little bit of crazy in there!" Americans do that very well— they love traditional but they'll always throw a little spice in there. Fashion has more personality in New York.

What's a typical work outfit for you?

Depends. On set, it's going to be jeans or overalls because I have to run around— it's nutty, physical. When I come to the home office I try to be a pretty girl again with little boots and little skirts, which I couldn't do on set without showing my underwear to everybody.

Who is your celebrity crush?

Jake Gyllenhaal, though I have to say I'm disappointed with him and Taylor Swift. I love him in Donnie Darko— my crush always and forever. After that movie I don't want to know what he's up to, because I just have to say, "Oh no, what are you doing? Stop it!"

If you could shoot anyone's portrait, who would you choose?

Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink.

What about photography still challenges you?

You have to buy yourself into climbing the magazine ranks. All the cool magazines don't pay a penny, so you have to work a full time job then put your own money into the photography you'll be doing for the magazines. When I was a freelancer, I got commercial jobs, but you have to be careful because when you do it for the pay and cheesy commercials, you won't be hired by the magazines anymore. It's a delicate balance you have to be careful about. I'd rather work a job and still pick and choose what I shoot and whom I shoot for.

What is your favorite image ever?

I love Guy Bourdin—he brought fashion and color together. There were all these photographers shooting in black and white, but he pushed the boundaries, making it sexy and modern and bringing that pop back. I love the picture of the pink bed with the plush on it and the legs sticking out of it. He was doing that look so early, and it could be published now. His work isn't trashy or vulgar—he had the right balance between fashion and sexiness.

What's the last thing you took a picture of?

I went to Austin and did press pictures for a musician friend. I loved photographing things in Austin, the light is just so pretty. It was the beginning of the winter and we drove the car around and took pictures like it was a vacation.

What could you see yourself doing if you couldn't do photography?

I always oscillated between being a producer and a photographer. Those are the only two skills I have up my sleeves! I love solving problems, 25 of them in a minute; it keeps me sharp. At Urban, we work with my favorite photographers, so it's interesting to go on the shoots and see how they work. I'm constantly learning and I don't feel stuck in a full time job that's not teaching me anything. I learn every day.

If you had to leave this job right now, what would you do?

I would pick up and travel the world; I'm pretty addicted to new experiences. I'm 30 years old and have lived in four different countries.

What makes you angry?

I don't really get angry because I hate confrontation, but bad boyfriends do make me mad.

What do you remember about your favorite photoshoot?

I've always been obsessed with teen movies. My friend is in the group M83 and we decided to make the Saturdays=Youth album cover by creating our own teen movie, casting all these teenagers in it. We're so obsessed with John Hughes movies, so we made little winks to each of his movies: Pretty in Pink, all of those. It was the most suitable project I had, working with all those teenagers who I then kept in touch with—I followed them for a year shooting them and made a personal story from them.

Your work has been described as "'80s party girl." Do you think you would have fit into that scene?

Yes! I love the '80s, John Hughes movies. That magazine I worked for would use stills from all of those movies from the '80s that are just stuck in my head, so that's how I build my aesthetic. Party girl from the '80s? That's not bad.

They don't make those legendary teen movies anymore.

The last one was Clueless, but those old ones—everything was perfect. The characters were so awesome. It was such a great time for our parents, we were too young—we were babies. I did love the rave feeling of '90s movies with kids going to parties with neon clothes. So at least we got to live through some of that.

Tell us an embarrassing story.

My whole life is one embarrassing moment after the other: saying leotard instead of leopard or making beach sound like bitch because I'm French and can't pronounce it correctly. One of my latest achievements would be baking chestnuts in a plastic plate at 300 degrees. The plate melted and I had to clean my oven with the heat on to be able to melt the plastic off and remove it. I ended up burning my forehead on the grill, which left a giant scab on my face. Everybody at work asked what happened to me and then my boss would say to me every day until it healed: "Are you okay with the fact that it's on your face?" I got a nice scar out of it.

Six songs playing on your iPod right now:

  • 1. "Fire" by Bruce Springsteen
  • 2. "I Want to See the Bright Lights" by Richard and Linda Thompson
  • 3. "The King" by Ramesh Srivastava (Old Voxtrot)
  • 4. "Zebra" by Beach House
  • 5. "Overdrawn" by White Sea
  • 6. "Bad Waters" by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Three pieces in your closet you'd never part with:

  • 1. My lil' Rag & Bone winter boots.
  • 2. A black leotard, always under my shirts— it keeps me warm in the winter and allows me to jump in pools and oceans in the summer. It's like having a bathing suit at all times.
  • 3. My point and shoot Leica Minilux, because yes, it has become a part of my daily wardrobe.

Favorite movie/TV show/book:

  • 1. Nowhere of Gregg Araki- This is the weirdest teenage movie I have ever seen. A messy teenager, a messy room and I'm in heaven.
  • 2. Keeping up with the Kardashians and Beverly Hills 90210- 90210 was where TV started, it invented TV shows! I remember this show as the first one I didn't want to miss. Nothing that good has been done since then, expect maybe the Kardashians because they are the modern version of 90210.
  • 3. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger- This is the first book I read in English.
  • 4. The Garden of Eden by Ernest Hemingway- I loved every line of it.