Paul Trapani: Behind the Lens of Nasty Gal

With humble beginnings in San Francisco as an eBay Vintage Boutique, Nasty Gal is now the stylish girlfriend on the online shopping block for many fashionistas. They’re one of my favorite e-boutiques that I frequent for that cool mix of 70’s vintage with a modern twist. And definitely no stranger to leopard print and Jeffrey Campbell platforms.


I was lured into their online shop last week with gorgeous imagery from their summer lookbook. Such beautiful photos that reveal yet another chapter of the Nasty Gal story. Today it's that Route 66 summer road trip that every American gal wants to take. Stylish, free-spirited, and with the right amount of edge.




Being the small community that San Francisco is, I was stoked to learn that I was only two degrees apart from Paul Trapani, brilliant fashion photographer behind Nasty Gal. He’s the talented fellow behind the gorgeous airy snaps -- capturing the very essence of the modern vintage princess. 


Paul chatted with Rockerista about his artistic upbringing, his NYC start in fashion photography, and his bold move to the left coast to ultimately set up shop for himself. His sharing of his craft inspires me to stick with anything I love doing and also makes me more curious about how the Nasty Gal story will evolve.





An east coast transplant, Paul grew up in Detroit, Michigan within a family of artists. “My parents were photographers. They were teachers and serious hobbyists. Ever since I was a little kid there were cameras around and I spent a lot of time with my dad taking pictures and in the dark room.” 


Exposed early on to his parents creative outlets (his mother was a painter, sculptor and photographer), it’s no surprise that he’d eventually end up supplementing his major in Business at Albion College with art classes. 


Paul moved to New York after college and quickly learned the ropes as an assistant photographer working alongside contemporary genius David LaChapelle, fashion and celebrity photographer known for his distinctive surrealist imagery. He bounced around the industry and back to Detroit, continuing to assist photographers in the field.


As with most talented and driven twenty-somethings, Paul wanted to do more than assist and left the east coast determined to make a name for himself in San Francisco. “I was fearful of being a lifer as an assistant even though, at that time, I was in my early twenties. I told myself I just have to keep shooting and shooting. I nixed the idea of assisting.”


And that he did. Paul made the schlep out to California and hustled for gigs which included snapping for the SF Weekly and shooting catalogs and lookbooks for small clothing companies. His diligence paid off and Paul became a trusted freelance photographer for a number of San Francisco agencies, being the go-to talent for fashion advertising campaigns. True to his 23 year-old vision, he opened up his own studio in San Francisco’s Dogpatch neighborhood where he worked for 10 years. Assisting was a thing of the past.


“What attracted me to fashion in the beginning was that you can be really creative and do some really crazy things, evoke a lot of different things. Out of all the different type of commercial photography, this was one where you can really take ownership and express yourself.” Initially drawn to the fast-paced world of fashion photography, Paul first thought this channel allowed for the most creative freedom out of all the commercial photography. But ask him now and he realizes that was a naive point of view, that there are many amazing opportunities with the craft that are not fashion related. “Portraiture, editorial portraiture or food photography -- a lot goes into that.”





Paul enjoys being part of bringing the Nasty Gal brand to life. He started collaborating with owner Sophia Amoruso since the eBay boutique and has always been impressed with her vision as a stylist.  Although still a young company, Nasty Gal is becoming a must-visit for more and more stylephiles. "It evolved from an eBay vintage store to what I think is a very successful company at this point. And it’s constantly evolving.”





“I’ve recently become interested in telling the visual stories that really anchor themselves around this very specific brand. I like trying to flush out what I think it is, along with the creative department. How we can be provoking something interesting within the confines of this one specific brand.” 





Paul continues to shape his craft personally by using his off-time to shoot landscapes, nature, urban environments -- settings without people in it. Devoting time to his personal interests keeps his commercial work alive and inspired. He enjoys the wet plate process, the original photographic process that started in the Americas in the 1800’s. “I think it’s a reaction to being so digital and wanting to get back to the most basic aspects of photography. I went back to even before film.“


So then of course, I had to ask him what he thought about the rise of all the cool photo apps like Instagram and Hipstamatic. You know, the boom of the instant artsy photos. 


“All those programs are based on the kind of work my mom was doing in the 70’s and 80’s. I saw her painstakingly work on this kind of stuff, and then all of a sudden this little app comes along that makes it look like her work. But I can tell it doesn’t look as good as her stuff.” 


That said, Paul's still a total techy that appreciates the innovation of these photo apps allowing those of us without his mom's talent to lean toward the softer feel of images. “But on the flip side I really like that people are into that filmic feel. I think there are some real interesting things that people are doing with it.”


And it's true -- the fashion community has taken the photo sharing apps and platforms by storm. From what I call the "snap apps" to the buzzing community on Tumblr and the likes, there are more outlets for the budding stylist to curate online than ever before. “I find a tremendous amount of inspiration from Tumblrs and blogs. There’s a whole culture of fashion conscience youth that are super image savvy. And photographically savvy. You can take any of these young bloggers and drop ‘em into any art direction position and I think they would survive.”    


After 10 years, Paul closed up his San Francisco studio in January to join the Nasty Gal team in Los Angeles. No doubt he'll continue to inspire us with his imagery -- artfully tying vintage to the modern girl, leaving us to curate our own style and story with Nasty Gal pieces. 



To see more of Paul's gorgeous work, visit his Trapani Photo


Photos courtesy of Paul Trapani.





You may also be interested in Richard Evans: Behind the Album Covers You Love.


Jo Marzan

June 9, 2011

Tags: style / interview ★ Back to home

What's your most favorite thing in your entire wardrobe?

My Doc Martens.

What's on heavy rotation for you?

Cold Cave and Former Ghosts.

What's your favorite gizmo, website or app?

My iPad.