Styled shoots are an amazing opportunity for us to think outside of the box, to flex our creative muscles, and to engage in a creative process with new vendors we’ve loved but haven’t had a chance to work with yet. It’s a moment when we get to play, dream, and explore, with stunning results. This winter, our planner Samantha gathered together a fabulous team and created a shoot inspired by her childhood in Zimbabwe and how her past influences her understanding of love. Her Zulu Love Letter, based on the beaded messages Zulu maidens weave as they dream of romance, is a story of strength, softness, warmth, color, and organic elements that will change the way you look at the world around you. We’ll leave it to Samantha to explain the rest:
Zulu Love Letter
(As described by shoot producer Samantha Robertson)
For me, love is the long afternoon shadow that slipped across the veranda of our house, a dusty farm road, the smell of wood smoke from the evening cooking fires and the call of guinea fowl as they began to roost for the night. Growing up, barefoot and free on a farm in Zimbabwe, we were taught from a young age to be conscious of the connection that our feet had to the earth and to identify and appreciate the symbols of life that flowed past us as we walked our path.
A whole country and culture away from where I grew up, another form of this symbolism is the cornerstone of a beautiful nation of people known as the Zulu people. Now as I sit in the mountains of Colorado, a million miles away from a home that no longer exists, I take comfort in the tangibility of something that is so different from my current environment yet so comforting to my African roots and heart.
For centuries, Zulu maidens have woven their romantic hopes, dreams and desires into intricate beaded messages. Known as a Zulu love letter, its purpose is to visually declare to the world feelings of love and affection for the wearer. Intricate pieces are hand crafted, their meaning bound in a love language that has the instinctual flow of poetry but is visually wearable art.
During the thesis year of my design degree, I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time in the heartland of the Zulu Nation. It was here that I got a firsthand experience and understanding of how all traditional Zulu beadwork relates in some way to courtship and marriage, and how Zulu women are the guardians of this craft. Each colored bead of the Zulu Love Letter imparts a different message and, when they are combined, its symbolism is created within the colors and geometric figures whose meaning changes depending on the combination of colors and the arrangement of the shapes.
These color meanings are:
WHITE: A symbol of hope, purity, cleanliness and true love.
BLACK: Grief, loneliness. My heart has turned as black as the rafters in the hut as I hear you have another maiden.
YELLOW: Wealth (or lack of). If we marry I will be hungry, as you own no bull to slaughter.
GREEN: Love-sickness, jealousy. I have become as thin as a blade of grass from pining for you.
BLUE: Faithfulness. If I were a dove I would fly through blue skies to reach you.
TURQUOISE: Impatience. I am losing hope that you will marry me.
RED: Intense love, longing. My heart bleeds with love for you.
PINK: Abject poverty. If you keep on gambling and wasting money, you will never save enough for my Lobola (dowry paid in cattle).
BROWN: My love is like the earth that gives rise to new life.
STRIPED BEADS: Doubt, accusations, two timing. You are like the Ntothoviyane (striped grass hopper) springing from bush to bush.
(meanings taken from http://earthafricacurio.com/african-crafts/zulu-love-letters-wholesale-prices)
Using these pieces of love art as the inspiration for this photoshoot was an interesting exercise, and it called for the visual merging of two very different stylistic worlds in a way that needed to still be reachable by both.
Lucky for us, though, when love is the base of whatever you do, something magical is always created.
Design & Styling: Samantha Robertson for Bella Design & Planning
Photography: Dani Cowan Photography
Venue: Breckenridge Nordic Center
Floral Design: Ali Fortunato
Cake: Sugar Breck
Rentals: Pink Monkey Solutions
Paper Goods: Richard’s Notebook
Hair: Ashley for Southern Exposure
Makeup: Jessica Taylor