it's been a hot-minute since my last post (almost 2 weeks) but I had a huge photoshoot last week and by the time I'd finished returning all the pieces I pulled, and unpacked my suitcase- it was time to pack it again and fly back to Toronto. In the midst of my week running around London, I read a hilariously inaccurate account of what it's like to be a Stylist. I decided to compile my own list and interview a few of my stylist/creative friends from around the globe for their take. The second reason this post is coming so late - is that with my friends busy schedules it took a few days to pin them down and have them share their own styling experiences.
While I haven't got the spreads and years of experience my friends do, I will share a little of my experience here; I got into styling when I was first designing, it was an easy transition. Designing womenswear and styling my own designs on set - it also meant I started out without having to do massive pulls (all the garments were already at my disposal). Later when I made the switch to creative direction, I would hire a stylist to style my pieces so as to not cloud my judgement being too attached to things i'd made myself. Since that I've worked styling; menswear, off-figure and even the occasional celeb (however all the celebs i've dressed were through various luxury retailers I've worked for). ....
More times than I can count a message will pop up in my inbox or a friend will invite me out for drinks to ask me, "What it's like being a stylist?' or "How long til you start making a lot of money?" or "how long until you get your first cover?"
While I love a free drink or latte , I decided to create this list to save us both some time... there is no shortcut or predetermined amount of time for becoming a successful creative (or any job for that matter) and working in fashion is not all glitter and glamour...
7 Things No one Told You about Becoming a Stylist
That myth about the flighty, air-headed fashion girl/guy who can't open a jar?
Organization + Muscles are key here. Imagining spending 2 full days pulling samples from several PR showrooms and stores. Keeping all your loan dockets or receipts (if you're buying and returning) organized is one thing. Having the strength to carry it all is another story, the weight of those dresses, shoes and suits really add up! Before you know it you'll be sporting an admirable pair of biceps and cancelling your gym membership. In order to be successful you must have an amazing sense of organization (I like to think of my method as organized chaos), the ability to foresee problems, plan looks and storyboards in your head and later translate your vision to a team and be able to couple this mental strength with the physical ability of carrying heavy objects and the endurance to work long days on set. The majority of the time you will be dealing with early (7 am call times) and if working outside be prepared for extreme climates. We often shoot fall/winter in spring or summer and vice versa.
Working as a stylist means you may be tasked with a far-off location shoot, or just one at a studio on the edge of town. But before that you have to pull all your pieces. Visiting showrooms, and high-end retailers all over the city is not as glamourous as it seems. I can't tell you how many times I've had to remind those (even in the industry) that styling is not simply shopping for a living. You often are limited to certain number of pieces, so you have to make tough choices (Which silver pump shall I pull?) and avoid pulling too much for fear of breaking your back.
Although my policy is always "I'd rather have it and not need it - than need it and not have it"... sometimes the physical limitations of carrying all that stuff mean you only select one large metal crown instead of all three.
If there isn't a budget for car service, unlimited taxis or couriers - You will have to arrive to the above locations with a large suitcase and strategically pack all the items to avoid any damage. You will become an expert at packing and unpacking and arrive on set with a full backpack, tote bag, giant suitcase, and 4 garment bags flung over your shoulder.
3. Model Maintenance...
You will become the first point of contact with the model(s), building up an unnaturally close relationship in a few short hours. You will see them naked, help them remove their bra/ undergarments, clean their sweat marks off garments and have to tie their shoelaces or buckle- buckles for them. If the model is hot and their makeup begins to run... you will be the one fanning them. If the model is cold... you better have a blanket, winter coat (for outdoor shoots) or your own sweater to wrap them in. The model's wellbeing is your responsibility so some snacks in your prop kit (while you wait for catering) won't hurt either. You need a happy model for good shots and you will be the first line of defense.
While changing looks the two of you will share a laugh over the photographer's quirks or roll your eyes in unison over how long the makeup artist is taking.
4. Creativity and Availability ...
It's happened more than once to me .... PR company X promised me samples from XYZ designer and now that shoot time has come the samples have been loaned to another publication or are off in Milan for a Designer event. You are left with options B,C and sometimes D. You rely on your creativity to make the shoot happen... while the Cavalli samples may no longer be available you remember passing an almost exact copy in the Topshop window... off to Topshop you go.
You need to source seven unique headpieces for a shoot but were only able to find four? You turn necklaces and even a christmas garland from Wal-mart into headpieces and call it a day. On the day of the shoot the photographer asks you for some additional looks? now you are putting female models in men's clothes (god bless the Gender-neutral trend), turning pieces backwards and upside-down or strategically pinning a model into a large piece of fabric and creating a custom dress on set while the rest of the team watches. (NO pressure!)
5. Magic ...
There will (hopefully) always be a magical moment a few looks in, where you look into the camera or on a lightbox monitor and find yourself overwhelmed with joy. As the shoot unfolds, and the set, lighting, hair, makeup, model and your perfectly styled looks combine you'll find yourself breathing a little easier... the stress of the past few days is over and you are creating some beautiful images. This feeling will return a few weeks later when you finally see the edited images in print or online - you never tire of that feeling.
6. It's not over when the shoots over...
The photographer heads home to make his or her selects, the makeup artist washes her brushes and you stare at a giant pile of clothes, shoes and accessories. If you're lucky enough to have an assistant or intern - the two of you began repacking and sorting the garments by showroom. In the following days you make the trek to wherever you pulled or bought all these fabulous pieces. You pray they're all in good condition, that you haven't mispackaged anything and that you haven't forgotten an item. By this time you are now an expert at maneouvring a giant suitcase through busy streets and public transit. Each pitstop is a chance to share how the shoot went and every PR worth their salt will want to know how the shoot went, which pieces you ended up shooting, and when they can expect to see the final images.
The last thing i'll mention that no one tells you about styling... is the cost involved. While you may be able to pull the majority of your pieces from showrooms for free there will always be unexpected costs. The Uber you took when your back was breaking, the taxi you called when you found yourself in a bad part of town with $20,000 in designer accessories in your bag. The 3 metres of sequinned fabric and feathers you just had to have to create the final look or the trips to the craft store for thread, double-sided tape, baubles and fabric paint so you can customize something.
There is also the slight chance you could damage a sample on set, hopefully you've built up a good rapport with whomever you've pulled it from.
Of course accidents are often unavoidable (a grease stain on a pair of tan leather boots) or waking up the morning after your shoot (your floor covered in runway samples) to find the fire alarm sounding and firefighters pulling your neighbours out of their apartments, Yes this actually happened to me last week - luckily my flat and all the clothes were fine!
That concludes my personal list of stylist secrets but don't take my word for it - below I've rounded up some feedback from my friends (and experts!) in the field.
Amarsana who's styled high-fashion spreads and celebrities the world over, Chantel who's styled commercials, music videos and lookbooks [even styled me over the phone once or twice ;)] and Sharad who's menswear expertise has led him to style celebrities, athletes, magazine cover stories, runway shows and everything in between.
I asked all three of them 2 questions ; Whats one misconception people have about being a stylist and What has been your most interesting (Good or Bad) moment on set?
Check out their answers below...
What's one misconception people have about being a stylist?
you actually need to be physically strong!
What has been your most interesting moment on set?
2. Arrive to South of France. 10 pm. My shoot is the next day. Airline lost my suitcase with samples (I got it a week after). I get to the hotel - box of samples didn't arrive. I spent all night on the phone with airline and fedex. Nothing arrived on time. After 2 hours of sleep I still woke up with a smile on my face and knew I can make it work with what I have. Of course I still had other samples. Anyways the point of this is that stuff happens, things get lost or delayed but stay positive! it worked out great and I love the result. In fact it is one of my favorites.
What's one misconception people have about being a stylist?
I think one of the most common misconceptions that most people have when it comes to being a stylist, is what it actually means and entails. Being a stylist is much more than simply putting clothing on a person!!
what has been your most interesting (good or bad) experience on set ?
Well, I think the most I interesting time on set, was when I was just starting out and I was brought on to work a music video for a certain “rapper” and R n B singer. We were shooting a music video in an affluent area of the city and of course went over the scheduled wrap time (we all know how that goes). As we were shooting into the night we got a surprise visit from the police, asking what we were doing and that it was time to wrap it up. After a bit of finesse and “$mooth talking” we were able to finish shooting the video without any further interruption.
Whats one misconception people have about being a stylist?
"Where does one begin. I'll try not to go on a rant about this- I think one thing people don't know about styling is the personal sacrifice. A photographer has a studio from where he/she works and a makeup artist has his/her kit that they carry around. A stylist unfortunately doesn't have a bottomless closet from where he/she can pull from. A stylist spends days scouring the city going from place to place to source the clothes that become the backbone of any shoot. And if you're new most of that is purchased on your credit card- which means that if there's the slightest rip or makeup stain guess who fronts the bill? Yup, us. If there's one thing I'd love for people to be aware off is how much of our own personal money/credit is put on the line for any given shoot, creative or not.
what has been your most interesting (good or bad) experience on set ?... Fortunately I can say that i've definitely been blessed to have more good experience than bad. With that being said i'll share a few good ones and one very valuable bad experience. Early in my career I was approached by reputable magazine to style an editorial for them. It was unpaid (which is another thing people should know, most of us starting work for free) with the promise of a 6 page spread in the magazine. With only two days to prepare and 8 models to style I quite literally felt like a chicken without a head. Nevertheless, I pulled more than $50k worth of merchandise and arrived on set. After a successful shoot I spent the next 3 days returning all the clothes and awaiting news about the editorial. The magazine didn't let me see any selects or proofs and went straight to print. When i finally received my copy I flipped through the magazine eagerly searching for my story only to be confronted by the fact that my story went from 6 page spread to a 1 pager with three thumbnail images. It was in that moment I realized two things, one that I'd never work for free again and two that I would always demand 100% creative control over the content I create. Fortunately since then I've been blessed to be surrounded by people who've appreciated and nurtured that ambition. Through their kindness and faith in my ability I've had the privilege to work on some amazing projects. From styling Joffrey Lupul for over 40 home games, to working with Jose Bautista for the cover of The Bay St Bull, to building 2 amazing menswear magazines which features countless editorials and celebrities features there's very little I can say other than that I'm deeply humbled and blessed to have been awarded these opportunities.