A couple of years ago, I began going to business school to learn the basics of how to run my styling business. After all, we stylists have to deal with cash flow statements and managing our money and assistants, even if we are just “creatives” who play with clothing. As I entered into the alien world of business 101, I was surrounded by corporate business people that didn’t have the slightest idea what a “fashion stylist” was or what could be expected of one. In most cases, I would anticipate the need to go into my 2 minute speech which explains my role, how it works, and with whom I work, whenever I met someone new. Even when I got my speech down to what I thought was a decent explanation, I still got blank stares back.
The uninitiated couldn’t seem to understand the gist of what a stylist did. In a nut shell, here was my speech: “stylists work with creative teams including photographers, design teams, or art directors to create a vision for an image or brand. At the same time, we also face the challenge of making the clothes look awesome (regardless of their quality).”
Due to the general lack of understanding regarding my role, I started to think more about what I really do as a stylist. I guess the reason that it is not easy to explain is because a stylists’ responsibilities change quite a bit depending on the kind of job or project we are working on that day. When I am shooting an editorial, I have the privilege of collaborating with some of the world’s best editor-in-chiefs (EIC’s for short) on creating stories for their magazines. With an editorial and the approval of the EIC, I get to choose the concept, photographer, hair and makeup teams, models, and of course the clothes.
However, on an advertising shoot for a brand, I become a backseat passenger. My focus shifts to making the clothes look chic and expensive, while the art director commands the concept, chooses the photographer, hair and makeup teams, and casting. On advertisement jobs, stylists are there to support the photographers and art directors, helping with ideas when needed but also staying out of the way when there are too many cooks in the kitchen.
For runway shows or creative consultation, stylists are “shot callers.” We work directly with the designer and his or her team to research inspiration, edit fabrics and silhouettes, design or edit accessories, choose hair/makeup and casting directors, or work on music for the show. In cases such as this, stylists have an influence on almost every creative element.
Working with celebrities is a completely different skill set. Pulling for red carpet events means knowing how to make the client look skinny and classic, while at the same time, keeping them off the “worst dressed list.” Some clothes that look amazing in a photograph or on the runway can look just plain crazy on the red carpet. Plenty of stylists and their clients have learned that lesson the hard way. Styling with celebrities is always about staying true to the personality of the client while elevating it with chic edge and striving for an image of them on the red carpet that will be considered timeless for years to come.
One day at business school, a fellow student (and lead engineer at a major IT firm) asked me how the role of stylist had come about. He wanted to know what lead people to need a stylist, whether it be a company, magazine or celebrity. As I begin to think about styling’s history and what has influenced me as a stylist, I started to realize the role is very much a mash-up of several different roles originating from the late 1800s and early 1900s. It is the combination of a Fashion Editor, Costume Designer, and Salon Directrice.