Teen Vogue is one of my favorite magazines to peruse and read. The happy, energetic images Amy Astley puts on her pages bring pure joy to the unusually serious world of fashion. It’s always a pleasure to shoot for Ms. Astley. Indeed, she’s been the catalyst for several of my most memorable career highlights. (Hello, Miley Cyrus and Patrick Demarchelier on the rooftops of Paris!)
Amy works closely with me when I’m shooting to help me better understand the Teen Vogue girl, and how to create interesting and new images. It’s refreshing and inspiring to have such a rich dialogue with an editor about what I’m creating for their magazine. Speaking with Amy about styling gave me even more insight into what makes her editorship at Teen Vogue so awesome.
Sally Lyndley: What roles do stylists play in your world as editor in chief? How do you interact with stylists?
Amy Astley: Stylists play a major, major role in my world! Major! I work with freelancers, and I consider them as important as my staff. After all, photos are what a fashion magazine is really about, and a great stylist is the one who can make the picture happen. I interact very personally, very constantly, and very informally with my stylists, emailing and calling them to talk about ideas, shoots, etc.
What major concerns do you have business-wise and creative-wise when hiring and working with stylists for Teen Vogue?
Of course booking a new stylist is a leap of faith. You hope they can express the magazine’s point of view while bringing something fresh and distinctly their own signature to the shoot. I always want our shoots to look like they could only be ours, to have that Teen Vogue stamp. Yet you want newness so it’s not a boring magazine! So that is a tall order and a fine line for each stylist (and photographer) to walk. Business-wise, of course I want the stylist to succeed. The last thing I want to do is waste time and money killing a shoot. We spend a lot of time nurturing our stylists as we don’t want a one-time relationship, but rather an ongoing one.
How do you find out about new stylists?
I find new stylists many ways. I look at stylist credits in other magazines (usually British) and on runway show notes if I like the shoot or the show. My creative director, photo editor and fashion director tell me about new people. Sometimes a photographer we respect asks us to consider a new stylist. I also meet young stylists who are assisting my more established stylists, and we try new people that way. I am always, always open to meeting new stylists.
What do you look for when you are reviewing a stylist’s portfolio/book? Any dos or don’ts for books?
When reviewing a book I look for a stylist whose work seems happy, optimistic, and upbeat. I like smiling girls! If the book seems very dreary and sad it is just not for Teen Vogue. People tell me, “oh, I can do happy!” but I don’t believe them!! I want energy. No one looks at Teen Vogue to feel depressed and sad, and the teenage years can already be so hard, so gloomy. Of course I want to see looks that are put together with a lot of thought and care, creativity, imagination. I love seeing a high-low mix as that is relevant to the way we style fashion at Teen Vogue. If someone can only work with the most expensive fashion, with designer brands, it might not work for us. I look for a spirit that is both right for Teen and right for Vogue, since we are both–young but also polished, chic. I also look at the book closely to see which photographers the stylist is working with, and I evaluate the success of the photos along with the clothes. A great stylist is almost like a movie director, choosing location, model, clothes, hair and makeup, and really collaborating with the photographer.
What are you looking for and listening for when you meet with a stylist?
When I meet a stylist I look for a lot of the same things I look for in their portfolio–optimistic, upbeat, good energy. It’s not always easy to work with brand new models as we do, or to make less expensive clothing look really good. I want someone positive who is up for that challenge. I always make sure the stylist knows our magazine really well, and I look for the cues that they respect what we do and want to be part of it. Of course I need my stylists to live and breathe fashion, to really be mad for it! I am wary of people who want to just “do their own thing’” at our expense. Number one, after skill and taste, I need to believe that the stylist really wants to be part of our creation of Teen Vogue.
What is your thinking when you pair up stylists and photographers?
When pairing up creative teams, I often ask the stylist and photographer whom they want to work with. I prefer teams that are comfortable and happy together. Of course, sometimes, you need people to have that “first time” shoot and I talk to both parties about it. If a photographer tells me he or she cannot work with a certain stylist, I respect that and fine a better match. Sometimes I pair people who I think can push each other to a new place.
What do you think makes a stylist’s work great?
A great stylist will produce a really memorable shoot. My number one goal with a shoot is always that it stand out as special, different, memorable. There are just so many images out there: Who needs more stuff to look at and then forget? You know a stylist is special when they can get all the parts—cast, location, fashion, hair and makeup, photographer—moving in harmony and in the right direction! I also love it when a stylist pushes me a bit out of my own comfort zone for the magazine. You need to keep surprising the readers so they keep coming back.
What criteria and standards for assessment do you have when you are working with a stylist?
An important criterion for me when assessing a stylist’s work is that it looks like it could ONLY be in Teen Vogue. That is, very distinctive and very us because Teen Vogue has an identity and I always want to promote that visual identity. I don’t want a shoot that looks like it could be in some other teen magazine; a shoot that looks too junior. That is really the kiss of death for me. The shoot must be youthful and cool but also polished and Vogue. Too junior is probably my most cutting criticism. Some stylists think that knee socks, kilts, peter pan collars, or goofy sunglasses say “teen” but they are totally mistaken. I can’t work with people who see teenagers or teen fashion in such a cliché and simplistic manner. In the end it’s a feeling for young people and for our magazine, and it cannot really be put into words. Some people get it, and some people don’t. But making mistakes is OK, it is part of the creative process too. I just learn and move on if a story or a stylist doesn’t work for us.
Do you have any specific dos and don’ts for a stylist who is shooting a story for you?
- Do a lot of prep. That means working hard with the clothes and the looks here at Teen Vogue for our run-through. Although I allow and encourage stylists to be super creative, I don’t allow them to just do their own thing on set. This is a business and I need to see the looks and the clothes before the shoot.
- Do spend a lot of time with my great fashion director Gloria Baume, as she is your secret weapon and a great ally.
- Do meet the model before you book her. Make sure she has personality and is really right for the job. We work with such young girls who are so new to the business that there can be some unwelcome surprises.
- Do show me references as I respond well to that kind of visual cue. It helps me to see that we are thinking along the same lines.
- Don’t rush, don’t think you can prep a job in a day or two.
- Do think it through really well. Don’t be rigid on set, if something isn’t working (the model, the hair, the shoes, whatever!!). It is your job to be flexible, to solve problems, to move on instead of getting stuck.
- Don’t blame failures on models, beauty teams, photo, whoever. For me, the stylist is the one who must trouble-shoot. They have to be like the horse whisperer–someone who can motivate the photographer, model, and the rest of the team to perform.
- Don’t go too sexy on your shoot because it’s just not Teen Vogue.
- Do think about narrative. You should be telling a story in the photos. Who is this girl? Where is she and why? Why is she dressed this way? Think about Grace Coddington as your role model here. Grace is the master of narrative.
- Do make the clothes look amazing. We are supposed to look at your shoot and want the clothes!
Who are your favorite stylists?
Favorite stylists: Grace Coddington is a total master, a visionary. She tells a story like no one else. I always love Camilla Nickerson: you want to be the girl in her story, to have the clothes and the cool, modern attitude. I always look at what Carine Roitfeld and Emanuelle Alt are doing in French Vogue, it’s a cool, sexy, seductive aesthetic, and they do it so well. Karl Templer, Katie Grand, Joe McKenna, I look at their work and respect it a lot. At Teen Vogue, I have worked with so many talented stylists, especially Camilla Nickerson, Nancy Rohde, Marie Chaix, Havana Laffitte, Jillian Davison. In the end, I really do feel that the best stylists are the ones with the absolute strongest, unwavering point of view, and the ones who can seamlessly merge vision with the photographer to create images that go beyond fashion.
Any other advice for new stylists or readers who want to become stylists?
My top advice to aspiring stylists is to go assist one! You will see what the job really takes and can evaluate if you are right for the very demanding, but rewarding job. Don’t rush yourself. Assist more than one person, and do it for a while. There is a lot to learn. For new stylists, you will have to really believe in yourself since it will take time to build your career. It’s a slow thing as you are being entrusted with a shoot, a budget, a cast of players. It’s a big deal!! Don’t feel a failure if you do lots of small jobs and little gigs on your way to your goals. You will get there if you really persevere. I’ve seen it happen for many people.