Sasha Charnin Morrison has spent the last 25 years working in fashion, most of them as a stylist (she’s styled everyone from Jennifer Lopez to the Real Housewives of New Jersey and is currently the fashion director at US Weekly). It’s a profession that today needs no explaining, but back when Charnin Morrison got her start styling, there wasn’t even a name for what she did. Thanks to Phillip Bloch and especially to Rachel Zoe and Bravo, everyone knows what a stylist does and it seems like everyone wants to be one. But how?
Enter Charnin Morrison’s new book, Secrets of Stylist: An Insider’s Guide to Styling the Stars ($24.95, Chronicle Books), which is essentially the first how-to book on being a stylist. “I realized there was nothing out there,” Charnin Morrison says explaining the impetus to write the book.
Charnin Morrison culls from her 25 years of experience–which means tons of interviews with her friends who are top stylists to A-list stars–to give aspiring stylists the low down on what actually goes into the job that appears deceptively glamorous. Just how un-glamorous does it get? We talked to Charnin Morrison to find out.
Fashionista: We’ve all heard horror stories of how badly assistants are treated in the fashion industry. Yours is pretty good. What’s your worst on-the-job fashion horror story and why do people in fashion seem to treat their assistants like crap?
Sasha Charnin Morrison: Jobs that are painful and abusive–not physically where someone is punching you or throwing you up against the wall obviously–but verbally abusive and are completely insane are your best jobs. They are the jobs where you learn the most.
At my first job [as a “below-junior-level assistant” to Marina Schiano at Vanity Fair], I was 21 and I thought I knew everything, but I really didn’t. I was yelled at in English and Italian. I’ve had several things thrown at me. But the big thing that tore Marina and me apart was delivering these dog biscuits to Carolina Herrera’s dog. I had a 104 degree fever and we were doing a Christmas delivery and I was putting the dog biscuit bags in the back of the car and somehow I did something wrong and put the bag in incorrectly. So the bag got a little messed up and maybe the biscuit was broken and that was it. I’ve never been yelled at that loudly. That was the last straw straw, that’s what got me out of Vanity Fair. It’s pretty funny now, though at the time I thought my career was over and that my life was ending.
I wish I had realized when I was being abused and cleaning mugs and ashtrays that I’d understood the enormity of Marina and how great she was. You need somebody who can train you to learn how not to do things at the next job.
Besides actors–fashion people are the most dramatic people on the planet. The people that are in the top jobs sacrifice having families and getting married for fashion because they love it. It’s everything. And if you can’t see that and you don’t feel that way then the people that do feel that way don’t have time for you. The way people look at is, the job is very glamorous so you can suck it up.
You say in your book that celebrity styling wasn’t even a profession before 1995. What happened in 1995?
Everyone I spoke with pinpoints the moment that Barbara Tfank dressed Uma Thurman in Prada for the 1995 Oscars as the time when everything changed. Because it wasn’t a costume design by Helen Rose, it wasn’t a Bob Mackie creation, it just wasn’t a costume. It was a piece that someone could buy off a rail. Before then, you didn’t know where red carpet gowns came from.
I think that was the same year that InStyle came out. So then you’re seeing celebrities as models. The girls were so expensive that no one could afford to use models anymore. Their fees were outrageous and they were never available and celebs were there and they were eager to promote their movie. That was the pressure cooker. Suddenly there was a name behind the dress and suddenly the star is the stylist.
So which celebrities really don’t use stylists?
Blake doesn’t use anybody. Sienna Miller, Diane Kruger, Kate Moss–they all have a very specific idea of how they like to look and how they put themselves together and they have great style. But most actresses need stylists because they simply don’t have the time or the resources to do all that shopping for a junket. They don’t know where to go or how to make it fit right.
Speaking of making it fit, in the “Fashion Crimes” section at the back of your book you address Gwyneth’s infamous pink Ralph Lauren Oscar dress–the one that didn’t quite fit right. What happened there?
So she arrives on the carpet looking very Disney princess. And as she walked down the carpet the dress started to grow. Apparently what had happened was that she took the pads out of the dress that were in the chest. The dresses are built on models. They’re not built on the celebrities unless it’s specifically designed for them. So when she took the pads out it lost it’s structure. That was a key moment that served a lesson to everybody on why you need to have items that fit properly or else that will happen to you. Because depending upon the event and the dress–you will never be forgiven.
And lastly, for those who are not discouraged by what it really takes to break into the styling world and have the occasional insult or clothing rack hurled at them, any advice on getting your foot in the door?
Social networking is crucial. What I didn’t realize when I was started this book two years ago was how important twitter would become. Follow the stylists you admire and want to emulate on Twitter. If you love Lady Gaga, her stylist is on Twitter. If you love Beyonce, her stylist is on twitter. You can contact them and they might respond back. You get insider information. You have unbelievable access if you know how to network efficiently. It’s right there for you. By following stylists on Twitter you can understand how they speak and what goes into the job. You have to make it happen for yourself. No one is going to hand it to you.