For someone whose career is on fire, Stevie Dance comes across disarmingly laidback as she sits across from me on a bench outside a Lower East Side cafe. The thing is, her in-the-moment attitude isn’t actually nonchalance, it’s her way of being present and focused, which has guided her insanely successful career as a stylist—a path she never even thought she’d take. “I’ve never been that calculating with my career or set out to achieve any of this. I enjoy it as it happens and work extremely hard,” explains Dance.
A passion for collaboration and translating style from clothes kept Dance immersed in the fashion industry (though she says she could have just as easily pursued journalism or film). By the time she was in her mid-twenties she became editor of RUSSH, an indie magazine from her native Australia. With her at the helm, the little known title was putting about-to-break faces like Karlie Kloss and Jessica Stam on the covers, and people took notice. By the time Dance left the title nearly four years ago it was a bonafied international name, and so was she.
Now New York-based Dance acts as a bit of a free agent, but with no shortage of projects, collaborations and job titles under her belt. She works with magazines ranging from Vogue to Oyster, and is the fashion director of POP. But her real love project is Shop Ghost, a zine-like website featuring original photography, collages, interviews and art that she launched in February of this year. The site allows Dance to work with a range of inspiring friends like Caroline Issa, Garance Dore and Narcisco Rodriguez all in a super lo-fi, creative context. It’s the perfect canvas for her undone, nostalgic vision, which has become a signature not just in her work but also personal style (Dance is no stranger to street style blogs). Read on to learn how this multitasking, hardworking, ever-cool stylist manages to do it all and then some, all the while in Vans and a t-shirt.
How long have you been in New York? Did you always intend to end up here?
This time round about four years, which is a long time. Everyone always thinks I just moved here. I actually grew up here for almost seven years [in New York and Connecticut] because of my parents’ work. And I also assisted here after university, then back home to Australia. Now I’ve been here four years. It’s funny, when I’m in America I feel really, really Australian, and when I’m in Australia I don’t know what I feel. It’s not that I feel American… I just don’t feel completely simpatico. I’ve spent so much of my life traveling.
Were you into fashion when you were young?
No, no, no. I was never into fashion though I always loved to express myself through clothes. I used to look at Vanity Fair in the ‘90s because it was the only magazine my mum had a subscription to. It was the photography that made me interested in publishing. The stories you could tell through images and the way you could reinvent somebody. The way you could inspire someone through imagery. Vanity Fair in the ‘90s was Leibovitz and like Whoopi Goldberg in a bath of milk–all those really provocative, exciting images that helped you form in your mind the way you translated pop culture and society, the way you saw your time.
What did you study?
I went to university for journalism and cinematography. I wanted to be a film critic. I was always into film and the theory and form of narratives, and I was really into writing. My very first article was a travel piece for a startup magazine called RUSSH. The fashion director at the time screamed out ‘I need an assistant!’ and I put my hand up having no idea what a fashion assistant did or even what a stylist was. I was just looking to be busy and for some pocket money.
What did the role entail?
Oh, it was a slog! The fashion director at the time was Philip Scurrah who had been a part of the fashion team of the first era of Wallpaper in London and came to Australia wanting to run the RUSSH fashion department how you would a resourced magazine in London. And we were a team of four or so working in a tiny office above a church in the Sydney suburbs. It was all just a very small, indie mentality. It entailed what you would imagine a fashion assistant’s job would entail, and then some because it was an independent magazine. The fashion assistant was also the prop assistant, the production team, the catering, the courier. There were a lot of adventures sourcing random things–like 500 bananas in non-banana season or what have you. You know, we had to make do in Australia with translating the international trends without necessarily any access to the designers. It was always a very creative, inventive process. It was more like dress up. We would work with the local designers and the small amount of luxury that we were privy to, and we would do everything else out of vintage or fabric–whatever we could use to tell the story. Market was never really the premise of the story. It was a really free time.
Did that experience shape what you wanted to do next?
I wasn’t that calculating. I was just there in the minute and happy to be inspired by being on set. That was what I was driven by. After six months or so there, a friend of Brana Wolf’s called and said she needed an assistant in New York and liked teaming up when possible with other fellow Aussies so I went and did that and then went on and worked assisting Samira Nasr and freelanced for Vogue China and did whatever I could get my hands on!
How did that compare to you experience in Australia?
It was really different. The scale of the projects was beyond my imagination. The role of the assistant was in theory like that of a lieutenant. It was a well-oiled operation, which I wasn’t used to. But I was always keen to throw myself into it. It was a great learning experience. I was never the assistant that would pull a look out of a bag and die over exit 24 from Burberry or what have you, but I would be enthralled on set and be so inspired by the dialogue between the photographer and the model and how a model would interpret what she was wearing. It was about how you could translate style from clothes.
Then how did you wind up back at Russh? And as editor not long after!
I returned as fashion editor when I moved home to Australia and then went onto be the fashion director shortly and post that I was made editor all within a three year period. I just worked really hard and was always really excited about the projects I was doing. I tried to take what I had learned in the American market and translate it to what I could in my experience at a small Australian publication, which meant that we set our sights on things outside the scale, and achieved so much. And people started taking notice. But It was always the indie mentality. You know, I would bring the clothes to New York in my suitcase. I would cast everything myself. Very hands-on.
You’re responsible for casting some amazing covers of RUSSH, quite a feat for an Aussie, indie mag…
Yeah, the first cover story I shot for them internationally was with Karlie Kloss the season just before she broke. I think that was what RUSSH built itself on … knowing the new faces . We always had the most brilliant models work with the magazine. While I was there we cast Alessandra Ambrosia, Jessica Stam, Karlie Kloss, Constance Jablonski, Jacquelyn Jablonski, Tony Ward, Eniko. I did all the casting myself. It was purely based on intuition. It was keeping on top of faces that were exciting that were just about to break, or make a return, or reinvent themselves and shooting them in a timely matter so by the time they had garnered an interest the magazine was coming out. We were really lucky. But it was also about the strong relationshops we had with all the model agents who saw the potential in the magazine. I think the spirit of the magazine was really unique too. It was very vintage-inspired, it had a sense of freedom. It was that Aussie mentality that people wanted to embrace internationally.
What would you consider milestone moments in your career?
The first job I ever assisted Brana on was in Paris, and it was a collection story so it was during the shows. Karl Lagerfeld was shooting it out of his library, and the models were Freja Beha Erichsen, Gemma Ward, Caroline Trentini, and I just remember that was so riveting for me. The level at which they would execute and translate the fashion. It was so exciting how vulnerable they were willing to make themselves as models. More recently I just shot a 20-page story with Mark Borthwick for POP’s next issue. He has always been a photographer that I have greatly admired. His attitude to his work and the way he communicates… the way he presents his images is really unique. His daughter Bibi, who is also a brilliant photographer, assists him, and I love that sense of collaboration and community. It is something I have always admired in his work.
Why did you leave RUSSH?
Well, I moved to New York, and I attempted to edit the magazine from here, but then I decided to be present. And really, I had done everything I could there. I wanted to see where I would be with no crutch. So I went totally freelance and started contributing to a number of publications like i-D, V and Document to curating the fashion well for a period at Oyster, to cover stories and main fashion stories for Australian Vogue. And then I started contributing to POP, where I’m now one of the fashion directors. It’s a role I am really inspired by. I feel very honored to be a part of that magazine. I have worked on their art covers, and main fashion with amazing photographers such as Collier Schorr, Daniel Sannwald and Mark Borthwick.
Tell me about launching Shop Ghost.
I have been so intrigued and curious by how publishing is changing, and I am the first to put my hand up to admit that I didn’t necessarily have a stronghold on the technologies available. So I wanted to immerse myself in it. I wanted to create a platform where I could create content that directly stems from what I wanted to see online. It’s sort of a zine. It’s something lo-fi that feels true to the cultural and personal translations of what myself and the people around me are into. It’s a side project, more of a love project really. There are lots of people that help and contribute, like my wingman Ana Ifould in particular. A lot of what appears on the site is the dialogue behind my editorial work. It’s about telling you what we found on the weekend and why we liked it. The content is all totally original. We create mind-map collages, have illustrations, we interview who we believe are pivotal tastemakers. I photograph most of our subjects myself on film, which is almost ridiculous considering it is for an instant medium. But it is great to have complete creative control to ask and publish what ever we want. We want to be able to share people’s stories and what they like, from where they buy their t-shirts to how they got to where they are.
Is it hard to balance it all with so many projects going on?
I think this city breeds overachievers, and that’s what you’re here to do. I meet so many people that I’m inspired by in this city, it would be a shame not to collaborate, so you take on everything that you have time for.
Do you have certain goals, like a give year plan?
I think the trajectory of what a career in fashion is today is really malleable. I think there are a lot of different opportunities for people to express themselves that doesn’t necessarily follow the chronological career path. There are lots of things I’m working on at the moment that I’m excited by. Meeting and working with new teams and photographers and looking for potential in places unturned. I’ve been writing a film for awhile that I’m going to make. I have an idea for something I am working on design wise, which is keeping me inspired, now just need the means to put it into production, you know? Call me if you want to invest in something big world out there! The great thing about 2013 for me really has been trying new things with unexpected people. One particular project is in the works, I cant say much more than that yet–it’s an idea I’m building with a young artist, and it has to do with men.
How do you describe your approach to personal style?
I’m pretty lowkey. I get excited by new season things, but really I am just lowkey. I’m always looking at fashion whether it’s online or vintage or flea markets or new season merchandise on the floor, because it is my prop—my pen. But for personal style I like to be comfortable, especially in New York. My personal style is mostly vintage workwear. It’s denim, it’s t-shirts, its vans. Its all pretty much vintage.
Do you have style icons?
Aesthetically, for me personally, there is always a sense of nostalgia in what I think is great in style. I don’t know if it’s necessarily Charlotte Rampling, or so specific, but it’s more about creating a sense of timelessness and nostalgia in what I wear. It’s not something that I curate, it’s just what I’m drawn to. I love the ’60s and ‘70s, the ‘90s. I’ve never been a diehard fashion person, but I love the industry I’m in. I’m in it for the collaborations and for the sense of community and to tell stories and create things. And it just happens to be in fashion, but it could have easily have been in film as a costume designer or as a creative writer. I don’t know, I just found myself here.