A couple of years ago, when I was in business school, my teacher was having a conversation with the class about all of the different areas of business we must take care of in order to be considered “successful”. One of those areas was “politics”. Now, he wasn’t talking about politics in the traditional sense of the word, like government or politicians, he was talking about the dynamics of people in a group, area or field. So I am talking here about politics as the relationship between people in fashion and how some people are considered powerful, how some people are not, and why. At one point in our class, someone stood up and said that he hated politics and he stayed as far away from politics as possible (exactly what I was thinking as the other student said it). In return, my teacher said, “If you don’t like politics, then be a dog. Tough luck buddy. Whether you like it or not, politics are there and you have to learn to deal with them if you want to be successful.” So I started thinking about what that meant to me and my job and career as a stylist and what it meant inside of the fashion business.
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This past February I had the pleasure of working with one of my favorite menswear designers, Antonio Azzuolo, styling his Fall Winter 2011 presentation at NYC Fashion Week. Antonio has been gracious enough to allow me to share a photographic documentation of our working process for the presentation. Rather than writing a long description about the process, as I have for this column in the past, I thought it would be cool to show you guys the pictures we take each step of the way instead. This way you can begin to see how the process takes shape in the stylist/designer working relationship.
The looks process is the first step of putting the show together. It is different from fittings because the stylist is trying the outfits on one model, instead of various models.The looks model starts to disappear, and a stylist can just see the clothes.
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How a stylist presents herself in the industry has always been important. It’s what I call creating your own “packaging.” A stylist’s “packaging” becomes her/his calling card. Stylists become easily recognizable and build their brand this way. How we present ourselves to our clients and our industry is our own special way of marketing. And now, with blogs covering the looks of editors, stylists and all other show-goers, packaging is even more important. In fact, a few stylists have even made careers out of marketing their personal style.
For stylists and their assistants, their look expresses their sensibility and aesthetic without saying a word. Whether they like it or not, stylists are being judged on their looks, specifically their outfit, hair, makeup (for women), nails, etc. This is not about being “pretty,” or attracting a mate, this is about stylists physically reflecting their art. Clients and stylists’ teams want to be inspired by the way a stylist looks.
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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.
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This week I’m writing about something you might think is boring, but, like a workout regimen, it’s a necessary evil: Setting up a stylist’s business.
I am a total geek and love working on the business side of my styling practice, but I know most stylists want to be creative and not even think about the biz operations. At the end of the day, being a successful stylist means being the CEO of your own company. Several of the best stylists I have met are incredibly business savvy.
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I believe every top stylist has a very special Secret Weapon. What is this secret weapon, you ask? An incredible first assistant. A brilliant lead assistant is one of the roles that holds the entire business together for the stylist. This week I am going to ramble a bit about how extremely important it is to have an incredible, reliable assistant and/or team of assistants.
A first assistant, FA for short, is a jack-of-all-trades. The responsibilities for a head assistant include every aspect of the stylist’s business. After sitting down and making a shortlist of what my assistant handles for me, I came up with these 13 fundamental responsibilities:
1. Research: FA can find the story styled by Grace Coddington and shot by Patrick Demarchelier for the first issue of Anna Wintour’s US Vogue without asking 500 questions or looking for five minutes and then telling you they can’t find it. An FA finds the story and creates the most fabulous scans of the story and also scans the rest of the main well from the issue, just to have on hand.
2. Prepping: A stylist doesn’t always have the time to go through every show on Style.com to choose looks for a story, so the FA steps in and makes a first edit. The FA can pull the best looks for the concept the stylist is creating, from designers the stylist loves and the credits the magazine needs. This saves the stylist hours of time.
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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.
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