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.
My dictionary states one of the definitions of politics as
the assumptions or principles relating to or inherent in a sphere, theory, or thing, esp. when concerned with power and status in a society : the politics of gender
As crap and boring as it is to talk about power and status, it is important because status and power define how much we get paid as stylists. If you are the Editor in Chief of a magazine that is considered powerful and respected and makes money in the fashion game, you can charge the top dollar to style for a brand. If you are an assistant at a magazine no one respects or has heard of, you are lucky if you can find anyone to pay you to style anything. This is the reality I have found in my many years of studying fashion. If anyone has any other theories about this, I am happy to hear them, comment away.
But as it stands, the more powerful you are editorially and the more famous you are as a stylist and editor in fashion, the more you can charge people for styling work. The power and status we are talking about has to be decided by people in fashion industry, you can’t declare it yourself. Trust me, I have tried to declare how awesome I am many times, but no one cares, it doesn’t work. I only started getting booked and paid to do jobs as a stylist when I started working for magazines people respect and designers people respect. When I was able to point out my work in powerful magazines and talk about results I had created (like higher sales and press) on collections I had styled, that’s when people started paying me higher fees.
In this series of column entries I am covering the areas I found extremely important to me to understand and take care of in my role inside the fashion industry as a stylist, fashion editor and creative consultant...
First up: Editorial and Magazine Politics.
Editorial and Magazine Politics
This is any stylist's start. If you don’t shoot for a magazine, you don’t get a portfolio and no one will pay you money to style their show, ad campaign, catalogue or red-carpet appearance. Now, I believe this is changing and fashion films and websites are becoming influential, but right now, at this present moment you MUST work with a magazine, styling pictures. And that means, you have to know the masthead. Generally, you know how important someone is at a magazine based on where the name is on the masthead. Are they at the top or the bottom? Are they listed at all? The other way to figure out the politics of a magazine is by reading the credits on the shoots. Which editors shoot the covers? Which editors shoot the main well stories? Which editors have their own column? Which editors control the market work?
Editors Market editors are very important. For a stylist, they are the backbone and key to getting the best looks for a magazine shoot. Virginia Smith at Vogue is the best market director in the world. From what I know of her and the few times I have worked with her team at American Vogue, Ms. Smith and her crew of market experts know every sample and collection in the world, it’s a stylist dream. You tell the market team what your inspiration is for your shoot, send them research, have a conversation about what kind of looks you are after, and they create a rack of the best possible options available in the fashion world, bar none. Being good to and taking care of the market team is one of the most important parts of a styling for a magazine.
Advertisers And this brings us to taking care of the advertisers. Market teams generally hold the crucial knowledge of which advertisers need to be taken care of for the magazine. As we all know, magazines are a business and the money comes from the advertisers. While editors do get to shoot their favorite designers or clothes that inspire them here and there, a majority of magazine styling is centered around shooting advertisers clothes and accessories. I think for the first five years of my career I only shot advertisers. My perspective on it was less of a chore and more like putting together a really fun puzzle. I get a list of advertisers I need to shoot and then I browse their collections on style.com to see which looks will work for my inspiration or theme for the shoot. So another side of politics is which stylists get which credits. Now that’s a column entry in and of itself, so I will go down that road another time.
Who's who on staff Lastly, but most importantly, there are the politics of the magazine staff. Obvs, the Editor In Chief is the most influential person on staff as far as a stylist is concerned but EIC is not the only member of staff to make happy. Creative Directors, Art Directors, Photo Directors, Fashion Directors, Fashion Market Directors (as already discussed), Photo Editors and Fashion Editors are all members of a magazine’s crew that a stylist must remember to respect and consider. In many magazines, Photo and Art Directors as well as Photo Editors are responsible for finding new stylists to introduce to the magazine. Creative Directors, Fashion Directors and Fashion Market Directors are often the right hand person to EIC and help make choices about which stylist should shoot which story or image. As I have said many times before, fashion is a team sport, whether you like it or not, and we have to take care of so many roles every time we work with a magazine. Treat any of the people in these positions like crap and chances are you will not be invited back to shoot or work on the magazine.
When any stylist starts, she/he begins taking tiny portraits for the front of book for a magazine. As a stylist builds trust with the editors and directors at a magazine, she/he gets bigger pictures, more pages and then eventually main well stories and covers. When I started examining the politics of magazines, it really comes down to great relationships with the editors. When I started at Pop magazine many years ago, I would do anything for Katie Grand--assist her on shoots, style pictures for the table of contents page, absolutely anything she asked me to do. And over time, she gave me a front of book story of eight pages. Then six months later, she commissioned me to do four pages in the main well for the next issue. Then, a year later, Ms. Grand gave me a shot on a cover story. It takes years to build the relationships and earn the trust for these kinds of jobs. I was in fashion for six years before I styled my first magazine cover. Patience, being respectful and understanding ones status in the hierarchy of the magazine staff is crucial to moving up in this world.
As I continue this look into fashion politics situation, I continue to notice one thing: It is always about learning to take care of people, and it’s never about being a dirt bag.
Next up? Runway show politics, back of house.