"It's all happening at once," admits Stevie Dance over the phone from Los Angeles. The Australian-born, bicoastal-based stylist of 10 years is referring to the new roles she's taken on this year: She's now a published photographer with work in the Fall 2018 issue of Pop Magazine, as well as the founder and designer of The Feel Studio Inc. — a project that's taken four years for the debut of its first pair of jeans over the summer. The brand also released a graphic baby T-shirt in September.
The multi-hyphenate career is nothing new in the fashion industry — there are models-turned-actresses, influencers-turned-entrepreneurs, etc. — but stylists taking on designer or creative director roles has increasingly become the norm over the past few years. Australian stylist Christine Centenera launched her direct-to-consumer luxury line Wardrobe.NYC last year, while Jamie Mizrahi was hired as creative director of Juicy Couture. Brandon Maxwell, who started his career as Lady Gaga's stylist, is thriving at his namesake brand, and let’s not forget that Andrea Lieberman switched gears from celebrity stylist to designer with her near-decade-old label A.L.C., or that Rachel Zoe started out as a stylist before building her own business empire.
Karla Welch, who curates the fashionable wardrobes of Tracee Ellis Ross, Amandla Stenberg, Justin Bieber and Ruth Negga, is finally applying her craft towards design and creative direction, thanks to recent collaborations with Hanes and Levi's. "I think creative people who master their fields can easily grow into other things," shared Welch in an email to Fashionista. "I can't speak [on] others, but I always want to grow and expand creatively. Design and creative direction work really allows this expansion."
According to Dance, the word "stylist" doesn't describe everything that goes on behind such a multidisciplinary job. On a single photo shoot, in addition to pulling designer-name pieces and putting them together into eye-catching looks, the stylist is also engaging with the model to help achieve the photographer's vision, contributing to a mood board or working with a designer to establish a silhouette or certain fabrics. The process is innately collaborative, and presents the chance to try one's hand at an entirely new creative process.
"Expressing one's self through different mediums feels very contemporary," says Dance. "It's an exciting time for people to explore their creative outlets. At the end of the day, being a stylist, a photographer or designer is about the collaborative process. Making jeans, styling, writing, taking photos are really just my conduit for connection to others."
Erin Walsh, whose clientele includes Thandie Newton, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Alison Brie, debuted her first foray into design with a capsule collection with Cole Haan in September, along with fellow stylists Welch and Simone Harouche. For Walsh, the creative process still remains the same between designing and styling: "It's about walking the line between elevated and attainable; feminine and masculine; whimsical and clean," she says. "As a stylist, that's how I approach style and fashion. I look to walk that line of those juxtapositions and those dichotomies."
Stylist duo Rob Zangardi and Mariel Haenn have been co-creative directing the affordable sunglasses line Privé Revaux since 2017, which they landed through their client Hailee Steinfeld, who co-founded the brand. (The two have also put their fashion know-how towards a slew of celebrity licensing and branding deals, including those with Jennifer Lopez and Jessica Biel.) As Privé Reveaux continues to grow, Zangardi notes that their roles have taken on more responsibility while overseeing the look and feel of the brand, like coming up with a collection concept each season to creative directing an ad campaign shoot.
And while these opportunities or partnerships allow stylists to take their artistry to another level, there are benefits on the brand's side, too. "We have our own contacts and relationships, photographers we've met through the years," says Zangardi. "We just did a [Privé Reveaux] shoot where we used Gwen Stefani's hair and makeup team, which we also work with."
"Working with younger brands is also giving them access to my clientele, press contacts," notes Ilaria Urbinati, who styles some of Hollywood's best-dressed actors — Donald Glover, Rami Malek and Bradley Cooper, among others. "These brands have so much to gain from a PR point of view."
When Urbinati approached Eddie Bauer to collaborate on a collection in 2014, for example, she was able to introduce the heritage brand to a different demographic. "I have a job where I literally listen to men tell me all day about what they like and don't like about clothes and why they won’t wear something," says Urbinati. "I'm always pitching myself to brands and going out of my way and coming up with ideas that I think that are enticing to them. I'm not really waiting for anyone to come to me." This year, Urbinati has three collaborations in the works across men's, women's and accessories.
In addition to consistently ranking as one of the most powerful stylists in Hollywood, according to The Hollywood Reporter, Kate Young has consulted for fashion brands, styled runway shows and designed collections for a number of categories, including lingerie for the Japanese brand Triumph, matching mom-and-baby knitwear, occasion wear for Target and, currently, eyewear for Tura.
"Working with actresses has really informed me more on what women wear," says Young, who regularly works with Dakota Johnson, Selena Gomez, Natalie Portman and Margot Robbie, to name a few. "Some [actresses] are short, some are tall, sometimes they're pregnant, sometimes they're [skinner] for a role. There are so many different things that can happen in a real woman’s body — and they are, in fact, real women. How they wear things and how they're comfortable and what makes them feel good is what I apply when I’m making stuff."
What makes these professionals so desirable is their connections within the industry, along with the increasing knowledge of the market and its consumers. And with the rise of social media and celebrity culture, stylists now wield more followers and influence than ever before.
"The world of styling has become fascinating to people in the last few years," says Urbinati. "More and more people are seeing that we can make an impact on where fashion goes."
Homepage Photo: Stylist Cher Coulter, DJ Nikki Pennie and stylist Karla Welch; Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images