When you're an actor, a musician, a model — talent, as it's often referred to in the industry — you are the product: the thing being sold. But for behind-the-scenes artists like wardrobe stylists, hairstylists and makeup artists, it's less about them and more about what they have to offer to enhance said product. Or is it? Thanks or (no thanks) to a radically shifting industry, one of the key elements to getting signed as an artist today is your personality in conjunction with your craft. But don't get it twisted: that doesn't necessarily mean the personality you willfully craft on social media. Times have changed, no doubt, but the rulebook remains constitution-like in its unyielding to industry mores.
"When I started there was no social media," Dana Gardner, Manager at The Wall Group, tells Fashionista. "There was no such thing as a 'beauty influencer' or YouTube. There were a fraction of the amount of artists working and ascending as there are now. Subsequently, the industry was a lot less competitive." Gardner sits in a powerful position within one of the preeminent management companies in the world, The Wall Group, whose clients include big names like hairstylists Lacy Redway and Chris Appleton, makeup artists Daniel Martin, Katey Denno and Hung Vanngo and stylists Karla Welch and and Elizabeth Stewart.
According to her, with the radically shifting landscape begetting an influx (if not overflow) of talent, one's disposition can often be the make or break in securing representation, often considered the sole gateway to booking work. And although the field and industry is growing, it's still a relatively niche environment — particularly in the celebrity red carpet world, where loyalty remains key. Gardner is quick to stress the importance of understanding your role as being in support of someone else, even if your social following is greater than theirs. "Artists are taking their role in front of the camera, and may have more followers than the actor/actress/model/athlete they're working with. There's a time and place to shine, but it's important that when they are hired to support a talent, their behavior reflects that."
Still, one can't help but wonder how critical a role social media plays in today's hiring landscape, especially when digital platforms can serve as easily accessible portfolios. From Gardner's perspective, it's important as an artist if your goal is to do brand partnerships. "Brands are collaborating with artists constantly and looking for artists who they feel have a good synergy with their message and who can help authentically get their word out and in front of as many eyeballs as possible." Therefore, the number of followers you have as an artist is significant. But that being said, it can easily create a false (and inflated) sense of reality.
Despite most artists using social media in some capacity to shill their work, not all are using it to enhance their head-space in a positive way. "When you work freelance, there might be days, or even weeks at times of not working," she says, noting that it can be both stressful and isolating. "Those are the times when I emphasize how important it is for the artist to steer clear of Instagram — it gives the illusion that 'everyone is working except for me.' I think there are appropriate times to step away and redirect your focus onto using downtime in a more positive productive way." She suggests creating video content, doing tutorials, getting inspired by visiting museums and looking at other types of art and creativity as productive alternatives.
It's that wallowing in self-doubt that Denno stresses as one of the pitfalls to avoid. "We all experience it, but you have to keep things in perspective. Be fluid and don’t be too tied to anything," she says. Her own career path was quite atypical for an artist, having been a social worker for more than a decade prior to getting into makeup professionally. "I was at a dinner party one night I sat next to a woman who was an assistant to a top makeup artist. She saw me doodling and by the end of the night asked me if I wanted to come to set with her tomorrow for an ad campaign. I called in sick and went — and the rest is history. I didn't know a damn thing about this industry, so I had no fear. Because it was so unknown to me I didn't have doubts about whether or not I would be good enough."
But in that is a great lesson about the importance of tenacity versus preparedness — and the role the former can play in expediting an education. "Know your craft, constantly research and learn, become familiar with other artists work, know the brands and try out every product you possibly can," says Denno. "Get as much hands-on experience as possible — do test shoots and find ways to work with people at your level," she adds, recalling using Craigslist earlier in her career to find people for test shoots. "It's important to learn what your work looks like on people's faces. I also think you need to have blinders on in a sense. It's important to know what is out there and what you admire, but you can't be afraid to chart your own path. Don't be discouraged by the noise and keep moving forward."
That's all well and good, but let's get specific here: Say you think you're at a place in your career where you're ready to take it to the next level and seek out management. How do you make that happen?
It starts, according to stylist Adam Ballheim, with doing your homework. "Talk to other artists from a variety of agencies and get their perspectives, ask them to make intros for you," he advises. Ballheim also suggests speaking with clients and brands you've already worked with who have exposure to various agencies to see what their impressions are. "Since your management is going to be interfacing with them on your behalf, it's important to get their perspective and experiences as well." Ballheim stresses that most agencies and managers are going to need to see a fairly extensive portfolio and/or client roster before bringing you on.
But it's also important to make sure that this is a match from both sides. "There has to be a cohesive vision between both parties in order for it to be a successful relationship," stylist Andrew Gelwicks explains. Both he and Ballheim are represented by The Only Agency, whose clients also include stylists Law Roach and Alexandra Mandelkorn as well as colorists, manicurists, photographers and more. "Really sit down with your prospective representation and feel them out, just as they are doing with you," he says.
One big question remains: How to build a portfolio? The answer is simple: assisting. Lots of it. "Work hard, take on as many assisting jobs as you can and begin to expand your network and create connections," Gardner says. "As a trusted assistant, you'll work closely with managers and can begin to branch out and start booking jobs and building your own relationships." And this, again, is where having the right attitude and knowing one's place on set becomes crucial. With such a small, tight-knit industry, reputation is everything.