BECOME A FASHION STYLIST, PT 1
The role of fashion stylist has to be one of the most sought-after careers in the fashion industry, thanks in no small part to stylists like Rachel Zoe and Patricia Field. Although the ins and outs of the job have been highlighted by shows like The Rachel Zoe Project, there is far more to the job than what Bravo can fit in a 1/2 hour segment. If you’ve ever wondered about how to become a fashion stylist, read on.
We’ve asked four lovely ladies, who have happily made a career out of styling, ten questions to help you on the way. Introducing our stylists..
Alexandra Greenawalt is a New York-based stylist who specializes in classic elegance with a twist. She has worked with celebritiess such as Jennifer Hudson and Antonia Bennett and works both commercially and for private clients.
Amy Reed is the owner and creative director of Chickdowntown.com.
Janel Molton is a fashion stylist and the owner of Relic NY, a new vintage online boutique. After living in Paris and Hollywood, Janel moved to Manhattan in the summer of 2008. Quickly discovering that the city boasting one of the world’s most renowned fashion markets lacked the reasonably priced quality vintage and expert styling to which she had become accustomed and recognizing that NY’s absence was more the rule than the exception, Janel decided to open her closet.
Sarah Shirley, stylist to the stars and viewed by the masses, can be seen on NBC’s The Today Show, CBS’sThe Early Show and VH1 discussing the latest styles. She has worked with Tommy Hilfiger and Tuleh and is an adjunct professor at LIM College in Manhattan where she teaches Applied Fashion Styling.
1. Firstly, what made you decide to get into the field of styling?
ALEXANDRA: I was always obsessed with fashion and it seemed like a natural progression of my talents.
AMY: From a very early age my favorite thing to do was shop and put outfits together. I would go into a store and spend hours putting together a few outfits and many times upon checking out a cashier would say to me something like “That looks so good together, I would have never of thought of that together, we should put it on the mannequin”. I also would pore over fashion magazines and be deeply drawn into the more creative styling and bored to death and frustrated with the others. Once I started chickdowntown.com I realized that what I feared doing the most (styling) was actually my favorite part of the job. Once I decided not to try to conform or worry that others would find it too “extreme” or “unwearable” I started to enjoy it a lot more and be more pleased with the pictures for the site. I’m also lucky that I get to style the hair and makeup as well and use it to enhance the feeling of the outfit even more.
JANEL: I have always loved fashion. When I was young, I immersed myself in the pages of Vogue, W, Bazaar, Elle, etc. searching for daily inspiration. I did not even realize styling was a profession until my first internship in the closet of W magazine. There I aided (aka ran around for Devil Wear’s Prada style) the industry’s top stylists on shoots for top celebrities and models. I was able to see firsthand how the industry the worked and one of the most elite levels. It was that experience that solidified my passion and thrust me on the path of styling.
SARAH: I liked the lifestyle. I met a ton of stylists while working for a milliner, Tracy Watts and then for fashion retailer, Club Monaco.
2. Once you had made that decision, what steps did you take to start out?
ALEXANDRA: I approached a magazine publisher (The Improper Bostonian) who at the time had no fashion section, told him he needed one and that he needed to hire me to do it!
AMY: I fell into styling as a necessity of owning Chickdowntown and needed looks put together for the shoot. As the buyer I know the clothes better than anyone and develop strong ideas about how each piece should be worn.
JANEL: After interning in the closet of W in NYC, I went back to LA to continue at USC. I had loved my experience so much; I asked one of the main editors if they needed help in their LA office. She put me incontact with the LA W/WWD team. There, because the office was so small, I was able to go on to be the main assistant on shoots with celebrities such as Lily Allen. They also allowed me to obtain numerous bylines for articles I wrote for WWD.
SARAH: I asked all my stylist clients to tell me about their job. I read magazines like crazy and noticed all the credits and who was styling what shoot. When I left my job to work in the wardrobe department at MTV- who was one of my clients at Club Monaco, I still kept in touch with all the stylists giving them a call from time to time.
3. When did you feel like you had “broken” into the industry and could give up the day job?
ALEXANDRA: When I got my first commercial job for Pantene in the first month working at styling in NYC
AMY: After starting the website and reading an article on Elle.com which named us one of the 10 Best New Websites in the world I felt I had “broken in” to the fashion industry and that my vision/creative direction of the site was good enough for Elle therefore good enough!
JANEL: I feel like I broke into the industry when I garnered the contacts and became able to freely pull samples from the world’s top designers. The hard part is getting the best clothes. It is all based on relationships between the designer’s PR team the “ad equivalence” of the shoot you are pulling for. Once you have them, the styling comes easy!
SARAH: When did you feel like you had “broken” into the industry and could give up the day job? After MTV- I went to work as a designer at Tommy Hilfiger for 1 year because that is what my degree was in architecture and fashion design- I left and started assisting stylists and got a few of my own jobs, had 1 celeb chef client and worked as a freelance consultant for Bergdorf Goodman. About 4/5 years later, I made a conscious decision that I could not assist any more and would only take my own jobs.
4. What’s your best advice for someone looking to get into the industry?
ALEXANDRA: Don’t ask others what to do, just follow your own heart and instincts
AMY: The best advice I could give for someone looking to break into the industry would be to really love what you do. I think in this industry the “fun part” is only one part of it and you must love it so much your willing to do whatever it takes and start from the bottom. I did.
JANEL: Intern! In order to scale the ladder it is essential to start at the bottom. You will learn the fundamentals of the industry. In order to succeed you truly need that experience.
SARAH: Assist a roster of at least 5-10 stylists. Work in retail. Understand the fashion and accessories market. Know the designers. Understand what make an arresting visual image. Have good people and business skills.
5. What skills do you need to become a stylist?
ALEXANDRA: You need an eye that appeals to a market, you need to be organized because you will be juggling many different sources, people skills, good follow through, self promotion, gumption
AMY: I think you need to be imaginative. When I’m dressing a model I create a character and plug her into a story. I imagine where she is going, what she is doing and how what she is wearing. By understanding a “real” time situation, I am able to enhance the overall look. I also think you need to be a trend spotter and trend setter and know what people are going to want to be wearing 6 months down the road.
JANEL: First and foremost, an outgoing and understanding personality. Being a stylist is all about building relationships (whether they are with PR teams or clients). With clients you are working with real people with insecurity issues. Many times those issues are imbedded in how someone dresses himself or herself. In order to make someone look amazing, they need to feel amazing in the inside. It is important to always take that into consideration.
SARAH: You need to be so many things. A marketer, a sales person to sell yourself, [you must] have good taste, pair the expected with the unexpected.
6. Obviously there are perks to being a stylist, but there’s got to be a downside too. Any examples?
ALEXANDRA: Long hours, being seen as a glorified messenger, lots of work for spreads that sometimes never get published.
AMY: A downside would be having some customers who “don’t get” what you are doing. A lot of times I’ll see an outfit I love, and then a week later spot it on the “Worst Dressed” list. This sometimes makes me wonder if I know what I’m doing but usually this happens to a star known for their fashion forward way of dressing and I happen to love experimenting and the unconventional. Look at Carrie Bradshaw for example. Known as a fashion icon but most wouldn’t be caught dead in some of the outfits she’s sported on SATC through the years.
JANEL: When samples get lost and/or stolen. The first big shoot I assisted for in LA with Jennifer Love Hewitt there was an incident where an off-the-runway dress was mistakenly returned to the wrong designer store. It then mysteriously “disappeared”. I had to file a police report. It was awful!
SARAH: Perks, free product, some you don’t even like- some you love, exposure to the best and the newest things, star treatment- downside- waiting 3 months to get paid, not a steady job – busy 1 month and then the next nothing- but having days off and not having a 9 -5 is a major plus.
7. You are styling an editorial for a big magazine. How early do you prepare and what are the steps you take to get ready?
ALEXANDRA: Make a list of all of the sources that I want to pull from-pull together all contact info on spreadsheet and start chipping away at the list, meet or plan with photographer and creative team to discuss theme, send out one page blast to all sources informing them of what is needed, visit showrooms, coordinate pickups, hire freelance help, plan food and exercise strategy because if I’m not at my best I can’t serve others well.
AMY: If I were styling an editorial for a big magazine I would come up with a concept for the shoot that was on point with the trends/season and which best suited the reader of that particular magazine. Then I would pull samples of clothes, shoes and jewelry from tons of designers at least a few weeks in advance so I have time to put any last minute finishing touches on each look then I would pull tears from magazines for hair and makeup ideas. I also usually bring along a bag of props from my own wardrobe like special vintage pieces, tights, etc.
JANEL: Every time a new collection goes down the runway I am taking notes for future shoots. Once a shoot is solidified, the magazine, photographer & stylist decide on an artistic direction. Then various looks that would work with the theme are selected and called in and pulled from the showrooms. Then we go through and edit the pull down. Though I usually have an idea what I am going to use on a shoot, I always am a bit spontaneous and do it in the moment. That always results in the best photos!!
SARAH: You come up with the story idea and write up an email or letter when you are shooting, the idea of the story, photographer, run through date, shoot date, return date. Call, email all your showroom contacts and start pulling like crazy.
8. Tell me about a typical day on the job.
ALEXANDRA: Every day is different.
AMY: A typical day at my job running the website usually consists of answering over 100 emails throughout day, updating our Twitter, providing materials or ideas for our email blasts, approving email blasts and celeb lookbook pages, meetings, buying and restocking, monitoring press and the occasional buying trip in NYC or Vegas and occasional speaking engagements. On photo shoot days styling the shoots and then editing the photos, selecting “the one” and having new images posted to our site www.chickdowntown.com.
JANEL: Every day is different! One day I could be finding amazing vintage pieces. The next I could be in a fitting, dressing a client. You never know!
SARAH: Fun stress- clients can be demanding. Sometimes you are really tired and everyone wants to talk to you all at once. Every day is different so there is no typical day. Some days you are pulling clothes from showrooms, some days you are shopping at department stores and shops, some days you are on location in Brooklyn at a photo studio or in Manhattan and a luxury apartment and then you might be in a motor home crammed in amongst the clothes or the best you book a job in the Bahamas and you are on the beach. Some days you are carrying 5 bags of clothes on the subways and other days you have a car service – it really depends on the job and the budget!
9. Are there any people in the field that you look up to or anyone whose career you wish you could emulate?
ALEXANDRA: Alex White, Grace Coddington, Anne Christensen.
AMY: I look up to everyone in this business that has been successful because I know how difficult it is. I would love to have a career like Rachel Zoe’s. I’d love to eventually have my own Chickdowntown line which I create.
JANEL: I love the vision of Grace Coddington. She understands the beauty of the surreal. For over forty years she has constantly delivered some of the most exquisite images to date.
SARAH: Lori Goldstein- I assisted her and Pat Field- she is not a fashion snob and is irreverent.
10. What’s the salary and career path like?
ALEXANDRA: Rate can be anywhere to nothing a day to several thousand dollars a day. Assist first then move up the ranks. Really no two careers are alike. Every stylist has their own style niche.
AMY: The career path is hard unless you “know someone AND are talented” or a celebrity. I started from the bottom and was on the path to managerial roles but getting into the really creative side is difficult. I don’t know if it would have happened had I not started Chickdowntown myself but I feel it would have because it is my passion and what I’m good at and I think having been with a company for several years someone would have taken notice. I think it’s good to start at a company you’d like to grow with.
JANEL: Usually you start out as an unpaid intern. With that experience, most start assisting a successful stylist. This usually is freelance and pays around $30,000/year. After establishing yourself as an assistant you begin branching out on your own. The salary grows with the work experience!
SARAH: Everyone’s exp is different a good stylist can make anywhere from 80k-300K a year. Career path – you have to bust a move and work really hard. Network- I suggest working at a magazine if you can or for a department store. Work as a costume designer for a TV show or movie and assist someone you admire even if it’s for free for 1 day or 1 week. It will pay off!
Just wanted to say a quick thanks to all the lovely stylists who took part in the interview – please check out their work and their various ventures into fashion, if you have a chance.