Becoming a Fashion Stylist
Working in the fashion industry appealed to me from an early age but it wasn't until I discovered the role of 'fashion stylist' that the love affair began.
Much like Nilgin Yusuf, I had a very one-dimensional view of industry opportunities at the outset of my career. I knew that there were fashion designers and editors but I had little awareness of the many other roles within fashion that can provide both income and a career path.
After arriving in London I worked in various areas of fashion - retail, window dressing and as the receptionist/model for a wholesaler! I also took courses in Colour Analysis and Body Analysis. Although I enjoyed these courses they focused on styling individuals, and felt a million miles away from the high fashion photographic shoots I wanted to break into. Only my Mum's friends were interested in having their 'colours' done - not fashionistas, who were happy to wear black - whether it 'brought out their eye colour' or not!
Ironically, losing my job in a fashion house gave me the time to explore entry routes into a career in photographic styling. I went to the library and photocopied a section from The Creative Handbook (http://www.chb.com/), which listed freelance stylists. Armed with this information I hit the telephone and worked my way down the list. After numerous answering machine messages, I finally got to speak to one or two stylists. One stylist, after asking me to call her back 4 or 5 times, eventually agreed to let me go out with her on her next job. It was an unpaid role, of course, but I was ecstatic!
And that's how my career as a fashion stylist began. I struck lucky with Pam Trigg, who had just found out she was pregnant and so needed an assistant to do her lugging and carrying (who said it would be glamorous?). At first I was just paid expenses and finally a day rate, plus expenses. I assisted her regularly on various jobs, mainly advertising and TV commercials, and I made invaluable contacts through her and her agency. I met another stylist with whom I travelled to Miami and it snowballed from there. I loved working as a photographic stylist. It was creative and transported you (literally and metaphorically) to different worlds. In the next few years I worked as a stylist across all areas, music, advertising, TV, PR, photo libraries, and editorial. Eventually, I decided to specialise in menswear, as it seemed to be the area in which I excelled. I became a contributing fashion editor for Sky magazine, Attitude, and Loaded Fashion, doing menswear stories.
If You Want to Work as a Photographic Stylist...
If you want to work as a photographic stylist, you need all the standard creative industry qualities - enthusiasm, a good work ethic and a creative talent - it is a very competitive field. Work as a photographic stylist can also be an all-encompassing. You must be able to work flexibly and to respond at a moment's notice.
It is likely you will begin as an intern and/or an assistant. A few words of advice, when I employ assistants, enthusiasm (gratitude for the opportunity) and organisational skill carries a lot more weight than an imitation of 'cool'. An ability to network and work with, large, diverse groups is another necessity, particularly on overseas trips, which throw you together with strangers twenty-four hours a day. Nor is a love of shopping necessarily a good starting point for a career as a personal or photographic stylist (personally I hate shopping). Your client (whether that is an individual or a magazine) wants you to create their dream look and source the items that will achieve that goal, on a set budget. You have to be able to quickly analyse colour, shape, and lifestyle. Sometimes you will only have three or four hours achieve this, wholly different to wandering around the shops for hours looking for your perfect 'Friday night' outfit.
After 15 years working in the industry, with the arrival of the makeover TV programme and the eponymous Gok Wan, I renewed my interest in personal styling. I approached a couple of companies who offered this service and they took me on. I dug out all my notes from my early training and began working with individual clients. As a result of this shift in focus, I decided to update my training. I took a course at London based Aston and Hayes in womenswear, and another in menswear.
Dressing "real" people is almost the polar opposite to dressing models and requires very different skills. There isn't a necessity for formal training but in my view, a qualification certainly inspires client confidence. I find this to be particularly true with men, who like to know that there is a reason and logic behind the choice of items, rather than just a personal 'eye' or preference.
I have for a couple of years felt that there was a gap in the styling market for personal services offered exclusively for men (rather than 'tagged on' to the womenswear). I hope to fill that gap and I have just opened my own company Sartoria Lab (http://www.sartorialab.co.uk/).
I offer Personal Styling, Shopping and Wardrobe Management services, tailored solely to the needs of male clients. I advise on colour, dressing for body shape (equally challenging for men and women!) and translate this new knowledge into practice by overhauling the client's wardrobe, followed by shopping trips to fill any new gaps. The purpose of personal styling for men is primarily to save time and take the hard work out of shopping, leaving clients free to excel, while knowing they look good. In the future, I hope to launch an online magazine full of 'real' men looking great and expressing their individuality, in creative and classic ways, through fashion.
At its best, personal styling is wonderfully satisfying. I have days when I go home having made a client very happy and I know they can't wait to go to a big event or just to get dressed the next morning. If that thought fills you with enthusiasm then this could be the creative career for you.