Pictures throughout are from the first two shoots I photographed and styled before I was in the industry in 2006.
Almost every day that goes by I am asked the question – ‘How did you get into styling?’ I suppose it is hard for people to understand and it certainly has become hard to not cringe when asked for the 180th time but the answer is actually very simple. I just did it!
This post is dedicated to all the people who have asked and contacted me over the course of my career thus far and who I have not had the time or energy to explain it to. It is for all the wanna-be stylists out there who actually want to know –
How Do You Become A Fashion Stylist?
1. Just Do It!
I believe stylists are born, you can’t learn to have a good eye but the only way you are going to become a stylist is by actually being one. If you think you have what it takes, then you need to have the attitude that nothing and no one will stop you. Don’t listen to people’s opinions on this idea of yours, don’t think about it too much, just go for it. And don’t be afraid of going into it blindly, you’ve got to start somewhere!
2. Train Your Eye
Observe everything you see. You need to be a sponge to your surroundings. Creative people can take inspiration from almost anything, even the most mundane. It is about making something out of nothing.
Read books & magazines, go to art galleries, watch films, study people on the street, look to history, catch the bus, ride a bike, take an adventure, listen to conversations, have conversations, ask inspiring questions, do whatever you want for a day. Open up to everything around you, then ask yourself, what works and what doesn’t? As a stylist, you above all people need to know what will work stylistically and what won’t.
3. Arrange A Shoot
The best way to show your work when you are starting out is by doing your own photo shoot. Although this is daunting, it is a great way to do exactly what you want. When I first started I didn’t know anyone who wanted to work in fashion and I had never properly used a camera before but I knew what I liked and what I wanted to get out of it. I didn’t have a reason for it other than my want, I just did it.
Think of an idea. This is called the concept and is what your shoot will be based upon. If you don’t know where to start but you have lots of moth-eaten frou frou dresses and gingham shirts and know a girl who looks like Courtney Love then it could be a 1990’s rock girl inspired shoot. Your idea could be as simple as ‘natural beauty’ because you happen to have a clean white shirt, a pretty girl from next door and a garden filled with daisies.
Get a model. The first model I ever used was a 5 ft 11, school girl who studied ballet. She turned out to be a natural in front of the camera and was a breeze to shoot. Find someone who you think could be a model, ask someone on the street, someone you know, a friend of a friend, the boy you like, anyone who you think would look good in a photograph. Tell them they’ll have pictures to show their grandchildren. You’d be surprised how willing people are to try and get cool photos of themselves.
Once you know who you want to style, work out what clothes you think would be coolest on them. Make sure to ask yourself if they will suit the person you have in mind. Something as simple as a scarf can be used to create a well styled photograph. At this point you have to forget all the bravado that surrounds the fashion industry and use clothes within your means. You may also have to do the model’s make-up yourself or get them to do it while you watch and direct them on what you want.
The most important thing about fashion styling, as in real life, is understanding context. Having a genre in mind for the looks you present is more powerful than a mis-match of nothing.
If like me (back then), you know no one who could be your photographer and would want to share this experience with you, then take the pictures yourself. For my first shoot, I borrowed a camera through someone I knew and paid $75 for the day’s hire. I took about 500 photographs and had about 7 images that I could use for my portfolio. A real photographer would take far less than that but I over-compensated for being an amateur and I knew I needed many images to get the standard I wanted.
Choose a good location for your photo shoot. A cool place to take the photographs will help add to the mood of what will become your fashion story. Another friend of mine was living at a really bizarre house in Nedlands. It had taxidermy and colourfully painted cement characters out the front, lots of crazy corners to set a scene. Your setting should match the clothing and idea of what you are going to photograph. If used correctly, a setting will add another dimension to your image.
For my second photo shoot I managed to convince the PR of the Zoo to let me shoot the models with all kinds of animals around. I later found out she says no to almost everyone, even radio stations wanting a koala and the like, however I somehow showed her I had the right intentions. We ended up having access to about 6 giraffes, lemurs and a massive boa constrictor with keepers helping us along the way. I had to pay for their time, of course but it was the best experience for me. I had a friend (who happened to be the nanny of my model) help me and a designer I knew, Birgitta Helmersson let me use some of her clothes.
When it comes time to choosing the pictures you want to use from the shoot you have now done, be very critical. It is better to have one great shot than three that are all good. Trust your judgement and keep in mind that from one full day professional photo shoot you can only really expect 6 -8 great images that will be used for the job and retouched by the photographer. If you don’t know how to retouch the photos you have chosen, and you don’t know anyone who does then don’t worry about it. You can try to teach yourself later if you want but you are just starting out and no one expects your photos to be industry standard. Your creativity should speak for itself, not your technical skills.
4. Tell The World
Before I became a stylist, I sort-of pretended that I was one. I had lots of pictures that I took of stylish people and silly things that I liked, I did drawings of clothes and could
tell you anything you wanted to know about fashion. I was obsessed with imagery and still am. One day a photographer asked me on Myspace if I was a stylist and I said yes. I knew I would be able to do it and wanted to be one, so I pretended. Last year I was asked to give a lecture to some second year Curtin University Public Relations students on Social Media and I explained this to them. At the end of the lecture the unit controller said to all the students, “Hear that people, FAKE IT ‘TIL YOU MAKE IT!’ It was so embarrassing but she was right. It is a good way to be if you are willing to step up and take charge when the opportunity you are waiting for arises.
This DOES NOT mean you have to go around telling everyone who will listen that you are a stylist, in fact quite the opposite as there are already too many people doing this. However, if you have already followed steps 1 – 3 and you feel confident in yourself and someone asks you what you do, why not tell them you are starting out as a stylist. They may just turn out to be a budding photographer looking for someone to do shoots with. If not they will no doubt quiz you, “Oh, how did you get into styling?” You can then tell them, “I’m just doing it!”
A good stylist will be able to look at an item of clothing or even some objects and tell you what era or decade they are from. It is important to know the history of fashion and history in general in order to be able to have a clear understanding of what will work with what. This should be applied to every aspect of your practise.
You must know all of the rules in order to be able to break them well!
6. Hone Your Skill
Once you have done one or two shoots on your own it is the perfect time to start approaching people to work with. You could start this way from the beginning, of course, if you know people who will help you do the kind of thing you want from the beginning but remember the more people in the mix, the harder it is when starting out.
There are up-and-coming photographers everywhere waiting to find a stylist they can work with to enhance their portfolio or ‘book’. If you find someone who is willing to work with you and you both want to get the same thing out of your shoots – more experience, then you are off to a very good start. It is a lot of work taking good quality photos and styling looks yourself, far too much in my opinion and not easily achievable. If you want to be a fashion stylist, you need to start working as a tem member. All professional photo shoots require a team of creative people who (ideally) all work together for a common goal – to create beautiful imagery.
To find a photographer in the same position as you, try posting a sign at an art department at a university or TAFE where photography is taught. Tell everyone you know you are looking for a photographer to work with and are able to offer some good ideas and clothing in return. Do the same thing for contacting designers who need photographs for their student collections and new designs. The budding photographer and designer will no doubt be looking for you also.
This is where you hone your skill and continue shooting until you have some strong shoots under your belt. I jumped at every chance to become a stylist and as a result started working straight away, first as an Art Director at a design studio called Chamleon Creative, then I started Style Voyeur and then as Stylist for Perth Fashion Festival 2009 campaign. This took about 3 years. I did, however do things for free, spent a lot of my own money along the way and did follow all of the steps in this guide.
7. Build Relationships
If you are outgoing, motivated, positive, kind, honest, humble, try to get on well with everyone, are willing to listen and you have the gift of the gab, these attributes will contribute to your building healthy relationships within the industry.
Obviously all of these qualities are not easily found in one person, however if you have the right intentions, it will show. You will need to build relationships with everyone and anyone who you want something from in the fashion industry. You won’t even know who these people are at first so it is wise to be polite and humble to everyone. You, of course, are able to offer them something in return also, but at first you have to be able to prove this. In fashion and most other industries, it really is who you know. This is because people aren’t going to lend you their precious products or trust you in a business context if they have no idea of who you are or what you’re about. It’s quite fair really. Only you know you are trustworthy and talented to begin with so this is why you may have to go it alone until you become more well-known.
Considering this though, it does not mean you will be out of the loop forever because you are not well connected. You have the creativity and motivation to be anyone you want to be so if you, all on your own, just do it, make a start and you’re good, before long you will become known. People will want to work with you because of your talent, attitude and (humble) personality.
8. Curb Your Ego
There is already enough ego in the fashion industry, do not contribute to it further. In my experience 90% of the people who have inflated egos are no-where near the top of their game. The people who ARE at or near to the top are usually the most inspiring, sweetest, interesting people you will ever meet and if a bit of ego is thrown in, it is usually warranted with the awe inspiring work they create.
Basically if you have an ego you will lose more than you will gain. People don’t want to work with assholes and if your work speaks for itself then you will be praised for that, not for your poisonous tongue or bad attitude.
I have known a make-up artist who has worked for Karl Lagerfeld multiple times and done the international circuit years over who tells people he works at IGA just to avoid the wanky discussion that follows. The other week a prominent fashion magazine editor also told me he regularly tells people he works at IGA. (NB: Next time someone stylish tells you they work at IGA, be wary!)
9. Be Enthusiastic and Never Give Up
People will always tell you you’re crazy and even sometimes make fun of you for wanting to work in fashion. A lot of people react strangely when you are on the road to achieving what you want in life and all the more so if they feel they are not yet walking along their chosen path to destiny. All you can do is ignore this and go onwards and upwards. It can be quite disheartening if people you love aren’t happy for you or belittle your triumphs but the mo
re you do, the more you will meet people who are interested in the same things as you and some of them will know what it’s like to experience their goals and dreams.
Soon you will feel right at home.
10. Be Realistic
The truth is there isn’t as much glamour in fashion styling as you may like to think. Usually I am down on my hands and knees, ripped stockings included, clipping something to a beautiful model or trying not to fall on location. Being a stylist takes a lot of concentration and organisation and sometimes when the party invitations arrive all you want to do is crawl into a hole away from the dress-ups, air kisses and critical eyes and recover from a hellish day of balancing over limestone bricks (for the sake of your life) to get where the model is being shot.
Of course there are bonuses to the job, such as having a life of feeling as though you work in a playground and being able to get away with saying things in meetings that, if voiced in any other boardroom would be met with shock and bemusement.
There are also many sacrifices to consider. At the end of the day, it is important to realise that unless you’re able to find something or someone to support you financially, giving you time to pursue your creative ventures, then be prepared to have limited funds for a considerable amount of time. Even when getting high profile editorial shoots, unless you are very careful, costs of shipping samples and telephone calls from over east can outweigh the payment you receive to begin with. It is the downfall for creatives the world over, you cannot do it for the money (at least not in the beginning).
To take the next step, JUST DO IT!
And if you are serious about this career you should definitely read