Become A Fashion Stylist, Pt 1

October 12, 2009 by

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.

Become A Fashion Stylist, Pt 1

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 in contact 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.

COMING TOMORROW: Become A Fashion Stylist, Pt 2