Ready Steady…Style!

Being a stylist’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Yes, in theory you do get first dibs of the trends, in fact you can invent them yourself, but you can also become bored and jaded because you’re so spoilt for choice and because there’s always something newer and more exciting round the corner. Then there are the tedious parts of the job. The endless emailing and phone calls, chasing up the emails and phone calls, doing the ‘returns’ and compiling the credits. If you work on a magazine you may have someone or even a team of people to do all this for you but however far up the hierarchy you are, chances are some of it you’ll have to do yourself. In reality, the creative bit counts for a mere nano-portion of the pie.

Far from being all instinct and gay abandon, there is actually some method involved in styling, even though it’s not always conscious. You start with your idea which can come from anywhere. Sometimes it’s dictated from above – “Let’s do a metallics story” your editor will cry while you quietly wilt inside. Metallics…again? Other times it will be a location that inspires and you’ll shoehorn a trend in around it. More than once I’ve wanted to do a shoot somewhere random like an iceskating rink or on a roof and you’d be surprised what trends could be rustled up to suit the location. ‘Brights’ is always a good one, as are ‘stripes’, ‘knitwear’ and my favourite, ‘denim’. If it’s a genuine fashion trend you have to be very careful before making that full commitment. I’ve always loved graphic trends like stripes, spots and stars and they do come round fairly regularly. This season is enjoying a ‘star’ moment with YSL and Chanel both championing it but to sustain it across 8, 10 or 12 pages? Well, you’ve got to be confident that you really can get hold of that many stars. Sometimes you just don’t know how it’s going to pan out til it’s too late to change your mind. Like, the day before the shoot, you’ve done all your appointments, calls, confirmed the location, models, assistant and then you realise you haven’t got nearly as much stuff as you thought you had. Yikes, what are you going to do!

Experience (and being a pessimist) has taught me to be prepared which is why I always imagine the worst case scenario well before it’s too late. From my very first appointment I will make sure I’m ordering back-ups. Quite often I’ll make an appointment at a showroom, tell them my brief beforehand and ask them to put some things aside. When I arrive, you can bet the showroom will be virtually bare and none of my requested items will have been kept (Arcadia are notorious for this). I care not. However tenuous, I’ll feret out a few bits and with me they will come. Sometimes quite a few appointments are like this but with each one you find a wee gem that you know will be the perfect partner to some previous billy-no-mates oddity. As time goes on you start to piece the outfits together in your head. This is the creative part, the exciting bit when those eureka moments strike. It’s always when time is running out that the elements start to fall into place and you can see where the gaps are. A vintage scarf might be the missing piece of the puzzle or a slouchy man’s white vest. Sometimes it could be a prop or a piece of jewellery – accessories are lifesavers to a time-pressed stylist.

Much as people hate to see the words ‘models own’ in a shoot, often it’s that vintage hat or those heart-shaped sunglasses that gives the outfit its edge and ‘makes’ the shot. Super-stylist Venetia Scott often uses the same shoes or bag throughout the shoot to add character and give it a continuous narrative. The truth is, that eye-catching prop can serve as a handy distraction to a not-quite-there outfit if disaster struck and the stylist didn’t have enough clothes. My favourite props include bikes, old-school cameras, paper coffee cups and vintage books. Food is always a good one if you’re at a loss. An apple, a Coca Cola bottle (straw optional), an ice cream or a bag of chips are the impromptu unsung heroes of many a shoot of mine.

Another trick is the crop. Not all the pictures in a shoot are full length, most shoots have a mixture of full-length, closer crops and close-up pictures to give the shoot some variety and ‘layers’. So if you’re short of some bottoms (or – God forbid – the model has awful legs) then the crop comes into play and you shoot above the waist.

It’s also important to make sure you add a few ‘fillers’ when doing those appointments and call-ins so I always load up on basic vests, tees, belts and jeans. All too frequently you find yourself on the shoot staring at a rail of disparate pieces trying to cobble together some photo-worthy outfits like the fashion version of Ready Steady Cook! Good old American Apparel is a godsend on those occasions when you haven’t got enough ‘wow’ clothes. Suddenly that star-print top and skirt you were going to shoot as one outfit can be broken up and split into two. (My golden rule anyway is never to use all your best pieces in one outfit. Spreading them out means all the pictures will be equally strong as long as you have a key piece in each shot.) Use a bright tee with the skirt and some plain bottoms with the top, add in your quirky props and some choice accessories and Hallelujah, you’ve rescued your shoot.

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23 Responses to Ready Steady…Style!

  1. Libertygirl says:

    This made me HOOT with laughter: it was like my life flashing in front my eyes! Every time I’m on one of my commercial styling jobs I think, is it just me who’s staring at a rail and going, how the f**king hell am I going to get a look out of this load of old cobblers?!!! And the power of the prop. We ‘borrowed’ a gorgeous Dalmation in Norfolk last summer for my black & white story on the beach.

    And Arcadia – don’t get me started. Whoever said that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing obv had those untrained, inefficient, mendacious power monsters in mind.

    LLG xx

  2. Rollergirl says:

    Oh yes, I forgot the bit about when you’re standing there (usually on a hot, cramped location van) trying to put the clothes into outfits and you’ve got the photographer, models and assistant all standing there WATCHING you while you try and look like you know what you’re doing!!

  3. WendyB says:

    Great post!
    Remember, Wendy Brandes Jewelry is always available for when you need that perfect accessory. You can borrow my dogs too, for that matter.

  4. Suzanna Mars says:

    Ah yes, the power of the prop. I’ve often worked with the new local designer who doesn’t understand a bit of distractional dodge and thinks that a shoot involves a model, a dress, and a backdrop.

    Fortunately, California is full of the idiosyncratic accessory.

    GREAT post! Why is this not a regular newspaper column (or maybe it is, that’s the fun of it)?

  5. Allure says:

    Wow thank you for this useful tips!

  6. Top bird says:

    Nice post! For a period of time a lop-earred rabbit became my rescue prop. I had bunnies playing sleep-overs at my flat.

  7. Indian Rose Fashionista says:

    Wow, a really interesting post!

    I’ve just read your 4 parts to the India posts and it all sounds so exciting…..

    Keep up the good work!

  8. Jen (MahaloFashion) says:

    I could not find your email to send you your banner.


    (Top Three)



  9. prettygeekysis says:

    I loved working with fashion editors (most always pleasant, surprisingly), but stylists…well, they were often a pleasure to work with, too, with lots of energy, but they didn’t always return goods in proper form.

    Also, one of them, I remember, actually wanted an item and I suppose didn’t want to come out and say that to me directly. So she merely declared that she wanted it…in a way that meant, when are you going to give it to me??

    I decided not to. If it’s for a celebrity, I often give the stylist a free item, too…mostly because a celebrity item has never demanded or even hinted toward gifting.

    Editors have NEVER gone there with me, but that one stylist that did bit the dust. Very unprofessional, imho.

  10. Diana @ So Fash'on says:

    :) you are so right about everything you say here! :)

  11. Blue Floppy Hat says:

    Wow, it does sound chaotic and stressful to say the least of it (and it reminds me of just how little people really know about how these things come together)- running a ship like that can’t be easy. But you do get the chance to create magic via those images…and I loved hearing about the prop rescue act!

  12. buttonsandstars says:

    What an interesting post! I feel you gave a real insight there. I’ve never properly realised just how much goes into each shot!

  13. shredz says:

    This was really interesting. It gave me quite an insight into what I’d possibly like to take up as a future career. How does one get their ‘big break’ though? It all seems kind of intimidating :/ Thanks <33

  14. susie_bubble says:

    A really insightful and hilarious post!

  15. discothequechic says:

    I may not be able to giggle knowingly like LLG, but this certainly makes a fantastic read.

    And I shall go to bed dreaming of lovely things with my curtain of novelty still in tact!

  16. Lady Smaggle says:

    What a fantastic post. I adore your blog it gives me such an insight…

  17. White Witch of the Runway says:

    Loved it – even if it gave away a view in our secret little world! 😉 The only thing missing for me …. The amount of luggage we have to troll around wth us, from steamers to prop kits, and don’t get me started on the amount of suitcases one needs to own (or the fashion department does).

  18. dolly says:

    wow, this was such an interesting post! Especially as I’ve been thinking whther I would like to get into styling, but I’ve got no idea what it actually would be like so I’ve been a bit scared! Having a REAL insight into what goes on behind the scences, is great, and all the stress and running around hasn’t put me off the job so I think that’s a good sign!;-) x

  19. Stylist Stuff says:

    Wow, love your post! My week is flashing before my eyes. The editor asks for an 8 page shoot to become 16 pages in an 8 hour day. I have fears of wrinkled clothes in the back of a van and now I don’t feel so alone or lost knowing other stylists are fighting the same fight!
    Woohoo to you!


  20. Guerreira says:

    I just styled my first photo shoot not long ago…wish I had seen your post beforhand! But it all worked out in the end!

  21. Queen Michelle says:

    A bag of chips would definitely be my prop of choice.
    Great post!

  22. alexgirl says:

    Totally fabulous post. I love being taken behind the scenes. I used to assist a fashion photographer, so some of this stuff was hilarious to me!!

  23. Style Eyes says:

    thanks for a great insight – although i love my non fashion job, I sometimes can’t help wishing i’d followed a different career route. Perhaps the grass isn’t always greener. I suppose every job has its stresses. If it didn’t we would probably get bored. Perhaps I will be best keeping my love of fashion as a hobby though.

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