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.