Working with Stylists…a designer’s viewpoint

Q: What do you get when you cross a five year old girl with a Mad Scientist?

A: A fashion stylist!

Before all the stylists out there get mad at me and black list me, let me just say that I’m not putting down stylists, here. Just trying to understand what they are about…and have learned a little by observing.

They seem to tap into their “five year old little girl in mom’s closet” when testing how many ways a garment (or something else entirely) can go on a body.  Upside down? Inside out? Backwards? Tied on? It’s all good.  Harking back to the classic exchange:

Designer: “You know that’s upside down and backwards, right?”

Stylist: “Yep!”

Designer: “Ok, just checking.” Designer backs away quietly…

Then there is the layering effect: if one is good, then three is much better!  This makes sense to little girls, and often it works in photographs. Can the average woman get away with two necklaces, three bracelets, and two bras? Hell, no. But models seem to thrive on it. More is more. Big hair, bold makeup, chunky jewelry, broad strokes…

The stylist can work some weird alchemy in their Mad Scientist mode. It goes a little like this…

Monster gloves + lace + rhinestones = dangerously sexy?


Hot pink wig + latex tights + empty pool = scary assassin robot?


Bunny rabbit + Carhardt jumpsuit + welding goggles = vaudeville act?


Bikini + electrical tape + water blaster = Monty Python killer babe?

Only one of these scenarios has not happened (to my knowledge), can you guess which one? Now you try it! Take a random oddball setting, two antithetical fabrics or styles, add them together with some moody lighting and voila! Edgy fashion shot.

Let me be serious here for a moment. A stylist needs to understand the current trends–and be slightly ahead of them, if at all possible. He or she needs to have a good eye for finding pieces that are cutting edge, or viciously retro, or have that center piece quality. Most stylists have a stash of treasured items that serve as inspiration when all else fails. The stylist needs to be able to plan ahead, but also think on his/her feet. Sometimes removing a piece does as much as adding one.

From a designer’s viewpoint, it’s really hard to watch a stylist at work. You get all set in thinking a skirt goes with the waist side up, and then the stylist messes with your head and puts it on sideways, goes all Grey Gardensy on you. Sometimes the laws of physics don’t apply, and that can really make your brain hurt. I’ve also witnessed the models’ reactions to some bizarre exercises in clothing alchemy: raised

eyebrows, outright concern. Then they see the pictures later and say, “oh…..that’s cool.”

So, right. Not to say that your designs won’t at times be used in seriously craptastic ways, but for the most part putting your trust into the stylist’s vision and waiting to see the final result can be rewarded with something incredibly funky and unique. Even if it is upside down.


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