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No, sorry, you are not a stylist

The fashion stylist occupation is a fairly new one which has been made popular by the likes of Patricia Field (stylist for Sex and the City), and Rachel Zoe (personal stylist to various celebrities). If you are not familiar with the responsibilities of a stylist, they consist of the following:

  • Selecting the look for the project based on the client’s needs (it’s harder to dress someone else than yourself – keep this in mind)
  • Coordinating hair and make-up for the shoot
  • Finding hard-to-find pieces and creating balance

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Stylists are hired by advertising agencies, modeling agencies, magazines, production companies, celebrities, photographers, and record companies for advertising campaigns, fashion shows, TV shows, commercials, catalogues, editorial work, model portfolio work, public appearances, concert performances, and music videos. Some make a living out of personal shopping services.

Fashion stylists are essential because they have an understanding of current and future fashion trends and are well connected when trying to find rare items. Depending on who you are working with, the stylist must sometimes choose the models and play the role of art director for the shoot. But this all depends on who you are working with.

According to Gail McInnes at Plutino Group, an artist management agency in Toronto, style influencers are in the spotlight now more than ever. “The general public is more aware of the career of a fashion stylist, but not everyone can do it – you need to have a natural sense of style, be personable and flexible.” What Ms. McInnes is saying is that a stylist can make magic from absolutely terrible pieces. That is what makes a good stylist.

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Ottawa is a fairly small market, making fashion people scarce. It’s also very elementary – the monopoly does not want to be tampered with and once someone starts doing something, everyone wants in, like styling for example. The result is an unfortunate high school production of sorts. People with no knowledge of fashion and a lack of creativity are trying to make a name for themselves.

Two years ago in the early stages of Ottawa’s “booming” fashion scene, the amount of people that were allowed to bear the title of fashion/wardrobe stylist was a mere five. Nowadays, everyone is a stylist. People that claim to be “stylists” for X magazine in the city barge into stores and ask to borrow clothing for their photo shoot. Some stores will give them the clothes without asking for some credible evidence (portfolio, tear sheets, etc). Oh wait, these so-called stylists get angry when the rational store employee (sometimes) asks them who they are, as if the employee is supposed to know that. These same “stylists” are erecting websites promoting their “services” which include the ones I stated above. For some reason, I always thought you had to have credibility and a knack for styling before making false claims like that. Hell if these so called stylists hired an advertising agency to do their advertising and claimed they were a personal stylist, they would get sued. It’s the equivalent (in the world of exaggeration) of claiming that cigarettes don’t impose a health risk. Preposterous. Get over yourself, you’re not a stylist because you have no fashion sense. If you can dress yourself, props to you, it does not mean you have an understanding of putting something on someone else. That is a much harder task. You don’t believe me or think I am being harsh? Please analyze their work.

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Unfortunately the good stylists in this city are limited to working with photographers that are not really fashion photographers, so their work is not recognized at its full potential. The entire clan of decent fashion photographer have left the city. The ones that are comfortably here are too arrogant to work with people that do good work and opt to work with those that have really bad portfolios. Why is that? Is it because the position is fairly new and no one can tell good styling from bad? Or is it because you don’t want someone to outshine you? The problem is that people here have low standards. If the city of Ottawa is about to move up in the fashion rankings, we need to start setting some standards. Not unattainable ones because the city can never compete with markets like Montreal and Toronto, but standards that actually give artists an opportunity and a reason to stay. When people think fashion in Ottawa, the following comes to mind:

–    Mediocre models
–    No boutiques or designers
–    Fashion shows in clubs
–    Catalogue work
–    Lack of editorial work
–    Lack of fashion schools and resources

Some of those stereotypes about Ottawa are true, some are changing. But even with new innovations like Dalhousie Street, a couple of decent fashion magazines, Ottawa Fashion Week, media attention and designer stores in the Rideau Centre, Ottawa is still a third-tier fashion city that produces poor work. People that claim they are fashion stylists and personal shoppers are preventing the city’s fashion scene from progressing because they produce inferior work. They are also reducing the credibility of fashion stylists who have worked hard on their portfolios filled with credible and respectable work with these claims.

Rachel Zoe picture: http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2007/09/16/magazine/16zoe600.1.jpg
Patricia Field picture: http://www.observer.com/files/imagecache/article/files/patriciafieldsarahjessicaparker.jpg
Other: http://www.plutinogroup.com/stylists/juliana_stylists.html#
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9 responses »

  1. I agree-being a stylist is harder than some might perceive… in any avenue of career one chooses for themselves they should really take a look at the hard WORK that goes into it. People are usually shocked to know that I have calluses from what I do.

    I am also a fan of Brandy St. Johns Style style.

  2. Pingback: Ottawa Street Style « Gail McInnes

  3. I HATE that bc of the hills and prject runway EVERYONE wants to be a stylist! GET OVER IT! only a certain 3% make it! I totally agree with your article, kids, stop pretending to be stylist! leave it alone for the people with real passion for fashion and can actually “style”!
    x

  4. @Leslie: agreed. i hate reality TV.

  5. “People with no knowledge of fashion and a lack of creativity are trying to make a name for themselves.”

    While I agree that there is a problem of people trying to make a name for themselves without doing any work to attain this position (the Paris Hilton fantasy, if you will), I also think that this city needs to stop focusing on who to shun, and to start giving those who are interested more opportunities to participate, learn and improve.

    “The ones that are comfortably here are too arrogant to work with people that do good work and opt to work with those that have really bad portfolios. Why is that? Is it because the position is fairly new and no one can tell good styling from bad? Or is it because you don’t want someone to outshine you? The problem is that people here have low standards.”

    Or unreasonably high standards. Ottawa isn’t mediocre because it thinks too highly of itself. Ottawa is mediocre because it’s insecure and perpetually self-critical.

    Your article lists the sorts of people who you feel should be excluded from the fashion scene: models, boutiques, designers and fashion shows. Who and what is left? You claim that our goal is to raise our standards, but where do we draw the line? Who’s to say that we won’t continue to turn people away, until we’re right back to where we started? Don’t be a snob. Beggars can’t be choosers.

    I think that you’re mistaken about your diagnosis of the success of the fashion industry in places like Toronto and Montreal. Yes, top-tier agencies and world-class fashion weeks are a big part of what makes fashion in Toronto great, but what about the huge community that falls below these epic players? It seems like nearly everyone in Toronto is a fashion model on the side. For most of Toronto’s population, fashion isn’t about setting standards; it’s about getting to do what you love, and about appreciating the value of having a fashion middle-class. Resources like ModelMayhem and OneModelPlace, which gives anyone who wants to get their feet wet the opportunity to participate in test shoots. Talented photographers and make-up artists who are employed by top-tier agencies are active on these web sites and are very willing to work with models who aren’t classically beautiful nor work through an agency. Every day, What’s going on?

    If the city of Ottawa is about to move up in the fashion rankings, we need to stop focusing on excluding people. If you want a fashion city, you have to build up, not tear down.

  6. Phi, your well constructed argument is much appreciated and I will address some points you have made in relation to my opinion piece. “this city needs to stop focusing on who to shun, and to start giving those who are interested more opportunities to participate, learn and improve.” I agree with this statement, but basically what I am trying to say here is that people who are starting out should learn from those with industry experience before proceeding to call themselves professionals and promote their services without having the experience to do so. That’s initially what prompted me to write this, actually why I write critical pieces in the first place – to encourage people to participate in commentary and ask questions. When one is starting out, it’s normal to be curious. Curiousity and endless research are essential to success. I find that in many ways Ottawa is mediocre because it does think too highly of itself – some people here have a patrician attitude when it comes to fashion. When they know they need help, they simply refuse to ask for it, claiming that they already know it all. That bothers me. In any field you’re in, researching and contacting people whose work I enjoyed (read: in my field) is what got me where I am today. There is endless competition and you must keep up.

    “Your article lists the sorts of people who you feel should be excluded from the fashion scene: models, boutiques, designers and fashion shows. Who and what is left?” I never excluded any of these people, there is a difference between people with industry experience, whether gained in the city or elsewhere, and those starting out. Everyone starts somewhere, however, credibility and experience is key. The article is directed at people who have styled two photo shoots for example and automatically proceed to call themselves a “professional personal shopper”. It takes much more work than that.

    I do not have a problem with any of these “models-designers, etc” on the side practicing a hobby, however, if you are thinking about undertaking this full time and automatically begin to promote yourself as a personal shopper or wardrobe stylist for example, you must have experience and credibility. This is key. For me, it’s not that the city should have exceptionally high standards, it’s having general standards in order for Ottawa to be considered a fashion city, not a third-tier government style fashion city.

    “Talented photographers and make-up artists who are employed by top-tier agencies are active on these web sites and are very willing to work with models who aren’t classically beautiful nor work through an agency. Every day, What’s going on?” – As someone who has worked in agencies and has numerous friends in the industry, this scenario is familiar to me. These photographers, designers etc will see potential in a new face, however, they must mold them into models, meaning that these wanna be model must conform to industry standards if they want to be professional models. I know many agents who go through these websites to find a great new face for their agency and proceed to mold them into professional models through tests. This is quite common and a good thing, it’s how you gain experience, but the pros have standards as well. They work with certain people because there is some sort of benefit behind it, whether monetary or discovering the next big thing.

    And finally, I see you are focusing on people who are part time models, designers, etc who are maybe just doing this for fun, or want to take pictures because they like it but don’t want to pursue it full time. This article is not directed at those people, it’s directed at people who claim to be professionals without a resume to back it up.

    Thanks again for your participation.

    love love,

    Ottawa Street Style

  7. Ottawa – YAWN…

  8. Hi,

    I am having trouble with this exact issue. What kind of “stylist” doesn’t even own an iron or steamer… seriously?! Could you recommend a good stylist in Ottawa, or the best way to find one that will fit an already solid team? I’ve researched some and will contact those whose work I respect, but I came across this article in my research and figured this is a better place than any for advice!

    Thanks 🙂

    Brit

  9. Just a comment on one major skill that stylists/art directors bring to a shoot that most “stylists” don’t understand. That skill is “referencing” every client who hires you or every shoot that you do has a target customer or is desired to create a particular psychological effect. A stylist/ A.D must know how to use the language of fashion and style to cause a particular idea or feeling to occur in everyone who sees the image. If a client wants, “sophisticated with a powerful woman sexy edge” How do you as a stylist/A.D create that? Which pieces and what designers will automatically subconsciously create that inference in a viewer’s mind? A great stylist is a great pop psychologist. Also don’t follow trends, you’re an artist, create don’t recreate. Real talent doesn’t copy.

    Seth F.

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