One would think that being a stylist is an easy job to have. One would think that picking out combinations of clothes for people to look good in would be such an easy way to make money. The book, The Secrets of Stylists: An insider’s guide to styling the stars, written by Sasha Charnin Morison proves that notion is false. In my fashion, what I came to learn is that the seemingly glamorous and cheeky occupation of styling requires tremendous parts of effort, organization, resourcefulness, and quick thinking, and when dealing with A-list celebrities whose image carries the weight of million dollar Hollywood deals, celebrity styling is almost comparable to a covert operative mission. It’s funny to me when I style mannequins at Forever 21, that most of my time spent is not actually on dressing the mannequins, but prepping the mannequins to be dressed. One has to undress the current mannequins, re-censor their clothes, pick out the clothes, then steam the clothes you picked out, and un-censor those clothes. Also, one has to think about how those clothes are going to fit on the mannequins, and how those clothes are going to fit the aesthetic the store is trying to showcase. After those considerations one must find accessories, and shoes that fit the mannequins. Then one can go about dressing the mannequins, all the while hoping that nothing breaks or rips during the process and that you hadn’t wasted time putting something on backwards. All of this prep work to put clothes on things that aren’t even going to move for two weeks. Think about prepping for a real live person who is going to be out and about in the world, and will be moving around in the clothes! On top of conducting fittings, and borrowing garments from international design houses, and returning those clothes without damage, other menial considerations are things like will the celebrity be mostly sitting or standing, and how will they look when they do, or how will the garment reflect light when it is photographed. When styling people, the range of preparation is considerably heightened. “The Secrets of Stylist” tells us about the considerations that go into this line of work. My favorite parts of the book were the Stylists Interviews that were scattered throughout. For this series I will highlight some of my favorite interviews from the book because I love to hear what one should know about styling that make the profession so esoteric.
Q&A with Nicole Chavez
California native Nicole Chavez started in film but eventually got a big break working on The OC. She became fast friends with star Rachel Bilson, whom she soon began styling. She also works with Kristen Bell and Scarlett Johansson.
How long do fittings usually take?
It depends on the client. But on average, fifteen looks will probably take an hour and a half to two hours. I have the tailor there. And I take digital photos so I can see what’s working and what’s not. And then I just keep everything pinned. Then I’ll download the pictures, look at everything, and edit that way too. Then I send [the garment] to the tailor to be altered. Everything gets altered. I don’t think I've ever sent anyone down the red carpet without it being pinned.
How many people are on your team?
I have an assistant and an intern. And I sometimes have a third assistant running around if it gets really busy.
Do you collaborate with hair and makeup to figure out the overall look?
Absolutely. It’s a team effort when you deal with me. First, I work with the publicist to get a very detailed list of exactly where the client is going to be, what she is doing. I want to know whether she’ll be standing or sitting and in what kind of chair. Because it makes a huge difference. I’m not going to put someone in a miniskirt who’s going to be sitting on a chair. That’s when I’ll slot in the looks for the events. Then I e-mail hair and makeup to give them details on the looks for the different events; then they at least know and are on board.
And usually the same glam squad works together?
Yes. Everyone has their same people. And we all work together. And if I am in town, I get my girls ready myself. It’s totally rare that I’m not there. Like I have to have either a 101 fever or something’s happened with my family or my husband. Otherwise, I’m there.
What is the difference between styling for TV and styling for the red carpet or for personal style?
For TV, it’s a team effort. There’s a costume designer, shoppers, and people who put [the look] together. There are a lot more moving parts. And the costume designers isn't the only person designing the outfits. The studio, the executive producer, and the actress or actor all have their own opinions. You’re also dealing with stunts and continuity. If you have stunts, that means you've got to have four shirts. Do you have four of those shirts available? Probably not. There are a lot more things to think about when you’re doing TV.
What happens to the clothes after you've done the whole tour, especially altered garments?
They go back to the designer. Or they get gifted to the girls. It depends on where they are in the collection. Usually once a garment’s been worn, though, it’s pretty much dead to the red carpet. It may be used for editorial, because then it doesn't matter if it’s been altered. So obviously I check before altering anything. I always have the designer sign off on it beforehand.
What are common misconceptions of the job?
That it’s easy. [The truth is that] it’s fast paced, and you have to be very organized. There’s no room for mistakes. You can’t be lazy. You’re up early, you’re working on the weekends, you’re always on call, you’re always on your Blackberry. People are always going to events, so there’s never any downtime. You have to love it. If you do, then this is the greatest job in the world.
How did you build your client base?
For the most part, it was built on word of mouth and just being out there. People would come to me liking [what I did for] other people with whom I've worked. It’s really important for me to be passionate about the people I work with. I am so much a part of their lives, and they are so much a part of mine, that it’s important that we want to work together and that we work together well.
Who is your ideal assistant? What would you look for in someone who came to you with very little experience?
[I’d look for someone like my intern.] She’s got the ability to think ahead, think before I have to ask. She thinks like I think. She problem solves. She takes initiative. For example, a client will e-mail her and me: “I saw these pants in ELLE magazine. I really love them. Could you track them down?” And then I will say to my intern, “Can I leave this to you?” And she’s on it. She’s emailing my client: “This is what I found.” She doesn't have to call or ask me. She gets it done. She’s amazing. This weekend I had her dress somebody for the first time when I wasn't there. It’s so rare that I’m not there, but it was my anniversary. She did a great job. You've got to let them spread their wings a little bit and do their thing.
It’s taking the initiative before someone has to ask you, and knowing when to share your opinion. Because all of what we do is in out heart in our head, so everyone has a different opinion. As a stylist, if I’m talking to a client about what I think about the look, I don’t need my assistant’s opinion. But I ask her, “Well, what do you think?” It’s being careful with you words and knowing when it’s right to speak and when it’s not. I leaned that when I worked on set. You learn how to talk with clients and know what’s the right thing to say, like how to work your way through uncomfortable situations if someone doesn't want to wear something and you don’t have the power to change it. You have to know how to do that.
It also helps to have take a psychology class, because the mind games in this business are crazy! The personalities that you’re dealing with are off the charts. So your really have to be able to roll with stuff and not take things so personally, and also just be positive. Being a team player goes a long way in this business.
What influences you? What do you love to look at, beyond collections?
Movies. I pick so much from movies, old movies and all movies in general. And art. I love Impressionist art. Fanciful, expressive, dreamlike art is what I love. And I love abstract art.
Do you feel you’re part stylist and part personal shopper?
No. I don’t do personal shopping. If a girl likes something, that’s usually a job for my intern. She’s the queen of finding anything. So I just hand it over to her because again, I’m too busy.
What is your best-kept secret?
Tailoring. I can tell when people get their clothes from the showroom. I can tell when things don’t fit properly. I don’t only fit a garment to the body, I also make adjustments for their body type. If it needs to be shorter or longer, if the neckline needs to be sweetheart or square, I make all those adjustments. Sometimes I’m redesigning a little bit to make it work. We’re all different shapes and sizes, and some things just look different on different people. I think tailoring is essential.
What do you love most about what you do?
I love that it’s different every day. I just love the whole process. I think it’s really incredible to be able to work with art every day and create it and be a part of it. It’s an amazing experience.