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 Susan Ashbrook
Susan Ashbrook was one of the first people to help designers put celebrities into their clothes. She is a former executive at an amazing archive and resource called Film Fashion, a premier agency matching A-list celebrities with exclusive fashion designers. Today, almost every major design house has a “celebrity division” or V.I.P. position based on this concept.
What’s your advice to young people who are just starting out?
They should work with a great stylist first to learn the ropes. These is more to styling than pulling clothing. They need to return borrowed clothing in a timely manner, and each piece needs to be returned as it was borrowed. You’d be surprised if I told you how many times I have seen expensive clothing wadded up at the bottom of a shopping bag. I also would advise them to watch old movies, when costume designers had the time, money, and knowledge to create custom clothing for talents that accentuated their best features—Joan Crawford’s great shoulders, Lana Turner’s small waist.
How did you get your start?
I started my career in fashion working for Richard Tyler, who was the “it” designer at the time. I loved walking into his office and seeing his inspiration board full of drawings, paintings, and images from magazines that would inspire him to build a collection of clothing each season. However, I am an entrepreneur, so it wasn’t long before I decided other fashion designers might want to be dressing celebrities. My clients included Ralph Lauren, Escada, Herve Leger, Issac Mizrahi, and late Monique Lhuillier and Alber Elbaz, among others.
What was your mission?
My goal was to help clients work with actors who were established or one film away from stardom. Escada trusted my opinion enough to custom design Jennifer Lopez’s wedding gown for her first marriage. The company is based in Germany and was not aware of her career yet. By the time she got married, she had four films out that year.
Tell me about your first red carpet moment.
There are many but one of my favorite moments was when Kim Basinger wore Escada to the Academy Awards. Kim had seen a photograph of an Escada gown in Vogue and loved it. Brian Rennie sketched some changes to the design and color to customize the gown for Kim, but with only two weeks before the Oscars, he flew over a couture seamstress to cue the muslin, make a pattern, and sew and tailor the gown to Kim’s request. The seamstress was still sewing the gown as Kim walked to the limo to leave.
Who, in you opinion, is moving fashion forward on the red carpet?
I think there are a handful of celebrities who are risk takers and have their own personal styles, like Madonna, Tilda Swinton, Kristen Dunst, and Gwen Stefani.
What would you like to see more of?
More dressing “high-low,” which I believe is how more and more women are dressing, like Sharon Stone’s Gap T-shirt with a fabulous pin and couture long shirt.