Rachel Zoe may be ubiquitous, but she’s not necessarily the epitome of high-fashion styling. Many stylists don’t dress celebrities for award shows; instead, they lend their creativity to high-fashion work where the goal is to challenge our notions of what outfits can be, rather than playing it safe. Former British Harper’s Bazaar bookings editor Katie Baron interviews many of those people for her forthcoming book, Stylists: New Fashion Visionaries (Laurence King, 2012). Included among the 25 stylists featured in the beautifully bound book is Balenciaga’s longtime stylist Marie-Amélie Sauvé, Harper’s Bazaar’s Melanie Ward, and W magazine’s Edward Enninful. We spoke to Baron about the book, how the role of a stylist has changed in recent years, Rachel Zoe, and more.
What was the concept behind the book?
For me, the only stylists that were really getting a lot of attention were celebrity stylists. Styling celebrities is a really, really big skill, but the truth is, putting a really great dress on somebody on a catwalk is not the same as doing something in the fashion editorial world, which will then have ramifications across popular culture. Someone like Marie-Amélie [Sauvé] will create these unique shapes when she’s styling, which then, two years later, will actually start dribbling down into mass culture. There are amazing books about photographers and architects, so I thought I’d do something similar about the pantheon of people who are some of the greatest minds in fashion.
How did you select the stylists you included in the book?
I wanted to include a range of styles, from more grassroots fashion to high-end American Vogue fashion; by grassroots, I mean the punkier, edgier, dirtier stuff that you see in i-D magazine. I also wanted to make sure it had a global flavor because it’s all about different languages. Each of the 25 people in the book had something to say about the language of fashion that was very different from one another.
I noticed key stylists like Grace Coddington and Karl Templer were not included in the roundup.
Grace Coddington is quite incredible but she’s been so well represented elsewhere, so I wanted to make sure that there were some people who weren’t crossing over too much. I would have loved to interview Karl.
In the foreword, photographer Nick Knight suggests that stylists may be more important than designers in reflecting what society thinks is beautiful. Do you agree?
I think what Nick is talking about is that a stylist can take a designer’s look — something that started with a particular collection with a particular idea behind it — and then subvert that. So a stylist has this quiet, slippery sort of power.
Fashion is tricky at the moment because a vast majority of the designers are designing sample-sized clays, and we’re in a Western world where beauty is still in a quite narrow focus. Although society’s views of beauty are changing, they haven’t been pushed a very long way yet. There are certain people — Nick Knight is definitely one of them — who are trying to forge ahead with that kind of change. The vast majority of people will look at a piece of clothing and understand how it works, traditionally and conventionally, but a good stylist has a different approach where there is not normal.
The book touches on the idea that stylists have long been unsung heroes. Can you explain?
I think people like Katie Grand are really coming to the floor. Part of the reason why stylists are getting more attention these days is that their job encompasses so many roles now. I think it’s also part of the digital revolution. All of a sudden people are filming fashion shoots and broadcasting things online. If you love looking at fashion magazines, then the next thing you’re going to do is go on the website, and then people want to see behind the scenes, they want to see the extras, they want to look at fashion films. And once people got to see behind the scenes, all of a sudden that’s when they became more aware of who was actually creating these things. If you think back to years ago, fashion shows used to be this secretive, magical world that only a few had access to. But now, the bloggers, the street-style photographers, and the arrival of the Internet really blew away the exclusivity of fashion.
But don’t you think this higher awareness has also made the field of aspiring stylists oversaturated? It’s a bit overwhelming the amount of “stylists” one meets nowadays.
I think it probably really is, but I think it’s just like any profession. I think that happens once people realize there’s a job there that they didn’t know existed. You know, photography has probably been oversaturated for a long time, and graphic design, or illustration. In the creative world, people do tend to cling to titles and job descriptions, because it’s difficult if you don’t know what you are. But I’m sure there are a lot of bad stylists out there, just as there are a lot of bad photographers and other things. So yes, I imagine it’s saturated but it’s probably not any more saturated than anything else.
It’s also a lot more difficult than people think.
Isn’t it? I think people coming into the industry don’t realize that, especially at magazines, you’ve got small budgets, you’ve got one day to get twelve shots, and you have to think on your feet if things aren’t working. So the organization and creativity required is just phenomenal.
What about the whole celebrity-stylists phenomena, like Rachel Zoe?
Rachel is brilliant at what she does. Rachel has a strong sense of her clients and a strong sensibility, but what makes me not quite as excited to write about Rachel Zoe is that she’s working with real people, and trying to make them look better, but she’s not really making a statement or telling a story. She’s catering to that person, so to an extent she’s working within safer parameters. Whereas if you’re a stylist in fashion terms, like the people in this book, you’ve got a blank canvas instead of a client. Rachel Zoe will be remembered for being exceptionally skilled at her job, but there’s never going to be any fashion images where you look and think, “Oh my God, that’s Rachel Zoe.”