April 4th, 2006
Ever want to know what a fashion stylist does? Omiru caught up with Alana Kelen (pictured right) and Esther Pak (pictured left), who hold this enviable job at VH1 in New York. Read on to hear about the life of a stylist, stories from on-the-job, fashion foibles, and what’s in and what’s out!
Omiru: How did you get into the fashion industry?
Esther: I always knew that I either wanted to be a teacher or get into fashion. I chose fashion after taking art classes my junior and senior year of high school. Fashion is something that I fell in love with. I just knew it. If I weren’t on the creative side of fashion, you would find me on the business end.
Alana: Likewise, I always loved fashion. My mom tells me that I would pick out my clothes when I was young, down to the ribbons in my hair. For me, going into fashion was a decision of schools. It was a big decision to go to FIT—you don’t get a fashion degree and then go do something else. It was an all or nothing decision.
O: Describe your career path.
A: I attended FIT, majoring in Buying and Merchandising, which got me into the fashion community. I was lucky enough to land an internship at VH1, and after I graduated, I was hired here as a stylist. It’s a great environment here, and Esther and I are lucky to have consistent work—that’s not the norm in the styling business. We also pick up tons of freelance work—for movies, editorial, and other TV shows.
E: I also attended FIT, majoring in Buying and Merchandising, and interned at VH1. Styling here is a pretty small department, and it’s extremely hard to get a job here even after an internship. I learned so much during that three months though—probably more than I did in all four years of school. After graduating, I went to MTV. But I kept in touch with all of the people I met, and eventually ended up back at VH1.
O: Any advice for aspiring stylists?
E: A smaller environment is better for interning. Here at VH1, I had 2 or 3 people that took me under their wing and they taught me what they knew. Their help landed me freelance jobs afterwards, and to this day, I still use some of the techniques they taught me.
A: Be thorough. Keep your promises. Relationships matter. People remember that we always follow up. How do we do things? No. 1, we give the vendors credit, and no. 2, we give them videotapes showing their clothes on film. We treat it like any business relationship.
E: All of our vendors that we work with love that it’s very personal with us. All of our notes are handwritten. We do our best to get photos of the client in the clothes to send to the vendors. It’s important to us that our vendors know that they’re doing us a favor.
A: The fashion business is all about networking and keeping good relationships with everybody. People jump around in our business. It’s a pretty tight knit circle. So keep in touch with all of the people you meet—contacts are important.
O: Describe a typical day as a stylist.
A&E: We usually start our days at the office. When we arrive in the morning, we have to find out what talent we’re dressing, what they like, and then we have to start calling in the clothes. A lot of the job is correspondence, via phone and email. We’re probably on the computer 50% of the day. Appointments are usually scheduled anytime between noon and five. We go out to the showrooms and stores, coming back for fittings later in the afternoon. Fittings usually take an hour, and only about 25% of the clothes typically make it into the final closet. From there, we style out the shoots we need for the next day and send out the clothes. We typically leave between 6 and 8pm, though sometimes we’re here till midnight.
E: We work long days, but we typically switch off and cover for each other. We work as a team, and there’s a nice balance between the two of us.
O: Is that kind of teamwork common in the industry?
E: I would assume that it’s common, but it might be different here because it is such a small department. There’s actually three of us in our department—it’s nice because we’re a tight knit group, and we look out for each other. We even pass off jobs to each other.
O: What was your favorite styling assignment?
E: During my MTV years, I worked on a traveling show called “I Bet You Will.” What I loved about it was the tight knit group of production people. It was a really fun environment, and I liked the fact that there was a lot of traveling involved, along with interesting last minute requests that constantly kept me on my toes, such as being in the middle of Virgina and at 12:30 am making a run to Walmart to get 10 white sheets so I could make 10 togas for 10 half-naked frat boys for one of the ‘bets’.
A: VH1 did a concert for New York after Sept 11. It was such a big event for such a good cause. Everyone broke down all their walls. There were hundreds of celebrities there, and nobody got star treatment. We had one big green room, and everyone was there, which is so unusual. Stylists and crew don’t usually mix with the on-air talent.
O: What kinds of unusual requests have you gotten?
E: A 1970s style suit for a person who isn’t a sample size, a futuristic outfit for someone who’s a XXXL size. You get a lot of last minute crazy moments. During Halloween, my life is easier—you can get costumes the same day. Other times, I’ve been known to pull all nighters creating outfits.
A: I once did a heavy metal makeover with piercings and tattoos. I was up till 3am before a 7am shoot painting and distressing doc martens. I also made an Elvis costume for a guy weighing 400 lbs.
O: Where are your favorite places to shop?
A: We’re bargain hunters. We’re used to doing shows with low budgets, and it’s tough to look at clothes at full price. Some of my favorite places are Loehmanns, H&M, and sample sales.
E: Oh yeah, we’re huge Diesel junkies. Our favorite sample sales are Diesel and Theory. It’s interesting—stylists typically go for the classic kind of look. Solid colors and denim. We dress people in trendier clothes, but we’d recommend more classic pieces.
O: As stylists, do you feel extra pressure to trend it up?
E: Every day, I stand and stare in front of my closet and think, “What am I going to wear?” It’s tough because everyone knows what we do. They think, “What are the stylists wearing today?” You can feel the pressure. However, I generally wear what’s comfortable. Today, I’m wearing Frye boots and jeans.
A: I’ve never felt uncomfortable wearing trousers and a pair of Converse sneakers. I think that if you put yourself together well, it’s ok. We’re running around, on the subway, and all over town. We can’t get all decked out.
E: Yeah, it’s rare that I wear heels. We’re running around, and then we’re down on the ground putting hems up and ripping clothes up. It’s a lot of physical work.
O: What do you think about this increased interest in what celebrities are wearing?
E: It has to do with the fact that we’re saturated with magazines like US Weekly. Everyone has an interest in entertainment interest, and they look up to these celebrities. Fashion magazines used to include actual people doing everyday things. Now, it’s celebrities everywhere.
O: If your house was burning down, and you could only keep one thing in your closet, what would you keep?
E: That’s a tough one—I can’t choose just one! Any pair of jeans that I have, probably one of my pairs of Diesels because they fit me so well. I also have a pair of boots passed down to me from my mom that wore when I was younger. However, my feet are a half size bigger than hers. There are so many pieces that I love that I would want to pass along to my future daughter—my Frye boots, a periwinkle Marc Jacobs sweater, and a big puffy navy pullover hoodie from 8th grade that I always wear…it has special significance to me because it has the name of my school, the year I graduated, and signatures of all of my classmates. I’m very attached to clothes, but even more attached to the memories.
A: An Eggplant Marc Jacobs bag—they’ve since discontinued the color. That, and a one-of-a-kind brown Moschino jacket with flower patches that my mom got for me. Whenever I wear either of these items, people stop me on the street to ask me where I got them.
O: What clothes have you worn that you’re now ashamed of?
E: 2 years ago, I wore one of those mini flouncy skirts. But it was on vacation…so it was “ok” that I wore them. Oh, and years ago, I wore this button down silk blouse that my mom bought me at the Limited. I wore that with a silk vest over it. I’ve also worn flannel mini shorts with black tights and knee-high boots. Oh, and cowboy ankle boots.
A: What she’s not telling you about is her wellies. Every time there’s even the slightest chance of rain, she wears them. 99% of the time, it doesn’t rain—it’s hilarious! As for me, the list would include cowboy boots. I’m not doing them now, but since they’ve come back in, I don’t feel so bad about this one. I’ve also done the French rolling of my jeans with baggy socks. More recently, just a couple weeks ago, I wore these Moschino plaid pants to Fashion Week. I felt like I had pajamas on. I don’t think I’ll ever wear them again.
O: What are you inspired by?
A: I get all worked up about magazines, movies, television, and current events. Pieces of everything inspire me. On the streets of New York, I love people watching. I’m also inspired when I’m meeting the individual I’m dressing. What’s interesting is that our work is so current because it’s TV. We go to Fashion Week every year, but then we use the trends in our own way to make it work for real life. We’re dressing real people.
E: I second that.
O: What are your favorite designers?
A: Stella. We also just saw Versace’s fall collection, which is taking a totally different turn. Francisco Costa taking over the house at Calvin Klein is also doing a great job. My specific favorite, though, has to be Diane von Furstenberg. Her designs are comfortable, wearable, and the patterns are fun. I have four or five of her wrap dresses. But if I had to pick a designer that I look to for inspiration season after season, I ‘d go with Carolina Herrera. She doesn’t ever do wrong.
E: Me too! Beyond that, I’m a huge Proenza Schouler fan. I love the structure and how well everyone seems to fit in it. I also love Narcisco Rodriguez for his simplicity and Michael Kors for his versatility.
O: What up and coming trends do you see?
A&E: Dresses, especially floral, feminine, and A-line styles; shorts of different lengths; nautical (short lived?); simple, solid colors; menswear inspired looks like high waisted, vests, and trousers; necklaces with a lots of layers; gold jewelry; feminine, layered pieces. Jeans are also here to stay. You can wear them anywhere.
O: And what’s going Out of style?
A: The shrug look—it’ll be around for a bit, but it’s going out. Also, peasant skirts, and the miniskirt Ugg look. And the big wooden necklaces that everyone’s wearing. Big necklaces and large bangles, à la Nicole Richie, are going out. Vintage, however, will stick around.
E: But I think Uggs will be back. Not in the form they’re in right now. They’ll have to evolve, but I think they’ll get big again.
O: Last words?
A: I love my job!
E: I feel the same way. However, a lot of my friends think I work in this glamorous environment, going to shows. In reality, though, it’s a lot of work.
A: We love our jobs and interacting with people. However, it is work. We enjoy it and we’re grateful for it, but we’re here from 9 am – 7 pm, and there’s a lot of schlepping, and hard physical work. It’s not as glamorous as one might think, but we live for it. For anyone who is interested in styling or fashion, they should definitely pursue it. There are so many opportunities. You can start your own line, or start styling by making over people you know and go from there.