Behind the scenes: What goes on at a fashion shoot?
So you think you want to be a fashion stylist? Is it the glamour that’s attracting you?
If I had €1 for every person who told me they dreamed of being a fashion stylist, I’d be a damn sight richer than I am now. On an almost daily basis I get emails asking for advice or offering assistant’s services from young men and women who really, really, really want to work as stylists.
Well let me tell you this much: it’s not all high glam and glitzy fashion events. Sure, if you get on the “right” lists and have enough spare time to go to the “right” things, glitz and glam can have a small part to play – but the reality of working on a shoot is very, very different. How so? Let me count the ways . . .
Clockwise from above: this was one of the first shoots I did, a test on high-street clothes, shot in a freezing-cold warehouse off Thomas Street; this was for The Irish Times, shot in a teeny-tiny studio in the paper’s Tara St offices – just me, Irma and photographer Bryan O’Brien; for Irish Country Magazine we worked out of Empower Studios – I pulled way too many looks and spent about four days returning them all; an Xposé shoot, which is probably the only time you’ll see me even vaguely dressed up on set.
1 Everyone wears flat shoes
Excluding the model, whose job it is to endure hours under bright lights wearing excruciating high heels and more makeup than you’d find on the MAC girls of a Saturday morning (modelling sounds great too, doesn’t it?), shoot days are Converse days. In fact, the days before a shoot (prepping) and after a shoot (returning) are Converse days, too. It’s possible that, when you get to Grace Coddington status, you can stand or sit still on a shoot and order your assistants to pin and tuck and fix and fetch and carry, but for your everyday, run-of-the-mill stylist, heels are out and all of those tasks aforementioned are yours to deal with.
2 The shoot is the easiest day
The size of the shoot you’re working on – the shoots I work on range from between three and eight looks – will really dictate how much work you put in before and after the day itself, and that work is usually (a) more exhausting and (b) more cumbersome than the “final” project. Beforehand, you’ll be picking up all of the clothes you’re going to be borrowing from PRs and shops all around the place, lugging bags and trolleys and cases from door to door and sifting through rails of clothes to find the looks you’re after. Post-shoot, you’ll be returning every single last item to the same shops, in the same condition.
Clockwise from above: this Christmas shoot should have been so perfect, but it turns out styling a family and styling a room are two very different (and equally difficult) things, and it ended up a little messier than we’d hoped; this was a “new brands”-based shoot photographed by Ailbhe O’Donnell in an amazing architect-designed house in Dublin 1 – some of my favourite photographs; this was the first Xposé I ever did, on dresses from Covet in the Powerscourt Centre; Juudit modelled for the Coldlilies lookbook I styled last year, which was a lot of fun but a lot of work – it was tough to get my head around the idea of pulling clothes that wouldn’t get the attention!
3 The buck stops with you
Unless you’re working for a big publication with big budgets, the responsibility for looking after the clothes and accessories you use on a shoot is yours and yours alone. Meaning? If your model scuffs a pair of suede shoes on her way to the end of that picturesque little alley, you pay for ‘em. If a dress tears on its way on or off the model, you pay for it. If a can of Diet Coke gets spilled on a jacket . . . well, you get the picture. Stylist’s insurance is a good call, but it’s around €800 a year, so you’d want to make sure you’re working enough to justify the expense. Otherwise, it may make more sense to take the hit yourself – which is no small thing in an industry when so many people expect you to work for credit.
4 Nobody’s getting rich
Again, things are different if you’re shooting for Vogue or working on a big ad campaign for Meteor, but for your run-of-the-mill magazine or newspaper styling, there is very little big money changing hands. More and more often you’ll be asked to do things “for credit” or “for publicity” or (my favourite) “for the privilege of being published” (someone actually said that to me once). If you are getting paid, it’s going to be a pittance; less than the photographer and the studio rental, and, often, not enough to cover the cost of the shoes that got damaged on the way.
5 It’s really, really good fun
The part you probably already suspect about shoots is this: they’re great. If you get a good team together and you have a good assistant (for taping shoes and pinning garments and getting coffee), it can be a really good fun, relaxed and laidback day where everything comes together just as you wanted it to. And this is your job, so the satisfaction of knowing your work is paying off is fairly substantial. (But never, in the history of any shoot I have ever worked on, have we gone for Champagne afterwards.)