Sunday, January 23, 2011

Fashion Behind The Scenes And How To Get There

The actual work of fashion is work.  If You Have To Cry Go Outside by Kelly Cutrone, every issue you can find of Vogue and W, Womens Wear Daily and anything Suzy Menkes has ever said or written are the minimum requirements. Beautiful technology to troll through You Tube and queue up years of fashion shows and interviews. Not often mentioned is the ability to be gracious and lovely on whispers of  sleep and memories of food during fashion weeks and certain other times of the year. The dearth of sherpas is real and I defy every pretty pair of heels that has wavered stuck on a loose bit of a cobbled street bearing as many belongings as a small donkey to not have cried a little because she (and he) will probably never have one. Cried outside (thank you Kelly), of course; stopped immediately because of mascara issues (are they really waterproof, any of them?)

I'd loaned clothes to stylists and wardrobe people from my Sunset Plaza shop to be shot by Herb Ritts, Greg Gorman, Michael Childers, Helmut Newton and Davis Factor often very happily because I knew the clothes would come back when promised and in pristine condition. And much of the time someone at the shoot would fall in love with the clothes and just keep all of them (sending a nice fat check: clothes were not free back then.) Very few European designers had sample collections to loan and the stylists needed to have very, very good relationships with stores.

Melvin Sokolosky had done fashion photography since the '50's and so I signed up for his class in fashion photography at UCLA. He'd behaved very badly on a shoot to a friend of mine while another friend adores him. Two all day classes at UCLA and the following weekend a studio shoot. Maybe twenty people were there taking notes and asking fashion questions. Strange indeed to hear my classmates hunger for stories about models, designers and fashion editors. Suddenly he stopped talking and grabbed a roll of kraft paper: we were all to cover the windows letting the unrelenting sun in. The kraft papered let kisses of golden light pool and we grabbed cameras to shoot with that exquisite light. All the camera talk about settings were over: it was only about the light. That was the lesson. Magic of light: that was what mattered.  

The model stood still while the makeup girl, stylist (ah, the stylist), several photographers assistants and the class stared at her. Off to makeup and then oh so carefully into a Yohji Yamamoto kimono dress: a two hour process. She emerged to a four hour shoot before breaking for lunch. The amount of do nothing, stand still just waiting, is unbearable for many and that's the way it is. Similar to the rush to get seated at a fashion show only to wait an hour or so. The same on set when an actor is done with his scene and yet not free to go: hello crafts table and red licorice.

If this had not been for a UCLA class, the stylist and her assistant (intern perhaps) would have spent four-five days shopping. Taking a digital (ah, the polaroid of back then) of the possibilities and all accessories to winnow the selection. The assistant would be sent back to make arrangements with the store, anything from a signature and a PO number or payment to be refunded if it met all of the requirements of being pristine and returned by the agreed upon time. The collection would be assembled to show advertising people, the photographer, the model or celebrity, possibly the makeup and hair people. In some exacting (that means annoying) circumstances, there would be test shots. If a studio were behind the project, the stylist could get by on a Purchase Order and authorization letter: if not, the full amount might be charged to a valid credit card and the only way to get the money back would be to adhere to the terms. My store didn't have the stock to lend things out that weren't coming right back: the purpose (oh innocent simple days) was to sell things.

The stylist carts (her assistant rather) everything from tape and pins to spot cleaning solution and always an ironing setup. Things will be tried on in a hurry, discarded (NOT on the floor, please!!) and inventoried again and again. Any little losses will be charged to the stylist. The assistant's assistant, a p/a, may be sent out to return the things that won't be used. Thousands of dollars (that's without borrowing fine jewelry, which is rare because, umm, it's fine jewelry) borrowed. On a TV or movie shoot where there are multiples of outfits and accessories, the used things are dashed to an overnight dry cleaner. Carting things and knowing where everything is a big thing. Working stylists hardly ever show up in heels and dainty dresses: it's work.

Suddenly it's over and the stylist checks for any makeup smudges or worse. It's all about returning things immediately to avoid paying for them. And stretching the patience of a store, mine anyway, was not done. Never.

I sent an assortment of evening bags on memo with a stylist for an Oscar contender. Something went wrong and the lot were stolen from her car. A check was delivered the following day. No discounts, but genuine sympathy. That's never supposed to happen.

It doesn't take long for the hard-working (overworked?) assistant to be noticed and soon enough she's showing her own raw assistant/intern how it's done. 


  1. Imagine that, clothes not being free! ;-)

  2. Quelle surprise!!!

    Imagine, people paying for clothes and jewels.

  3. Watching Rachel Zoe at work (or rather her assistants) was the first glimpse of glamour in the trenches I had seen as you describe.
    Imagine the poor stylist who worked on the shoot with the then emotionally unwell Britney...wiping her greasy hands from lunch onto the front of the designer dress & walking out with a few outfits in her bag. Devastating!!

  4. Rachel Zoe. I've had the pleasure of never working with her.

    Rachel is of an unknown ilk - there's barely an accommodation for looks she cannot understand.

    Red carpet dressing is a phenomenon that is odd and of this moment. It was once exciting that Sharon Stone wore a designer skirt with a black Gap top to the Oscars but at the point where "stars" wished to be paid for wearing a designer on the runway - and many houses were setting up at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills - it became clear that this was a terrible idea, very costly with little more than a sentence here or there but hard to give up while the practice continued.

    It may not end but it's dragged designer goods down to accessible and that is not good.

  5. My first intro to the world you speak of was MTV's House of Style with Todd Oldman & Cindy Crawford. The pages of Vogue started to make sense after watching.I was 16 at the time. I was thinking of you the other day. When I watched a segment "How to get the Golden Globe dresses for less" I was thinking the people paying for the knock off are paying more than the Red Carpet collective paid for theres. Loved this post.

  6. Quite an interesting post. Love that last paragraph.. just goes to show what really happens behind the scenes. Melvin Sokolosky sounds like an amazing guy, prime example of thinking outside the box that people consider being the outside of the box.
    Great post as usual!

  7. Tracey, that was so much fun. I loved Todd Oldham ... in a world of black chic and refined, he stuck very good clothes in of leopard and circus stripes. And then his hand beaded skirt of Mona Lisa!!! Cindy and Richard Gere walked in my door on Sunset Plaza and I forgot who I was speaking to on the phone, just hund it up out of sheer amazement that the two most beautiful creatures on the planet had walked in for their wedding rings ...

  8. Melvin is controversial and not prone to crediting and kindness to his workers. His monograph is beautiful and his website a virtual history of high fashion from the '50's on. Not a curmudgeon, rather a self-involved man whose stories are of him, not of the experiences.

  9. An interesting read. I'm slightly part of that world, because our advertising campaigns cut into the fashion world a lot and when we plan a shoot, we hire the same stylists, make-up and casting directors many of the fashion industry uses. It's definitley hard work and there's this constant up and down of either not doing anything at all/waiting around and doing a million things at once. I think all creative jobs are glamorized and people forget what's going on behind the scenes.

    I agree that Red Carpet styling is a different category alltogether. It's a shame what it's boiled down to really. There was a time when the big Hollywood stars (Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor etc.) actually owned the dresses they wore and weren't afraid to wear them multiple times.

  10. It's odd now with the TV shows ... there are two day workshops on How To Be A Stylist with a 1000.00 fee attached.

    Everything has changed yet nothing has changed. One has to work in fashion and/or a photographer for slave (maybe zero) wages and do the coffee runs and remember everyone's way with that, their name and their sizes and there is no doubt that this smart person will roll into a fabulous career. Yes, having family in the business is a serious good thing. Many designers sent their children off to Brown's in London for summer jobs to just be around it.

    There's a lot of myth and dreaming. Not everyone can work in fashion and many would loathe its self-absorbtion and desperate urgency at certain times.

    I suppose to someone completely away from it the commands and needs of the business would be incredibly intimidating. The seasons, the shoots, the sales ..

    Red Carpet praise for the stylist makes me wince. It's the star's moment and designer names, hairdressers and stylists are considered part of it.


  11. I love your stories. And I do think it's a different time (unfortunately), and people do not respect merchandise (on loan) as they should.

  12. I like the name of your blog :-) lovely greetings

  13. Love the look behind the scenes. Of course people never (or rarely) think about what goes into fashion behind the facade. All they see is the glamour and the beautiful results - but it's work, hard work indeed.

  14. This is just wonderful, what great insight into a world many of us never see. And that silly notion about actually paying for clothes? Love it.

    The whole thing has become overdone to a vulgar extreme, and I say this as someone who contributes to it in a microscopic way, as I occasionally write about some of it.

    It's a fabulous post, the "...hello crafts table and red licorice" line is brilliant. Thank you for sharing some of what's 'behind the curtain'!

    Hope your weekend is splendid,

  15. I enjoyed reading this post. You're lucky to have such insight and the ability to write about it in a very personal way.

  16. Oh thanks ... it seems so mysterious until you're working in fashion which is work and then hurry up and wait.


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