The Logistics

Warning! Boring post to anyone but those who want to be a stylist. Besides the creative side of the job, you also need to become a logistical master of your domain. Sounds lofty, and it kind of is. What I mean is that you need to really know your city or the city you’re traveling to for work. So much of being a good stylist is efficiency. That means being able to find the best stuff within the time given. You can’t be a Sunday shopper.  It also means not having an asthma attack on the street because you thought you could handle one more stop with 2 more bags added to the 7 you’re already carrying before you went back to your car on the 8th floor of the parking garage a half of mile away. Having a good strategy while working in a big city is crucial.  I thank the stylists dearly who I assisted for that taught me the best places to park to get the most bang for my shopping buck.  My back thanks them too and so does my wallet.  Parking gets ugly when you’re working in Chicago and NYC if you have to park all over the place due to poor planning.  It’s an easy way to burn your budget.  Strategy my friends.  Oh, and Ikea bags.  Best stylist tool ever.  More acceptable than the Granny cart for monster returns, a half mile away.  Go blue!

Band Image Consulting

Somewhere, some how, this opportunity keeps falling in my lap.  I guess it makes sense… I’ve been an avid music fan my whole life and dress people, lots of people, but to be quite honest, being an “image consultant” for a band initially felt a bit strange to me.  This opinion changes depending on what kind of music you listen to, but for me, I’d be a bit disappointed if I found out, for example, that TV on the Radio had an image consultant who told them that the kids out there will just love them if they grew Afros and wore quirky glasses.  I’d feel like someone fooled me because in music, aren’t we all looking for sincerity?  Isn’t that what creates the package that you can’t help but gravitate towards?  I may even get more excited when I see a front man look and act something similar to a unibomber, but creates the most catchy, dance-y tunes you can’t get out of your head.  Again, this is just my opinion and I’m quite aware that I too fall within a particular demographic, and can easily be manipulated.  Thanks unibomber.   Anyways, my head has been spinning with researching and harping on this idea of “image consulting” for musicians.

I know the last thing I want to ever do is trick the audience.  I’m incredibly sensitive to this, but there is a time and a place where a band’s presence heightens the music experience.  What you don’t want is for the band’s get-up to take away from their sound and confuse the listener.  You also don’t want the band to look like they had an idea, not a great idea, but we’re just going to go with this because we need to do something.  That’s where I come in, honing in on that idea and steering clear from making them look like their stylish mom picked up some fun clothes for them at the mall.

I’m going to give a couple of examples where this works.  I was just at SXSW in Austin and saw a band called, Black Veil Brides.  Granted, their look is an extreme, but their audience eats it up.  It totally plays up their mediocre music and brands them into something that their demographic, angst-y young music goers, didn’t even know they wanted.  Our generation has seen it before thanks to Marilyn Manson and Kiss, but there’s always going to be a new wave of music fans who want to shave their eyebrows, go on a liquid diet, and paint a skeleton on their bare chest.  I might be giving their band more credit than they deserve, maybe it wasn’t painfully premeditated and this is just them.  Regardless, it’s working.  Their impressionable fans love it.  I’m even still thinking about their performance.  It was hilarious.

Then you have a band like Interpol who has a completely different audience.  Those who love Interpol and would put their nose up in the air to the jokesters listed above should could come to terms with the fact they are also being played.  You could argue that they aren’t doing anything different from Black Veil Brides.  They too are playing into their sound and giving their audience something to grab onto.  I’ve seen them a couple of times now in very dank, 95 degree venues where they refuse to remove any layers from their three piece suit.  The shirt and vest to them clearly doesn’t pack the punch they’re looking for.  Determined, yes.  Silly, no.  You could argue that their success is solely based on their music, but I beg to differ.  It at least one over some of us.

This would be a good time to dive into analyzing Insane Clown Posse, the band that is better at branding and building an empire than even Lady Gaga, but as it is, the post is becoming too long.  I had to at least mention them.  F-ing Faygo.  Who has their own generic soda?  Don’t get me started.  Blog post on ICP breakdown coming soon.  Nothing may be more fascinating, I’m serious.

Back on track, the thing is, just like your mom told you in the 2nd grade, you don’t want to be something you’re not.  If a band can’t back their look with a sound to support it, then you’ve failed, and vice versa.  The band also has to believe in whatever image they’ve cultivated or lack there of.  The thing is, the audience is smarter than you think and hates to be duped.  Well, some audiences…  It’s a fine line of working for the audience and working for yourself.  The goal is for them to work harmoniously.  It’s a lot of research, possible trial and error, but in the end you want it to feel effortless and/or not heavy handed.  Again, depending on the act.  Deliberate can also work in your favor.  Meat suit?  Egg throne?  Anyone?  Nonetheless, it’s a fascinating to study why particular people gravitate towards particular sounds and looks.

17 year old, Olivia Bee

My friend just told me about the photographer Olivia Bee, who has ad campaigns under her belt with Converse and Nike and is ONLY SEVENTEEN!  Her landing these accounts is far from luck with having one of the most successful and prolific Flicker accounts out there, which gained her notoriety.  The question is, how do you know how to conduct a photo shoot when you most likely only have “Soft Serve Attendant” on your resume?  I’m guessing you get all Justin Bieber and hire really great crew.  Regardless, Olivia Bee’s work holds its own.  It’s refreshing to see what lies before photo school and years of assisting with Olivia’s unadulterated outlook.  She simply takes pictures of her friends, really, really well.

The lesson to be learned is:  Save your money kids, art school is for the unproductive.

Take a look.  Click on Olivia’s image below to be blown away.

Contracts from wardrobe and/or prop stylists

Here’s some food for thought.  I just watched this video on A Photo Editor called, “F- You, Pay Me.”  If you don’t have time to watch the entire video, although you should if you freelance, it basically says that all creatives who charge for their work should always put everything in a contract so there are never any discrepancies. You want everything on the table upfront.  It’s to protect you AND the client.

In the photo industry, photographers already practice this, or they hire producers to do it for them when dealing with agencies and clients.  But what about the rest of the crew?  Why is it common for the rest of the crew to work on handshakes even though we’re all freelance?

It’s a tough bridge to cross and become contractual because it isn’t common for crew members to work under contracts upfront.   If you’re not familiar how it typically works, the crew get’s a phone call from the producer or photographer asking them if they’re available on said dates and willing to work for X amount.  You say yes, and now you’re all in.  Things can change, but nothing is in writing and won’t be until you send your invoice at the end of the job.  The only time numbers are put in writing with discussing your fee is when the photographer or producer asks the stylist to send a rough estimate of what things might cost when they’re in the bidding process to get hired for the job with the agency.   In this case, it is based on estimated costs, nothing is finite, therefore it is far from a written contract.  As a stylist, the riskiest situation is when you’re hired by out-of-towners you’ve never worked with or met before, and you’re asked to put THOUSANDS of dollars on your credit card for requested materials to get the job done.  All you have is a verbal handshake with the hopes that these expenses will be covered.  Luckily, I’ve never had any issues, but luck runs out and I never want to be in the position where I’m kicking myself in hind sight.

So you ask, why don’t you put everything in writing from the get go?  Concerns that I’d have if I started to send contracts before starting a job is a majority of producers and photographers want a crew that can role with the punches and not nickel and dime you for every mile you drove, for example.   I’d be afraid that those hiring me would see it as being too rigid and start thinking of me as someone who is less about the creative goal and more about the money.  When I really think about it, that’s silly.  In fact, the photo industry may be the only creative industry where everything isn’t spelled out from the beginning from everyone involved.  In film and television, when filling out paperwork, I often start to feel like I’m closing on a house rather than signing a couple of papers because EVERYTHING is accounted for.  In the photo industry, things are only brought up through verbal communication with the crew, where it’s easy for bits and pieces to be lost or a miscommunication to occur.  Ironing out money details before the job is easy, ironing out money details after the job is uncomfortable.  No one likes to be mislead or feel like they’re losing money.  It’s easier to work for less if you know from the start because it’s up to you whether or not to take the job.  It’s a lot touchier negotiating fees after the job is performed because the expectations of the job had changed or their was a miscommunication from the beginning about your fee.  Losing the money you thought you earned becomes much harder to swallow.  The thing is, contracts couldn’t hurt.

I’d love to hear feedback from industry professionals who hire crew members on what they’d think if they were presented with a contract prior to a shoot from wardrobe and/or prop stylists.

Freemans Sporting Club – NYC

Freemans Sporting Club only fills their store with products made within 10 miles.  SO awesome… but nearly impossible to achieve everywhere else in the US.  Let’s spread our wings to 20 miles here in Chicago and maybe we could get the job done.  Who’s in with me?!!

Check it out:

Click on the image to go to the website.

My online shopping cart is half empty.

I guess this is more of a warning than anything.  As you know, I’m a big fan of online shopping, especially since a lot of companies now have free shipping.  It’s really great for ordering men’s suits, with the option of getting specific pant lengths and finding hard to find jacket sizes.  It’s also amazing for shoes, which I hate buying in stores because you’re wasting too much of a sales clerk time when they could be getting commission from someone else.  The kicker is, and where I’m starting to see the online world as a half empty cart, is when you return the items.  Many companies now have smart labels, which provide free return shipping, which also provides intense anxiety over whether or not your package will ever arrive back to the retailer.  If the package was lost in the abyss of the USPS, I would have to eat the costs, which is about the same amount of money of what I purchased my first car.  This creates a bad day and in the end, not worth the emotional torment.

I recently did a job where I had a number of boxes that I needed to return and dropped them off at the USPS office near my apartment.  I realize 3 weeks later, the returns were still not processed on my credit card.  When I looked up the tracking numbers (ALWAYS KEEP YOUR TRACKING #) I saw that the packages hadn’t moved an inch.  After total panic of thinking the items were gone, the packages were sent to the retailers 4 WEEKS LATER!  Crazy, right?  This is when being a stylist becomes tough.  You don’t ever want a job lingering on your credit cards for a month.  Nowadays everyone wants to see the same amount of products on set, but they don’t want to pay expenses up front.  You need to have a lot of money to stay afloat when things like this happen, so that you’re not giving up half of your fee to credit card interest.  Bottom line, always ALWAYS keep your tracking numbers and purchase insurance, silently hate the USPS in your sleep, and keep a hefty savings for credit crunch situations.

I’m obsessed with Ann Roth.

Costume designer of the new HBO series, Mildred Pierce, costume designer of all things awesome…  Ann Roth is my new hero.  This isn’t only because of her body of work that includes movies such as The Talented Mr. Ripley, The English Patient, Midnight Cowboy and 109 other films(!), but also because she’s 80, works 16 hour days and is still completely enthralled in her career.  When I did my movie-a-day project last year and profiled each costume designer, I found her name coming up again and again to movies I loved.  I’ve since grown a small obsession with her and try to see everything she does.

Harper’s Bazaar interviews her this month because of her work for Mildred Pierce.  She makes a lot of great points that I couldn’t agree with her more on.  She talks about how little her job has to do with fashion.  She creates looks for characters, not the runway, which is a common misconception of the costume designer’s role.  The costumes are only intended to serve the narrative.  For a wardrobe stylist in advertising, the same is true.  You’re representing a character, a demographic, and telling a story of how he or she would experience the product.  It has little to do with what everyone thinks is fashionable (unless it applies directly to the product), rather, whether it fits the narrative of what we’re trying to imply for the product.

Here’s some highlights from the interview, which you can read in its entireity here.

““I would never look at movies for my work. I would look at real clothes from the period and photographs from the period. One doesn’t look at other people’s work.” Instead, Roth takes an almost forensic approach to costuming her characters, assessing them from the inside out.  For Mildred Pierce, she decided that based on Mildred’s means, she would have shopped at Bullock’s department store, rather than at the tonier shops in Beverly Hills. She does this for all her characters, she says. “I think about how much money they spent, where they go, does she have a drawer for silk slips…”

You can also see her in action in this HBO behind the scenes video on the making of Mildred Pierce.  I recommend watching the entire video, but if you’re only interested in learning more about Roth, she’s highlighted about 13 minutes in.

If only I could hold her coffee cup on a project.  I would sell my soul to do the honor.