By Lucia Braham
Lucia has been assisting some of the country’s top stylists for the past seven years and she still doesn’t think she knows it all. Think you want to be a stylist? Read on to discover if you’ve got enough passion and the right attitude to make it.
Recently, a friend of a friend called and quizzed me about being an assistant photographic stylist. She was working as an assistant set designer and told me she was sick of lugging heavy things around on set and physically exhausting herself at work. I told her she was talking to the wrong person if this was what she was looking to escape in her next career!
My very first day on the job was shooting a linen catalogue, assisting Megan Morton. I spent the entire day in a room, iron in hand, delicately removing every tiny crease from countless sheets, pillowslips and duvet covers. Three months ago, nearly seven years after my very first styling experience, I had a very similar day assisting Kirsten Bookallil.
There have been days I have done nothing but open boxes, sort through stock and pack it all away again. Many times, I have spent the entire day meticulously painting sets over and over. Sure, this does not sound at all like the creative industry I was so excited to jump into but the truth is, every one of those glossy pages in books, magazines and advertisements takes hard work, a lot of sweat and sometimes (but rarely) blood.
So what’s so great about being an assistant stylist? As you will inevitably be the face to face contact for the stylist you assist, you will, over time, develop relationships with retailers, suppliers and other essential contacts within the industry, which will in turn help you build your career. Almost every shoot for both editorial and advertorial will be in advance of its release date so you will be constantly exposed to the latest and greatest in product and design.
Being an assistant to a stylist is not always easy or super rewarding to begin with, but if styling is your passion, finding a stylist you respect and admire is the key. For the last four years, I have been so fortunate to be the right hand woman to Steve Cordony (interiors and event stylist and contributing interior design editor for Belle magazine). Although I do occasionally branch out and work on my own jobs, I’m in no rush to give up the incredible opportunity to work beside him and learn all I can.
With Steve, I have worked on high profile events with some of the country’s most exclusive designers and florists. We’ve had studios full to the brim with beautiful furniture and accessories into the hundreds of thousands of dollars in value, ready for us to get creative and play with.
In my opinion, there is no study or diploma you can do to fully learn the job of a stylist. It is all about experience, like an apprenticeship.
Here are a few tips and a bit of inside info if training to be a photographic stylist is on your agenda:
1. Be prepared to do the hard yards. There’s no 9-to-5 in the styling world. Get ready for 12-hour days on your feet, loading your car with props so high you can’t see through the back windscreen and paint, glue and tape on your shoes.
2. As an assistant, your opinion is not (at first) valid or invited. I have seen so many first time assistants jump in front of a high profile stylist or photographer and make suggestions for a shot and although it’s great to be enthusiastic, it’s just not your place.
3. Stay up to date on current trends, designs, exhibitions and retailers so that when you’re asked to research a product or collect an item for a shoot, you know where to go straight away.
4. Work as though you’ve read the script. In other words, listen in on what’s happening on a shoot. For example, if you hear the stylist and photographer saying “maybe we should change the colour of the roses in that vase from yellow to white,” jump the gun and be ready to swap them over before the stylist has even turned around.
5. If you’re not sure, just ask. Time is of the essence on a shoot and more often than not, every minute of the day is accounted for. Accidentally painting the set the wrong colour because you didn’t want to look silly asking, will make you look even sillier.
6. Check with the stylist or photographer before you Instagram your day’s work.
7. Start a styling kit to take with you on shoots. Multiple pairs of scissors, every type of tape you can find, glue and staple guns, pins, a Stanley knife and a few screwdrivers never go astray.
—Lucia Braham is a Sydney-based stylist for events, interiors and photography.