I’m originally from Australia, grew up in the U.K., and then went back to Australia to study fashion design at university. While I was at university, I’d always come back to the U.K. over breaks and intern for a production company. After I had graduated they offered me a job as a junior producer, so I started in that role and worked there for about 2 years. It was great because it gave me the fundamental tools for being an assistant. I learned how to stay organized, write strong emails, communicate effectively and be a good team player. I had an immense amount of respect for what they did, but I was never very passionate about becoming a producer.
Since I wanted to be in styling, I had to get out there myself and eventually start freelancing. One of the first jobs that I worked on was in New York with Poppy Kain. Which was cool because it was also my first time in New York.
How did it go?
Really well! But at the time Poppy had just left assisting Venetia Scott, so she didn’t need a full-time assistant. She ended up recommending me to another stylist, Stevie Westgarth, and I worked with him for about six months. Then I found a position with Gillian Wilkins, who was the fashion director at Russh Magazine at the time. I was with her for about two years.
Were you between Australia and the U.K.? or...
Just the U.K. because that’s where Gillian’s office was located which was a bit of a challenge when it came to communicating with PR’s. U.K. PR’s we could talk to all day but New York PR’s would open at 2 p.m. and then with Australia you’d wake up in the middle of the night and answer emails at 4 a.m.. We would always be working on quite a few projects at once, which would add to the craziness.
It was definitely a 24/7 job and pretty hectic. But I loved it. Then when Gillian moved to New York, we parted ways. It was good timing because I realized that by then I had learned everything that I needed from that position at that time. I feel like when you’re not progressing anymore and you feel like you can do that job with your eyes closed you know, it’s the right time to move on.
So then I started doing more freelance work, and later I became Julia Sarr Jamois’s first assistant at i-D. I was with her for about eight months, before a job opportunity came up as the Junior Fashion Editor at The Violet Book, which is where I am now. I still do some freelance work with Julia, and just recently started working a lot with Tom Guinness. It was definitely a conscious decision to freelance only with people whose work I really admire. Right now I’m trying to do more of my own work and working towards identifying my own style.
Circling back to your position at Russh Magazine in London. Can you go into detail about your role there?
My role on the masthead was Fashion Director's Assistant. But I basically worked as Gill's first assistant in addition to Russh work. I worked on all of her shoots, which included cover shoots, main fashion shoots and extra stories within an issue. I also worked with contributors that Gill would bring on board. Production was a part of my job as well, so it was good to have my previous production skills under my belt. Gill was Lucinda Chambers first [assistant] at British Vogue years ago and still does a lot of work for international Vogue’s. So we’d always be working on editorials for them as well.
So your prior experience with production ended up benefiting you?
100%. It gave me the tools to be a better assistant. When interviewing I think it gave me a step ahead as well because people like to see that on a resumé. The skills learned in production are invaluable for assisting creative people, especially because it’s all about organization and structure which teaches you how to be a good assistant. It’s also important to know how to treat people on set, and especially how to deal with people who can be a bit difficult.
People skills can be the most important to have.
Yeah, you really have to be aware of what you say and when. It’s definitely something you learn with experience over time when you’re assisting. It’s important to give the stylist and the photographer physical space on set to do their thing and bring their vision to the shoot. You have to step back and let them know you’re in their eye line but not in their way.
How was Russh’s company culture?
It was literally just Gill and I, so it was a bit tricky because I always felt the distance between the office and us. The office was in Australia, and we were so far away from there, so it’s really difficult to liaise with a company you work for that’s in a different country. It’s definitely tricky to not have the physical support of a whole team, but I was still happy in that environment. Working with different time zones was a struggle though, especially with PR’s, but it was lovely working together so closely. We became really good friends as a result of working like that.
Can you tell me about your role at i-D and how was it there?
Everybody at the i-D offices are amazing. Julia calls in a lot of samples, which can sometimes be challenging but so many PR’s are incredibly supportive because her work is amazing. That definitely makes the call in process easier. There was definitely quite a lot to juggle when it came to sample trafficking. But because of it I also got to do some incredible shoots with her. I went to Senegal in Africa for a shoot, which was unbelievable. It can go down in history as one of the best shoots that I have been on. Such an eye opening experience.
It was unbelievable. I flew with a crazy amount of suitcases and met Julia who was already out there with Harley Weir who shot the story. It was just a team of us three girls for the shoot. They had been shooting a feature with Grace Wales Bonner for two days prior so Grace was with us for a day or two in the beginning.
Oh, I love her.
She's the best. I've been working with her recently with Tom Guinness, who styles Grace’s shows.
What is it like to work with Tom?
He’s awesome. A really nice guy. I feel really lucky, because I jumped on board with Tom at the time that he started getting really busy and gaining a lot of momentum, shooting for magazines and teams that I really like and enjoy being a part of. He's the nicest man to work with. He's so chill and laid back and incredibly talented. It makes working in a sometimes hectic environment, so much more enjoyable. His eye is really unexpected and I like watching how he puts pieces together, in a way I would never even think to do. We worked on Grace's last show, which was so good, watching her work is amazing.
I first met her in Senegal with Harley and we shot a series with Grace's graduate collection on wrestlers in Senegal right before we shot another story there as well. There were these unbelievably beautiful men; really burly men in Grace's graduate collection wrestling in this incredible pink lake in Dakar. It's pink because of the amount of salt that's in it.
How did you do the street casting? Would you all split off and divide and conquer, or...
Julia had a friend who did production on the shoot. He’s from Senegal and he had just shot a film in Dakar so came along and helped. He would take Julia and Harley off in the mornings and they’d find men and women and children in the markets, on the streets. Anywhere. I would get into this old van in the mornings with all the cases tied to the top; no one spoke English so I wouldn’t know where I was going. We’d be buying peanuts from the street vendors begging at the windows of the van for our breakfast. Then we’d get to some school or youth club or hall and have old hangers and a dodgy little rail to set everything out. It was totally ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ but totally added to the experience.
How was the company culture at i-D?
Everybody is really lovely. You bond off of the experiences and the stress that you have within our environment. I feel like that with a lot of people and my friends who are assistants. It's not about pushing anyone in front of buses, or being bitchy. I've never had that experience in my world, and I just think it's very neat that at the end of the day we can all come together and have a moan about our lives and know exactly where each of us is coming from.
While assisting all of these really incredible and influential people, how have you been able to develop your own aesthetic and point of view for your work?
When I first started doing my own work I was under the impression that more was better. Layer it all up. Once I started working with other stylists though it taught me to strip back and that more wasn't necessarily better all the time. Add eccentricity to your work in other ways. I feel like from that my work is becoming more considered. My friend and incredibly talented photography Anna Victoria Best brought that out of me too. She pushes me to pull back a little. I hope that people can look at my work and go, "Well, that looks like Ashlee Hill’s work." I would love to keep working this way.
Can you give an example of having more considered work?
Whenever Poppy does any editorial she does fittings, where she’ll go through all of the looks prior to shooting. I never used to think that was necessary and I know a lot of stylists who don’t work like that. I now understand how important and helpful this can be. All of the decisions Poppy makes are really thought about. I like to try to consider things a little bit more nowadays. I like to familiarize myself with looks excessively beforehand. I like to try and make time for fittings before a shoot.
It’s certainly a skill and one that I'm trying to get; knowing when to pull back and when to push it. I believe that's what makes a great stylist. Knowing when enough is enough or more is needed to make the look work.
What are the challenges of having so many projects going on at once?
It varies depending on season. Everybody shoots manically in June and July, and then August tends to be quiet. I’ve had my share of breakdowns in the past, but it’s very rare. It’s hardest when I’m working with so many great stylists at once and juggling my own personal work and trying to prioritize their needs and expectations along with mine. But that’s where my production background comes in to help; I learned how to try and fight fires before they happen.
Now you're an editor at Violet, which is super exciting. How’s that going?
Great, it was very exciting and scary to have freedom when I started. Leith put a lot of trust in me and looking back it felt so good to be accountable because I was so so ready to do it on my own. Leith is keen on having all women crews for a lot of Violet’s work. I tend to actually work with women a lot - Anna Victoria Best, Sarah Louise Stedeford and Sam Copeland are my favorites girls to shoot with.
How would you describe the environment when it’s all women?
I don't think it’s particularly different compared to a mixed environment, but I personally feel I'm able to communicate better. I do know that I'm very comfortable shooting with women and also I just tend to gravitate towards women photographers more for some reason.
Are there any challenges to not working in an office?
I don't mind working from home. I think that I work quite well from there because I’m focused and know that the job in hand has to be completed. The biggest problem is the amount of stuff that I always have. It's never just you go on set, you do a job, and then you go home. There are boxes, bags, and samples around me all the time. I can never disconnect from work because I am always surrounded by it. I’m always on my phone dealing with emails even when I’m not in my home surrounded by samples so I never really escape it. But overall I really do love the flexibility.