Can you give an overview of how you got to where you are today?
I came to London almost nine years ago after I studied fashion design in Sydney. I planned to come over for just a few years because Australia felt pretty isolated and London seemed exciting and the place to be. I first interned for the designer Roksanda Ilincic, doing sample cutting and working in the studio, followed by internships at Dazed and Confused and Vogue.
From there, I got offered an assistant position in the London office of Turkish Vogue, which had just launched. I was the Assistant to the Fashion Director for nearly two years, traveling between London and the office in Istanbul as well as travelling a lot for all the shoots. It was full on, a 24/7 job, but very exciting shooting with photographers I’d always admired like Mert & Marcus, Demarchelier, Sarah Moon and Maripol.
After I assisted stylists on a freelance basis while gradually, more and more I started to do my own thing – test shoots and small, independent magazines. One of my biggest projects is the magazine Off Black that I work on with my friends which is now on it’s 5th print issue and stocked globally.
Circling back to your time at Turkish Vogue, what was your day-to-day role?
I was Assistant to the Fashion Director when the magazine first launched. In the first few issues, we had all the top photographers, all the top models, so it was an exciting time and place to work. The main office was in Istanbul, but the fashion office was in London. There was a lot of flying around the world with clothes, millions of trunks and creating all the carnets and paperwork. It was right when Vogue Russia, Vogue Ukraine, Brazil, all the new markets, had launched as well and we all shared an office. I found it really interesting - how can you translate current fashion trends to a different culture, religion, different way of life?
I thought Turkish Vogue would be a lot more conservative, but not at all. Still though they have a different aesthetic, they like quite loud, full-on things, usually with a logo or recognizable print to show the brand. In London, Paris and New York at the moment, it’s all about being quite understated. The fashion director I assisted had amazing ideas. One of the first editorials I did was called Cartoon Femininity. Turkey has quite a masculine culture so we put these really feminine dresses on super feminine models in these Turkish masculine situations.
There’s a tradition of Turkish oil wrestling for the men, it’s a coming of age rite. They’re given these embellished leather trousers and big belts when they are boys. We shot Isabeli Fontana amongst the oil wrestlers on a beach in Montauk. All the samples got drenched in oil and sand, which was a nightmare for me!
Then we went to this beautiful place called Izmir on the Turkish coast for Turkish Love Story but with Dree Hemingway. It was interesting taking their traditional ideas and making them new and fashionable in a way that we could sell to them and also internationally.
I’ve continued to do a lot of work for new markets in my freelance work. I’ve been to Azerbaijan six times, Georgia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Mexico, Argentina. It’s interesting to learn about those parts of the world. You realize that fashion is more than just clothes; it’s a symbol of aspiration that they’re progressing. They’re so into logos; it’s about showing luxury outwardly.
How was the company culture at Vogue Turkey?
There were only two assistants in our office, so it was me and this other girl who is actually one of my best friends still today. We were working 24/7 and relied on each other so much so you really form a bond.
I swear you make your fastest and closest friends in the fashion closet.
Yes! There were a lot of situations that seemed so daunting at the time and a massive workload but we were quite resilient because we were there for each other. We were there until 2 in the morning many nights, weekends. We shared an office with other publications and us assistants would all be in it together, exhausted. It was a complete pressure cooker environment.
What was your biggest takeaway from Vogue Turkey? Did you grow during your time there?
Completely and really quickly. It’s hard to get magazine jobs because there are so few and it’s fiercely competitive. The first day I got there, I had to organize a whole shoot with 28 trunks. I packed a trunk overweight, and it got stuck in customs and caused hold ups. I think being thrown in the deep end is always the best way because you learn from your mistakes. I never did that again!
Then once a whole shipment for the Britney Spears’ video I was working on got stuck in customs because turns out you’re not allowed to ship sunglasses to the United States. You might write in a customs invoice that a sample has feathers, and then, turns out; you’re not allowed feathers in that country. You always learn the hard way!
What was one of the best parts about assisting?
I became quite good friends with the photographer’s assistants, the hair, and makeup assistants, and the set design assistants. Since then we’ve all started working together—it’s quite nice to have that community and have all of us grow together. It’s great to have that kind of support. It’s about building contacts, relationships, and trust. Building a strong creative team and network is so important.
A lot of stylists that I’ve interviewed so far have some background in fashion design. Did yours have an impact on your career?
Yeah, I think so. It’s important because you learn about how fabrics fall, what goes well with what, what looks good in what light because it has this shine, or will this stick to that; what’s going to be a nice fit on this person, how to pin and alter things, etc. I still even need to learn more. When you’re on a commercial job, you’re a seamstress or a tailor sometimes, tailoring a suit to someone. Often, it’s not that creative; you’re just polishing.
Why did you choose to start your career in London versus other cities?
I visited quite a few times when I was younger, and I liked the energy. I had read a lot about Central Saint Martins. I used to get the airfreight issues of British Vogue and i-D when I was in Australia and the images of Boombox and the whole scene and designers at the time just looked so exciting.
The best thing about London is that there are so many people from all over the world. They’re all here doing their thing and all are trying to make it work, and it’s quite an inspiring community. Everyone needs to work really hard, and everyone needs to help each other because it’s such a struggle to get by as a small fish in a massive pond.
The title “stylist” is so broad these days – it can involve everything from creative research, brand consulting, costume, editorial to e-commerce. But what a lot of people don’t realize is that being a stylist is actually quite an administrative job.
In what ways?
I spend a lot of time doing research – it’s a luxury to have enough time to research. Often, it’ll be, “can you shoot this next week, can you do this tomorrow?” I go through all the shows, go through all the student stuff, look at references online, go to the library. Then it’s requesting, requesting, requesting. Lots of emails. Then there’s all the crediting, invoicing, chasing payments and work. When you’re self-employed you also deal with your own tax, expenses, budgets. Most of the day is often spent on the laptop!
What are some of your recent projects?
I worked with a band called Austra; they have a new album coming out. We went to Mexico City and did their album cover at one of Luis Barragan’s amazing houses. I also just collaborated with the Game of Thrones costume designer, we shot her costumes as a fashion editorial. Lately, I’ve also been doing some advertising work. It is different from editorial, as you need to satisfy a brief and brand identity and let go of your own voice and aesthetic, which is an important part of editorial work. Now I’m trying to take on less work and just focus on the things that are exciting to me. It’s not necessarily the biggest name or the most paid things that I go for; it’s the things that I find most interesting and brands and bands that I feel speak the same language.
Do you have assistants or is it just you?
Right now, I prefer to do a lot of it myself because I’m very specific about what I want.
Now that I’m getting more work, I do need someone to help me. You need someone that you can trust and someone that understands your aesthetic and can go on appointments for you. It’s also hard to be in so many places at once – out for meetings, on set, pulling appointments, waiting for deliveries.
In an ideal way, it’s always nice for the photographer, the set designer, and the stylist to come up with ideas together. Ultimately, it’s the photographer’s say, the final edit. Now that everyone is shooting on film, it’s really hard for anyone to even see. If you’re shooting digital and looking at the screen then you’ll want to fix the hair, fix the colors. But when you’re shooting film, it’s such a challenge. It’s such a gamble—you have to trust the photographer.
Once you’ve called in all of the clothes, you meet with the photographer, the hairstylist, and then you get to set and…
Then we shoot. Shoot day I find, is usually the least stressful for me by that point, if you’re prepared. It’s just trying to build interesting sets, go to interesting locations. We’re quite limited here in England because of the weather. Any time you plan a location shoot; it’ll be a torrential downpour. There’s only a few interesting buildings and houses, the odd beach, so it’s also about trying to find new places or building interesting sets. That’s why set design is such a big thing here.
Do you have a favorite shoot that you worked on?
Too many to remember really. I love traveling, so when I’m somewhere new and far-flung, I think, “Oh, I’m so lucky that I do this job!” For me, traveling is the best bit.
Two friends, Sarah and Claire, started the magazine. They are both amazing hair stylists. The magazine started as a creative outlet for them and platform to create the shoots they wanted. The team is now a collective with an art director, fashion editor (myself) and beauty editor and a family of photographers, stylists, set designers and casting directors who regularly contribute.
Since Off Black was founded solely online and later expanded to print, what were some of the challenges of adding that medium?
Print is obviously super expensive in terms of the production, the paper, the layout, the distribution, etc. but it still has the prestige and feels more special. Brands, model agents, and an amazing standard of photographers and creative teams are eager to contribute and are a lot more supportive of print even though its reach is smaller than online. The nice thing with independent magazines at this point in time is that they aren’t bound by advertisers. With the bigger magazines, most of the editorial is actually advertorial where commercial brands are paying to be featured so you can be quite limited creatively as you are more adhering to others direction and concepts. Off Black has been a great opportunity to develop our own voice.
How would you describe the essence and identity of Off Black?
There’s a theme each issue and then everyone kind of goes away and comes up with ideas. Sarah and Claire lead the direction and follow through with everyone. For the “Man-Made” issue, we shot at some really interesting locations – decaying estates in London, the Eden Project in Cornwall which is the world’s largest Greenhouse and Arcades du Lac in Paris. We work a lot with set designers, which I think is quite unique. The direction photography is going in now is very analog and raw. No one has any budget, so people just go out on the street and shoot or make what you can with props, smoke and mirrors. Even if you don’t have a lot, you can still make do. Here in London we’re lucky with clothes. Starting out, obviously it’s really hard to get the big brands, but we have all the amazing students and graduates here who create exciting pieces to shoot.
How did you make the jump from not being recognized by a lot of brands to now doing features with some of the biggest names?
We’re lucky, actually. For the second issue, we had Vivienne Westwood, then subsequently features with J.W. Anderson, Wanda Nylon, Yang Li and Loewe. We’ve all been doing our thing for quite some time and are lucky to have built relationships over the years.There was definitely an element of trust from various PRs for the early issues and we are so thankful for them taking a chance on us. Also when people hear someone else is involved, they are keen to get involved and so gradually it gets easier as more people support and are excited to contribute. Even in the first issue, when it was quite tricky to get things, we just did what we could. You don’t need all the big designers to do something interesting! In fact it pushed us to be resourceful and creative.