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July 31 2014

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9 posts tagged "Dressing for Fame"

Dressing for Fame: Versace, J.Lo, RiRi Gone Rogue, and More Career Tidbits from Stylists Mariel Haenn and Rob Zangardi

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If celebrity status is conferred in red-carpet appearances, then no actress today can compete without the help of just the right stylist. As Kerry Washington once told Glamour after she noticeably upped the sartorial ante, “There were a couple of actresses whom I felt were having the upper hand careerwise—because they knew how to work that red carpet.” A carefully crafted collaboration between stylist and client, the perfect look can create an indelible impact on agents, casting directors, and those of us watching from the sidelines. Straight from the epicenter of all things celebrity, we’ve asked some of the industry’s top stylists to share their experiences and impressions from their perch above Tinseltown. With our Dressing for Fame series, we bring you an exclusive, insider look at everything it takes to create those iconic moments captured by a million photo flashes.

Rob Zangardi and Mariel Haenn

Rob Zangardi and Mariel Haenn

It takes quite the fashion force to dress J.Lo for the stage, Rachel McAdams for the Cannes red carpet, and Pharrell for his many (sartorially daring) public outings, but the powerhouse styling duo of Mariel Haenn and Rob Zangardi have proved they’re nothing if not up to the task. Whether they’re commissioning original pieces to bring an idea to life, going back to their roots on music video sets, or forging relationships with up-and-coming talent, their scene-stealing tastes draw a uniquely diverse client mix that includes the abovementioned stars and beyond. Here, the duo talks exclusively to Style.com about going rogue with RiRi (they worked with the songstress for four years), being equal-opportunity stylists, and why women are more complex to style than men.

How did you both begin styling?
Rob Zangardi: I grew up in Columbus, Ohio, and graduated with a fashion merchandising degree from Ohio University. After college, my twin brother was working in NYC as a casting director, casting the audience for the VH1 Vogue Fashion Awards. He knew I would love it, so I stood in the pit to watch the show and ended up meeting a stylist who worked at MTV. I had no idea what a stylist was until then, but it sounded like my dream job. Because of her, I ended up getting hired at MTV to help with their New Year’s Eve show, which turned into a full-time job—right place, right time. And the rest is history.

Mariel Haenn: I was in school at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale for fashion design and I met someone who introduced me to the music video world. I started as a seamstress on videos, and then was assistant-styling while still in college. Once I graduated, I was fortunate enough to keep getting called to assist, but in the back of my mind, I was focusing on working at a design studio. I considered styling my means of making a living until I found the job I really wanted. Cut to 13 years later, turns out this is the job I wanted.

RihannaWhat’s the most memorable moment you’ve created thus far?

RZ: Rachel McAdams in the red Marchesa at the Cannes Film Festival was pretty memorable. She just looked like a movie star—you couldn’t take your eyes off of her. That train added the perfect amount of glamour and drama but didn’t overpower the woman wearing it. It was definitely a moment.

MH: Rihanna in the Dolce & Gabbana tux at the [2009] Met Gala. That was a special moment because we went completely rogue. It was a Marc Jacobs year and we got a call 30 minutes prior that so-and-so was wearing the same boots we’d planned on putting Ri in. So last minute, we went for plan B, and plan B ended up being this complete outlaw moment for both Rihanna and in Met history. It was something special.

RZ: Working with Versace to re-create Jennifer Lopez’s iconic Grammys dress for her most recent performances was also huge. It was pretty unbelievable to see her in the print that started it all.

How do you find working in New York different from working in L.A.?
MH: Styling-wise, New York tends to be much more avant-garde and fashion-forward. L.A. is a bit more risk averse and tends to focus on glamour more so than experimentation. There’s also a different level of polish. In L.A., you never want to look like you’re trying too hard—it’s almost as if people put even more effort into looking “effortless” than anything else—while in New York, there’s a broader range in dressing up and down.

RZ: It might sound cliché, but New York’s pace and tone also feels a lot quicker and has this undeniable sense of purpose. The way people walk in New York is representative of how they are. There’s a bigger hustle. It feels more natural for us, honestly, since we are always on the move and juggling multiple projects. The collaborations in L.A. tend to also be more commercial. New York is a greater creative playground. We get to be more forward-thinking and innovative.

What’s your favorite event to dress clients for and why?
RZ: Working on tours and music videos is definitely something we both really enjoy because there is more storytelling involved. There’s an entire arc that goes beyond a broad theme, so to speak. The looks have to work together with different elements to communicate so much. It’s not simply a supplement or continuation of the story, it’s a significant part of it.

MH: Collaborating with designers on custom pieces is a big thrill for us, too. Red carpet is fun, but there’s something to be said for bringing an idea to life rather than plucking from what already exists. A great example is having had the honor of working with Versace for Jen [Lopez]‘s stage looks in NYC. The experience itself was pretty surreal and the end result was nothing short of exceptional.

How do you manage to juggle multiple clients with multiple obligations and aesthetics all at once?
RZ: This is where it’s great to have two people rather than one. We like to joke that we are carbon copies of each other, so it’s like being in two places at once.

MH: The reason we started working together to begin with is because Rob was the only one I trusted to hand my clients over to if I wasn’t available for a job. The partnership was very organic. In terms of balancing the different aesthetics, you sort of train your mind to understand each client and their personality. There’s a lot of relationship-building there. After that, it’s almost impossible to mix aesthetics because you associate the person with the look so instantly.

How do you think working as a pair strengthens your styling? What has this relationship been like?
RZ: Our taste is practically the same, yet we complement each other well in terms of workflow and personality. The relationship is like an old married couple meets brother and sister, if that makes sense.

MH: For lack of a better phrase, two heads are truly better than one. It’s great to have someone else to bounce ideas off of, especially when in a more risk-taking scenario. It’s also great to have someone challenge you or ask the right questions when you’re dead set that something might look great but it could actually be better.

How do you balance dressing clients in looks by emerging designers as well as clothes by respected, longstanding favorites?
RZ: We try to be “equal opportunity” stylists and simply pull what we think will work best for the client in that particular scenario, despite notoriety. The designers we have relationships with always end up in that mix because we sincerely admire their work. That relationship is built from using their pieces over and over as opposed to an obligation.

MH: Plus, we know which clients love which designers and will want to try their pieces no matter what, like Jen with Zuhair Murad, for example.

Do you approach styling men and women differently?
MH: Men usually go one of two ways: very classic or completely modern. You have someone like Will Smith, who is just dapper Old Hollywood movie star head to toe, and then on the flip side, somebody like Pharrell, who loves to play with fashion and sees it as an extension of his art. Styling women has a much greater spectrum, and there are many more shades of gray. It’s equally important to understand the client’s personality and experiences, regardless of gender, and women, by nature, tend to have more complexity. This reflects in how many different ways you can go with a look.

What do you think of the “stylist as celebrity” trend?
RZ: In a more open, share-friendly, social-media-driven world, anyone can be a “celebrity” for their craft or, in some cases, their lifestyle. The definition of celebrity has shifted in that regard. From a creative standpoint, that’s a great thing, because regardless of what you do, you can be found and your work can be followed, admired, and act as inspiration for somebody else. This creates an elevated benchmark for everybody and their work, and in turn, much more interesting, provocative, and creative end products.

Photos: Courtesy Photo; Wireimage 

Dressing for Fame: Emily Current and Meritt Elliott Talk Designing, Styling, and Making It Work

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If celebrity status is conferred in red-carpet appearances, then no actress today can compete without the help of just the right stylist. As Kerry Washington once told Glamour after she noticeably upped the sartorial ante, “There were a couple of actresses whom I felt were having the upper hand careerwise—because they knew how to work that red carpet.” A carefully crafted collaboration between stylist and client, the perfect look can create an indelible impact on agents, casting directors, and those of us watching from the sidelines. Straight from the epicenter of all things celebrity, we’ve asked some of the industry’s top stylists to share their experiences and impressions from their perch above Tinseltown. With our Dressing for Fame series, we bring you an exclusive, insider look at everything it takes to create those iconic moments captured by a million photo flashes.

Emily Current and Meritt Elliot

Emily Current and Merritt Elliot You probably know stylists Emily Current and Meritt Elliott from Current/Elliott, their namesake brand that launched a million boyfriend jeans. But before they were designers, they were stylists. And after they departed the label in 2012, Current and Elliott embarked on a journey chock-full of twists and turns that have helped them fine-tune their aesthetic. The women currently work on ad campaigns, editorials, and branded partnerships (their most recent collection for PBteen launched last week), and they even released a book dedicated to denim this past March. Counting Jessica Alba, Emma Roberts, and Mandy Moore as clients, Current and Elliott further their brand appeal with each new look they create. Here, the power pair speaks with Style.com about juggling design projects and celebrity clients, the aesthetic power of the stylist, and the challenges that come with dressing a new actress.

How did you two get into styling?
Meritt Elliott: We jumped from college into different parts of this industry. We worked for magazines and clothing companies, and we saw that the stylists had the most control in terms of being able to articulate and define a trend. It’s actually the physical part of going in and manipulating a garment or a shoe, and it just felt like the most tangible way to achieve what we wanted to see. We both love that hands-on feeling—we share that passion—and we became a team. So it was like, OK, this is the look you want us to do, and this is how we want it to be worn. We felt like stylists had the most power in that respect.

Why did you decide to try your hand at design, and what was it like going from styling to designing?
Emily Current: We were always in fittings and we were always kind of coming up empty when it came to relaxed bottoms and chilled-out denim pieces. A lot of what we were pulling at the time was really dressy. I think our transition into design was organic and it came out of styling—it came out of doing fittings and realizing that there was a hole in the market and that we had the ability to fill it.

As stylists, do you think it’s important to have your own recognizable aesthetic?
ME: It’s inevitable that you develop your own signature when you’re a stylist. I think it’s fifty-fifty—you have to read off of what the client needs or wants or what they’re aiming for, but I also think you have to bring a point of view, and that’s why you’re hired for a job. You’re not there purely to execute, but to bring an opinion. Over the past decade and a half, we’ve learned that it’s important to have an opinion, to speak up, to stand for something.

EC: I do think, though, that we really pride ourselves on sociologically diving into clients and figuring out who they are, who they want to be, and how to express their personalities through what they wear. So while our point of view and aesthetic is really important, it’s more about us being able to translate it through their needs.

Is it difficult catering to varying clients’ needs?
ME: I think, organizationally, it makes us understand a little bit more the full gamut of different needs, different designers, and different proportions. But that makes us better designers and better stylists, not being so one-sided. We love working with women with all different body types, needs, insecurities, and things they like to show off.

EC: We look at each client when we’re prepping for a fitting, and we sit there and put ourselves in their position, like this is a movie we’re promoting, it’s a sexier role, it’s a racier role, and then we look at what they have just worn and what they need to balance that out. We try and get into their headspace and what they need, and it’s always something different.

Do you ever feel a sense of pressure from critics, press, or fans?
ME: We’re not totally naive to the constant commentary going on and people having an opinion on best dressed and worst dressed, but I think we’ve evolved, and at this point in our lives, we care less. The good news is that the clients we work with don’t care that much either, and we love that about our client roster. We love that our brand philosophy is that there are no rules, and whether someone likes it or not doesn’t define whether it’s cool, new, or right for the moment.

Do you find your own partnerships and ventures detract from your styling or does it enhance what you’re doing?
ME: Schedule-wise, it’s hard to juggle. We have an amazing team that helps us. I think that they all hold hands, that we spend more time running all of these projects through our brand filter than anything else, and that exercise has helped us define who we are so much that now it’s easy and it’s much less of a discussion. It’s become such a joy whether we’re writing a book or designing a lamp or a pair of jeans. We now know exactly who our girl is and how [our product] needs to look and feel.

EC: I do think we split our brain into two sections. One is our own design projects, and everything goes through our brand filtering of what our point of view on design is. Then there’s a whole other side of our brain that we use for styling clients and consulting projects, where we go in and wear their hat and think, What does this brand need to build out a stronger business? or What does this client need to evolve within the fashion they’re wearing? So it’s two different hats that we wear.

What are some of the challenges that come along with being stylists?
EC: There are so many, but the one that comes to mind is when you take on a new client who is somewhat less well known, it’s a challenge to build their relationships with designers. When you’re working with someone new, it’s harder to pull the top designers and really vary who they’re wearing and how they’re wearing it.

ME: Along the same line are resources matching expectations. Sometimes a client will want something, whether it’s an advertising client or a celebrity client, and perhaps there isn’t the time or the budget or the availability. You’ve got to work with what you have. Sometimes we have a very narrow amount of resources, and we’re still expected to deliver, so we’re always challenging ourselves on how to be resourceful.

Photo: Getty Images

Dressing for Fame: Erin Walsh Talks Kerry Washington, Red-Carpet Make-Believe, and the Art of Collaboration

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If celebrity status is conferred in red-carpet appearances, then no actress today can compete without the help of just the right stylist. As Kerry Washington once told Glamour after she noticeably upped the sartorial ante, “There were a couple of actresses whom I felt were having the upper hand careerwise—because they knew how to work that red carpet.” A carefully crafted collaboration between stylist and client, the perfect look can create an indelible impact on agents, casting directors, and those of us watching from the sidelines. Straight from the epicenter of all things celebrity, we’ve asked some of the industry’s top stylists to share their experiences and impressions from their perch above Tinseltown. With our Dressing for Fame series, we bring you an exclusive, insider look at everything it takes to create those iconic moments captured by a million photo flashes.

Erin Walsh

erinWhen Kerry Washington began making sartorial waves on the red carpet last year, the effort was nothing if not strategic. Her understanding of the power of the red carpet—and those viral images—quickly shot her into the fashion stratosphere, with stylist Erin Walsh knowingly by her side. Walsh, who also counts Sarah Jessica Parker, Kristen Wiig, and Maggie Gyllenhaal as clients, continues to garner attention with her impeccable, take-notice looks that allow her actresses to stand out and shine through. Here, Walsh talks to Style.com about shooting in Irving Penn’s studio, the Samuel Beckett approach to styling, and the power of make-believe.

How did you get into styling?
I fell into it, really. I went to NYU for theater and was planning on becoming an actress. But after graduating and realizing that I was absolutely terrified of the business logistics (ahem, rejection), I immediately looked into other options. Ironically, everything I feared about the acting world is innate to this business as well! I had always loved writing, and thought maybe I could write for a magazine. I got a job in the fashion department of Vogue, thinking I could transfer to Features if things went well, but after my first time on set—in Irving Penn’s studio—it all just clicked. It felt right.

As the intro to ‘Dressing for Fame’ mentions, your client Kerry Washington talks about how actresses who know how to work the red carpet can have the upper hand careerwise. Why do you think that is?
You would have to ask Kerry for her opinion, but I do think that social media and the media in general have gotten completely insane. By being in the spotlight, you’re a part of [the insanity] anyways, so it certainly behooves you to manage the way you are seen. It gives you a certain degree of control in an arena that can be really overwhelming. Everyone has an opinion (albeit plenty of uninformed ones in this peanut gallery). It helps to do what you can to keep the reins in your own hands.

Kerry WashingtonHow do you think you’ve been able to help transform Kerry’s red-carpet personality?

We are a team! Period.

When dressing someone for promotional appearances vs. red carpet, what do you take into consideration? What helps you decide on a look?

I think there isn’t really a difference in what goes into press and red carpet. If you don’t apply the same thought process and consideration, I don’t really see the point. I think every look should always start from a point of ease. You should feel comfortable to look comfortable. A red-carpet version of yourself is elevated, same as press looks, but it should still start from the same canvas. You’re not dressing dolls, you’re dressing people, with character, points of view, and personalities to represent. It begins and ends with my clients, not me. I repeat, it’s not about me. I always take my ego out of it. I like to listen, hopefully inspire, and fill in the pieces, making things a little magical by exaggerating the terms of reality. Red carpet should be a place for make-believe, but it has a personal context. In more specific terms, you should look like yourself.

You style men and women for the red carpet. Which do you find more challenging?
I think it depends on the person, but there are definitely more possibilities with women, if only because of design logistics. Perhaps working with men can be more challenging in this respect because you have to find ways to be creative within a smaller box of options.

When working on editorial spreads, do you find it inspiring or challenging to work with other people? How do you stay true to your vision?
I love collaborating. You learn so much by listening. Obviously, you come to the table with a vision and ideas, but I find you learn the most by at least trying the ideas that others have to offer. If you know the story you want to tell, you keep that thread and try what works around it. It’s a very Samuel Beckett sort of mentality of throwing shit on the wall and seeing what sticks. But there is always a certain amount of risk involved in experimenting, especially considering the way the media feeds on these things. In any case, life is too short to not listen to those around you, and to try and find new ways to dream.

What are the day-to-day challenges you encounter with styling?
Logistics. The amount of merchandise trafficking around and getting things where they need to be—and on time! Getting everywhere on time, when there are only so many appointments you can fit into a day. Letting go of things after they happen. I am a perfectionist but also a realist, and in this business you would go mad quite quickly if you focused on all the “could have beens.” Keeping grace under fire—I like to pride myself on staying calm. Freaking out never helps. It’s only fashion, after all. There is always a way to fix it.

Photos: Courtesy Photo; Film Magic

Dressing for Fame: Cher Coulter on Navigating the Red-Carpet Game and One Model’s Enviable Wardrobe

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Cher Coulter and Elizabeth OlsenWith an impressive CV that includes stints working backstage at fashion shows for the likes of Alexander McQueen and Hermès when she was just 14, as well as a degree in fashion design from London’s Central Saint Martins, Cher Coulter is a rare breed of fashion stylist. The deeply passionate Coulter has cultivated a portfolio of scene-stealing looks and a uniquely cool aesthetic among her coterie of clients that includes such A-listers as Nicole Richie, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, and Elizabeth Olsen. Coulter took a break from her busy schedule to talk to Style.com about what happens if she disagrees with a client, the stylist who continues to inspire her, and whose wardrobe she’d like to steal.

Why did you start styling?
For me, I think it goes hand in hand with design. When I first moved [to L.A.], I actually came out here with clothing designs of things I had been selling in London, and I just fell into styling. But after I graduated from Saint Martins, I did both. It’s all fashion, and the more qualified in the more areas you can be, the better.

When did you feel as though you’d made it?
I don’t know if you ever do. But I remember when I first went on a press tour with Orlando [Bloom] for Pirates of the Caribbean and thinking, Oh, God, this is a really big deal, being in the same room as people like Johnny Depp. I also won a Hollywood Stylist Award a couple of years ago, and I felt like that was good to get recognized. But sometimes I think, Oh, my God, have I lost it? Am I losing it? That’s the thing with fashion, it’s very up and down. You’ve got to maintain credibility. You’ve got to keep fashionable, haven’t you?

How do you balance what the client wants and what you want for the client?
You’ve always got to do what the client wants ultimately. I think as long as you feel as though you’ve had some sort of creative input, there’s compromise all along the way. Even if you’re doing an editorial, there’s compromise—you’ve got to use advertisers, you’ve got to do this, you’ve got to do that. Unless you have your own blog, it’s never 100 percent you.

Do you ever disagree with the client on a look?
I’m pretty obvious when I don’t like something. Sometimes there are too many choices, and I’ll be like, “Look and see these pictures and sleep on it and wake up in the morning and see what your gut reaction is. What leapt out more to you in the night? What dress does your mind keep going to?” That’s a really good test. But there have been a couple of times when people have worn things that weren’t my first choice. But ultimately, I’ve pulled all the clothes. Normally, what can sometimes happen is that I just want it to be even more fashion, and at the end of the day, sometimes the person wearing it is like, “Well, you aren’t the one who has to walk out there and be up for criticism.” That’s why I never push someone into doing something they don’t want to do, because it will backfire…and then they’ll just hate me.

Do you prefer editorial work or red carpet?
I think variety is the spice of life, and ultimately you need to do a little bit of everything. I like to do an ad job as well when there are parameters where they might say to you, “We just want white swimsuits.” And then what you do is focus in on white swimsuits and you have to find the best swimsuits. I like research. But then I also like working with a brand like J Brand. I worked on their Pre-Fall collection. I like going in there and getting into the designer’s head and aesthetic and then looking at the real subtleties in that collection and styling it. I like that as much as working with a celebrity on the red carpet.

What do you think is the most underrated part of your job?
How much work goes into the prep. I don’t think anybody ever gets that. I can spend two days solid on Style.com looking for gowns. Of course, I’ll start with the designers that I like the most and I’ll put those all into files. And then I send those to each PR and they’ll say, “I don’t have this, this, and this.” So then I’ll say, “Well, what do you have?” It’s such a back-and-forth with each designer. And what’s really important to me is to make sure there’s representation from the client’s favorite designers. So maybe I can’t get the Stella dress, but I got you these Stella pieces instead. They need to know that I’ve approached everybody.

When clients have brand partnerships or act as ambassadors, does that make the job easier or more challenging?
It’s better. And I am part of getting to that place. I encourage someone to go to [the designer's] show, I encourage them to go to any event they do. I think that’s all very important. Designers become close with celebrities, and I think ultimately you can get pushed out as a stylist because they forge friendships and stuff. But you’re also the person who has the objective view and can be a third eye.

Are there any stylists who inspire you?
So many stylists are great. I think Camilla Nickerson is the one. Her attention to detail is amazing. She’s worked hard, she gets to work with the best photographers, she gets the best clothes, but she’ll always put them together with really good flavor. I like how her work isn’t just straightforward pretty. There’s always something out there about it, and the details are spot-on. I think she’s brilliant.

If you could swap style or wardrobes with one client, who would it be?
Rosie [Huntington-Whiteley]. I’d swap wardrobes with her because she has the most insane wardrobe. She has the most amazing vintage, the most amazing Isabel Marant. She has every girl’s dream wardrobe.

Photo: Roger Kisby/Getty Images

Dressing for Fame: Tara Swennen Talks Fans, Critics, and Kristen Stewart’s Sneakers

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If celebrity status is conferred in red-carpet appearances, then no actress today can compete without the help of just the right stylist. As Kerry Washington once told Glamour after she noticeably upped the sartorial ante, “There were a couple of actresses whom I felt were having the upper hand careerwise—because they knew how to work that red carpet.” A carefully crafted collaboration between stylist and client, the perfect look can create an indelible impact on agents, casting directors, and those of us watching from the sidelines. Straight from the epicenter of all things celebrity, we’ve asked some of the industry’s top stylists to share their experiences and impressions from their perch above Tinseltown. With our Dressing for Fame series, we bring you an exclusive, insider look at everything it takes to create those iconic moments captured by a million photo flashes.

Tara Swennen

Tara SwennenWith a family legacy in fashion, Tara Swennen’s fashion fate appeared to have been sealed even before she began assisting top stylists Andrea Lieberman and Rachel Zoe. Now it’s her own understanding of the red-carpet game that’s put her name firmly on the map. She’s created provocative looks for Kristen Stewart, modern appeal for Julie Bowen, and fanciful femininity for Kaley Cuoco. Here, the stylist reveals how Stewart’s couture-meets-Converse aesthetic came to be and who matters more: fans or critics.

Why did you become a stylist?

I have always loved fashion. One of my grandmothers was a fashion journalist and the other a seamstress with her own label in Belgium, so it runs deep in my blood.

What’s your favorite part of the job?
My favorite part of the job—besides the fun perks, of course—is the people. It’s a business where I get to meet lots of interesting characters and interact with people all over the globe, so I love that aspect.

How do you juggle your clients and their different aesthetics?
I love to discover each and every one of my client’s specific tastes and let them speak for themselves. Fashion should be unique and individualistic, so I try and let each client’s personality shine through in their clothes.

Kristen StewartYou’ve put Kristen Stewart in sneakers on the red carpet. Was this her idea or yours? And how did you feel about the look as a whole?

Originally, the appearance of Kristen’s sneakers on carpets came from a place of necessity. She was constantly getting hurt on set, as she loves to do her own stunts, but she truly is an everyday T-shirt-and-jeans girl like myself. So we embraced it and it became part of her look.

Do you find it challenging to work on full press tours? What are the limitations or challenges that those present?

I love working on full press tours. The amount of clothes, the length of the tour, the packing, and the travel can prove challenging, but it’s also very rewarding to watch the story you’ve helped create unfold through a client’s looks.

Who do you take into account more, critics or fans? And why?
The most important thing for me is that my clients love their look and feel great! I always joke with them that they aren’t fashionistas until they’ve taken enough risk to make it on a worst-dressed list. To me, fashion is an art in that it’s meant to be interpreted, so I value any feedback, from fans and critics alike.

What do you wish more people knew or understood about the work you do?
The behind-the-scenes logistics. This business requires tremendous amounts of planning, organization, and political savvy on top of great taste and people skills. But if you can master those things, it’s one of the most rewarding professions out there!

Photos: Courtesy Photo; Getty Images