FEATURED WARDROBE STYLIST INTERVIEW
1.How does this collection speak to you? How did it come about? What did you want this to say to your audience?
The photographer, Haley Balliard came to me with this location. Rockland Asylum in New York is a facility that operated since 1931. There is a new building on the grounds which is mostly just outpatient care now, right there with the abandoned buildings. They just left everything inside and moved up the hill. Rockland was initially touted as a “therapeutic suburb” where patients could retreat from the city and “get well.”But who ended up in Asylum back then was much different than today. Everyone from criminals and the insane to orphaned children and adults to delinquents and disabled were sent there.Haley and I read everything we could on the facility before we went to shoot there. Some of the stories reflect the stigma was placed on mental illness and people who just didn't fit the “norm” of society. What struck me most was the children's wing. We found kids aged toys and books scattered on the ground. The idea that a troubled teenager or a kid could be placed side by side with someone potentially dangerous was so backward. And the treatments for patients in the early days were barbaric. With our models, I saw them as troubled teenage friends. Not necessarily incapable of living life normally. Maybe they were sent there because maybe they set a fire in a garbage can with some firecrackers accidentally. What ever they did to end up there, they didn't belong there. I think Haley and the models really captured the mood of monotony, sullenness and confinement during the shoot. I picked clothes that were from the current Fall 2013 Men's collections, but I wanted a sense of timelessness with a little bit of an edge like leather and high collars. I wanted people to really feel that history of the location. Were they misunderstood? Did that experience shape their personalities? What would their lives be like if they got out? Thats anyone's interpretation to think about.
2.What do you find to be the most difficult when bringing a team of artists together to create a cohesive look? How do you pick the right team? The biggest challenge is finding artists that are all great on their own merit, yet are willing to bend a bit and collaborate. I like to work on sets where we all understand the idea, but one person isn't dictating how every aspect should look. For example when you have a great photographer, model, hair and make up person, they all add their own touches, but still remain dedicated to the story. I never want to go into a shoot and say this is what the hair or lighting should look like. Each of us as individuals have our own specialty and really good artists will bring that to the table. With Haley, I was impressed with her work and wanted to shoot with her for a while. We finally came together because this was an idea we were both excited about. She sent me pictures of the location and I stayed up all night reading about the place. We looked through models cards together. We liked James and Aaron because they looked so young, but had such versatility when it came to expressions and characters. Natalie, our hair and make up artist is someone Haley respected and worked with before.
3.As an editorial artist, what do you feel is one of the biggest mistakes beginners tend to make?
The biggest mistake is thinking that being a stylist is easy. Many people just think designers give you pretty things and you put them on a model. In recent years, the media brought stylists into the mainstream. Reality shows and movies portray stylists as always being showered with luxury clothing and dressed to the nines going to fabulous events and shows. But they never show the part in which that stylist was an unpaid intern for 2 years and is waiting tables to pay the bills andcarrying garment bags through 90 degree heat on the subway. I think a lot of beginners come into it with the idea that they will be a stylist as soon put clothing on models and take pictures. That its all just instinctual. To some extent it is, though, there is always room to learn. I assisted other stylists for years and I learned something from every single person that I worked with from what made them successful and what didn't. I made so many mistakes in the beginning. My first shoots were terrible and in-cohesive. I wanted to shoot so bad that I'd work with any person with a camera that said they had a model with any clothes I could get my hands on. Now I know to really look at people's work and make sure the quality is on par and that they are an artist who worked to perfect their craft. Its like shooting with who you have to vs who you want to. I can bring the best clothes out there, but if the model is not right, or the photographer doesn't have an eye, or the hair and make up person can't envision different looks, then its a failure. Then the time and money put into the shoot are wasted because the photos are not good. I've also done things to improve my own vision after I got my Bachelors Degree. Continuing education is important to me. I don't think anyone should ever be done learning. I took color theory, costume design, film, photography and fine arts classes to get my brain to start envisioning fashion and art in a different way. What else can I do with this? How can I make this more interesting and visually exciting?
4.How would you describe your artistic style?
I love film, history and literature. I very much like when a shoot comes out and it has a strong unwritten story. Almost like still shots from a movie, even if its just shot on a white wall in a studio. I want my editorials to convey emotion, so I look at clothing and accessories more like costume than a fashion trend of the moment. I like to make up back stories about the models as if they are characters and work from there.
5.How do you go about picking the right pieces for the editorial?
I like it best when a photographer comes to me with a loose concept: this is our location how do you see the models and the clothing? Its my favorite part of the process because I start looking through clothing and accessories to find the pieces that most embody the feel of the shoot. I research pictures and references. I visit a showroom and see a piece that just jumps out at me and I can see the scene in my head. I love indie and smaller designers because they push the envelope a bit more when they are starting out. You know they are on to something. A detail of the trim, the way its cut, or the inspiration behind it. And their piece can influence a whole new idea for me that I hadn't though of before I saw that amazing coat or boots.
6.What is your greatest weakness; your greatest strength?
Oh, geez. So many weaknesses! I'm a self- doubter. Sometimes all the elements of everything that I learned from everyone along the way clash and inhibits creativity. I worry too much if I am doing this the “right way.” I guess its the saying you have to know the rules before you break them? I used to compare my work to everyone else's and say its not as good as this person's or that person's. I don't want mediocre and if I judge myself, which I do, I tend to be very critical. My strength is that at the end of the day, I am aware of my neurosis. I remind myself art is an experimental process and its about the journey. What comes out of an idea surprises me in a good way even if its not exactly how I envisioned it. I never take anything so seriously that I feel like its the end of the world. I just keep working and throw it out there for the rest of the world ` to judge. If I was an actress, I'd never read any reviews or press on myself because I know my own tendency to take it personally. I'm glad I'm not!
7.What misconceptions do you think outsiders have about fashion / beauty editorials and the business of styling?
Again with the perception of movies and reality TV, there are people that always want to think that fashion stylists are vapid and ruthless. Sure, I've worked with some high strung people in the past, but most of the people I've encountered in this industry are chill and friendly. Some people feel they need to play the part. If they are not running around and yelling and chaotic, they fear someone else thinks they are not doing their job. But, there are people who got into styling because they love fashion, or love to create a wearable art. They understand that our clothing can say so much about us, even if its just a pair of sweats and a tank top. It's supposed to be taboo that we judge the outside, but even if your impression is wrong of that person, you get some sense of who they are by what they choose to cover their bodies. Most of us just want to give people a story or a fantasy, like a book or a movie. We just do it with pictures. Then there's the idea that all models have eating disorders. I just read a blog post, I can't remember where but it said models “eat cotton balls to suppress hunger.” As if it's an industry standard and their booker puts out a plate of cotton for breakfast. Its so silly to me. Most of these women and men are just beautiful anomalies. Many models work out and eat healthy to keep their bodies fit, some just have a natural thinness. If people were not enamored by models and fashion, if people didn't get some sort of feeling from it, then it would cease to exist.
8. What is your secret to keeping a happy balanced life while following your passion?
I haven't quite discovered the secret to life, but when I do, Ill be sure to share! Though, there are ups and downs. I am a freelance stylist, not a full time employee so there is always uncertainty. I have the benefit of past experience working in corporate everyday jobs. I was so unhappy and felt trapped all the time. Now, as a stylist I do what I love. Its still work, but Its not a job for people that need consistency. There is a constant momentum in life, so nothing ever stays the same for too long. I welcome the possibilities.The industry is feast or famine at times, but the scale always tips from one side to the other. I relish in my days off, spending time with people I admire who make me laugh. I like sitting around with my cats and my boyfriend and watching movies on Netflix. I skype or text with my family since they are all over the United States and Im in New York. They don't quite understand what I do, so it keeps me grounded in reality. I don't live in “reality” most of the time. But I also love when a new project comes up and then its again time to focus.
9. Music feeds the soul and often motivates. What music are you playing while you are shooting?
Sometimes in a studio I am at the mercy of a photographer's iPod playlist. They get so into shooting the music becomes just background noise and you hear the same crowd friendly songs on loop for 8 hours. If I have my choice, which is usually only when I'm prepping, I choose songs with energy to get me going. I love the music my parents brought me up on which is 70's Classic Rock, The Stones, Led Zeppelin, Hendrix. (My Dad reminds me all the time that he saw Led Zeppelin live.) I still listen to my early 90's hip hop and some of the newer artists too. I can listen to Black Math by the White Stripes over and over. Never get tired of that song. I love old punk music like Bad Brains,the Misfits and The New York Dolls. That play list usually gets axed right away in the studio so I don't even try anymore. Im not much of a melancholy music girl. I need energy. I have a music client called French Horn Rebellion. I put their music in my headphones when Im drawing or gathering ideas for costumes because I want their energy to come through in the costumes.
10. Words to live by?
My mom swore a lot when giving advice but I've always refer back to it. When I'd complain to her, she'd say “get your head out of your ass and do something about it.” She was funny. Its true and to the point. Make the attempt. Other words my step-dad said me: “Control is an Illusion.” It means no matter how much you plan, life may throw you a curve, so you deal with problems as they come instead of worrying about “what if?” Time moves along and you move with it. Its up to you how you're going to spend that time.
Aaron Chisum @ Re:Quest Models
James Anthony Lê @ Major Models
Location: Rockland County Asylum
Rockland County, NY