The Stylist

For those outside the fashion world, the title stylist is confusing. A certain degree of uncertainty even hits insiders – after all, in Italian, the word means designer. In English, it means, what? Well, as you would expect from the world’s most subtle language, the answer is: different things to different people. This confusion arises because the name and the job are recent developments.
For most of us, the stylist’s job, as the late Isabella Blow once said, is akin to being a trolley dolly – bringing things for more “important” people, such as the photographer and model, on a fashion shoot. If that sounds demeaning, it isn’t meant to be. By choosing the right girl, photographer, make-up artist and hairdresser, the stylist has, even before considering the clothes, almost pre-empted how the final pictures will look. I say almost, because things go wrong. I remember a shoot in the 1980s, in which the stylist had created a marvellous fantasy of figure, face and hair. The girl was paraded before the photographer, who stepped forward, removed the jewellery and accessories, totally altered the hair and then, with a tissue, changed the make-up, too. No words spoken. Such autocratic behaviour is, fortunately, rare – and he was a Frenchman, who clearly felt the role of a stylist was merely to iron the clothes.
Great stylists – and they are pretty rare – play a crucial creative role in modern fashion photography. They have done so since the 1970s, when Caroline Baker, at
Nova, led the world. Her place was taken by Grace Coddington. To do a shoot with her, photographers willingly cross oceans, because they know that she will lead them on the path to greatness.
Next time you see a fashion photograph that feels perfect, tick off the elements.
More than 90 per cent of them will be the product of the stylist’s eye.
(First published March 2005)

Picture Source.
Left. Grace Coddington, Aug. 1962. British Vogue.
Right. Grace Coddington, Sept. 1962. British Vogue.