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Stylists have become stars in fashion — and now some of them are getting a book of their very own.
“Stylists: The Interpreters of Fashion,” due out from Rizzoli later this month, examines the hard-to-define role, which can do everything from oversee a magazine’s fashion shoot to choreograph a designer’s show to help devise a collection to create the aura a celebrity has style. After presumably much discussion, the editors of Style.com, the online home of Vogue and W, decided to feature 16 stylists: Polly Mellen, Camilla Nickerson, Carine Roitfeld, Grace Coddington, Karl Templer, Alex White, Melanie Ward, Joe Zee, Brana Wolf, Andrea Lieberman, Paul Cavaco, Venetia Scott, Tonne Goodman, Lori Goldstein, Edward Enninful and Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele. Interestingly, those who style only celebrities — such as Rachel Zoe, L’Wren Scott or Jessica Pasteur — were left out.
With a forward by Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour and an introduction by contributing editor Sarah Mower, the book explores how these 16 stylists have risen up through the ranks, addresses their inspirations and essentially their complexities. Given the job description today, it’s hard to believe a stylist — a term that first appeared in magazines in the Thirties — was once reduced to the person who got the clothes to the shoot.
“They crystallize what our times are about at their best,” Mower said in a phone interview.
Our celebrity-crazed culture and the tabloids’ relentless red-carpet fixation have helped make “stylist” part of the popular vernacular, but many people still don’t know what that really means, she said. Sure, most understand actresses and musicians don’t dress themselves for formal events and the people who do are called stylists, but their knowledge tends to end there, according to Mower. “We wanted to dissect more and more what they do. The role of the stylist has gone far further than it used to be.”
To keep things even-steven, each stylist has a 16- to 18-page chapter, chock-full of photographs, including some cinematic ones like White’s Jean Harlow-inspired image for a 2004 W shoot. Even more intriguing are the personal photos that close each individual’s chapter, giving readers a peek at the tastemakers after hours. Mellen is seen hamming things up with Richard Avedon on an airplane, Coddington is pictured leaping in the snow, an underage Carine Roitfeld is seen in a purple minidress and matching head scarf and Cavaco is in a full-length fur coat drinking a cold one alfresco. Others, like Templer, Goldstein, Goodman and Scott, went the residential route, including snapshots of their homes.
The book’s interviews also give glimpses of days long past — Ward destroying her mother’s saucepans with black dye years before she first styled a 15-year-old Kate Moss, and Enninful unintentionally dashing his parents’ hopes for a lawyer son when i-D’s Simon Foxton asked him to model after seeing him on the London tube.
As Mower noted in her forward, “Only the innermost inhabitants of the fashion world can fully understand what they are. In recent times, the tabloid press has shrunk the term to a synonym for people paid to dress celebrities — people who now often vie with their clients for recognition.”
In the book, Templer boiled down his role, which often involves consultations on design, to “What I am is a professional second opinion.” Enninful summed up the job with, “When I do editorial, it’s about what I have to say, but in advertising, you have to create a world for someone else. As you get older, you realize it’s not just to please yourself. You’re not really a stylist until you know that.”
Mellen encouraged risk taking: “Too often stylists do things to please, because they are going to be accepted. You lose the magic that way. You can’t give something special to your readers unless you dare. I was a stronger woman behind the camera than I was in real life. I dared.”
In the phone interview, Mower singled out Mellen’s 1975 “Story of Ohhh…”, a photo shoot with Helmut Newton that “caused huge repercussions in the States and brought on a lot of criticism,” as an example of how a well-styled photo can reflect the societal landscape. Seated in a knee-length dress with legs akimbo, model Lisa Taylor is captured with her eyes fixed on a bare-chested man. “Polly and Helmut Newton were agent provocateurs for the rights of feminism. The shoot brought on a helluva lot of criticism even though they didn’t show that much skin,” Mower said.
Several of the stylists featured were self-conscious and more at ease discussing where their ideas come from, Mower said. Artistic inspirations abound in the book, as evidenced by a 1927 Cecil Beaton shot of his sister for Vogue opposite a Nickerson and lensman Nick Knight collaboration for a 2005 W story. Two Edward Hopper paintings, “Morning Sun, 1952″ and “Hotel Room, 1931″ run opposite a photograph for which Zee collaborated with artist Philip-Lorca diCorcia. And a Diego Rivera photo of Frida Kahlo and Emmy Lou Packard provided some inspiration for a 2005 Gwen Stefani portrait styled by Andrea Lieberman and shot by Mark Squires.
Cerf de Dudzeele offered another look: “I pick from every collection. And I never think I’m doing art — I work on a fashion magazine, and a fashion magazine is for women to look at the pages and be inspired. I’m amazed how many people forget that!”