For stylists, whether the recession is a feast or famine depends on their resourcefulness.
Advertising and editorial gigs are fewer and farther between — and scrawnier at that — so stylists are turning themselves into brands, lining up TV gigs, acting as spokespeople, launching their own labels and in some cases molding young starlets’ images beyond red-carpet dressing. Rachel Zoe and Mary Alice Stephenson are trying to cover all the bases. Zoe has a new accessories line and others like Andrea Lieberman are padding their wallets with signature labels, while Josh Madden creates his own look by giving famous friends vintage pieces that he collects.
As social networking continues to soar, an array of brands, including luxury ones, are chasing stylists with loyal followers to pitch their goods via Tweets, online interviews, in-store events, satellite media tours and other mediums. Intel, Victoria Secret, Saks Fifth Avenue, MAC Cosmetics and Anya Hindmarch are just a sampling of the brands Stephenson has worked with. And to increasingly fashion-savvy consumers, a stylist’s plug can carry as much weight as one from the celebrities they dress.
Zoe, whose celebrity clientele enabled her to pursue other avenues, is a bit of extreme capitalist when it comes to ancillary income. She has broadened her career beyond styling and dressing Hollywood starlets. Zoe has launched a newsletter, The Zoe Report; a Web site, rachelzoe.com, and a signature accessories line bows this fall. Meanwhile, her reality show, “The Rachel Zoe Project,” returned to Bravo on Monday night. But even she admitted to some cost-cutting due to the economic downturn. “Personally, I find myself recycling what’s in my closet. I’m saying, ‘Remember that jacket — I’m going to wear it again.’ It forces you to look at what you have, what you don’t need and shop wisely,” she told WWD last week.
Aside from styling ad campaigns and editorial spreads, Stephenson has a fashion TV show in development, consults with a plethora of brands beyond fashion and beauty and serves as a brand ambassador and a style influencer, among other things. Her packed work weeks should result in a 35 percent jump in her annual income this year, she said. While Stephenson will be sitting in the front row during next month’s New York Fashion Week, she will also style ad campaigns for Cover Girl and White + Warren; style Naeem Khan’s presentation; advise two young designers whom she declined to name; be the hostess at Ann Taylor Loft’s Fashion Night Out event; provide show coverage for CNN and other media outlets; suit up four celebrities for various events, and work with Rowenta, the appliancemaker. She will cap off the week pitching the show she developed with Oprah’s executive producer Ellen Rakieten, and Tom Foreman of ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” to various networks.
“Nowadays, you have to be a one-stop shop,” Stephenson said. “If you haven’t moved forward to extend yourself as a brand and you’re just a stylist, this is a really difficult time.”
Having made numerous TV appearances since 1995 — not to mention headlining “America’s Smartest Model” — she routinely fields calls from stylists and fashion editors seeking pointers about negotiating contracts, breaking into TV and balancing various commitments. “I’m one of the lucky ones, because a long time ago I created a business for myself that was more than just styling….A lot of it has to do with being on TV. I got into that at a time when a lot of people were asking, ‘Why is she doing that?’” Stephenson said.
An increasing number of actresses’ managers and publicists now hire stylists to help mold a young starlet’s career by helping to define her image beyond red-carpet dressing, Stephenson said. They are counting on stylists to tell them which fashion shows the rising star should attend and which brands are worth working with. In dealing with actress Michelle Monaghan, for example, Stephenson has made a point of not making her too available. Getting stylists more involved with shaping careers intrigues Stephenson. “I don’t just show up and I’m the dress girl. Actresses are savvy, and they understand that fashion might make them a more successful brand perhaps even more so than the movies they are in,” she said.
TV isn’t Lieberman’s bag, but she said sales of her nearly year-old A.L.C. line of clothing, sold in about 80 stores, are strong. This spring, a core group of T-shirts is being added to the mix, and her jewelry collection is another solid performer, she said. A.L.C.’s price points range from about $98 for a T-shirt to $1,200 for a leather jacket.
Designing Gwen Stefani’s costumes for No Doubt’s most recent tour and having a few ongoing contracts she preferred not to disclose has given Lieberman a certain amount of autonomy. “One thing about being a freelance stylist is you can sort of mold your own career. People can see the value of what you bring to the table is new and exciting,” she said. “For me, being a stylist was nothing I ever aspired to. It’s something that just happened — and I loved it. I love collaborating with photographers and artists. For me, it’s very natural to be a multitasker. It’s kinetic.”
While she still styles shoots, Lieberman aims to spend less time in airports and more time with her 15-month-old daughter, Paloma. Having apparel and jewelry collections allow her to be more selective in her work. “It’s definitely nice to know that having another situation other than styling gives you more freedom to pick and choose the jobs you want.”
Annabel Tollman, another stylist with her share of celebrity clients, said, “I’m lucky that I have a lot of long-standing clients. But I think perhaps it’s a tough time if you’re a young stylist just breaking into the business. Stylists are having to get more creative generally. Budgets and rates are lower, and everybody wants more for less,” she said. “I call the people who work with me and say, ‘This is what they have, budgetwise. Do you want to do the job or not?’ It’s kind of good in a way. The whole business is changing, and this is a catalyst.”
Advertising budgets have gotten “a little tighter” in recent months, but Jennifer Rade’s approach hasn’t changed. Insistent something doesn’t have to be a designer label to be stylish, she said, “I’m a recessionista whether we are in a recession or not. If a director says he needs a pair of slim-fitting black pants, I don’t feel as though they have to come from Barneys. I may spend $15 to have something tailored that I bought for $50 at Banana Republic,” Rade said. “I would rather spend a little money to have something fit right than go to huge designer labels. I don’t think you need to spend $500. You can find many things that are much more reasonably priced. I am just not a label whore.”
Commercials for Target, Blue Cross and United Bank are a few of her recent projects, which wouldn’t require designer labels at all. The Los Angeles-based stylist said she makes a point of coming back to her clients under budget. And when meeting potential celebrity clients for the first time, the stylist said she tells them up-front, “‘If you only want to wear one of the 10 designers on Rodeo Drive, I am probably not the stylist for you.’ I am happy to look at every single designer. I look at anyone. A great dress is a great dress, regardless of the label,” she said.
About six months ago, Rade was hired as a brand ambassador for Ilori, a 25-unit sunglass specialty store. “Sunglasses are a good way to buy into a brand that is really expensive or that you couldn’t otherwise afford. You can get a pair of Chanel sunglasses for a lot less than a Chanel suit,” she said.
Another Los Angelean, Nicole Chavez, whose clients include Kristin Bell, Rachel Bilson and Scarlett Johansson, said she too has sidestepped the downturn since she is more focused on red-carpet dressing. “Being on the West Coast, editorial is not so predominant, though advertising has slowed a bit. I just feel that everything is cyclical,” said Chavez.
In January and February, Chavez “just about stopped” receiving requests from fashion and beauty companies for her input as a spokeswoman or consultant but that has picked up again in the past month, she said. The fact that Bell has a few movies in the pipeline is also keeping her busy. And her clients’ involvement in international ad campaigns for various brands is something else that is calling for more time. Chavez also plans to check out Brian Reyes, Rodarte and a few other fashion shows with Bilson next month. Thanks largely to her celebrity slant, Chavez expects her annual salary to increase by 10 to 20 percent this year — as it has for the past few years.
Others have not had such a fruitful year. Shane Powers expects his salary to dip by about 25 percent but is broadening his reach into other fields. He is the New York correspondent for Li Edelkoort’s Trend Union business, he recently spent two months in Katmandu developing textiles, ceramics and furniture for a store that opened there last week. He is also working on his first residential interior design project, as well as a book about antiques.
“I’m willing to kind of fight through this time. It’s kind of interesting to see where this will lead my career,” Powers said. “I have also been a bit more open to meeting and working with new people, which I think is healthy. I’m just laying low, not shopping as much and using materials that I have stockpiled for years — reinventing what I’ve got.”
Josh Madden is also trying to be more inventive and strives to have a career along the lines of the multifaceted Hiroshi Fujiwara, the much sought-after Japanese musician, trendsetter, designer and producer. In addition to styling for brands like House of Cassette, Ben Sherman, Vans and Kangol, Madden deejays, styles music videos and often gives celebrity and musician friends like the MisShapes vintage pieces he collects. Somehow all these avenues collide and have resulted in more work as a stylist.
“There’s been a lot of waste. I know it sounds idealistic, but what we’re coming back to is the appreciation of a product of design and detail. I think that’s great,” Madden said. “My Dad was a butcher — what makes sense to me is to find a way to not waste things, and then we all make money.”
The economic climate will result in the survival of the fittest, he said. “Right now is the time when you really have to love fashion to be in fashion.” he said.