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3 Golden rules for aspiring fashion stylists

Images: Darren Black
  • Written byCarys Thomas
  • Published date 04 September 2023
Images: Darren Black
Images: Darren Black

After over two decades in the industry, John William is something of an expert when it comes to fashion styling.

Specialising in journalism, styling, creative direction, trend forecasting and photography, John currently teaches on two short courses at London College of Fashion; The Complete Stylist Short Course and Editorial Styling and Creative Direction Short Course.

To find out more about careers in styling, we caught up with John to hear his top tips for aspiring fashion stylists.

Styling and creative image-making within the fashion industry can be a force for social change, visual representation or political rebellion.

— John William, Fashion Stylist and Short Course Tutor

What is a stylist?

“Stylists set trends, collaborate with brands, shoot magazine covers and bring to life the pictures in our imagination,” John explains. “To break it down – a stylist dresses people using clothing to communicate. It could be to make somebody look and feel great, to sell a collection, or to create an inspiring image.”

“It is all about telling stories with clothes and it ranges from editorial, where your focus is following an editor’s brief to create a thematic fashion shoot, to personal styling where you dress real people, for their real lives.”

“Although clothing is an incredibly important part of the process, a stylist is rarely just putting together outfits,” says John. “Most often we work with a bigger creative team sharing references, developing concepts, experimenting and collaborating to produce an original outcome.”

“Stylists work with musicians, fashion designers and brands as consultants – sometimes becoming part of the design process. They may work as Creative Directors pushing the vision of a project, or as Fashion Editors responsible for the aesthetic of a publication: networking and commissioning other stylists and creatives to contribute features and shoots.”

Image: John William

John's 3 golden rules for success

1. Find your point of view

“It goes beyond clothes. Styling is about aesthetics, politics, narratives, identity and creating value. I personally don’t believe styling is a skill in the same way pattern cutting or the ability to learn a different language is. There are a lot of skills that make you a great stylist, like good research skills, being able to communicate visually, teamwork, answering a brief. But the actual styling part – it is not a skill. It’s not about one handbag matching a specific pair of shoes, or which colours must or must not go together. It’s a lot more personal.

Styling can be transformative. It all depends on your viewpoint. Some stylists follow fashion and promote catwalk trends, others create more abstract, concept-led imagery that can completely change peoples’ opinions on fashion or beauty.

Styling and creative image-making within the fashion industry can be a force for social change, visual representation or political rebellion.”

2. Build your network

“Building a network is key. Over 80% of job seekers say their network has helped with their job search. Be proactive, attend relevant events, keep up to date with the latest fashion news and be active on your social media platforms.

Here’s a top tip: if you don't know, it's your new best friend. Exploring their massive digital database, you will see that many shoots – editorial and commercial - are produced by the same teams. People build their networks and choose to work together again and again. I’ve worked with some of the same people for 20 years!

So, get your networking boots on! Find people in the same position as you who are willing to collaborate, get your name out there, reach out to people in the industry and learn from the experts.”

3. Build a portfolio

“How to build your profile as a stylist? Test shoots, networking and assisting. Get yourself a bag of vintage clothes and a camera, or a friend with a camera. Find someone who looks interesting to model, a great location you can access for free or a blank wall in your flat.

Don’t overthink it, just get started. The first shoots you do like this aren’t going to get published in magazines and you probably won’t even put them on your Instagram. It’s about practising, having fun, building your confidence.

As your test shoots get more interesting and you start to create imagery you believe in, be bold and reach out to more people to collaborate with. Start showing your burgeoning portfolio to online editors, small magazines, independent brands. Remember it is a marathon not a sprint.”

Are you looking to kickstart your career in styling? Start building your portfolio on our Complete Stylist Short Course or Editorial Styling and Creative Direction Short Course.

Check out our upcoming short courses to find out what's coming up.

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