The paths taken by former Goldsmiths students after graduation are very diverse: for example, Emma Lamp (an alumna of the BA Design course) is now a stylist whose portfolio includes advertising for a variety of popular brands from Mercedes to MTV and music videos for artists such as Mumford and Sons, Natalie Imbruglia, Florence and the Machine, Tiesto, Laura Mvula and many others. Emma has agreed to talk to us about the path to her current career:
How did you become a stylist? How would you advise someone interested in this line of work to get started?
A month of applying for jobs after graduation landed me a job as a Junior Artworker at an online clothing brand. I was copying layouts in InDesign for their catalogue; I hated it. So three months later I quit and decided I really should at least take a risk and try to do what I loved. During my 3 years at Goldsmiths, I’d been doing as much work experience as I could as a Stylist’s Assistant. I started at Men’s Health Magazine, by the end of the 2nd year I was working as an Assistant to the Fashion Editor of Russian Vogue. All of this was unpaid (not even travel expenses) and some days I’d start at 8am and not be finished until 11pm….I didn’t enjoy it all the time, but I felt it was one day really going to help me.
A year after I graduated, I was working in a bar whilst doing test shoots on the side with photographers and makeup artists. Finally, one day I was in the right place at the right time: my
flatmate’s brother, who was a TV Producer, desperately needed a stylist for a KFC commercial. I did the commercial, then a music video, then another one…. after two years of building up contacts by doing whatever styling job came my way I finally (hesitantly) quit my bar job and now this is my full time freelance job.
So my advice for someone wanting to be a Stylist is do any assisting work on offer, whether it’s paid or not. Chase people whom you’ve worked for before to recommend you to others, get a job that allows you to be flexible so you can assist other stylists at short notice. On a job, be helpful and ask loads of questions. Everyone wants to work with people they like. If you are organised and calm, positive and can have a laugh with the crew, producers, directors and the talent will see you are totally capable and reliable to have on their shoot for next time.
What are the skills and qualities one needs in order to be a good stylist?
When I first meet bands, directors, actors, clients, the most important thing is to get them to trust you and try things they otherwise wouldn’t. So making new people feel at ease is essential.
Always look around you at what people wear! Look how grandparents dress, how they roll up the sleeves of their shirts and cardigans. Look at the bags teenagers cycling round New Cross carry, how they wear it on their body. How homeless people wear things… the more you know about clothes and what they signify, the better you will be at dressing a character or styling a mood. It’s small details in an outfit that make a difference. Being freelance and always working with a different team, on a film set where there is a definite hierarchy, sometimes with difficult agency clients, you need to be assertive yet still tactful. Stand by your own creative decisions with confidence and show you are deserving of respect through seamless preparation, but also know when to take a backseat and keep quiet.
What is your creative process on a project? (Let’s say, a music video). Can you take us through it in a nutshell?
Styling in a commercial or a music video has to first and foremost fall in line with the director’s vision. You always get a ‘treatment’ which is a brief like a mood board with lots of pictures and description of what the overall look and feel of the video will be. I’ll decide on a colour scheme and a look for clothes that have patterns and textures or a print to match the treatment. I learnt at Goldsmiths to not stop at your first idea but to push things further. I think I try to use this in my creative process now. I styled a video for a band the other day that had a 90’s, “Clueless” / grunge look. I found a backpack in the shape of Kermit the Frog on Brick Lane that weekend which added an extra level to the overall style, rather than just going to Topshop and getting faux 90’s-look clothes that everyone already has seen and expects. On the way to a shoot I am always nervous that people will ‘get’ what I mean with the clothes. Again this is why you need to be researched, organised and confident in your work.
How would you describe your own style? How does it influence your work (and viceversa)?
I dress like any other 30 year old who works in a creative field. I wouldn’t say it influences my work although I used to keep a lot of the clothes after shoots and sometimes I’d be out and look down at my outfit and realize I was dressed head to toe in a combination of stuff from a bank commercial and an urban music video.
What is your favourite period in fashion history?
I did a music video for Duffy, for which I had to dress 40 dancers in 60’s American style. I loved all the pastel colours and synthetic shiny dresses and turtleneck jumpers with suits for the men.
What personality (living or dead) would be your dream client?
Bonnie Tyler has been my absolute favourite person I’ve dressed, not because of what she wore but because she was as much fun as a night out at Club Sandwich. I hope I see her again. I’d love to dress MIA as I think you could get really creative. I also think the Costume Designer for [the HBO series] “Girls” needs some help.
How was your experience as a student at Goldsmiths Design? Do you think it has helped your career?
I’ve never actually received the piece of paper that is my BA Design degree (I moved house and I think it was sent to the old address), but truthfully I’ve never needed it. This is not to say that I’ve not needed what I learned in the degree. The degree itself I found to be really hard as you are constantly trying to be original and creative. In the ‘real world’ with short deadlines and budgets etc, it’s easy to just sit back and style a cliché. Goldsmiths Design gave me a lot of practice in looking further afield for a less traditional solution. This is what gives me an edge over other stylists.
(Images courtesy of Emma Lamp)