Stylist to the stars! The phrase evokes visions of utmost glamor! Shopping Rodeo drive. Being on first-name basis with famous designers. Meeting face-to-face with A-list celebrities. Red carpet. TV appearances. Swag. Rock Star lifestyle. As far as making it in the fashion industry goes, becoming a celebrity stylist is right at the top of the list of most popular careers. But what’s it REALLY like and what does it take to make it? And? Can a guy or girl living in Indianapolis ever hope to succeed in a larger market by getting their start locally? To find out this and more, last Sunday, I caught up with celebrity stylist Heather Zweigel, who was in town with the People Magazine Beauty Tour.
Zweigel, who is based in LA, is a delight! Unselfconsciously outgoing, gregarious, down-to-earth and with a dazzling smile, she shares some great insights about being a stylist for both celebrities and on commercial projects. Zweigel jumped into the world of styling early at 18, but soon grew disenchanted – styling was hard work and while she was willing to style for very little or no paycheck at all to build up her book, being stood up by clients after hours of prep, was not the way she wanted to spend her time. She started referring styling gigs to a friend and explored other opportunities instead. The departure from styling wouldn’t last too long, however. Armed with a Fashion Design and Merchandizing degree and retail experience working for everyone from Nordstrom’s to Fred Segal to Lisa Kline, Zweigel eventually got involved in styling for television and later, events and commercials.
Did the degree help with making her more successful as a stylist? Only partially says Zweigel. Classes that taught fashion illustration or familiarized students with the variety of fabrics and styles were helpful, but ultimately, nothing can take the place of hands on experience. Fashion programs tend to focus on the creative aspect of design and merchandizing, but vital business and interpersonal skills that every successful stylist needs are often overlooked. There’s so much more to styling than knowing how to put together an outfit. Zweigel suggests interning/assisting as a great way to get hands on expertise. And even with that, having an eye for what goes together and an innate sense of style is a prerequisite for becoming successful in this field. The good news is that style is not any one look and that means that if you have a unique way of bringing together patterns, colors, textures, fabrics and proportions, you just may have what it takes!
Zweigel tells me she’s noticed some specialized workshops popping up for clothing stylists. It’s something that’s relatively new, but the popularity of the profession is driving the demand. One of the better known such workshops is put on by The School of Style, with locations in LA and NYC.
And the cold hard truth about the job? Sure it can be glamorous at times, but for the most part it’s hard, back breaking work (Schlepping as Zweigel refers to it) that comes with long, long hours and significant physical labor. Arriving on set at the crack of dawn with a car loaded to the hilt with clothing, accessories, clothing racks, steamers and shoes when you were shopping late into the night because at the fitting, the day before, the art director decided that he wanted to go in a “different direction”, is not what anyone would refer to as “glamorous.” Then there’s the pressure of staying within budget and the very frequent occasion of not even having the chance to consult with the celebrity client about their likes and needs prior to the event or shoot. The celebrity styling gig is definitely no walk in the park. The bottom line, says Zweigel, is “you have to love it!” or the less charming aspects of this job will burn you out in no time at all.
This being Zweigel’s first trip to Indianapolis, what did she make of our fair city? I was a little nervous posing the question, after all, it’s no mystery that when it comes to fashion and style, Indianapolis has quite a ways to go, but she still found a way to make us look good. Having a Saks and a Nordstrom’s is a definite plus, Zweigel had a chance to hit The Fashion Mall, a couple of times, and found some great buys. She sang praises to the customer service she received at Nordstroms, not only were the alterations to her dress done on the same day, but the sales associate personally hand-delivered the item to Zweigel at her hotel. According to her, you don’t get service like that in LA! 😀 Can we do better with our personal style? No question, but what we lack in finesse, we definitely make up for in personality. “Everyone is so nice!” Exclaims Zweigel.
As we continue discussing styling as a career path, Zweigel confirms my personal conviction that for people with talent and a go-getter attitude, starting in a smaller market like Indianapolis is actually a plus. It’s much easier to make a name for yourself when you’re not competing with hundreds of others who want the same job. With the tools that we have in Social Media, starting a blog or your own Youtube channel where you can showcase your style and your portfolio is a no-brainer. Just starting out and have no portfolio to speak of? Find others in the same boat to work with and don’t stop until you have a some solid work to show to prospective clients. You have to be willing to work harder and longer than anyone else, but that’s the name of the game when it comes to popular yet relatively small industries like fashion.
The good news is that business is picking up! Zweigel says that 2009 was not a great year for the industry. Fewer jobs, shrinking budgets, you know the story. But this year things have been steadily getting better. The budgets are still modest, comparatively speaking, but the volume of work has increased noticeably and that is indeed good news!
So what separates good stylists from great ones? What is the secret to YOUR success I purr to Zweigel, willing her to disclose all of her secrets for your benefit. She gives me some great tips. First and foremost, DO YOUR HOMEWORK! Often, Zweigel is hired to style individuals she never has a chance to meet with ahead of the shoot or event (busy celebrity schedules and all that!). At times like that, Google is her best friend. She thoroughly researches her subjects, scouring the internet for images of the person and getting a sense of their personal style, the designers they like to wear, their favorite colors and accessories. Which brings us to tip number two, LEARN HOW TO PUT YOUR PERSONAL STYLE ON THE SHELF. A successful stylist knows how to grasp their client’s style and understands that it’s really not about them. This is especially important when it comes to styling celebrities or in the commercial market when you’re working with established brands. Zweigel says that learning how to be a “yes man” is an important part of the job. Sure, you have oodles of creativity and want to show it off, but clients are looking for you to be professional, efficient and attentive. A problem solver. Someone who has extra clothing hangers, double-sided stick tape, clamps, and a whole plethora of other bits and pieces. Last, but not least, BE NICE!! This seems like a trite piece of advice, but it’s so very true. The fashion industry is well-known for diva attitudes and Zweigel enjoys surprising clients with her down-to-earth, and upbeat attitude. People want to work with people who are not only competent, but also kind and accommodating.
The People Magazine Beauty tour is wrapping up. Indy is the last stop on a 20 day journey for Zweigel, how does she think it went? For a first time event, Zweigel says, the Beauty Tour has been an unqualified success. With stops in Severn, MO, Franklin, TN, Comstock Park, MI, Brownsburg and Indianapolis, Zweigel says that hundreds of women showed up to get makeovers, claim their samples of Dove products and share their stories. While some may think that a bright pink bus with the People magazine logo parked in their strip mall parking lot is a silly, frivolous thing, the fact is for many girls and women it is a unique opportunity that has some very positive outcomes. Zweigel shared some incredible and heart-breaking stories of women that she had encountered on her tour for whom the pink bus was a beacon of hope and renewal. Maybe we do put too much stock in our personal appearance, but there is no denying that feeling that you look beautiful lends a confidence to any human being that’s hard to come by any other way and People Magazine is all for celebrating beauty!
A few last questions for Zweigel, who incidentally is a guest stylist on Shoedazzle.com. Her personal style philosophy? Look great for less! While Zweigel is prepared to splurge for special events, most of her wardrobe consists of pieces that are sensibly priced. Some of her favorite stores are BCBG & H&M and she loves Vince Camutto for shoes and purses. And while she wears jewel toned silky dresses for TV appearances and special events she does with People, she assures me that her work wardrobe is far less glamorous and mostly black. When it comes to being a stylist on set, practicality wins every time!
And so, my hour with the lovely Heather Zweigel is up! I’ve enjoyed speaking with her so much that I attempt to convince her that she should pitch Indianapolis for a future People Style Watch issue. I know that the Fashion Mall (once construction is completed) will make a perfect site for one of their People Style Watch events. I also make her promise to put in a good word for us with H&M and let them know that we are indeed ready for their celebrity designer collaboration collections to be in our stores. 😀
Thanks Miss Heather! We hope you come back soon!
Images courtesy of Whonsetler Photography.