BoF's Fashion Styling and Image Making course by Lucinda Chambers, is an online course which teaches aspiring stylists to create concepts; organise shoots; work between editorial and commercial clients; and build a dynamic portfolio that will help getting that elusive foot in the door. To view the course, click here.
LONDON, United Kingdom — The process of a styling job will start weeks, if not months, before a photo shoot takes place, and for a successful shoot to happen, the stylist must take responsibility for a large portion of the preparation, both logistically and creatively.
“When you do your first shoot and you choose those shoes instead of those shoes, that dress instead of that dress, those decisions seem monumental,” says Lucinda Chambers, the world-renowned stylist and former fashion director of British Vogue.
Indeed, making those initial calls might feel overwhelming, but the start of a styling career also involves building the right contacts, navigating a tight budget and, crucially, adopting an efficient creative procedure.
With over 30 years’ experience in styling, BoF sat down with Lucinda Chambers to hear her key insights on prepping for a photoshoot as part of an exclusive styling course.
Choose Your Model First
“I don’t think I’ve ever started a shoot, a germ of an idea, without having a pretty good idea of who really embodies that for me,” explains Lucinda Chambers, who has built her career at British Vogue and British Elle since 1980. “It’s absolutely key, and it comes almost as simultaneously as the idea of the photographer. Each season, you fall in love with somebody you’ve spotted on the catwalk or in a casting.”
When a stylist casts a model, they will be guided by budget or trend, look or geography, and the publication or audience type. For every factor, the stylist must make themselves aware of the models of the season, especially the new faces. “Often, if you’re working for a magazine, the producer of that magazine will be very involved in the casting. You come together with the photographer and it’s a backward and forward dialogue about who is best for that picture.”
Create a Reusable Rolodex of References
A stylist must not just train their eyes on the fashion industry, but also look further afield. “The process of the shoot begins with an idea which could come from the catwalk, or it can come from anything. The more films and exhibitions you see, the more you fill your head like a kind of cabinet of curiosities, stuffed with information. That’s how you’re going to edit the story that’s in your head, how you’re going to set out your stall and communicate your ideas.”
For a stylist to work effectively and efficiently, an extensive knowledge of past shows, present trends and future ideas must act like an internal rolodex of reference points. This involves constant interaction and awareness of what different designers, brands and publications are doing.
“Say we’re talking about an idea that I had last season, I’ll look at all the shows, I’ll go through my notebooks, and I’ve often initialled the idea beside the sketch, that’s a very useful tool,” Chambers advises on the styling course. “I can literally skim through my notebooks, see the initials, and make lists of all the clothes that pertain to that particular theme. Everything’s a movable feast.”
Creating a Brief
Once you’ve settled on an idea, collated your references and gathered your notes, you need to communicate those ideas to your team. “What is in your head has to come out. You have to be able to explain it,” says Chambers. “The creative brief is your keystone. You can go in different directions but that’s your starting point.”
The brief is typically a creative tool exclusive to the stylist. Within it, there should be the client’s name, visual references such as a mood board, ideas for model casting, hair and makeup inspiration, location ideas and the storyline concept. It is a document designed to inform, guide and evolve the shoot process that others can use as a reference point, but it is also the essential base to which you can return.
Depending on the creative control of the client, a brief can be heavily guided and limited by external sources, or entirely your own concept. “Somebody could come to you and say, ‘these are our clothes, what would you do with them’? Or they say, ‘this is what we want to do’. That’s when your job is to fulfil their brief in the most beautiful way that you possibly can.”
Working With Your Budget
Fashion publications are guided heavily by budget, which vary considerably from publication to publication — generally speaking, the smaller, more independent the publication, the less money available. The budget is set by the editor or the client, which will significantly guide the development of ideas as the main deciding factor for: models fees, caterings, couriers, set design, props and location of the shoot.
“It’s whether you’ve got the budget to get everybody to a location, or whether actually it’s more exciting for that particular story to be in a studio,” explains Chambers. With budget restrictions, the stylist must prioritise. If they want an expensive model, they may be forced to shoot in a studio instead of on location.
“You will always have a budget, and you’ll always have to cut that budget. You’ll have your dream and you’ll have reality, and, hopefully, you meet in the middle.”
To learn more tips and advice about styling for a shoot from Lucinda Chambers, view her exclusive online course here.