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Role Call | Birgitta Toyoda, Head of Styling

Birgitta Toyoda, head of styling at global talent management agency Streeters, says an agent is “the bridge between commerce and the creative side” so it is vital to understand both.
Birgitta Toyoda | Photo: Siobhan Cait Farrar
  • Rebecca May Johnson

There are few sectors of the economy that offer as wide and interesting a range of career opportunities as fashion. Role Call highlights some of the industry’s most interesting jobs and the talented people who do them. For more information about fashion industry roles like this and others, visit BoF Careers.

LONDON, United Kingdom — Birgitta Toyoda is the head of styling at Streeters, a global management agency representing industry leading stylists, photographers, make-up artists, hairdressers and creatives. After a globe-trotting childhood, Toyoda settled in London as a teenager, where she developed her interest in style as a fan of old Hollywood, spending hours in the library researching costume design and cinematography, watching films, and studying the evolution of clothes and beauty.

Pursuing her interest in fashion alongside a university course in classics and war studies at King's College London, Toyoda interned with Hilary Alexander, then fashion director of the Daily Telegraph. Spurred on by the experience, financial reasons meant that she couldn't afford to work for free as a stylist's assistant, so she got a job as a photographic producer and agent instead. Initially, Toyoda represented both photographers and stylists, and made the move to work solely with stylists when she realised that was where her passion lay.

BoF: Please describe your current role.

I'm the head of styling at Streeters, so I manage the careers of a number of the stylists we represent and I also look after a casting director. The role is an all-encompassing one, so you end up feeling that you are part of an extended family. You go through highs and lows together and you are there to empathise and to understand. Creatives need someone who can understand how they think, but also handle the business negotiation side of fashion. With the incredible workload, it's not usually possible for a creative to focus on it themselves. I handle almost every aspect of the artists' lives, and I am there to provide a full service for them. Personally, I never wanted to just be a "booker" — I hate that term. Being an agent is so much more than that. My job is 24/7. I can't recall the last time I went on a real holiday that wasn't in August [the month that is traditionally the period the industry goes on holiday]. A lot of people take a month off, but that's just not possible when you operate at this level, because it is always fashion week somewhere, it seems.

BoF: What attracted you to the role?

I always liked fashion styling and I enjoy the creative process. The feeling of putting teams together and seeing the end result is incredibly rewarding. Before I worked in the fashion industry I had a different visual perspective. I've learnt so much from my artists and they have also helped to train my eye. Stylists have such a unique perspective on fashion — they consult on the design of collections, which affects what sells, but they also create art on editorial shoots. I'm always excited when my artists send me images from their shoots because I love to see their viewpoint. The same items of clothing can be interpreted in a multitude of ways and each stylist has their own vision. When I see my artists' work I feel so incredibly proud.

The best agents are the ones who remain calm and exercise a little humility.

I also like giving advice and I like seeing people flourish under my guidance. I think long and hard before I give my opinion. I do a lot of online research when I get home, searching through the financial and industry news, blogging sites and researching imagery. I am constantly walking around stores finding new designers, looking at the clothes — the stitching, the way they are manufactured. I also research new magazines, photographers and models. The good thing about this industry is that it is open to new talent. I like to meet with photographers because I am hungry to hear their opinions and try to see things from their perspective — it helps me then work out who they would work well with. To find perfect pairings where I think the stylist's eye and personality will merge with that of the photographer to create the best they can is a very satisfying one.

BoF: What is the most exciting project or initiative you have worked on?

Every time I work with a new client it's exciting, but the ones I enjoy the most are where I have specifically planned a strategy and the end result is a job where both my artist and my client are mutually thrilled. I love securing talent or brainstorming on behalf of magazines. A lot of times I think other people are perplexed by the level of involvement I have, but I find it too superficial if you are only there for the juicy bits and not for the times when it's 4am and you are tearing your hair out.

BoF: How is your role changing? What are the forces driving this change?

The volume of work in the last few years has increased exceptionally. The onslaught of pre-fall and resort means that the fashion houses are always planning a new collection and we have to be prepared for that. The increased use of the internet means that content is continuously being produced for that as well, so we don't have the traditional periods of ready-to-wear and then campaign season with a period of lull in between, where you can somewhat catch your breath. Once, stylists were not even credited. and then there was a rise of the "super stylists", but we are now entering a period where stylists are so much more than people who put together clothes — so you find yourself negotiating book deals, clothing collaborations and design installations. The definitive lines that were drawn are blurring.

BoF: Tell us about a time you failed and how you learned from it.

There is always room for improvement and you are never perfect, neither in life nor at work. It might be slightly masochistic, but I love problem solving and I enjoy it when people have problems and it's up to me to find a solution. It gives me such a sense of satisfaction. I try to abide by the thought that most problems are man-made and therefore can be solved. The only time I can't fix something is when it's a natural disaster — though I have been asked to try!

BoF: What advice do you have for people who are interested in doing what you do?

My advice for anyone who wants to be an agent is to remain grounded. This is an exceptionally tough industry and because it is seen as outwardly glamorous there are a lot of people who want to work within it — it's not, it's a lot of hard work. You need to be prepared to work all day, every day. The best agents are the ones who remain calm and exercise a little humility. It's important to realise that you are the bridge between commerce and the creative side, so you have to understand both aspects. This job is not about being fabulous — I can't stress that enough. It's about having the responsibility to do your best for others.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

For more information about fashion industry roles like this and others, visit BoF Careers.

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