Sally Lyndley is an American fashion stylist, design consultant, and fashion educator. She is a Contributing Editor for LOVE magazine and has worked with Katie Grand and Marie-Amelie Sauve.
The role of stylist has gone from a behind-the-scenes job to a high-profile position; tell us a little about what you do?
Well, I really see myself as a creative strategist for my clients. When I start working with new person or brand for the first time, the most important thing is for me to understand what the ultimate results are for the client. Whether it be to improve PR in a specific woman’s demographic or just being comfortable while doing a series of interviews for a new film release, I have to know what the client is after in order to figure how I am gonna take care of them. Working as a stylist is really about problem solving in a creative way. I also have to make sure my aesthetic and my clients taste match, otherwise the collaboration can become a mess. Stylists are most effective when they are working with brand creative directors or celebrities who are clear about what they are after as far as results. And stylists can really thrive when they are working with a team that’s respectful, flexible and open to new concepts. Sometimes the hardest part of what we do is working with people who aren’t willing to work in a different way or change creative concepts suddenly (always with purpose, of course). It’s a stylist’s job to elevate a client and make sure she is bringing the most appropriate and powerful creative to the table to be successful.
What brands are currently ruling the fashion roost?
Right now, I think Celine, Marc Jacobs, Prada, Louis Vuitton and Comme Des Garcons are on top of the fashion world as far as creativity and innovation. Phoebe Philo at Celine has redefined how women want to dress in the past couple of years she has been creative director. The Celine collection is for a powerful woman who is dressing for herself, not to get a man. Sadly, those kind of clothes hadn’t been around for a long time. Marc Jacobs kills it creatively in his own collection and with his collections for Louis Vuitton. He brings the coolest culture clashes together with the clothes and worlds he creates with these collections. Who else could throw Debbie Harry, Mickey Mouse and Edie Sedgwick as inspiration? Only Marc Jacobs. Miuccia Prada is another mix master, and her forte is mixing elements of high and low or rich and poor. At Prada, she brought on the oxymoronic concept of a 60’s youthquake geisha. For Miu Miu, Mrs. Prada did her classic twist on “lady” by intertwining couture concepts with low end treatments like denim and tie dye. Nicholas Ghesquire did one of his best collections for Balenciaga for Spring Summer 2013 with his take on ballet, classic Cristobal Balenciaga and with a touch of nun-like silhouettes.
How did you make the crossover from stylist to design consultant?
When I went to work for Marie-Amélie Sauvé, and when I produced runway shows with stylists before I started styling, I realized there were two types of stylists. The ones who came in and picked out a shoe and then just sat there and looked pretty and was very friendly. And then there were the other types of stylists who were really invested in the success of the collection, and wanted (or were hired to be) involved from the creation of the collection six months earlier. The second type of stylist who really got involved where able to bring their immense knowledge of fashion history and knowing what every other designer is doing (from shooting the other brands for the magazines) for a collection and make it more competitive. Stylists who come in the week before the show can’t make any drastic changes to the collection. They can’t recut the clothes, pick color palates, fabrications or help design the accessories. All of that collaboration makes a real difference. Most importantly, after I began styling on my own, I started to realize that when I worked with a designer from the conception of a collection, I could help the brand make more money. Brands that I worked with on a long term, from the beginning of the collection basis, saw a 90% raise in sales on average. Those I worked with the week before a show, saw maybe 10% increase. I figured that if I could help designers sell more that I could get paid more, and that worked for me. So I decided to start focusing more on consultancy, that’s where the real pay off is for a stylist with any ambition.
What role do politics play within the industry?
Politics rule every industry, and fashion is no different. I think in fashion the politics are sometimes heightened because you are dealing with very creative people. But at the end of the day, fashion is a business and if your product or brand isn’t selling than you don’t succeed. I think PR can be a dangerous thing in fashion because I have seen designers get very full of themselves after a good magazine feature. But a profile in Vogue doesn’t mean much if no one is buying or can wear your clothes. A designer, or anyone in fashion for that matter, has to be a lot more than a creative talent. To be successful in fashion you have to understand how to be strategic, what the fundamentals of a business are in order to take care of your customers, your buyers as well as fashion editors or critics. That’s politics. I don’t think of politics in the way most people do. Most people think politics is just who you know or that you were born rich. But that’s for the fools to think. Politics is knowing who is powerful and successful and ethical and dignified. Politics is being sure that as you grow your business (whether it be fashion or a styling practice), you take care of your ethics and morals. You align yourself with the most powerful people you can get a hold of and you take care of each other. Politics is building honest and truly helpful relationships, not a puppet show. All humans have to deal with politics regardless of your profession or gender.” Make it work for you in an ethical way. A lot of people assume that I have been successful because I was some poor little rich girl. Not the case. I grew up in a lower income family (one step away from a trailer park) and left home at 17 years old with $5 in my pocket, literally. Everything I have done is because I earned it. I have worked for Vogue in America and in Paris. I have traveled the world. Worked with the biggest celebrities. All because I put myself here. And because I figured out who in fashion were the best players (ethically and financially) and I went and worked my ass off for them. No silver spoons or connections here. Just honest hard work.
You create a final edit of a collection for the runway so that it is both representative of the brand and the fashion story for the season – how do you begin this process?
Like I mentioned before, half the battle is knowing what the client wants to accomplish. Then I can translate that into what the fashion world is looking for at the moment. This is definitely the hardest question to answer for me. I guess that I have a built in idea of how something should look once I know what we are trying to accomplish on a runway show or shoot. My idea of how it’s supposed to look is really built from my own personal knowledge I think. I have been interested in fashion since I was 10 years old. I have been studying the business of fashion since I was 17. I read every fashion magazine I can get my hands on and I spend countless hours on style.com looking at the latest runway shows. I could name every important and known designer from the past 100 years. Yes, I am a fashion geek. But I think this obsession and knowledge is what keeps me up to date on what I think looks “right” and will be “successful” on a runway or in a picture. But that’s just my speculation on how it works... sometimes it just feels like a weird fashion telepathic episode.
In 2011 you launched a stylist education project – what were your reasons for this?
I am actually getting ready to expand that project into a educational website. The education of stylists became super important to me because I was having huge problems with my teams of assistants. They weren’t really doing anything wrong, it was just that there was no place for anyone to go and really learn the fundamentals (or specifics) of styling before coming to assist. There are some bad wardrobe styling classes available at the fashion universities here in the states. But the teachings were written in the 80’s for wardrobe departments on Broadway or on films, and what I do is wholly different. I wanted to start a new conversation of how young people could consider and start to learn about what a stylist does and what they need to learn to become one. I do a column for Fashionista.com called “Sally’s Styling Seminary” that has been very successful. In the end, I just wanna help people that were in the same place I was when I just wanted to learn how to be a stylist and there was nothing available to watch or read. I want to launch an online education course that you can download for stylists this year.
Check out Sally’s work at www.sallylyndley.com