Safety Pins & Tears: the life of an L.A stylist

As a stylist in Los Angeles, your car is your office. There is no way around it. It’s an office full of garment bags, overflowing piles of shopping bags and the inevitable rolling rack, if you’re lucky- perhaps a steamer.

That’s not to mention the trail of safety pins that follow you the way that cloud of dirt follows Pig-pen.

As annoying as it may seem to have safety pins become the most prevalent object in your life, they are more often than not a lifesaver, an appendage. Learning how to be MacGyver with a safety pin can mean the difference between a dress fitting, repairing a hole or literally holding an entire garment together.

The Los Angeles stylist community exists within several mediums: print, commercial  and editorial. The other branches of the sartorial community are costume designers and costumers who generally work for theatre, film and television productions. There are many schools of thought for whom these titles are allocated. But when it really comes down to it, stylist and designers are responsible for any garments you see in a magazine, television, billboard or stage.

The communal spaces where all mediums collide are costume rental houses and department stores, sometimes showrooms. Whether you know the person by name, face or not at all, there is always a knowing look, more often than not a frantic look, of how am I going to get this done in this amount of time?

In this business we are rarely given the luxury of time. Time is of the essence; an understatement on most jobs. Sometimes it’s a scavenger hunt, looking for a dress in an exact shade of blue the director brought up in the pre-production meeting, or recreating a look evoking Billie Holiday during her performance in Paris, circa 1954. It’s hard work.

There are days when your creativity and wit are pushed beyond limits you could have never thought imaginable. Like fashioning a bow tie out of scrap pieces of fabric, or turning a mini dress into a Lady Gaga-esque leotard. Being resourceful as though on a desert island, you either make it work or starve. As every job brings its own new challenges, it is hard to walk into a new project with complete confidence.

Fittings are the presentation part of the stylist process. Heading to the fitting, weaving in and out of L.A. traffic, pulling garments all over town, you pray that anything the director, photographer, or agency throw your way, you are prepared.

Your fitting most likely starts in the middle of the day. For fun let’s say you have about 20 people to fit, so you have two options for fueling yourself. Either stuff your face while driving to your fitting, not forgetting to pop a mint and breakout your lint roller for the ever-present crumbs collected in your lap, lapel of your shirt and sometimes your sleeve. Or the always fun and classy move of grabbing the lunch provided by the production company; you might get to sneak bites while hiding behind a rolling rack full of clothes.

Of course it’s not all safety pins and tears. There are some amazingly fun jobs, where you have a great crew and your assignment is actually more fun than stress provoking. Even with the underlying pressure of producing what is asked, getting the chance to exercise your creative muscle on a daily basis and to such an extent is unparalleled.

The ability to see your work, whether on stage, television, billboard or in a magazine is truly the part that makes it all worth it. Others may pass it on the street, without the slightest idea of what it took to make that fuchsia sash match perfectly the 1940s inspired swimsuit. But it’s a proud moment, acknowledging the hard work did pay off, obstacles were overcome and enough safety pins were in hand.


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