Nicki Stewart is a wardrobe fashion stylist who has worked for clients such as Chevy, MTV, and AT&T. We met up for tea at Local in Silverlake to discuss the highs (Paris Fashion Week!) and the lows (16-hour days!) of the gig.
Did you always imagine you’d be a stylist when you were growing up?
I come from such a small town, [so] I never thought about the fact that people styled other people. I loved clothes, and I was enamored with fashion, but styling was something I never even thought possible as a child.
So, how did you get your start? Did you have any sort of professional training?
I moved to Los Angeles to go to school and once I got here, I really couldn’t afford it. I have business, marketing, and multimedia degrees, and I was going to study fashion design, but I wasn’t able to get my hands on any more student loans. But I was so enamored by the art scene here: I was at The Viper Room three nights a week, going to art shows, museums, music events. It was just about making connections.
Connections are everything!
I’m always trying to make new connections—but it’s not always about work, work, work. When I’m out, I’m just generally trying to get to know people who are interested in the same things I’m interested in. Then things just sort of happen—like, “Oh, you’re a designer? I’m a stylist! Let’s work on a project together!” Sometimes you just have to think about who you are creatively, and then it becomes organic when you start to work with people.
What was the first project you worked on?
It was an independent film that went to Sundance in 2006 called The Go Getter with Zooey Deschanel, Jena Malone, and Lou Pucci. I started working with the costume designer, Marie Schley, as an assistant; it was fascinating. I learned so much—how to shop, how to take direction, everything that goes into purchases and returns, working with costume houses, working with talent, setting up fittings, etc. After that project wrapped, I started working on commercials and met with a bunch of other talented people, and I learned an enormous amount under Costume Designer/Stylist Marie-Sylie Deveau. Film and commercials are very different things, but they’re both fun.
What’s the difference?
With costuming [for a film], you’re working on a story, and you’re building a character. With wardrobe styling [for commercials], you’re instead styling a character/image, and there’s a basic concept behind it. Your focus is on the product image instead of the story, as opposed to an entire script where you’re learning about a character and there are different outfit changes throughout the entire process.
Are you literally just shopping for outfits all day, and is that as awesome as it sounds?
It varies so much from project to project. We start off with a storyboard and treatment, then meet with the director, producer, and client, and sit down and see how many actors we actually have—it could be one or two people, it could be twenty. Then, depending on what the idea [for the commercial] is, we’ll go at a costume house, and start pulling certain things from there.
What’s it like inside a costume house? Miles and miles of clothes? And can anyone (me) just walk on in?
Many costume houses require a pass, but if you’re interested in checking one out, you can always call ahead and see what their policies are for getting access. Their wardrobe is full of stuff, anything from modern-day pieces going back to the 1800s!
Tell me a little more about what the shopping process is like.
You have to think about what you’re going to shop for each specific person—you make a list of things you think that person might wear as a character. What you don’t find in costume houses, you might find in stores. It could be anything from J. Crew to Urban Outfitters.
Our turnover is very quick—we might get a call for a project a couple of days before it happens, and the next day we’re shopping. If a store doesn’t have a specific piece we need, we’ll call around the area to see what other store has that piece. We run all day from place to place looking for specific things so that we can figure out what exactly it is that we want for the character. We usually try to pull somewhere between 10-25 options for each character.
[Photo: Delmie Mongee]