We've seen the many different, if sometimes surprising ways the ongoing Covid-19 crisis has affected the ways people go about their day-to-day jobs in the fashion industry. Designers have pivoted their production. Influencers have pivoted their content. PRs have pivoted their messaging. Even Anna Wintour is pivoting her wardrobe.
Stylists, however, are in a slightly trickier position. Under normal circumstances, they'd be heading to the south of France for the Cannes Film Festival or preparing for a summer on the road as their client goes on tour. With those events — and pretty much any other in-person gatherings — canceled for the foreseeable future, what does that day-to-day look like?
"At first it was really slow — not even slow, non-existent," says LA-based Morgan Pinney, who works primarily with music artists, like Jojo, Victoria Monét and Becky G. "No one wanted to do anything, even at home, just because everyone was so scared. But as time went on, people started getting creative." That has translated to everything from Instagram Live sessions to full music videos, all shot from self-isolation and styled from afar.
"I have a kit of stuff in my office that I’ve been able to drop off at their doorsteps — a few things, from jewelry to lingerie to dresses, so they could at least play around," Pinney explains of the logistics. "They'll FaceTime me and I'll help them choose what to wear."
Sometimes, a client will send over a treatment or mood board, so she can get a feel for the tone and vibe of the project and make suggestions accordingly. Pinney will also occasionally pull pieces from an archive she keeps at her (currently empty) studio, or suggest looks from her clients' closets. "It's not like we have a huge selection, but it's kind of fun, being able to get creative with stuff that we have," she explains.
Brian Coats, who's in New York City, has been able to maintain one of his steady gigs: styling Jimmy Fallon for his late-night show, as the comedian is still filming regularly (albeit from his home).
Coats keeps "a photo library of everything" that he and Fallon have, from past events and projects — a practice he credits to his training "of 20-plus years at Condé Nast. I always take pictures of the looks and label them from head to toe, kind of like you would see in a magazine." They're able to work with that, he says, to find suitable pairings for the comedian to wear on camera, with the occasional supplement from brands that have been able to keep a sample flow going or a warehouse open amid the pandemic.
"[Fallon's] amazing because he has this innate instinct on style," Coats explains. "Very early on, he said, 'I'm a comedian — I don't want to look funny, I just want to look great.' That actually was a click for me. He doesn't want to have anyone comment [on his clothes], really, unless it's a character or a bit. He just wants to look good. In that way, it's made it easier to get through this, because [there's] kind of a uniform — it's a V-neck with a striped T-shirt and a jean. He's actually so good at doing it."
One consideration that has been important in styling the comedian for these remote appearances, Coat notes, is context: "You don't want to look like you're at the Met Gala when you're not. [You can] still look great, but you don't need to be in a suit if you're not in a studio."
Virtual styling has been a more common practice, naturally, out of necessity. Phoebe Lettice Thompson, who works with Anne-Marie and Zara Larsson, had been toying with the format for about a year already, since she's based in London but has clients in the U.S. Though she estimates she had "about six weeks of work canceled" amid coronavirus-related lockdowns, Lettice Thompson has been able to style some of her clients for some yet-to-be-announced projects from her apartment.
Here's how it works, for her: She'll get on the phone with the creative director, manager, director and any other stake holders to go over initial ideas. Once she gets a shot list, she'll put together a mood board with specific outfit ideas and send it to the artist for feedback. After that, the product search begins.
"I'll use online retailers that are still shipping — I've had to be very weary of 'express delivery' — and speak to local designers who have access to the post office," Lettice Thompson explains. "Fortunately, I have quite a good network of designers that I already work with, small businesses on Instagram that [can mail product]; one designer dropped off a bunch of stuff at my door, from a distance."
Once the product gets to her place, she'll do an edit, to refine the selection. Then, she'll step in as the artist, styling the proposed looks on herself and photographing them. She'll compile those images in a PDF, with detailed instructions on how to wear each item. That'll go off to the full creative team plus the artist, and everything will be packed up ("in separate bags, with labels") and sent to the artist.
"It’s really weird not being on set, fitting things and making sure everything looks right," Lettice Thompson notes. "I'm usually active in a WhatsApp group during all of this, on call to answer questions and give extra tips and ideas."
There might be the occasional self-filmed video for a stylist to work on. But overall, there are longer, more frequent lulls in their schedules, with no red carpets, premieres or press tours on the calendar for the foreseeable future.
"I did my last shoot on March 6 in LA. That same day, I started getting cancellations," Christina Pacelli, who styles Danielle Brooks, Britney Young and Maria Menounos, among others, tells Fashionista from her home in California. "I got e-mails and updates from my agents for all the cancellations rolling in — I had fittings for South by Southwest scheduled for the following week, a shoot for a client who's talent for the WWE… It all just got canceled."
Elizabeth Stewart — the LA-based stylist to Julia Roberts, Zoey Deutch, Cate Blanchett and more — has "not worked at all since March 13," she writes to Fashionista via e-mail. "My next scheduled job is in June, but am waiting for that to cancel, along with a European shoot that was moved to July." Originally, she was slated to travel all through April and May (to London, Paris, Madrid, New York and Cannes), but no more. "On the bright side, I feel physically better being in one time zone consistently and exercising regularly, which I never had time to do before," she adds.
Right now, there's "nothing on the calendar" for Pacelli — whereas, normally, "I'd be [prepping for the] TCAs; two of my clients have television shows coming out in June, so I'd be getting ready for those." The only project she has on the docket is, at least, an uplifting one: styling one of her clients and her fiancé for their May 2021 wedding.
"It's so bizarre, because we're used to this very, very busy, active schedule of bookings," she explains. "We know what our month looks like with somewhat advanced notice, and then we add things at the last minute."
Instead, Pacelli is focused on checking in with her clients and keeping an ear to the ground to see if there are any updates from production companies or entertainment executives about when filming might resume, since she primarily styles actors and on-camera talent. She's also diving into some of the more administrative aspects of being a working stylist, like keeping market lists up to date, "so that I'm super, duper fresh when it's time to get back," she says. Plus, she's been helping designer Michael Costello on his mask production in L.A.
She's not the only one using her expertise and industry connections to do some good.
Pinney has been stepping in to help her boyfriend with his non-medical mask manufacturing business, Ello Masks, which donates one for every one sold. Julia von Boehm, currently InStyle's fashion director and stylist to Nicole Kidman, started hosting one-on-one virtual consulting sessions — 30 minutes for $150, an hour for $300 — to fundraise for various Covid-19 relief efforts. Stewart has also been working on a philanthropic effort with Jordan Grossman: a non-profit website (launching soon) where stylists can sell gently-used pieces they've accumulated from clients, brands and past jobs for charities like Direct Relief.
With schedules suddenly freed up, many stylists have found themselves reflecting on the importance of cultivating other streams of revenue and creative outlets, in addition to celebrity styling.
The big question for Andrew Gelwicks (who works with Catherine O'Hara, Lela Loren and Luna Blaise) has become: "What do we do now? Of course, from a financial standpoint, how do we keep business and income? But also from a mental-health perspective, how do we keep ourselves busy and creatively mindful when our jobs are fully paused until to-be-determined?"
His answer to that, for the time being, has been a six-week online course he created through Teachable, which offers another source of income for him while also, he hopes, providing a resource to aspiring fashion professionals whose careers might have been put on hold because of canceled internships.
"That's me trying to think, from an entrepreneurial perspective, how I can still grow my business," Gelwicks explains over the phone from Ohio, where he's quarantining. "I have this knowledge, this experience, this passion for helping students — that's really how I’ve been going about it."
This line of thinking also, inevitably, invites a follow-up question: What comes next?
"I think we're all in this boat of not knowing when we're going back to work," says Pacelli. "We're optimistic that we're going to go back to work this year — I certainly am — but we don't know what that’s going to look like."
It could mean less red-carpet work, it could mean more photoshoot styling, she continues. There are a lot of TBDs, but she and others have been heartened by the measures being taken by showrooms and PR agencies — vital partners in the business of dressing celebrities — in order to ensure that, when the work does pick up, that they're able to go about it safely.
"I have been getting e-mails from showrooms about their contactless pull policies, so it's been really great to hear that we're going to have plans in place for when it's safe to work again," Pacelli says. "Everybody's thinking about it, because the clothes are so high-contact, going through cycles of different people handling them… I have a feeling that, at least in the near-term, we might be doing all of our pulls remotely, just relying on mailers and curbside delivery."
Pinney guesses there might be an increased awareness of how many people are in a room during a fitting or before a red carpet. "For my friends that do hair and makeup, it's even more of a concern, because they're up in people's faces all day," she says. "At least with our jobs as stylists, we can keep a bit of a distance."
"It's not like the entertainment industry is going to go away — it's going to be there forever — but things are going to be different and we don't necessarily know how yet," Pinney adds.
Stewart has been thinking about some of the expenses that stylists normally take on (for assistants, shipping and tailoring, for example) and how she can maintain them once the lockdowns lift. Lettice Thompson, meanwhile, has been reflecting on the kind of styling work that will be available.
"I'm quite fortunate that, once we do get going, I know I have work with one or two of my clients — whether they'll be as lucrative or as frequent as they used to be, that's up for discussion, but I know that there will be something," she says. "If you're predominantly working campaign to campaign, a lot of brands are looking at different ways of working after this because budgets will be cut and people aren't buying as much… It might take time to recover."
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