If a picture paints a thousand words, what does a stylist do? In fashion, they are the story tellers. Stylists, those individuals who decide what and how to dress models and celebrities for many brands’ campaigns and visual assets, have long been taken for granted. Much like photographers and digital cameras, in recent years, their magic of making something look more expensive or chicer than it is has been overlooked and labelled as simply ‘dressing’.
Left - Hedi's idea of cool or just plain bad? Celine
Paula O’Connor, ex Fashion Editor and Consultant, says, “A stylist's job is to tell a story with clothes, to put them into a narrative. This could be for glossy pages of editorial/ magazines or film, or simply co-ordinating everyday outfits to suit someone's lifestyle, whilst understanding perfectly how to translate current trends in fashion into outfits to suit that person’s needs and their lifestyle whilst maximising their image and confidence.”
The majority of people don’t recognise good styling, but they certainly notice bad, and it feels like there’s a lot of it around at the moment.
And, that’s the crux of it, a stylist’s main job is to make, professionally, things or people not look bad. With many brands making cuts or struggling to produce content in lockdowns with less travel, then bad styling is becoming much more noticeable. While some brands may go deliberately for the slightly more ‘edgier’ or grungier look, even Balenciaga has a slickness in its ugliness, there’s a difference between this and simply bad. It’s the fashion equivalent of a hipster venue asking you to drink out of jam jars. It’s a cost saving spun as being cool.
Lockdown has really brought to light the importance of good styling and therefore a good stylist. Marketeers listen up. We became so blasé about perfect images, that, I think, we took them for granted pre-COVID, but it’s only, now, we can really see the difference and it’s coming from even the biggest of brands.
“Stylists are definitely taken for granted and they do not get enough respect for the skills they have”, says Jessica Punter, Freelance Stylist with almost 20 years’ experience, associate lecturer and Ex GQ Style and Grooming Editor.
“Stylists usually have an eagle eye over the whole fashion industry and draw on influences from a wealth of other areas such as art, music and pop culture. They can help steer or hone a collection and create fresh appeal. They can bring a lot to the table creatively, if given the chance.” she says.
Good styling has many contributing factors; concept, art direction, casting (model choice), location, props, looks (outfit choice), lighting, and, finally, how it’s all put together. It takes a refined eye and that’s worth paying a professional for. Many brands look like they’re doing it all DIY and it does nothing for their products.
Like anything visual, what is good and bad is subjective, but there’s a level. It also changes according in local markets and who they are targeting. It’s knowing which images to use when and where. While Europeans may scoff, the images could appeal to Asia or America.
Right & Below - Paul Smith AW20 looking like a hot mess?
“First, international brands cater to different markets. What appeals to one territory might not appeal to the next.” says Punter. “I often think of how different Nike US is to Nike EU. I know which I prefer, but it's all about knowing your market. Second, in the pandemic era we are seeing skeletal crews and brands needing to improve 'efficiencies'. During the first lock down I heard models were dressing themselves with samples sent to the photographer. I also heard celebrities were wearing outfits they had worn before for public appearances, rather than relying on a stylist to bring fresh looks. Third, there's a lot of dross product around. If a collection is really weak it can't necessarily be saved by styling.” she says.
Even the biggest brands have trimmed their expenditure. Do you think brand’s making cutbacks can be seen in their visuals?
“Yes, I am sure it is deemed necessary to make cuts, to use in-house staff and to limit outsourcing, but these short term savings inevitably have a negative impact on overall quality.” says Punter.
“There is definitely a noticeable difference in shoots that reflects that cutbacks. E-comm is increasingly shot flat instead of on a model, and there is a simpler approach to selling.” says O’Connor.
Can we put this down to lockdown issues of lack of expensive locations or doing things from home etc.?
“Certainly the impact can't be ignored. At the same time there have been lots of amazing distanced shoots. Self-styled Robert Pattinson for GQ US was a highlight for me. However, the clothes he wore were still selected in advance by a stylist, and no doubt heavily mood boarded and pre-styled into looks, which he may well have adapted. But the overall lesson is really that nothing can replicate a strong creative crew working closely, physically together.” Punter says.
“I think, previously, stylists researched and referenced a lot more.. films, art, photography catwalks .. but now everything is so fast and immediate, so there is a lot of imagery that is 'thin' in content. Also social media has boosted consumerism.” O'Connor says.
There is no formula for good styling. You need talented people, but it’s also an instinct, especially in something as unpredictable as fashion. A good stylist will be able to make the best of what they have, even if the budgets are tight.
“No one realises how much hard work goes into styling, It depends on the client, but there is never enough budget for what they want, so stylists sometimes have to work miracles!” says O’Connor.
There too isn’t a formula for bad styling, but get a few of those contributing factors - listed above - wrong and the chances are the pictures won’t be very good. It’s a false economy for brands and marketing departments to make cuts in this area, especially if they’re trying to peddle ‘luxury’. They are devaluing the product and the brand.
Left - AW20 Superdry styling looking far from contemporary
A great stylist is “someone who creates trends rather than follows them and has an innate understanding of what makes a great image.” says Punter, and this is something not worth skimping on.
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Is there ever a perfect time to launch anything? Warehouse, the women’s high street brand founded in 1976 by Jeff Banks, is launching menswear this week. The traditional British men’s high-street has been in the doldrums for quite some time since the skinny suit was replaced by the branded tracksuit. So, the question is, does this ambitious new launch signal the start of a potential menswear renaissance or will it be simply too difficult in a segment that has seen other well known high-street brands crash and burn?
Jonathan Munro, Warehouse Menswear designer says, “We feel strongly that there is a gap for a well-designed sustainable brand at a great price point. We wanted to build on the success of the womenswear line, marking a new chapter in the brand’s history and fulfilling what we believe, is a gap in the market.” he says. It is worth noting that this isn’t the first time Warehouse has done menswear. They had menswear in the early days of Warehouse so they are not promoting this as a first.
Left - Warehouse Menswear SS20
The main focus is, the fashion word du jour, sustainable. The new range will be sold online via the Warehouse webstore www.warehouse.co.uk and through host e-tailers and retailers; The Idle Man, Zalando, JohnLewis.com, Next and the Australian retailer Myer. Price points range from £15 for a 100% organic T-shirt, up to £189 for a recycled polyester content suit and £229 for the chrome-free suede jacket.
“The core of the range is made up of high quality wardrobe staples that should last season-after-season, balanced with breathable cottons and linens in a wearable colour palette.” says Munro. “We have a great range of printed shirts, from monochrome geos to abstract hand painted illustrations which are all designed in-house. Key pieces include our heavy twill overshirts and slim utility trousers.” he says.
“Fashion needs to become more sustainable for the good of the planet.” says Munro. “100% of the range includes sustainable fibres such as organic cottons which use less pesticides and therefore less pollutants, recycled polyesters made up from salvaged plastic bottles and eco viscose which is derived from renewable wood sources.”
What will Warehouse Menswear add to the British men’s high-street market? “Sustainable clothing for the modern man who needs his clothes to last and work for him every day.” says Munro. “We know women buy clothes for men and we also know men buy clothes for themselves - it's aimed at whoever wants to buy it.” he says. “We are holding a pop-up store at Protein Studios in Shoreditch, running from the 2nd – 7th March. This is to allow customers to see the range first hand, interacting with the materials and learning more about the sustainability messaging which runs throughout.”
What does the future look like for Warehouse Menswear? “Our main focus will be to continue to research and develop new ways of working with sustainability in mind, supported by the knowledge of what the Warehouse Menswear customer is looking for in a sustainable clothing collection.” says Munro.
Brands such as Whistles and New Look both struggled in the menswear category. Whistles cancelled its menswear range this time last year and New Look removed menswear from its stores in April 2019, going online-only. The rest of the high-street from Topman to River Island to Jigsaw have struggled to compete with Zara and the sports brands. But, things aren’t all doom and gloom, according to a ‘GlobalData’ report ‘The UK Clothing Market 2018 – 2023’, menswear will be the driving force of the clothing sector, forecast to grow by 12.3% over the next five years as greater trend incorporation and newness drives volumes.
A British Fashion Council and Mintel report estimates that consumer spending menswear has grown 5.1% to reach £15.9 billion in 2018. Menswear now accounts for 26% of the total clothing market, whilst womenswear accounts for 51%. Consumer spending on clothing is forecast to rise 25% to £76 billion in the next five years to 2023.
Warehouse’s parent company, the Oasis and Warehouse Group, clearly sees potential in the menswear market having recently purchased online retailer The Idle Man for an undisclosed sum in Sept. 2019.
Right - Warehouse Menswear SS20
So, what do the experts think Warehouse Menswear’s prospects are?
“When this was announced, I’m not going to lie, I was very surprised, to say the least. I understand a lot of people keep on talking about the growth in men’s fashion & grooming, but when we see retailers from New Look to Whistles dropping their menswear offering, it does beg the question, is now the best time to launch a menswear brand extension?
“Additional to this, we have an awful lot of talk on sustainability and buying less but better quality, plus when well known names like TOPMAN are not performing particularly well at the moment, its hard to see a brand not known for their menswear being a success in these difficult, uncertain times. However, maybe this is what the menswear market needs, maybe Warehouse it going to target the ladies buying for their men, but this is an ever increasingly niche demographic. I do wish Warehouse all the luck in the world and hope their Menswear offering is a success, but I won’t be holding my breathe.” says Anthony McGrath, Founder of Clothes-Make-the-Man.com & leading academic.
“It’s certainly a challenging time to launch, but there’s an opportunity for Warehouse where other major high street names are stalling or retracting on menswear. There are multiple challenges for high street retailers; nimble online competition, prohibitive high business rates, persistent economic uncertainty and the fact that many of us no longer choose shopping as a preferable leisure activity. However, in my opinion the current menswear offer from the high street, with a few exceptions, is failing to offer well-made, well priced and exciting product. There’s a proliferation of dull, cheap clothes.
I’d like to see a certain amount of risk taking. Nobody needs another line of neutral, anonymous ‘wardrobe essentials’. Men shop for themselves. It’s not going to work if the strategy is to rely on existing customers.” says Jessica Punter, Stylist & Grooming Consultant, & former GQ Style & Grooming Editor.
“It'll be a tough fight, and depends on their marketing strategy I think. They have a nice campaign video and a pop up shop but is that enough? We'll see. They have an opportunity now to really nail it, to take the market share from the high street brands that don't do it particularly well, but time will tell! I think others failed because they weren't offering a mix of product for different customer groups, so hopefully Warehouse will.
“There isn't a 'good time' to launch I don't think, there's always going to be peaks and troughs in the industry, and right now we're just coming out of a terrible time for retail, so maybe it's a great time! To wait until fashion week or another event is pointless now as we know men don't really shop to seasons or events, they just shop because they need to. I guess it's a good time in the year though, because now is the time for newness, so makes sense from a business point of view.
“Initially, I think it'll be the aimed at the women for sure, because they are the ones going in store and online to buy Warehouse, but if they have a good marketing plan, and get it out to wider audiences, men will slowly show up. Also, I wonder who they are partnering with, if anyone, to wholesale? That'll be really important in pulling in a new menswear customer. It'll be slow, but maybe they might be able to do what others have failed to do!” says Simon Glazin, freelance fashion writer and blogger.
Left - Will it work? Warehouse Menswear SS20
“I think there's space for an affordable, fashion-forward offer now Topman is tussling with Boohoo over cheap sportswear, but Warehouse aren't going to be the ones to provide it. Well, judging from the images I've seen.” says Lee Clatworthy, Fashion Writer.
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