The Style in the Shadows: How Fashion Stylists Create Image Legacies

Fernando Aguileta de la Garza + Fashion Stylist ELLE Education Business
Dubbed as the secret weapon by photographers and editors, the outstanding skills of a fashion stylist have to do more with culture, and its representation rather than the selection of clothes.
ELLE Education Business
TopicFashion Stylist / Fashion Editorial / Fashion Photography

Visual editors or fashion stylists have a unique place in the field of fashion creation and communication. Are they designers? Not really. Certainly not writers either, but they narrate fashion stories through clothes, shapes, textures, colours and the non-mathematical formula of putting it all together and still, making sense.

Multitaskers, imagemakers, personal advisers, editorial-spread creators, clothes curators, are just a few nicknames for the work of a fashion stylist, an ambiguous position and, sometimes, poorly credited for their efforts in the final outcome. 

Bourdieu said that the “ordinary choices of everyday existence”, such as furniture, clothing or cooking, reveal our space and role inside society. Cultural Capital Theory states that taste and aesthetic dispositions can signify our differences and, as guessed, are there to be read by an observer.

In this context, fashion stylists are the masters of distinction. A person that constructs and reflects a certain way of life, crafting a visual statement to be captured in an image at their disposal, full of expressions, completely edited. Nothing in the work of a fashion stylist is ordinary, as no image in fashion is purely innocent.

“I follow the camera. If the camera’s moving, I move with it. If the photographer is running, I run behind him. It does not matter what he is doing—I am doing it too” -Polly Mellen in Stylemakers: Inside Fashion. 

Her invisible hand, as that of many stylists, lies inside the work of the greatest fashion photographers of all time, like Irving Penn, Guy Bourdin, David Bailey, Deborah Turbevilleand afterwards with Herb Ritts, Steven Meisel or Steven Klein. 

In this sense, the essential work of the stylist behind the camera is to merge all elements into sequences, to combine fragments of reality with fantasy, to bring objects from the past and present together, to act, in a way, as “bricoleur” reflecting new items of fashion and clothing; a concept borrowed from a Lévi-Strauss’ perspective.

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