How to be a stylist for i-D

Three killer stylists, regular contributors to i-D, break down their paths into the industry for you.

by Douglas Greenwood
|
08 April 2020, 4:48pm

The fashion industry is always framed as glamorous, but when you get into the thick of it, the harsh reality can be quite the opposite: long, unsociable hours; a huge amount of admin; a lot of hard work for relatively little reward. You could argue that no one has it harder than the stylists. Often the first team on set and the last to leave, their lives are an endless cycle of request emails, chasing looks and returning a dozen different pieces to different continents on any given day.

But there’s that sweet spot, right in the middle, that makes it all worth it. On set, a model wears an outfit you’ve dreamt up and looks brilliant. Styling, after all, is storytelling; an important piece in a fashion puzzle that offers a pay-off that feels perfect. Sydney Rose Thomas, Lana Jay Lackey and Ai Kamoshita are three stylists who are familiar with that feeling.

Over the past few years, this trio have worked on some scintillating shoots with i-D (as well as their own projects), taking us everywhere from the streets of Cypress Hill in Brooklyn to the coastlines of California, imbuing their subjects with a sense of spirit only great stylists can.

In the new episode of i-D’s video series FUTURE NOW, we followed Sydney, Lana and Ai on set to get the lowdown on their practice, and how to create spellbinding imagery and runway looks from the garments they love. i-D’s own Editor-in-Chief Alastair McKimm and Fashion Director Carlos Nazario offered up their own wisdom too.

Shortly after we wrapped shooting, we reached out to the starring trio and asked them to give us a deeper insight into their beginnings, the work they’re most proud of, and their strongest advice on how to get to where they are now. Read on and be inspired.

Sydney Rose Thomas

Sydney Rose Thomas is a freelance stylist based in Brooklyn

What's your background and education? What brought you to NYC?
I moved to New York to attend Parsons, but I ended up not going and started working instead. First in design, then production, then finally styling.

What first attracted you to styling and the fashion industry?
I love clothes, and photographs. As a teenager I was captivated by magazines and fashion pictures -- I wanted to know how they were made, I wanted to be there and do it.

How do you define what you do?
I work with photographers, hair and makeup artists, and prop stylists to create visual stories -- and with designers to edit and present their collections.

What advice would you offer someone looking to follow in your footsteps?
I would offer some pieces of advice I received years ago. Two things: 1) Don’t work for an asshole. 2) Work at the highest level you can -- that sounds simple and straightforward but I think when you’re coming up it can be confusing and hard to know what opportunities are worth your time and energy. And I would just add: pay attention, work hard and make sure you’re learning.

Where do you find inspiration for your work? How do you continually innovate?
I’m most inspired by visual art. I like to go to a lot of shows and museums, and I’m always seeking out photographers that are new to me. I also draw inspiration from city life, just observing people in New York City.

What is the most rewarding and what is the most difficult part about being a stylist?
The most rewarding part of styling for me is still going to the magazine store and seeing the stories I’ve worked on in print. It’s still thrilling. The difficulties are the uncertainty of schedules and the stress involved.

Does Instagram inform and enhance or oversaturate and detract from what you do?
I’ve never felt the need to engage with Instagram…

Who do you consider the most exciting creatives working in the industry right now?
I guess they’re not necessarily in my industry but [filmmakers and cinematographers] Arthur Jafa and Khalil Joseph both create work that shoots a light blue laser beam to my core. They are both very exciting to me. Infinitely inspiring.

What is a show, editorial or campaign you are particularly proud of?
The hair braiding story I styled for the Fall 2019 issue of i-D was really special in many ways. Liz Johnson Artur is a wonderful human and a real artist. Her pictures are such a loving documentation, you want to be where she is. She was a dream to work with: no ego, no bullshit, she just brought her cameras, her film and her daughter, I loved that. Binx came with the vision too! I loved working with her because she is so smart and so much to say. And Tasha! Tashana Miles is an artist. Periodt.

Lana Jay Lackey and Rick Owens

Lana Jay Lackey is a stylist, creative director and editor of SEDITION from California

What's your background and education?
My education comes from being raised as a child of the DIY revolution. I was told to follow my desires. If I wanted to make something, then do it. My mother was a designer in the 80s when bigger was better, the colours were brighter, and the hair was taller. When I was a kid, I wanted to make costumes, so my mom bought me a sewing machine and that's when I started altering my clothes.

I could have gone to college, but I decided to test it straight out of high school, live on a farm in Hawaii, and eventually take photo classes. I believe the photo classes brought me into the world of building and finding characters.

What brought you to New York City?
I wanted to be a stylist and be in a fashion magazine. I moved from Portland in Oregon, which had an epic music scene. I travelled throughout the West with bands, made art in abandoned houses, and rode my bike everywhere. It was quite punk. But when I grew out of that phase, I knew it had to be New York.

What first attracted you to styling and the fashion industry?
I had lunch with my mom in Portland, and I distinctly remember her telling me I could be a stylist, so I googled what that was. Then we took the train to a Cyndi Lauper concert and she said, “Sell your car baby, I’ll give you a couple hundred, and move to NY.” She always gave me leftover fashion magazines, and one of them was this Harper's Bazaar that had a Tim Walker story in it. Apparently it was a Halloween issue, but I had no idea -- I just thought that’s what fashion was: a flower field filled with giant skeletons and goth girls. I would have never guessed at the time that the clothes were Alexander McQueen and Comme Des Garçons. I still have this story cut out and saved. Thanks, Tim.

How do you define what you do?
It starts with a character I have in mind that I’d like to dress or photograph. In some cases, it’s something I want to paint or collage. Right now, I feel a strong urge to support kids and capture them close to how they are, or how they would dream to be. Sometimes that means a radical change.

I’ve styled a boy recently that wanted to wear this pink lamé 80s prom dress that I originally picked for a girl. I could see, when photographing him, this sort of change in his sexuality and gender identity that felt really powerful and inspiring. Clothes can change the way you see yourself. I live and create for these moments.

What advice would you offer someone looking to follow in your footsteps?
If you need to go to school so your parents can pay for your rent, or you need to get away from them, then go. If you can’t afford school, or you aren’t interested, then don’t -- it’s okay.

Find a photographer you like and ask to shoot with them until someone says yes. I didn’t assist another stylist, because I was not good at computer work. I had to start from scratch. Use your closet, hit the thrift store and style with what you have. Hell, hit up your parent’s closet. Study. Search for your local bookstore, learn about photographers: The Strand and Dashwood are my heavens. Collect books. Research brands. If you can go to shops like Dover Street Market or the Rick Owens store, see the clothes in person. Shoot your friends as models, or find a kid you like on the street. Hell, make your shoots into a zine.

Naturally, my first zine became SEDITION. I’ve been very lucky because my lover of almost 10 years is an incredible photographer, Tyler Kohlhoff. We shot our first editorial in our bedroom. [the first two issues] were designed in our bedroom. It’s now sold all over the world.

Be patient. It might take longer (or shorter) than you think. I had a wise friend who told me to stick with my creativity and that it could take longer for others to catch on. Hold on and one day someone will get you.

Where do you find inspiration for your work? How do you continually innovate?
I study books, go deep on Tumblr, and hang out in dirty areas and watch the street fashion. I like to visit sex shops when I travel to look for lingerie. In Miami, I met the most beautiful trans women who ran a costume and stripper store. She made me a map of Miami by hand and sold me some handcuff earrings and neon bikinis. I’ve shot those so many times.

Thrift. I love thrifting because it’s all about your gut. No one is telling you if the outfit is cool or not. Find the gays who collect vintage and rent it from them. I go to Cherry Vintage in New York. Each outfit from Cherry has a story and a past life.

What is the most rewarding and what is the most difficult part about being a stylist?
Constantly trying to improve and doubting if this is the right job for me, only to find out it is, and it can be whatever I want it to be. I’m here to be of service, to create, and pump up the rest of the people I respect.

Does Instagram inform and enhance or oversaturate and detract from what you do?
Instagram is cute because you can meet new artists, models and creatives. It’s also a platform to inform. When my 13-year-old nephew in Cali tells me how much he likes Raf Simons, that’s all the power of research on social media.

It's tough to like a photo from a small screen vs. seeing the magazine or book in real life though. It feels quite isolating when you look for “likes”.

Who do you consider the most exciting creatives working in the industry right now?

  • Malina Stearns, special effects make up artist
  • Bella Newman, photographer
  • Tyler Kohlhoff, photographer
  • Jaydra Johnson, writer
  • Rick Owens, designer
  • 85 Eldridge, a punk streetwear brand from NYC
  • MEATY, a band from LA
  • Kane Caples, skateboarder
  • David Ochoa, a tattooer
  • Gut Magazine in London
  • Alastair Mckimm forever

What is a show, editorial or campaign you are particularly proud of?
I love the queer skate story we shot for i-D. We drove up the coast of California to meet those kids. It was the first time in a long time I was in a room with a crew of kids and was thinking, “I hope they think I’m cool”.

Ai Kamoshita

Ai Kamoshita is a stylist and consultant from Japan

What's your background and education?
I did my BA Womenswear in Tokyo and moved to London. There, my interest shifted towards styling, and so I started assisting Panos Yiapanis.

What brought you to London?
I wanted to see and experience something different outside of Japan.

What first attracted you to styling?
When I realised that I could make pieces and use them for styling, I found it was more fun to do.

How do you define what you do?
Always question myself, and never be satisfied.

What advice would you offer someone looking to follow in your footsteps?
Find your own approach.

Where do you find inspiration for your work? How do you continually innovate?
I take inspiration from how people dress on the street, old collections and books. I want to try mixing things in a way I can feel excited about and can find newness in. Through this endless process, I can continually innovate myself.

What have you learnt from Panos Yiapanis?
From Panos, I had the chance to learn a lot, like how to consult for different clients, making studio pieces interpreted specifically for editorial shoots and a large vast knowledge of different designers' archive work.

What is the most rewarding and what is the most difficult part about being a stylist?
Travelling can be rewarding and fun but at the same time it’s difficult to maintain your health and adapt in the different time zones quickly between jobs. Also, gathering clothes in different places can be hard work.

Does Instagram inform and enhance or oversaturate and detract from what you do?
It gives me easy access to all kinds of information. Sometimes it’s good to see other people’s work I admire as it pushes me to define my originality and own aesthetic and approach.

Who do you consider the most exciting creatives working in the industry right now?
I’ve always been a huge fan of Nicolas Ghesquière. He’s still performing incredibly to date.

What is a show, editorial or campaign you are particularly proud of?
I styled the Fumito Ganryu show at Pitti Uomo 94; it was his first runway after leaving his line under Comme des Garçons. I had so much fun styling his collection: jackets that can be bottoms or pants that you can attach on top of your jacket etc. I enjoyed a lot having the chance to play with all this freedom within his clothes.

Tagged:
lana jay lackey
Future Now
Ai Kamoshita
Sydney Rose Thomas