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The Midas touch

Stylists go beyond hair, make-up, garments and accessories to create the most complimentary look for celebrities, models and public figures, says Pankaj Mullick.

education Updated: Sep 22, 2011 11:57 IST
Pankaj Mullick

Like watching celebrities as they sashay down the red carpet looking like a million bucks? Swooned over the cut of the suit or the impeccable fall of the gown? Ever wondered how the models in TV commercials look so ‘perfect’ — the makeup just right, dresses that set your heart racing? You must have surely picked up fashion glossies and wondered how every model is endowed with glamour that you and I can rarely manage. More than the figures, it’s that ‘haute’ look that always eludes us when we set out to make our evening attire special with a few (usually, off-the-mark) touches. Yet, it’s all in a day’s work for stylists (or fashion stylists/ editors). They add that extra sparkle to film stars, product and fashion models, and Page 3 celebrities.

So, what does it take to be a stylist?
“I think the most important thing is to understand the basics of clothes and fashion, more than just being trend-savvy. It goes beyond just dressing up. A background in fashion is a must. One needs to have great vision, attention to detail and originality. (These things) will take you far,” says Edward Lalrempuia, fashion editor, Vogue (India). Larempuia, a NIFT graduate in his late-20s, has styled the who’s who of the fashion world, including Atul Kasbekar and Deepika Padukone.

Another stylist who gave housewives the sheen of supermodels is Rishi Raj. At the behest of NDTV’s Metronation, he took up the challenge of transforming a bevy of women into the most well turned-out fashionistas – in the space of a few hours.

“For I’ve Been Framed, the huge challenge was that I wasn’t dealing with model, standard-sized bodies. Doing a makeover on such a person was more about hitting at something deeper inside – looking at the woman inside,” says Raj, who worked with two designers before going to NIFT. He, however, dropped out after six months and took up with Satya Paul, and went on to start his own styling practice. “I think styling is an innate skill and cannot be learned.

However, one does need to learn the technical aspects. It is all a lot hard work,” says Raj.

He has styled Chitrangada Singh, among other celebs. He also styles TV anchors for various TV channels.

Stylists usually work in conjugation with hair and make-up artists, as well as photographers, but they take a final call on what the celebrity will look like. And they are known to achieve nothing less than the spectacular. Take for example, Anaita Shroff Adajania, fashion director, Vogue (India), who was responsible for the rugged appearance Hrithik Roshan sported, and the eye-popping look of Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in Dhoom 2.

There are many different kinds of stylists. Magazine stylists are responsible for editorial shoots in fashion magazines. Celebrity stylists usually put together clothes for celebrities, mostly just for special events but for some they do the personal clothes as well. Commercial stylists work on shoots for advertising campaigns and TV commercials.

Work usually comes to commercial and celebrity stylists thanks to word of mouth and traditional publicity. Magazine stylists can be employed full-time, have year-long contracts with a specific number of shoots to be completed in that time, or hired on a per-shoot basis.

Like many other fashion professionals, stylists usually work through agencies.

what’s it about?
Fashion styling, or simply styling, is the craft of putting together the entire look for a model, celebrity or any person. This could be done for celebrities, editorial shoots for fashion and lifestyle magazines, or for commercial purposes, such as print and TV advertisements, film and television, events, and even theatre. Stylists work with make-up artists, designers, hair stylists, photographers and other technicians to get the right look for the subject. As high-end brands come to India, this profession is set to take on new dimensions

Clock Work
For a magazine stylist or fashion editor
8.30 am: Check into office
9 am: Meet editor-in-chief to get the brief
10 am: Instruct junior stylist to pick out outfits
10.30 am: Meeting with team to make final selection
11.30 am: Select models and instruct modelling agency
12.30 pm: Pick accessories
1 pm: Working lunch
1.30 pm: Models arrive, fittings start
3 pm: Check on make-up, accessorisation, final look
5 pm: Supervise shoot
7.30 pm: Share rushes with editor, make final selection for the issue

The Payoff
One can start at Rs10,000 to Rs15,000 a month assisting an established stylist. With more experience, one can command hourly rates for campaigns, or join a fashion magazine, where salaries are Rs25,000 to Rs1.25 lakh per month. Commercial stylists are sometimes put on retainer by TV channels and celebs

Extraordinary aesthetic sense
. Teamwork
. Time management
. Project management
. Ability to lead
. Curiosity about trends
. Networking
. A strong urge to excel
. Tenacity

How do i get there?
Studying fashion can be most beneficial to gain a sense of basics of what constitutes “style” and how one goes about constructing a look. However, one should work with an established stylist to really get a sense of aesthetics and what the market demands. At this stage, one does all of the grunt work i.e. getting clothes from design warehouse, managing schedules of models and other technicians, etc.

. London College of Fashion
. Istituti Callegari, Mumbai
. National Institute of Fashion Technology,
. Pearl Academy of Fashion, Delhi

Pros & Cons

Hobnobbing with celebrities


Realising a vision


Making people look good


Long work hours


High stress


Work with the top talent in the industry


Work with top brands




Lucrative if you can make your mark


High degree of subjectivity


May suffer lean periods

Styling as a career is definitely on the rise

An academician on the expected boom in styling

What kind of scope do you see for styling in India?
The huge presence of high-end brands, the increased scale of self-expression and accessibility to multiple forms of media exposure provides a strong justification for the amazing scope of styling in India. There are various key areas that one can work in as a stylist, such as fashion publications, design houses, personal stylist and shopper, image consultant, retail brands, film and television, event management, advertising and marketing, and window displays.

With film and media constantly projecting an image to suit specific requirements, styling as a career is definitely on the rise.

Starting salaries range from R15000 to R25,000 for a project, depending on the scope of work. Stylists can also be paid by the hour depending on pro ductive outcomes, especially if working in ‘one-on-one’ scenarios.

What are the absolute essentials for someone considering a career as a stylist?
One needs a certain level of awareness of aesthetics and an inclination to absorb and imbibe from the environment. One also needs to have an ability to update oneself on the current scenario and draw from a pool of available resources. One must also have an eye for detail and a drive to achieve more than expected. Only then can one set a standard for quality work and make a mark in this competitive area of work.

The most relevant and important aspect of fashion styling involves flaunting assets as you camouflage flaws. This is done with respect to bringing a visual balance to align the body in the most suitable manner.

Overall, a stylist must have excellent team skills, the comprehensive ability to plan and carry out tasks, and most importantly, a vision and foresight for a ‘Plan B’. You need to always be prepared for disasters and last-minute changes.

An attitude to constantly raise the benchmark of excellence will definitely help to shape your career. Skill sets range from a knowledge bank of fashion, design, image and identity, trends, body mannerisms, make-up, photography etc.

Given the dearth of styling courses in India, how can an aspirant train her/himself?
A stylist can be trained through consistent practice, and by assisting established stylists. If one does have an inherent potential to aesthetically put a look together, one can start by setting up their own enterprise.

Worldwide, styling courses do not exceed six weeks, but we offer an in-depth study ranging from history of fashion and design concepts to make-up, photography, hairstyle, visualisation, structure of media, etc.

Your advice to aspirants?
One must be constantly updated on not just fashion trends but be aware of the socio-economic climate that directly or indirectly drives the market. Have an innovative and experimental ideation to present one’s work in a unique manner. Be part of activities that would infuse confidence about the workings of this industry.

Sarita Karandikar, course leader, fashion styling and image design, Pearl Academy of Fashion Interviewed by Pankaj Mullick