I’ve been so excited to post this interview before I sign off for the weekend… I’m wiggling around in my seat typing as fast as I can to get this from my little office to yours! I just know you’ll love it. I recently heard from freelance stylist and former deputy style editor at Martha Stewart Weddings, Shana Faust, who so nicely introduced her work and I decided to interview her the moment I viewed her online portfolio. With three degrees, years of styling experience, and a book on its way I thought it would be interesting to get into the mind of this successful and talented lady to learn more about the day in the life of a stylist. This interview focuses mostly on that aspect because so many of you have an interest in this profession right now — it seems styling is hotter than ever whether it’s for your home, photography or the products that you shoot for your online store. Ready to sit down with a cup of tea and listen in? Good!
Holly: Hi Shana! So honored to have you here today! Most know from my introduction that you’re an accomplished stylist who formerly worked as a depute style editor at Martha Stewart Weddings magazine until 2008. What have you been up to since?
Shana: I had a baby girl last November, so I have been caring for her and working freelance for a number of different clients. I’m also working on a book which will be out next Fall. It’s a collaboration between myself and the two amazingly crafty and inspiring ladies behind HelloLucky! letterpress. It’s a DIY book, full of inspiring craft projects for your wedding day.
Holly: Lovely! Tell us, what got you started in this particular field and can you trace it back to childhood at all?
Shana: Yes… Starting in my early teens I would pour over whatever magazines and catalogs I could get my hands on and was fascinated by the stories told by the arrangement of people and objects. Even at the age of 10 nothing could have made me happier than getting some quiet time with a Sears or LL Bean catalog. I remember even pouring over what seemed like banal grocery fliers. How the fruit was photographed, its color, the backgrounds, the layering of typography. It all got me excited. This eventually led me to fashion magazines like W and Bazaar and to pursue a degree in art history. After many years studying iconography, styles and movements I felt like I needed to create beautiful pictures, not just look at them so I began working at a fashion magazine in Canada doing photo shoots and realized that being a stylist was a combination of everything I loved to do. Dreaming up narratives, searching for just the right props and arranging them in a compelling and dynamic way was just the perfect job for me.
Holly: So let’s take it step-by-step for readers and explain how a photo shoot works, okay? How does a magazine spread come to life?
Shana: Yes of course! A photo shoot is always the result of a collaboration between at least two, if not many more, individuals. And that’s the best part! Everyone brings something to the images, and the more talent involved, the more dynamic each shot becomes. Photo shoots are conceived in all different ways depending on the project. Often a stylist works with an art director to conceive of a particular shoot. Other times, brainstorming can involve other stylists, designers, outside artists or contributors and even the photographer.
Holly: And can you please tell us about the brainstorming and collaborating bit… More, more, more!
Shana: Styling is so much more than arranging everything you see in a aesthetically pleasing way. It’s more like communicating a story using things like color, lighting, texture, people, places and objects. I like to think of it like a movie, when you break it down into frames, each shot communicates something to the viewer, and an atmosphere and mood is created over the course. It requires a lot of imagination and hard work. The process for me as the stylist almost always starts with research — seeing what else has been done and thinking about new ways to present material. After that I’d start making some inspiration boards to help give the shoot some early direction. These boards often hold pantone chips, fabric swatches, swipe, and sketches. Next comes creating a “story board”. Loose sketches of what I imagine each shot to look like… what it contains, its palate, etc. etc.
Holly: This is great, keep going… :)
Shana: The really fun (and often frustrating) task of finding everything you want to include in each shot is part of that — from the backgrounds (are they actual walls and sets? sweeps of fabric or paper? A location?) to each teacup, candlestick, flower, ribbon, vase, dog, lamp, etc. – this comes next. While on this scavenger hunt, each finding usually helps me to better envision the shots coming to life. So while running from one shop and prop house to another, I’m usually feverishly jotting notes, sketching and taking quick snapshots. By the time I get to the shoot, not only do I have loads of props, fabrics, papers, tools and materials, but I often have folders of reference containing notes and drawings for each shot.
Holly: And so what happens once you’ve arrived on location?
Shana: Once at the shoot, the magic really begins. Using all the props I had made, purchased or borrowed, photographer, the art director and myself would start to tell our “story”. As soon as the camera begins to capture these arrangements, the pages of the story begin to come to life.
Holly: Ah, and that’s the magic of a stylist. Most of us know those in this profession to be the magic makers and story tellers, those who arrange things so beautifully that we eventually see in print and drool over. But there’s more to that, because you have to dream up the ideas and pitch them to the creative director and hope they’re approved, correct?
Shana: Yes, you do usually have to pitch your ideas to a creative director. So when you have done some work on the story and have an idea of what kind of mood, feeling, props, theme, palate, you are going with, a meeting would generally take place. Hopefully the creative director would be enthusiastic about everything and give feedback as to how to improve on your ideas or, in a not so great scenario, send you back brainstorming.
Holly: When you are deciding on what to pull together, are you considering current trends?
Shana: Following trends is an important part of the job. Both in terms of the products you are selecting and the way you are going to style them. But it’s not necessarily about the latest trends… You always want the images you are creating to seem fresh and new even if they often give nods to past styles or eras.
Holly: Do you have to shop for products yourself or, when working for a magazine, do you use what is available on site?
Shana: You really have to bring everything to the set you think you may need and many options too, as some things may not look the way you had hoped. I shop for products myself or if I am hiring an assistant, I give them direction so they can do some of the buying. Propping can often be a big job so another good eye and extra set of hands is always valuable.
Holly: Now that you are a freelancer, do you feel like you can be more creative and if so, what types of projects would you enjoy working on that may challenge you outside of your comfort zone?
Shana: There are so many interesting projects out there for a freelance stylist; it’s hard to know where to begin. I love books—because they give you a chance to really delve into a certain topic. The fashion stylist in me would love to create a line of women’s shirts. I could also be pretty content running a booth with found objects at the Brooklyn Flea, or if I had a green thumb, working at Michelle Obama’s vegetable garden!
Holly: What do you enjoy most about your career as a stylist?
Shana: Getting to collaborate with so many talented people for sure! I am always awestruck. I have gotten the chance to meet so many artisans, crafters, trades people, designers, stylists, shop owners and so many passionate individuals. Meeting and working with people like this makes every day delightful. Getting paid to scavenge the world for interesting and beautiful things is probably up there too….
Holly: Do you have any advice for aspiring stylists?
Shana: Go for it! Styling can lead to so many things, not necessarily limited to print. Just find someone’s work you admire and start assisting.
Holly: And for those reading who may be interested in learning more about styling, can you suggest a good book on this topic?
Shana: Yes, there is a quirky little book out there called Arranging Things: A Rhetoric of Object Placement, which is one of the only books (albeit academic) I have ever seen which breaks down the art of arranging objects. It’s a quick little read about creating compositions, which may be interesting to those looking to get into styling or wondering if it’s what they want to do.
Holly: Finally, what is currently inspiring you?
Shana: These things…
Thank you so much Shana for freely sharing your experiences as a professional stylist with all of us today, and I hope it’s okay that I ask readers to chime in with any questions for you… I’m guessing a few will have some they’d like to ask in addition to my own. Have a lovely weekend!
(images: shana faust)