The Life of a Stylist, an Interview with Carmel Lobello

 

Hey! Wake up, America! That celebrity doesn’t dress themselves! At least not when featured in various magazines. Maybe not in daily life, either. Who knows. The coif, the ruffles, the clean lines, the collars that compliment cheek bones, the look you want to have and the pants you want to steal? All brought to you by the wardrobe stylist. Wardrobe stylists help make you want things by making people you’re interested in look really good and absolutely intriguing. “Ooh, I’m only mildly conscious of Cary Mulligan, but she looks so good in that blazer that I’m now more interested in her, Never Let Me Go, AND the blazer!” It’s an awesome talent– to be able to dress, and dress well, a complete stranger (if indeed celebrities, musicians, etc. count as strangers, but that discussion is for a different sort of blog).

Enter Carmel Lobello. During her years working in both LA and New York, Carmel has styled many people you’ve heard of, you like, maybe you hate and/or admire, she has worked as the Fashion Director for Death+Taxes Magazine, worked on the sets of innumerable other publications, and has made me want to buy any number of skirts, shirts, and jackets. Having seen much of her professional work, and having seen some of her personal style, I am extremely impressed by the skill with which she works within her art form. I’m also slightly bummed to find out that she doesn’t get to ride around in private jets with the likes of Carine Roitfeld. Alas and alack, that’s what happens when you try to get to the bottom of an enigmatic career in fashion.

 

photo by Ray Lego

 

IBC: I don’t know about other people, but in my mind “wardrobe stylist” is one of those jobs that seem to exist in a magical world of “how on earth do you get to be one of those.” So, how on earth did you become a wardrobe stylist? Is that what you wanted to be when you were five (I really hope so because I love that image)?

C.L.: Haha, no! When I was five I wanted to be a daddy or an Olympic figure skater, but both were unrealistic.

I got my start the best way possible: nepotism. I had a wonderful friend in college who’s Dad used to run Radical Media, which produces a lot of music videos and commercials. He hooked me up with his favorite director’s favorite stylist, Jen Rade. I started interning with her and then eventually started assisting her. She’s really talented and taught me everything I know. I still work with her sometimes. I think the best way to get into styling is to network with your friends to find someone great to study under, and then to absorb all you can from them.

IBC: What’s been your favorite project to date? What makes or breaks a project in terms of enjoyment/success?

C.L.: My favorite project as a stylist was working as a Fashion Director for Death+Taxes. They’re a super small indie magazine that actually went out of print last Spring. I know that’s kind of cheating, because it was one big project that included many small projects, but that’s my answer.

What makes or breaks a project is the people involved. A quirky, talented photographer, inspired, open-minded editors, and a funny, good-natured musician or comedian to shoot is the magic formula for me. That was always there at D+T.

IBC: So you get to keep all of the fancy clothes, right? And you totally don’t need all the fancy clothes, so you give them away to all of your friends, right?

C.L.: Haha! I don’t work that much with fancy clothes, unless I’m working with Jen. Usually I’m working with companies like Urban OutfittersRay-Ban, and Levi’s, which I LOVE, but don’t really consider fancy. I always want to keep stuff but I never really do because usually the company is just lending me the product to shoot and credit.

Keeping things would involve stealing, and while I have no problem with begging and cheating for clothing, stealing is just outside of what I’m willing to do.

IBC: How much does your own personal style affect your professional style?

C.L.: I never know how to answer this. Maybe 87%? No matter what’s being asked for, from a gym outfit to a ball gown, if I don’t like something I usually won’t pull it. And I guess my personal style is best defined as what I like, so the answer would be “a lot.”

There’s a good version of everything, and I’m always trying to get the good version.

IBC: I was crazy about the styling you did for St. Vincent’s Death+Taxes spread! I loved the way in which the clothes and lighting alluded to her personality as a musician. How much does the narrative of the shoot and the personality of the musician, actor, model, etc. influence how you work?

C.L.: Thanks! The talented individual that I’m styling is always the primary thing I’m thinking about. Especially if I’m shooting an artist. The point is to use clothing that brings out their personality, makes them feel confident, and hopefully tells a little story along the way.

It may sound counterintuitive, but I want the clothing to be second to the person. Annie Clark’s (St. Vincent) style and my own style happened to align, so that was like magic. And she’s gorgeous, which isn’t essential, but helps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IBC: Do you have an overall fashion philosophy?

C.L.: I think of styling and writing as being very similar. Style is communicative– you’re saying something about yourself and your environment with what you wear. It’s good to be careful. For example, if I show up to set on the most annoying job ever in a hoodie and saggy jeans (and I’ve done this many times), I’m saying “fuck it, I’m over this.” People can see that.

In the same vein, if you’re going on a date and you show up in a turtle neck and high wasted pants with a sturdy looking belt buckle, you might be saying “I’m not attracted to you yet.” Or you might just be saying, “I’m obsessed with Annie Hall, will you be my Alvy?” Which is fucked up because Alvy was an annoying boyfriend. Either way, it’s good to think about what you’re saying with your clothes.

Also, as with writing, you want to say as much as possible with as little as possible. A lot of writers use too many words to say something simple. Similarly, some people wear like 17 accessories. We could tell you were rich just looking at your diamond necklace, you don’t need the Gucci bag and Gucci heels and matching Gucci belt. Dial it back a little.

When you get dressed you only have maybe one to six items to tell your story with, so the way you put them together is really important. And unlike writing, you don’t have to practically beg people to read your shit. You just walk past them and if you’ve said it well, they’ve got your whole story.

That’s how I like to think about it.

IBC: Your work seems to run the gambit as far as body types go. How do you  approach styling different genders/ body types?

C.L.: My approach is exactly the same with everyone. It’s like, “let’s sit down and decide what we’re trying to achieve and do it with some awesome clothing.” Body type is irrelevant. I hate when people say that clothing looks better on tall, skeletal people, because the clothing that looks good on them was produced to fit them perfectly and hang a very specific way on them.

Also, it’s not my job to work on people’s bodies, so I always take the approach: “Who is this person?” and then get clothes that fit them in a cool-ass way.

Gender is important because clothing is a big part of what we use to express it. There are so many shades of gray between masculine and feminine clothing. Getting into where a particular person falls on that spectrum is pretty important.

IBC: Who’s your favorite designer right now?

C.L.: Impossible! Different designers do different things. I like Rag & Bone because their clothes are so style-minded. A sharp Rag & Bone or A.P.C. blazer with something sexy underneath is ideal. And I like The Row, because the clothes are so simple. I think simple is sexy.

IBC:  What’s your favorite store (on a personal level)?

C.L.: Beacon’s Closet in Brooklyn? Some vintage place because that’s the only way I can get my hands on YSL blouses with pussy bows that I can afford.

IBC: So obviously your life is all glamour and haute couture and famous friends.

C.L.: My life right now is Macy’s and Target. And when I’m in New York it’s all overpriced taxis and back problems.

Jen told me on the first day I started working with her, “There’s no glamour in glamour.” And that’s true. I’m always pricking my finger on a safety pin and trying not to bleed on anything too expensive, and getting kicked out of the mall at 9pm because they’re closing. I have steamer burns on my arm from a week ago. No joke.

Styling is not for the weak.

 

 

* all photos (except for top) courtesy of Ray Lego

About Michael von Braithwaite

Does it look like I'd wear it on a boat, at an eccentric person's estate or accompanied by a peacock on a chain? Yeah, I'll probably buy that.

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