Closer’s Style Editor Kat Byrne gives her advice on breaking into the evermore-competitive world of fashion styling and fashion journalism.
My way into the fashion and styling world was via a rather unconventional route. And while I’m now an established stylist and editor, I started out my career in PR. I was new to London and had never even heard of ‘styling’ until my role as press officer for a major weight loss brand took me on celebrity shoots where I met a stylist. I discovered you could actually get paid for dressing people! Within six months, I had ditched my PR job, got myself two evening and weekend bar jobs and was assisting a freelance stylist full time for zero pay. My parents, as you can imagine, thought I was nuts!
Nearly 11 years on, I’ve been at the helm of the style section of Closer, one of the UK’s most successful magazines, for the past four years. And, while I don’t have any formal journalistic training; I joined Closer with seven years’ experience working as a successful freelance stylist with a client base that included Grazia, New Woman, Marie Claire, You Magazine, Celebs on Sunday, M&S, New Look, Wonderbra and Speedo; and Channel 4’s Ten Years Younger and How to Look Good Naked. In addition, I have styled celebrities such as Patsy Kensit, Meg Mathews, Anna Friel, Peaches Geldoff, Fearne Cotton and Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson.
How to get a foot in the door…
Everyone I know in the industry has entered through the hard slog of work experience. It really is a crucial part of learning how the industry works, making contacts and learning your craft. Expect to spend the first couple of years of your career in the fashion cupboard, but those who do everything with eagerness, initiative and a sunny smile always make a fabulous impression.
Try to get work experience both in a magazine and with freelance stylists. Back when I was starting out, I emailed all the stylist agencies in London offering my services for free, but in today’s social media world most stylists have a twitter account. Be bold and tweet them directly with your CV and ask if they need a hand. Try to be flexible with your time – you may get called out of the blue the night before a job!
A great stylist mentor once told me a styling course was a great way to get a feel for the job, but in truth real work experience is far more valuable. I have no training in either styling, fashion or journalism and decided to see my industry work experience as my education – a decision I have never regretted. Being a great stylist is so intuitive. By all means a fashion degree in design or photography can of course stand you in good stead, but in the fight for a job in fashion it won’t necessarily get you any further than the person sat next to you with two years’ worth of industry experience. Conversely if a job in fashion journalism is your dream, absolutely get some NCTJ qualifications, but also start writing a blog, follow all the international fashion weeks and write your own commentary on the shows which are all accessible online. Find a fashion journalist who you admire and follow their work, approach them for advice, tips and any work experience they may be able to offer you.
"Those who do everything with eagerness, initiative and a sunny smile always make a fabulous impression"
Keep abreast of all the high-end fashion mags like iD, W, Love (there are so many fabulous inspirational mags and blogs out there, soak them all up!). Pull out shoots you love for inspiration, use your Pintrest board to create shoot mood boards you can share, hook up with any budding photographers, make-up and hair stylists and work on some test shoots. You will make lots of mistakes on the way but it’s a fabulous exercise in creating your own sense of styling style.
Don’t give up!
I now style all Closer’s fashion shoots and interview the cream of British celebrity on all things style. I’m often asked to provide fashion commentary on both TV and radio, and was one of two mentors on Channel 4’s groundbreaking six-week live show ‘New Look Style the Nation’ with Nick Grimshaw, as well as our very own Closer episode of ITV2’s The Exclusives.
It’s a dream job for sure, but if you are expecting high-octane glamour, high salaries and fabulousness at every turn then I can assure you the reality of the fashion industry is not for you! However, if you are genuinely passionate about clothes, are happy to do some rather mundane but very essential jobs and make lots of tea then this could be just the right career for you!
Above all you need to be able to see the fun and frivolous side to fashion but also recognise how great style advice can make the average person feel fantastic. If this sounds like you, get ready for a job full of endless possibilities where no two days are ever the same. I love it!