Fashion Forward: Do Musicians Need A Stylist To Be A Star?
It's no secret that stars don't typically dress themselves. There's often a team of hair, makeup, nail, and wardrobe stylists that keeps them looking like a perfect 10. Previously saved for red carpet appearances or performances only — at least before TMZ came around — celebrities are finding themselves having to curate their image 24/7. Now, there's no such thing as an "off day."
In the age of social media, every appearance is an appearance. Each outfit is logged in, dissected and critiqued — popular fashion sites race to get the credits (aka who the person is wearing), including the heavy price tags of certain designer goods. And of course, let's not forget the comparisons of "who wore it best?" — adding more pressure on stylists to get exclusive or custom pieces to ensure that their talent is ahead of the style curve.
For budding musicians, this raises an important question: Is a "look" or "image" crucial to success and the length of their career?
According to top-tier stylists boasting a roster of GRAMMY-winning and -nominated clients to emerging artists, it's not enough to merely be musically talented. Up-and-coming artists should consider the importance of complementing their music with a paparazzi-friendly wardrobe at all stages of their career.
Style-wise, the first and arguably hardest step as a new artist is deciding what you want to communicate to the world. Like their music, an artist's outfits should enhance their message. And that's where a stylist can help.
"Be consistent with your image, constantly changing your identity makes it hard for you to stay memorable whilst striving to become memorable."
"A stylist's role is to bring to life an aesthetic through wardrobe," explains stylist and fashion editor Peju Famojure, who works with Solange. "[Stylists] are tasked with making a vision come to life, how the artist sees themselves. and how the through the language of fashion they tell their story."
Alexis Knox, a celebrity stylist, DJ and fashion editor who has worked with Miley Cyrus, Bruno Mars, Ciara, M.I.A., Craig David, and Meghan Trainor, playfully calls her winning style recipe the "artists' formula." According to Knox, this formula centers on three instantly recognizable style factors — for example, with her client Mars it would be "a hat, bling and '70s swagger!"
One of the bigger style-related questions lies in the timing — how soon is too soon or not soon enough when it comes to retaining a stylist?
"A stylist is someone you should grow or chose to evolve with," says fashion stylist and consultant Wouri Vice, whose client list includes Andra Day and Alicia Keys. "[It's] crucial at the beginning — and all points moving forward!"
Knox mirrors that sentiment. "You may not need a stylist on the road to there, but when stardom strikes, the fashion is as big as the music! But, with artists on occasion needing four to six looks per day when promoting [a new album], that's a lot of work!"
As tempting as it may be to dress up in head-to-toe labels to turn a few heads, it's not always a deal breaker for new talent.
"[Think] style first, then labels, 100 percent," shares Whitney Middleton, who works with Chance The Rapper, Jamila Woods as well as Francis And The Lights. "Style comes from within. For artists at any level, wear labels that suit your aesthetic or have long been dream items. Mix them with your personal pieces or shop vintage and keep it unique."
According to Famojure, however, labels do have a way of creating a cache for new talent. "Sometimes it lends credibility to media but their art should transcend or be sister to that."
In other words, wear the clothes — don't let them wear you. Famojure cites her favorite style moment with Solange as her off-white c/o Virgil Abloh silver suit she wore for the 2016 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund gala dinner. "It was bold and progressive," she says.
"Pick style over brand any day," adds Vice. "When a star is a star it's undeniable. And when their style is unique, brands will come ... they always do."
Just like a musician should follow develop their own unique musical voice, new talent should avoid working with stylists who make them carbon copies of someone else — or themselves.
"[When seeking a stylist,] find someone who has both the aspects of your alter-ego, as well as someone who is true to your natural being," Vice explains. "Most importantly, [find] someone with a body of work that shows their expertise and knowledge."
"Styling artists requires you to hold back from pushing your aesthetic," adds Middleton. "You have to start from the artist's aesthetic, then work in your taste and expertise. It's really helpful to sit down and truly immerse myself in the client's music. That way, I know I'm doing right by the artist while still following my own creative visions."
Just as honing one's songwriting craft or instrumental talent is crucial for an artist, a strict style commitment is also key, at least in the beginning until an artist's full look is established.
"[I always suggest to new talent to] be consistent with your image, constantly changing your identity makes it hard for you to stay memorable whilst striving to become memorable. Take Amy Winehouse, her style was iconic, but there was never a big designer moment for her."
Artists should strive for a level of collaboration, not dictatorship. But, at the same level, stylists should push an artist to take a risk or two every now and then. "[Styling] is a craft to stylists as well, so it would be hard to negate your personal taste when working with or for someone," says Famojure.
"That's the beauty of the work, having a mixed bag of ideas and coming up with something everyone is proud of — all my work with Solange is collaborative."
Of course, not every look can be a home run. In the age of the internet, a style faux pas is almost unavoidable — and certainly, every major artist has a look they wish could be deleted from their archive.
"Everyone has moments where they feel like they could have done better, but that's part of committing to your style," explains Middleton. "Take on the mantra of the biggest fashion faux pas being playing it safe and looking like everyone else.
"Be you, and you are an artist — that's a free pass to dress however the hell you want!"
Middleton's favorite standout moment was Chance The Rapper's chic look at the 59th GRAMMY Awards. "His Japanese denim custom Thom Browne suit and '3' cap pushed the boundaries of what's considered men's formalwear, while perfectly representing his playful nature," she says.
Vice, who cites Day's vintage Christian Dior fall 1970 look at the 59th GRAMMYs as a favorite, agrees. "Never create an image so far away from who you are that you can never find yourself again — it's hard to live a lie!"
The bottom line? An artist needs a team of professionals to flourish — from mangers and publicists to songwriting collaborators and producers. A stylist should be looked at as an integral team member who can help take a musician's career to the next level.
"Stars need stylists to help fully express their ultimate look. It's a massive task to dress someone with intention," says Middleton. "Wardrobe is not an afterthought — it visually and physically becomes a part of the artist. What other piece of the creative whole can say that?"
(Janell M. Hickman is a Brooklyn-based beauty and fashion writer whose work has appeared in both print and online publications, including BET, Elle, Glamour, Teen Vogue, SELF, Allure, Essence, The Coveteur, Man Repeller, and many others.)