The Producer: How did you get started in styling, Liz? Did you study fashion?
Liz Teich: Not directly, I studied advertising design. I wanted to be an artist, so that was my goal. I wanted to be creative and do something in a creative field. When I proposed being a fine artist to my dad he said, “You’re not going to make any money!” Luckily, I went to a really interesting high school - it was just a public school, but it had a very good art program where I had studied both advertising and fashion. So I had three years of fashion design and two years of advertising. During that time I would take classes at FIT and I spent a summer at RISD. I got to study a lot of fashion in high school even, which made it a natural progression when I went to Syracuse and studied art and advertising. At the time, they didn’t have a great fashion program so I didn’t apply, but I still loved fashion. I was always making stuff. I made handbags when I was a kid and jewelry in high school and I was selling that - my parents had a garage sale and I set up a little booth.
TP: So you had the benefit of having early introduction in high school.
LT: Yes, and my sister is actually a stylist in Boston and that was way before anyone knew what a stylist was. Everyone would ask, “What’s that job? You get to shop? What is that?” So I would assist her, she would have me help her with the returns. While I was in college, I also did a fashion internship here in New York City at Chaiken. But before I made the transition to becoming a stylist, I was actually an art director for two years - that’s what I thought I was going to do. I worked at two agencies, Saatchi & Saatchi and then Gotham. My favorite part of the job was briefing stylists, working with them, figuring out the wardrobe, picking out stuff on style.com, so I thought, “Why am I not doing this?” With that realization, I quit my day job, which was a really tough transition, but I went back to Chaiken and asked if I could freelance and help them out with fashion week under the condition that if anything came up, I was trying to get my foot in the door and they let me do it. So here I am.
TP: So you had quite a few distinct advantages & entries into the industry. One being that you went to a high school that primed you by introducing you to fashion and advertising. Many high schoolers at that point don’t even know that those types of jobs even exist. And then in college having the styling introduction through your sister, that’s unusual. Many of the jobs that we do don’t exist as formal options when you are looking at a post-college career options.
LT. So true. It’s amazing to me when I have assistants say they are taking styling classes - I’m like, “That’s a thing?” because it wasn’t a thing. Nobody knew about stylists when I was studying. It was not an option to me because I didn’t know how to get into it other than through my sister and I wanted to do my own thing, too. It was just a different field that no one knew about. I thought I was either going to be a fashion designer or an art director, because those were distinct fields that people knew about.
TP: You went from freelancing at an agency to working for Chaiken. How did you manage that and turn it into more than just freelance gigs, but a stable business?
LT: To start, it was just cold-calling anybody I could get my hands on. Any contact I had, I just reached out to. I would even google agency websites in New York and contact every stylist, and just say, “Hey, I’d love to assist you, here’s my resume.” Out of all of those people, ONE actually invited me to come to a shoot and try me out. I was her first assistant for years after that.
TP: I think it’s really wise that even though you had practical work experience, you didn’t go headlong into trying to be the lead stylist. You were smart enough to consider training under individuals. Some recent fashion school graduates go right into it & expect to be a lead stylist when there’s a lot you have to learn. What do you think is surprising about being a stylist that people graduating right now don’t realize?
LT: It was a lot of blood, sweat and tears to build a recognizable styling brand. Organization is definitely a huge thing. I tell every assistant that works with me, “You have to be organized, you have to be on time, you have to have a positive attitude and you have to be on top of things.” I’ve had to let many assistants go because they are spacey or they just don’t get it right away. However, I do always give second chances. Mistakes happen. But there are people who have it in them, and who want it - who just have that drive. There are others that think they can wake up tomorrow and be successful.
TP: One thing I’m always surprised by is the amount of heavy lifting stylists actually do, and I’m in the same boat that you are in terms of receipt and invoice organization. That is something people are always surprised by because they think “Stylists, oh they just go out and shop.”
LT: I actually had a neighbor yesterday who asked me if I’m a model, because she always sees me wearing nice clothing - and I was like sure I’ll take the sweet compliment - but I told her, actually I dress models. And she said “Oh my God, that’s my dream job - it’s so girly and fun!” It depends on the day (laughter)! I’m very fortunate that I love what I do and I don’t dread a day of work - that’s so important, but at the same time, it’s physically hard work. I’m on my feet all day and I’m exhausted by the end of it.
TP: What I love about working with you is that you are always so resourceful, and you do seem to live and breathe fashion styling. Whenever I talk to you about an initial concept, you immediately have ideas and resources. You have the eye for it and it’s always fun to work with you because it feels like a collaboration.
LT: Thank you. The most important part of job to me isn’t just putting together an outfit, it’s is the whole concept and I think that comes from my advertising background. I love to put together a story through wardrobe and it’s kind of like creating a piece of art. That’s what I love about it.
TP: As a producer also, I love your mood boards. How organized you are - they always look beautiful they are super easy to digest. Your advertising and design background shines through because it’s always so nicely presented which makes less work for me.
LT: I actually get that a lot from producers because it’s unusual to have the graphic design background that I have. I think it helps me digest the content as well and create a story around it. So I enjoy it as much as you appreciate it.
TP: Mood boards are a really important tool and important step in our process when we’re doing a photoshoot. It’s a nice way to let all parties - the advertising agency, the client, the stylist the photographer and the producer are all on the same page of what direction we are moving forward in. So I consider it a tool of the trade. What are some of the other tools that help you do your job?
LT: Well, along those lines I’ve found that because a lot of people don’t have the ability to create those layouts on InDesign, I use Pinterest a lot. I'm actually planning an editorial right now and the photographer, producer, hair and makeup all want to have input. So I said, “Let’s create this Pinterest board and you guys can all add to it.” That way, we could see where things were going based on the images added and then I could write little notes in the comments line like, “This is a great set background” or “This is a great idea for hair and makeup.” It’s along the same lines as a mood board, but it's collaborative (and private, too there’s a setting for that). You can even present to editor and it’s a great tool for us to stay organized. I don’t know how I would do this job if I wasn’t organized.
TP: What would you say some of the highlights or challenges or you career have been?
LT: There are so many challenges. Budgets are always a challenge because everyone always wants a lot for a little. So I always try to make the most out of my budget, whether it’s borrowing from indie designers, or shopping at TJ Maxx where I can get cool designer pieces for a lot less, and just being creative about that kind of stuff. That’s one of the biggest challenges. Some of the more challenging projects I’ve worked on are with real people. I’ve done a lot of makeover stories where people don’t feel so good about themselves and then you dress them and they’re are supposed to feel a lot better - but they are very self conscious. So you have to convince them that they look great and that’s challenging because it’s not just the styling but it’s also working with people’s personalities and trying to make them feel better. But it’s also the most rewarding. I love that part about it. I’ve done a lot of those Good Morning America ambush makeover kind of things. It’s fun. I was there until 8 at night working with one woman. We were at Ted Gibson salon, trying on so many dresses because she just wasn’t feeling confident and then once she got the hair and makeup done, and she realized how beautiful she was, it all came together and she felt great.
TP: I think one of the challenges working with real people is that unlike models they don’t have body awareness and something so important to your work is talent sizes. With a real person, you might think you are an 8 or a 10, but you aren’t as in tune with your size or what your exact measurements are. I always try to get those people to measure themselves, because people can show up and nothing will fit.
LT: I have a funny story about that. A lot of people don’t know their size. I did a shoot for Discovery Channel and Mike Tyson for his show and I spoke to his wife who is his manager and she said, “He just lost a lot of weight and so he’s probably this size, but he used to be that size, so I think he’s probably the smaller size.” And he only wears Lucky Jeans. So I practically bought the store of Lucky Jeans. I went through and bought four different sizes of every color, every style and showed up with a whole rack of Lucky Jeans. When he came in, he did not want to change anything from the waist down. He only changed tops. But he was wearing his own Lucky Jeans! But the bottom line is, I was prepared for anything.
TP: I love your blog I love your social media presence, so let’s talk about the ways you promote yourself.
LT: I think in this day and age its a lot easier to promote yourself with social media and blogs. You don’t need money or advertising or to pay for all of that stuff if you can promote yourself through these means. I think it’s really an exciting time. For me as a stylist, I wanted to be more than just a stylist, especially because when I was making the leap to be a stylist on my own, it was right around the time of the economic crash, so I was competing with people for jobs who had 20 years of experience and were taking pay cuts or young kids with no experience who would do the job for $200. I thought to myself, “How am I going to stand out?” I needed to find a way to create a brand that says I’m not just a stylist but a style expert.
TP: And you are The Brooklyn Stylist.com!
LT: Right! The blog actually came about because I was styling bloggers for TJ Maxx. It was interesting to me to find that a lot of these women had amazing taste and style, and they did such a great job of promoting themselves, but a lot of them didn’t have so much experience in fashion. So I thought, “What do they have to say compared to what I can say as a stylist who is immersed in this everyday of my life behind the scenes? What can I say that’s different?” That’s when I started my blog to talk about what’s going on this industry and get that out there. It’s not just “look at me in this pretty outfit,” it’s “this is the next designer you need to know or this is how you can style this a different way” for real people.
TP: You come at your blog with multiple angles rather than just “this is the outfit I’m wearing today,” which is why you have readership and reach a broad audience. What I like is that you also involve your audience, it’s not just me me me. It’s “Hey, what are the fashion issues you’re having, I’ll address them.” And you are also keeping people aware of the work you do in fashion style, but also the designers to look out for. Whats next for you? You just relaunched your site. Do you have anything coming down the pipelines?
LT: I do want to expand on that, I’m really focusing on making that a brand. I don’t want to be a blogger, I want to be The Brooklyn Stylist. If someone wants a stylist in Brooklyn or New York City and they want to have someone on the pulse of what’s cool, I want them to think of me. I’ve been doing a lot of TV as a stylist expert and that’s an exciting world to be in, because it’s not just being behind the scenes it’s kind of fun to just be the expert and talk about my knowledge and my experience.
TP: Well I think you’ve already created quite a name for yourself because you have companies reaching out to your for endorsements, you have brand recognition there for sure. Where do you draw your inspiration from?
LT: I think it depends on what I’m styling, but overall living in New York City - I think that’s my biggest inspiration. Especially living in Brooklyn everybody is just so hip and trendy. Whether it’s their own personal style and they don’t care what other people think, it’s just so interesting to people watch in New York City. I draw a lot of inspiration from that.
TP: On that note, do you have a favorite cafe or boutique in the city?
LT: There are so many! I’m a little biased because I have a friend who owns the Wayland it’s just a cool low key bar with an old timey kind of vibe and really good kale margarita. As far as boutiques, I actually really love the artisans and flea markets, the Brooklyn Flea, all those different kind of markets because it’s not just what’s established, you’re seeing what’s about to be the next thing. And as a stylist, that’s what I look for - is not what everybody else is wearing, I want to see what’s about to be and what should be the next thing that everybody is wearing.
Thanks so much for your interview, Liz!
Interview with Liz Teich by Annika Howe, photos by Adrian Alston.
Find out what's in Liz's tool kit here!