The Producer sits down with Los Angele Stylist Anne Ross.
The Producer: Hello Anne, thank you so much for joining us today. Tell me a little bit about what you do in the photo world.
Anne Ross: Hi there! I am a prop & wardrobe stylist.
TP: And how would you describe your role to someone outside our industry?
AR: I usually say I’m the person who dresses the people or who makes the background or room look good.
TP: How did you come into your role as a stylist?
AR: Well, I went to school thinking I wanted to be a buyer for high-end women’s clothing. After a few classes, I was very disappointed to realize how boring this job would actually be! After studying business and merchandising at Eastern Illinois University, I worked at Marshall Field’s renowned flagship store (now Macy’s) in Chicago, where I was designing and installing window displays. This experience led me to my next position at Anthropologie in Los Angeles as a District Visual Merchandiser, directing the creative team on the West Coast. At that time, Anthropologie was a small chain experiencing rapid growth. Suddenly, I was managing the creative staff of eight stores from Phoenix to Seattle and quickly gained confidence in my decision-making and design skills. After a while I became restless, working for a single company and was ready for a change. I began to create a portfolio as a stylist by working on test shoots with local photographers. Eventually, I left my full time job and started freelance work on Rodeo Drive installing windows for Prada, Gucci, Ferragamo, Escada, and Jimmy Choo. I assisted a few stylists and immediately realized how ready I was to key my own jobs. I’ll never forget the first cold call I made where the photographer asked me several questions I was not prepared for: “How much would you budget for a 3 day shoot, 5 looks per day?”, “What’s your day rate?”, “How many assistants do you use?” Even though I stumbled through the questions, he eventually ended up hiring me. He later told me how he appreciated my boldness & spirit… and that was my first paid job as a lead stylist!
TP: Brave lady! And how did that first job go?
AR: Thanks! My first shoot was for a cover of Vogue magazine. It featured several up & coming tv celebrities. The key stylist had a five assistants. I couldn’t believe the amount of trunks shipped in from NYC! It was the biggest shoot I had been a part of and included security guards protecting diamonds from Harry Winston. The vibe in the air was extremely tense and no one looked to be having fun. I was so excited but the surrounding tension soon wiped away my positive energy. What could have been a great time was filled with stress, yelling, snapping, and attitude. The pinnacle was the key stylist yelling at her first assistant to the point that she had a breakdown and was hysterically crying on set. It was then that I began to realized this was not the avenue of set life that I wanted to pursue. It was a great turning point to my career knowing that the glam and glitz of high fashion was not in the cards for me and that I would move more towards lifestyle styling.
TP: Sounds incredibly intense. I can’t believe that first experience didn’t scare you away entirely! So what is an average day like for you?
AR: The great thing about freelance work is there really really isn’t an “average” day. The most common flow during a job begins by meeting with the client/agency to see exactly what they are looking for. This process can take several weeks to just a few days, depending on the scope of the shoot and how prepared the client is. I then begin my own research and pre-shopping to put pieces on hold or get an idea of what’s available. A few days out [from the shoot] is when I have an assistant join me in pulling what is needed for the job. The bulk of the work is in the prep! I use my anxiety in my favor by thinking of all angles, not just what the client asked for, but to also think about what they didn’t ask for, or may request while we’re on set. Once the shoot is finished, there is usually one or two days to wrap out the job. This includes sorting everything to return to stores and rental houses, compiling all the paperwork and receipts in order to put an invoice together for the job. This time also offers a nice bit of closure to the job, as my assistants and I often replay which options worked versus those that didn’t … all as we undo all that we put together. Between jobs, I spend my days networking, updating new pictures to my website, gathering images from previous shoots, and various accounting and bookkeeping tasks.
TP: What do you like the most about your work?
AR: I love how different every day is. I thrive in a work environment that is always different. To me, the shoot days are where our talent really comes into play. A large factor in the success of a stylist is being able to come up with solutions and ideas quickly, often under pressure, all while maintaining the balance of your personal style with the clients’ desires. I also love connecting with crews that become like family as we work together time and time again. It offers some regularity and familiarity in a constantly changing landscape.
TP: What’s the most challenging aspect of your career?
AR: Sometimes a constantly fluctuating schedule can become exhausting in and of itself. Trying to carve out some kind of regular pattern and routine can be very challenging...especially as a working parent!
TP: I can only imagine juggling this career with a family! For someone looking to jump into the industry, what would your advice be to an aspiring stylist?
AR: My advice would be that there are many stylists out there and the competition can be fierce. Think about what qualities you possess that make you different from other stylists. Understanding what you enjoy most about the work and using that as a marketing angle will help find the clients you connect best with.
TP: What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
AR: I have two very distinct memories. The first was when I worked at Marshall Field’s. As a young 20-something, just out of college, I started as an assistant manager in the women’s couture department. My manager was a 50-something Chicago socialite named Lee Parker, who was always impeccably dressed. She was beautiful inside and out and taught me so much. She took me under her wing. With such grace and patience, she gave me daily lessons not only on managing the department, but in life in general. One day we went down into the basement shipping department. As she glided through in her Issey Miyake couture, the blue-collar shipping workers would stop, smile, greet her, genuinely happy to see her and eager to help. She must have noticed my awareness of these worlds colliding and stopped in her tracks, pulled my shoulders to face her, looked me deep in the eyes and said, “ALWAYS be nice to EVERYONE. You never know how you can help someone or how someone can help you.” This has always stuck with me.
The other experience took place many years later. I’d been practicing yoga for a while and working on the mental side of it...staying calm, being present, and enjoying each moment. I had a job that took me to NYC. Prepping a job in NYC is far different from my local LA market and I was eager to utilize what I’d learned in my practice to prep my job with grace under pressure. I reveled in the differences between NY and LA and enjoyed the moment with each person I interacted with. When I got to the Garden District, I was impressed with how calm this particular shopkeeper was as his tiny space was completely covered with trees, plants, and flowers. As I started to feel overwhelmed with the lack of space and how much was crammed in the tiny shop, I remembered my yoga practice. I asked the shopkeeper how he stayed so calm and present. He looked at me and said, “All you need to remember is: It is what it is and it does what it does.” A perfect sentiment for my yoga mind and a quote I often reference in my head to stay calm.
TP: Now that you have been active in your career for many years, you’ve had the opportunity to hire your own assistants. What qualities do you look when hiring an assistant?
AR: Attitude is the most important aspect for me. My favorite assistants possess a positive, can-do attitude. No matter what the challenge, together we figure out what we need to do and get it done. It’s a fine balance of taking the work seriously and paying mind to the details, but not so seriously that we forget to have fun. Obviously, a good sense of design and style are also critical.
TP: What are your future goals or career dreams?
AR: I recently worked with a prop stylist who was 65 years old. She was such an inspiration to me, knowing that as long as I feel good, I can keep doing this for years to come. I have so much passion for making a beautiful set and for making a model feel great. I plan to keep doing that as long as I can and see how the future unfolds. I’d also like to keep working to the point that I can hire my kids to assist me as they know my job inside and out!
TP: I can imagine your children are learning about the industry almost by osmosis! Hopefully they are good little helpers & maybe they’ll join the industry one day too! Do you have a highlight or success story you’d like to share?
AR: Yes, recently an unfamiliar agency inquired about my availability for a shoot with one of my existing clients. I wasn’t available for their time frame, and they mentioned they’d just use their own person. A few days later, the agency called back, asking precisely which days I would available as the client would only wanted to do the shoot if I could style it. A nice ego boost for sure!
TP: How rare to have the shoot schedule revolve around your availability for once and such a lovely vote of confidence from your existing client. That loyalty is so refreshing! Ok, separate from your career, who exactly is Anne Ross?
AR: Apart from my career, I am a mom of two amazing girls & this encompasses nearly all of my spare time. They’ve grown up experiencing my job almost as much as I have. They’ve helped prep jobs, load the truck (they love operating the liftgate) and know me so well, they often help remind me of my core beliefs when I come to an indecisive moment. My family is an incredible support system. When not working, we love hiking in the surrounding mountains, driving off to the beach for a sunset swim, and making each other laugh with our sarcastic sense of humor. My husband and I also really enjoy yoga and have deepened our 20+-year relationship through our joint practice.