TheProducer: Hello Pia! Thank you so much for joining us today. Tell me, how would you define your job, especially if you were explaining it to someone outside of our industry?
Pia Malatesta: I create characters - with clothing & accessories, mostly based on someone else’s vision. Contrary to popular belief, all looks are not the stylist’s final word. Creative styling control depends on the type of project I happen to be working on. For example, I source all possible options for a commercial’s cast or photo shoot’s talent based on a script or mood board from the director & creative team. Then, we have a fitting with the director or photographer, a few key creatives from the ad agency and clients. Together, we decide on final looks. In a fashion editorial, we usually collaborate with the magazine editors for that final look. The approach to prepping each job is quite different too, but I enjoy them equally!
TP: How did you come to this industry? What was your career path?
PM: I have always had a love for fashion and music, but I wasn’t sure what I could do in either industry to make a living. While growing up in Miami, I had built up some contacts in the music business from working promotions and hiring DJs for clubs in South Beach. I then decided to move back to NY in my late 20s to further my career. I landed a job at Bad Boy Entertainment as an assistant to the Head of A&R Admin. After a few years at Bad Boy, I left for another major label, Arista Records. All the while, I was still following my fashion aspirations by taking night classes at FIT. As time passed, I realized that I was quite heavily involved in the business side of things, yet I still had a strong desire to do something more creative. I decided to leave the record label industry and set out to work in TV production, climbing the ranks in various departments, while trying to find the right fit for me. Inevitably, that turned out to be the wardrobe department! As in any industry, you have to start at the bottom. I began assisting and taking any work offers from other stylists in whichever projects they had i.e. TV Commercials, Music Videos, TV promos etc… Today I get to blend my production and fashion experience all into one!
TP: Do you recall your first styling job?
PM: Definitely! It was a prescription drug commercial. I learned a great deal on that first one, from staying away from competitor’s brand colors to target audience references - a few key factors to consider in a commercial production and they all differ depending on the product.
TP: Is there such thing as an average day on the job for you?
PM: Theoretically, when I’m working on a commercial, I start by going over all emails & boards pertaining to a job. Usually I will head in for a meeting with the director or photographer. If I’m working from home, I handle the communications with my producer & director on mood boards and the overall project vision. The second part of the day, I spend sourcing and shopping for the shoot. After returning to my studio or the production office, I organize and code the day’s purchases. Oh, and I eat lunch and dinner somewhere in there! Prep days can be so hectic, sometimes you simply forget to eat!
TP: Mealtimes definitely have a tendency to sneakily pass me by too when we’re in the thick of a production. Sometimes, it is hard to stop when you are on a roll! So, what do you like the most about your work?
PM: The creative collaborations!
TP: And what do you consider the most challenging?
PM: The creative collaborations! [laughing}
TP: Do you work alone or as part of a team?
PM: Usually, I’m a one woman show, but depending on the scope of the project, it may involve some additional help due to the number of people that will need styling on any given project. I work with both assistants and intern. If I am working with an intern and they prove themselves during a prep day, I will take them on as an assistant on the shoot day.
TP: What do you look for in an assistant or intern?
PM: Honesty, good organization skills, a sense of urgency …. and of course style!
TP: What would your advice be to an aspiring stylist?
PM: Be prepared to have a secondary source of income while working towards becoming a paid stylist. In the beginning, more times than not, it can mean working for free as you establish & prove yourself. Second - remember that working for free can pay off in bigger ways than you ever imagined. So do it!
TP: How do you normally acquire new projects or work?
PM: With 10 years of styling under my belt, I consider myself lucky to have repeat clients who always have new projects. Otherwise, I’m always checking in online with other crew members, producer and my local union. I also operate out of multiple cities. I’m fortunate enough to have a place in Miami where I still work as a local and pick up work.
TP: So great that you bounce between NYC & Miami. I fondly remember working with you in Miami for the first time & how hard you worked. I have to say, it’s great to have you here in NYC too! Tell me, through which channels do you promote yourself or your business?
PM: I have a website portfolio & a YouTube Channel, but I also use Linkedin, Google Plus, Instagram & Twitter. I write a fashion-related, behind-the-scenes blog on the Blogger platform called, “Pia’s Last Looks” - it’s behind-the-scenes & everything in-between! I’m also in the union - International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, aka the IATSE Local 477
TP: Have you ever considered getting representation?
PM: Yes I have, especially recently because I’m tired of the financial negotiation aspect of the gig. Although, I must say that it is nice not having to split my earnings with someone else!
TP: What’s your dream for your career?
PM: I’m currently living my dream doing what I love for a living everyday.
TP: From which sources do you draw your inspiration?
PM: I find inspiration in so many different things. Mostly, I’m inspired by my travels, the sea, my Instagram feed … and YouTube is my new guilty pleasure.
TP: Have any mentors or others you look up to?
PM: I really admire the career of Vogue’s Grace Coddington. I also look up to Iris Arpel for her styling artistry.
TP: Do you have a highlight or success story you’d like to share?
PM: A recent highlight was attending Paris Fashion Week last year. I’ve been attending NY & Miami Fashion Weeks for a few years, but Paris is on a whole other level! I remember having a pretty funny experience while working with Kid Cudi & David Guetta on their “Memories” music video. In the video, the talent & models had to pretend as if they were an actual camera crew shooting the video themselves, but there’s a catch. The entire pretend camera crew was an all girls crew, and all of them were NAKED throughout the entire video! Oh, did I mention that these girls had to pretend all over the city, and the temperature outside was only in the 50s!? My assistant and I were scrambling b/w shots, covering up the girls & trying to keep them warm b/w takes. These girls were real troopers!
TP: Tell me about you, separate from your career.
PM: Well, I’m obsessed with Chelsea, my English Bull Terrier that we rescued from the streets of Miami. With so many animals needing loving homes, I believe in only having rescue animals as pets. Some of my other passions include traveling the globe with my love, long board surfing, and participating in saving our environment and oceans in any way I can.
TP: What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten from anyone?
PM: Stay humble. You never know who you will get your next job from.