Burn It All With Fire: How I Became A Stylist In Russia

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Burn It All With Fire: How I Became A Stylist In Russia
Burn It All With Fire: How I Became A Stylist In Russia
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Working in the fashion industry still seems many something "frivolous". At best, knowledge about her is limited to cliches from the cinema: if we are talking about stylists, then they imagine a person who, on set, once every half an hour straightens the folds on the model's clothes. We asked Irina Dubina about what the profession of a stylist really means and how one can become one: after leaving her journalistic career, Dubina completely focused on stylizing filming, having managed to collaborate with publications from Buro 24/7 to the online version of Italian Vogue and brands from Kuraga to Maria Stern.

Text: Irina Dubina, stylist and author of the Megastil telegram channel

I never dreamed of working in fashion. Until the age of eighteen, I was generally not interested in clothes - my mother had to take a lot of work to drag me to the store to buy a replacement for leaky jeans or a down jacket for the winter. This is strange, because as a child, I remember how I loved to sew clothes for my own and dress up paper dolls - I had a dozen of them. Probably, interest still sat somewhere deeply, but stories like “I have been sticking to Vogue magazines since my early nails” are not about me. Although my mother never denied herself buying clothes, not to say that she adhered to any particular style. For me, this is still a sore subject: no one instilled in me a sense of beauty from childhood and I had to work on the education of taste and style already at a conscious age.

After school I entered MEPhI - Moscow Engineering Physics Institute. It was my parents' decision: all my life I considered myself a 100% humanist, but then I had to immerse myself in physics and mathematics. Mom, naturally, chose the university for reasons of the prestige of the future profession: she thought that after graduation I would go to work at some Rosatom and earn a lot of money. Then I developed an interest in fashion - I think I finally started to feel attractive and wanted to decorate myself somehow. At that time, fashion blogs were just beginning to appear - so I discovered a brave new world in which I could hang out for several hours a day. I sat in the VKontakte public places, where the girls laid out their bows. Some of them, by the way, have become successful stylists and bloggers.

Hello! Here is my blog

During my fourth year, I finally realized that the future in the nuclear industry was not at all interesting to me. I wanted to try myself as a stylist, but there were no working tools - actually things. My wardrobe was more than modest, and there was no money for clothes. Then I decided to start a blog on LJ and post everything that I think about what is happening in fashion there. I have always been good at working with texts, and writing notes was a pleasure. Towards the end of the course, I decided to try my luck in some glossy magazine, but I didn't have a resume or portfolio, so my cover letter looked like: “Hello! My name is Ira, I would like to work in your magazine. Here is a link to my blog. " Only Collezioni answered me: I was hired as an intern and in almost five years I grew to a feature editor.

Working as a fashion journalist implies a large store of knowledge on the topic of not only fashion, but also related areas. Perhaps the best thing that this experience gave me was knowledge about the history of the costume, about the nature of stylistic trends, about the work of the industry. I enjoyed writing lyrics and interviewing, but one day I felt it was getting crowded. I wanted to try myself in creating a fashionable picture - it seemed that I had potential. My editor-in-chief and friend Tanya gave such an opportunity, and we made a few simple shootings in tandem with fashion editor Lesha. The sensations were great: from a set of things you create a holistic, complete image.

On two fronts

In February 2015, Collezioni was closed, and I, along with the editor-in-chief, moved to Cosmopolitan Shopping as chief editor. Not to say that the aesthetics of the magazine was close to me, but it was thanks to this place that I started working as a stylist. About a year later, I was offered to become the chief editor of the Harper’s Bazaar website, where I continued to develop in a new direction for myself. All this time I worked on two fronts: writing and filming. And if on the first I felt like a fish in water, then with the second things did not go so smoothly. Due to a lack of experience, there were failed filming - I know that colleagues spoke about them unflatteringly behind my back. Dealing with toxic people also did not increase self-confidence. In 2017, the site team was disbanded; I was sure that after a short break I would return to full-time work in some publication, but in the end I went to freelance. For a year and a half I worked both as a journalist and as a stylist, but then I threw all my strength into the second.

There were many difficulties. First, most people in the industry have long perceived me as an author rather than a stylist, in part because my experience was limited compared to my peers. Secondly, I never worked as an assistant, which I regret, and many aspects had to learn from my own mistakes. Why, periodically failures happen even now. Everything is important: from how the thing sits on the model in the frame, to the completeness of the image with the hairstyle and make-up. It seems that these are all little things, but analyzing the work of cool stylists, I began to understand that it is the little things that make the picture. To be honest, I still do not consider myself an accomplished professional: I have to improve my skills every day and I always try to make a new shoot better than the previous one. No one is immune from impostor syndrome.

A month without filming

Working as a freelance stylist is a constant struggle with your own ego. You can sit without work for weeks, watching your colleagues do something every day, and feel like a mediocre worthlessness. In the summer I had a nervous breakdown: it seemed to me that no one needed me, I had no abilities and no one liked my filming. I sincerely envied those who have regular work: it seemed that this is happiness.

Now I understand that daily shooting in itself does not mean anything. If you are not Lotta Volkova, you hardly have to work exclusively with top clients and cool magazines. By agreeing to dubious projects, you waste energy and creativity, so it is much more important to prioritize, rather than chase demand. I don't have a stable filming schedule, every month it's different. For example, this January has suddenly turned into a continuous vacation - not a single project. Of course, this is scary: do you think, what if the next month will be the same? It’s not only about making money, but also about the fact itself: it seems that if clients and magazines don’t offer you a job, then you are worse than the rest. The reasons, however, can be many. For example, in our industry, orders often appear due to connections: someone recommended you or your photographer friend brought you to a project. There are even those who specifically try to make friends with influential guys, but this approach is not close to me - perhaps that is why I spent the whole January without work!

Rude clients and unexpected expenses

It seems to me that outsiders find it difficult to believe that the profession of a stylist is emotionally and physically hard work, but it really is. You carry heavy bags, run around the city in search of the right things, and on set you crawl on your knees to tie your shoelaces. Often you work with unpleasant clients who want “I don’t know what”, think your fee is too high and are sure that they understand styling better than you. You take part in projects for which they pay very little or "forget" to pay at all. Often you take full responsibility for things whose price is comparable to the average salary in Moscow.

The last point, by the way, is the biggest pain of freelance stylists: those who work with magazines are usually safer, since the publication takes responsibility for things. In my practice, there are enough problem situations. Once the assistant overlooked and during the delivery a clue was found on the silk dress - while the thing was not even worn on the model. Fortunately, it was repaired, but I paid for the repair myself. On another shoot, I bought a top combination and forgot to check it in the store - after the fact, it also had a clue. When returning to prove that it was, of course, it was not possible - the thing had to be redeemed, and it cost, to put it mildly, a lot.

It happens that in the process of shooting the model unsuccessfully crouched or stepped on, tore a seam, erased the sole of a shoe, stretched out her knees on her pants - again, the responsibility for this is on you. It got to the point of ridiculousness: once in a store I was assured that I had ripped off the tag on the body, and then sewed it on with other threads. In short, I'm afraid to even estimate how much money I had to pull out of my pocket for such unforeseen expenses. And the client, alas, is not always ready to donate a ruble.

Things and restrictions

By the way, the question of where to get things for filming is another sore point for most local stylists. There are very few branded showrooms in Moscow that provide samples, that is, samples of catwalk items, so you often have to negotiate with local stores. As far as I know, this practice is widespread only in Russia - there is no such thing in Europe and America. Stores, in turn, also have no reason to lend things, especially if you are shooting for a non-Moscow client. What if someone could buy this dress or shoes? Every time you have to persuade PR people to give at least a couple of positions.

The second point - with clothes from stores, you need to be as careful and accurate as possible, God forbid, when you return it, a defect will be found on it. On the one hand, this situation limits the working range, but on the other hand, you can improve the skills of a non-standard approach to styling. For example, I decided, since I do not have the opportunity to constantly take Gucci and Balenciaga to shoot, I will look for cool things in other places: in second-hand shops, vintages, at Avito. I already have a warehouse of clothes, shoes and accessories at home, which I bought specifically for filming and I use regularly. This, by the way, is very convenient: everything is at hand and you don't have to run all over the city every time. At first I was sorry to spend hard earned money on such purchases, but now I understand - this is my set of tools for work.

Local Industry

I often hear from my colleagues that there is no fashion industry in Russia, as if the market is organized in an amateurish way. The countdown dates back to the appearance of Vogue in 1998 - it is believed that too little time has passed for the mechanism to start working without failures. Yes, here, of course, there are nuances of work both from the financial and from the creative side, but where are they not? I believe that everything depends on you. You need to decide whether you want to adjust to the system and justify yourself by the lack of conditions and bad taste of customers and editors, or you want to squeeze the maximum and make a cool product despite all the bugs. Sometimes you think, but burn it all with fire, who needs it at all? But the trick is that you yourself should first of all need it. When you work in the creative field, it is important to remain honest with yourself and answer first to the inner censor.

cover: Dima Black

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