Who gave you your first job?
Saatchi & Saatchi. It was a nice big one, a catalogue for David Jones (DJs). It was assisting Jenny Booth, this stylist in Sydney, and she’s now one of my dearest friends. After that stint I assisted other stylists and they weren’t like her at all. I think if I had assisted one of the others first then I would have been put off and thought, this is not for me. It can be quite bitchy. Saatchis and DJs became one of my regular clients when I was in Sydney. I was doing a lot of their catalogues, and it was excellent.
How do you try to stay away from that whole ‘bitchy’ side of the industry?
I think being freelance helps tremendously because you’re not in it, you’re not in the offices, and when you get regular work that’s when you start noticing it. I tend to not pursue it that way. I’m always about growing in my work; if I sense that it’s stagnating then I’ll try to correct it. I’m just not good with that at all.
It’s nice to know that you can succeed without being like that in it.
It’s something I really struggled with when I first started because my life actually revolves around human rights and sustainability and is very much about the person you are, but I was seeing how you had to be to succeed in styling … I’ve got big goals for what I’d like to achieve, but I was really thinking, I don’t know if I can do this, maybe I’m never going to be able to achieve what I want to achieve because I refuse to become that person and I will not treat somebody else like that ever. I had a real kind of, how am I gonna do this?
So how do you reconcile the part of you that’s passionate about human-rights and sustainability with the fact that your job is ultimately about making people buy more stuff?
Again, that first year was real make or break it for me because here I am making things look pretty for people to consume and I was distraught by it. I was like, I just don’t know how to do this. I just did tons of thinking and researching and I thought, with what I believe in, I can just preach to the converted or I can try to reach the masses. I want to be able to make the converted minority a majority.
I thought, what if I can use this to my benefit, what if I can make a bit of a name for myself? Then maybe I could help swing things to the balance and that’s exactly what I’m doing. I choose you know. I choose my clients and my blog is very much about local work, handmade work and sustainability. Even though I’m still promoting products, each and every one of them is within my core beliefs. I can also tell you that the me that I am, that my partner and my family knows, is a lot more opinionated than what you see on the blog.
You do get a taste for it on the blog. I know from there that you’re passionate about Tibet’s independence …
Yes. In Sydney I did a lot of work with the Tibetan community and I still continue to when I can. My friend Tempa is Tibetan. His father was a prisoner for 14 years and I made this pact with Tempa that I won’t go to Tibet until there’s peace. I love everything about Tibet and Tibetans, but I thought, it’s unfair for me as a westerner to go and visit their homeland when they can’t do it themselves. I would love to see it in my lifetime. My thing is that I do what I can to help.
There was also a beautiful piece of styling work that you did for an African non-profit on your blog recently.
That was through my agent, The House of Orange. They have a charity organisation called Orange Babies, started by the founders of the agency. They work a lot with children in Africa with HIV and mothers. I’ve got so much work on at the moment, because I’m working on another two books, so I had said to my agent that I couldn’t take any styling work until September/October, but then they mentioned what they were doing to raise funds for Orange Babies and I said “Okay, but just that one” because any opportunity to be able to help that directly is wonderful for me. They did a fashion show, a catwalk, as part of Amsterdam Fashion Week. Ten of the fashion stylists in the agency put together the show and everything was made out of recycled pieces and secondhand clothes put together perfectly. My contribution was doing the promotional photographs and the concept was a reverse goody bag. When you go to fashion shows you get a goody bag from the designer or whatever, but this was the reverse. You brought a piece of clothing to the show and we sent it to Africa. It was actually the first ever fashion show that I’ve been to. I don’t do fashion. That’s another thing I stay clear of because that’s again even worse, but it was fun.
I’m worried about you. I’m worried that you’re working as hard as you were when you had the two shops and not even going to the toilet.
I know, me too, but I said to myself that I would never do that again, so I’m always checking myself cause that was really hard. I’d like to think I’ve learnt a really big lesson there as far as keeping a balance.
Sometimes it’s hard when it’s in your nature though, isn’t it?
Exactly. I feel like for me it’s all happening at once. Everything I’ve worked hard for in the last 10 years is all coming at me right now, but it’s like I can’t enjoy any of it because I’m just trying to keep up with it and keep it here. I’m battling with myself as far as trying to keep the balance and still enjoy it. Even in the styling industry it’s very common for people to just work so hard and I said I’d never do that. It’s very much about being busy all the time, being run off your feet and you’ve got so many clients and I thought, I don’t want to do that. This is like a lifestyle choice as well for me so that I can have a bit of down time, look after my health and keep it in check, yeah. I’ll be alright, don’t worry.
Oh good, I hope I don’t add too much to your plate doing this for Dumbo Feather.
No … What I particularly like about Dumbo feather is that it reminds me of a part of myself. There’s a depth to what you do and that’s exactly what I always felt was missing. When I was on a styling job I was always so interested in the people of the house – the house is just where they live you know. In this one story I’d been asked to put together I focused on the people: “How did this happen?”, “Where did you get this?” – but it just wasn’t at all what the magazine wanted. It wasn’t good enough, it wasn’t expensive enough, and I said, “But this is real. That’s what you’re supposed to be about; real homes with real people.” You probably know where I’m going with this … Anyway, we happened to be in another house shooting and it was … huge. It was so, like, nobody could afford this place. Anyway the editor turns to me and says, “This is the sort of place I’m talking about,” and I said, “But none of your readers can afford this,” and she’s like, “But it’s something to aspire to.” I was like, “It’s not realistic; they’re never gonna get this.” I just thought, this is not for me; I’m not doing this; you’re giving these people false … like, let’s be real. The people who have this house have either had money in their inheritance or whatever …
They’re in the 0.001 per cent.