The behind the scenes workers carefully watch the photoshoot in progress
Last time I wrote about studying fashion in Japan, I had a mountain of requests on how to get a job here. Getting the job is just half the battle… think of it as a marriage; wedding day is just the beginning. You’re in for quite the ride…
So, graduating from Bunka Fashion College in the stylist course, it’s pretty obvious I wanted to style. But I also couldn’t go out and assist for 5 years while living at home which is quite the norm here, and I needed to be in a company for legal reasons (if you’re a foreigner you cannot get around this…deal with it). So it was up to me work on this career on the side, building up a portfolio as I went along. And a quick 10-second introduction to styling, for those who don’t know what it means: a stylist puts together outfits on a model/celebrity/singer/etc for TV/magazines/commercials/appearances etc.
Sounds much easier said than done. Where do you get the clothes from? How do you carry the clothes? What if the clothes don’t fit? What if the clothes don’t match? What if you RUIN the clothes? What if your model hates your clothes? So many factors…. it is EXTREMELY political.
The MUA (make up artist) must keep a close watch and adjust at all times
This is where everything in the world of styling is the same. Every stylist needs a potfolio, whether Japanese or American or Slavic or whatever. This portfolio shows your best work, including magazine shoots or celebrity styling, etc. I hear that in the West, you are judged on your WORST photos, so its very edited. In Japan, it seems like “the more the better” is the way. Some photographers and hair/makeup artists will bring like two or three books to show me their work. It’s kind of a pain to go through…. A true portfolio is usually leather-bound and super expensive and extremely heavy to carry around..in other words totally inconvenient for actually getting work. I moved all my work online and to my iPad and didn’t get any complaints. However, considering fashion editors here are mostly still from the “analog” generation and super picky, they might expect to see a 40,000-yen nice leather-bound portfolio book packed with lots of photos.
Adjusting a model’s accessory…
Building your Repertoire- Spec shoots, TFP
Even if you’re not getting editors and celebrities knocking down your door to work with them, you need to constantly be shooting and working on your skill. This is called TFP (time for portfolio). The photographer, stylist, MUA and model put in their time for free to get photos for their portfolio. In Japan it’s not too difficult to get “new face” models from agencies in return for photos for that model– I know in some markets like China, for example white models won’t even get out of bed if they’re not getting paid. In the west, you can get an AMAZING model anytime, anywhere…obviously. When shooting TFP, or even officially in Japan, you can’t just go outside and shoot, you have to have special permits. THIS FUCKS EVERYONE. I won’t even tell you how many times my team has been chased out of a location. One guy threatened to call the military, then the yakuza on us. Another building owner wouldn’t let us shoot behind his building just….because. It’s all done on the down-low…*shhhh*
Stylists’ main weapon: the clothespin!
Getting clothes for TFP is quite the challenge because you have to have a relationship with a brand to lend to you. In the west, many stylists will grab their credit cards, buy some stuff, then return it later. YOU CANNOT RETURN CLOTHING IN JAPAN. It’s not even an option. So then as a stylist you have to build up friendships with luxury brands, local brands, sporty brands, preppy brands, mens brands, womens brands, teen brands, missus brands, etc etc because each job is different. That’s a LOT of brands. We are talking a lifetime-worth here. It takes time. And in Japan relationships are really important so you can’t just ask for a catalog all the time..you need to go to the exhibitions, events, shows, etc to build that relationship.
Another way to build a career in the west is to do “spec” shoots, where a team shoots TFP but then gets the pics published in a magazine later (the magazine didn’t have to pay for the shoot, so it suits them- it’s a win-win situation since magazine shoots are the best form of advertising for a stylist, photographer, model etc). Japan does NOT do spec. The magazines know exactly who is going to shoot what at all times. I get so many requests from overseas photographers asking me to shoot with them and then wanting it to be published here later. It’s NOT gonna happen so don’t ask me.
You KNOW I`m seriously working because I’m in flats!
This is where the difference between a stylist who works in Japan and one who learned the ropes overseas differs greatly. I can’t speak for EVERYONE obviously since each stylist is different, but generally:
Jp- Outfits are decided beforehand. Many even sketch it out or do collage and bring it to the set. Many times, we don’t need to do fitting.
West-Stylist shows up on set and THEN picks out outfits according to mood, after fitting the model, etc.
Sometimes I draw sketches of my outfits before I go on set
Jp-unless you have EXPRESS permission from the brand and magazine, you cannot mix brands on the same outfit. It’s a very fine line…very political, and one needs to be aware of the rules. Ignoring them will get you blacklisted, rather than a “Thanks for shooting our brand!”. In some cases, you may feel more like a “clothing babysitter” than a “stylist”. True story.
West- There are rules, but it seems far for free and open to mix labels, as long as the stylist gets to stick to the theme and makes the magazine happy (rather than the brand).
Jp-DON’T LOSE A TAG. I know it’s just a TAG but gezus, I have had nightmares about losing a tag and having to pay for a luxury item. I got a harried phone call once from a big brand right after I returned a sample, “Where’s the TAG??”…*heart attack commence* “I swear to God, that sample didn’t have one!!” and sure enough I was right. Heart-attack.
West- If the tag is in the way, they will CUT that shit off, so that at the end of the shoot, tags are all over the studio floor (thinking about it is giving me a heart attack)
Model casting board
In the west, it is generally understood that a showroom will deliver samples to a studio and it is up to the stylist to return them. In Japan, it is the *stylists* job to do both pick-up and return. So then one needs to have either a van or an army of assistants at their disposal. And pickup times and returns are limited to a window of just a few hours…it’s like you’re in an action movie where if you don’t return everything in time the bomb on your bus is going to blow up, like *KABOOM*! The general rule in returning in Japan is, “Give it back in better shape than when it was returned.” Which, if you think about it…clothing falls apart the more it is worn…and is nearly unavoidable. With that said however, I am like a muthaeffin HAWK on set, watching and making sure NOTHING happens. No sequin out of place, no hair to be seen. But sometimes…shit happens. A model I had once broke a zipper on a skirt. Tape we used to protect the sole of a shoe ruined the leather. HEARTATTACK! A big stylist friend of mine once called me up asking if I knew of anyone to be his new assistant. “What happened to your old one?” I asked. “I have to go do DOGEZA beg forgiveness for a broken sample”. He said. Uh-oh. This is not just “sorry”, this is get-down-on-hands-and-knees-beg-for-forgiveness-sorry DOGEZA. Stylists in the west tell me samples get broken, fall apart all the time and it’s no big deal as long as it’s in the magazine.
Again, mostly babysitter here… most celebs attend an event and the brand chooses what they think a celeb should wear. I am not SUPER versed in this area, but it has a lot to do with having a budget to rent clothing or major friendships with brands, and just making sure a sample fits (which they often don’t…samples are HUGE and celebrities are TINY). Compared to magazine styling, it’s a very tough job.
For celebrity styling, it’s necessary to have a mountain of choices for even just one outfit
It’s very stressful to work here because the road to becoming a stylist is generally very limited, its very political and everyone is so goddamned particular. HOWEVER, compared to *anywhere* else in the world, there is more fashion to be found in Japan than anywhere else. There’s so much going on, and so many magazines and so many celebs that there is a ton of opportunity if one is willing to fight for it. And the BEST part of working as a stylist in Japan? Magazines pay per page for work. This is UNHEARD of in the west. We win!
Speaking of styling, my portfolio is here. And while I certainly have a particular style, I also do very commercial work. A stylist is considered great for their eye, how well they take care of clothes, if they can stay within budget, and how well they work with a very small team on set. Getting all of this balanced out means a stylist gets continuous work. I will keep on doing styling because its my passion, although I enjoy the creative direction side as well. As long as I don’t die from a heart attack first!
Final photo with everyone on the team after the shoot. It’s so amazing to be able to create something so powerful with such a small team every time!