Clothes are an integral puzzle piece of visual communication. What we choose to wear in preparation for the day is as careful a choice as deciding what we want from it. For many, clothes are a suit of armour; be an outfit concealing or revealing, intimidating or unnoticeable, it challenges the eyes of the world to take our hint.
For a stylist, clothes aren’t a practicality but a language. Their job is that of an interpreter – learning what the individual wants to express and picking the right communicators to achieve it. This means you need empathy, attentiveness, vision and an uninhibited eye for style. Keeping your ear to the ground with new trends is only part of the deal, to be a successful stylist you’ve got to think outside yourself and learn to make like a chameleon with exquisite taste. Rebekah Roy knows this, and she has spent her whole life teaching herself the language of fashion.
Having started by interning with Vogue, Rebekah’s career as a stylist has taken her to countless fashion shows and photoshoots, to appear on Britain’s Next Top Model and even to present her own TED Talk. We chatted with her about the importance of style, paths into the industry, and why so many people have the wrong idea about fashion.
Debut: When did you realise you wanted to work in fashion?
Rebekah: I think I was always interested in fashion. When I was little I enjoyed dressing dolls, and I I really loved constantly playing with ideas of image. That’s when I realised it could be used as a language.
What is it that drew you to styling in particular?
I was really interested in costumes. I took Women’s Studies at uni and I paid attention to the historical, political clothing from different eras and what it all represented. When we see fashion, we often see what was happening at a certain time. As for finding my way in work, I was born in Canada but I lived in the UK, so one of my first experiences applying my ideas was my internship at Vogue!
With the journey into fashion often being so complex, which path did you take?
Wherever you start, you start at the beginning! People talk about fashion being hard and competitive, but so are most jobs. If you want to be an artist you just have to paint, no one’s gonna hire you to paint unless you’re already doing it – you just have to start. People say it’s who you know but at any job it’s just hard work and that’s something that people will always appreciate.
Is there any type of training you’d recommend to an aspiring stylist?
I think there’s lots of really great short courses! London College of Style has some which are amazing, and what they do is really give you a base to work from.
So, what’s it really like behind the scenes of a fashion shoot?
They’re honestly always fun! Everyone’s done all the work beforehand so when you get there everyone has the moodboards, the models, all the fun stuff ready. Everyone then has a chance to actively add their creativity on the spot to a shoot which is great. Halfway through a recent shoot I did the hairstylist was like “no, I need to change this”, and had the total freedom to tweak his work and do that. You get the sense of being part of something greater than yourself, which is nice.
How do you adapt to so many others’ styles?
I just love fashion. I don’t just love luxury fashion or high street, I just love clothes and clothing as a form of expression and what it says about us. I work so diversely because to me it’s the diversity and uniqueness that are the most important things about fashion. In some ways I’m a facilitator of the client’s voice, especially when it comes to celebrities. Everyone has their specific needs, and it’s actually a really vulnerable place to be, being styled. It’s really about the person being styled. It’s getting to know your client and where they’re going and what they want to say.
I think it’s really important to be aware of the choices we make; sometimes our daily split-second decisions are the ones that change the whole course of our lives
I’ve read that inclusivity means a lot to you. Do you think the industry struggles with that?
Yes! I’ve had the opportunity to go to Pakistan and work with designers there, and worked in Saudi Arabia and I’ve had a lot of chances in my life to explore and work with magazines not afraid of diversity, and I think you have to create those environments. When you do, eventually the mainstream shifts and catches up. The more of a diverse environment you encourage and the more indie magazines that join in, the faster the mainstream moves.
As well as styling the likes of Kate Moss, you’ve got a TED Talk in the offing! Our ears are pricked – what can we expect from it?
I can’t believe I got to tick something like that off my bucket list! I wanted to get the message across that we need to stop and see whether we’re on the path we want to be on. I think it’s really important to be aware of the choices we make; sometimes our daily split-second decisions are the ones that change the whole course of our lives.
That’s true – how did you prepare for it?
You prepare over a period of months. Initially I wrote it down all at once, not worrying about edits or other people reading it, then I came back later for the fine-tuning. Memorising was the longest part, I just didn’t want to be reading off a prompter.
Was speaking the hardest part?
(Pause) It was sharing my story.
Yours is an industry with a lot of clout – has there been anything that really surprised you in fashion?
I think it’s kinder than people think it is. I think that it’s changing and it’s become kinder. That’s the kind of environment I want to work in – my own experience has been meeting just hardworking people who are trying to excel. I also want to be in a safe environment in which I can make mistakes and fall on my face! We like to frame the fashion industry as negative or catty because it sells as an idea, and controversy is always interesting, but people forget it’s very powerful and does a lot of good.
How do you hope to see the industry progress?
I think there’s a lot of change that’s already happening in fashion, for example we’re becoming more thoughtful and seeing campaigns that say things like “do I need as many clothes?”, and “who makes my garments?” (Laughs) I do have a lot of clothes… but I hope that fashion keeps evolving, and I think it has the power to change how we look at the world.
Personally, between work and home, how do you find time for yourself?
My work life and personal life have never been separate in the first place, really. I’m fortunate to enjoy working hard and really loving what I do. I still have friends who don’t work within the fashion industry, but we all have the same love of creativity and art and life. I used to feel guilty because when people asked what I did for fun I’d say “I’m going to the V&A and the Barbican to look at fashion exhibitions” – it’s just, I suppose, that I really worked to get here and it only makes sense to me that it’s my life! There’s a synergy I have now.
If there was one piece of advice you could tell a younger you, what would it be?
I was always on the outside, my mum was British my dad was Indian, I always knew I could be comfortable with not fitting in. I do, however, wish I’d spoken up more. I wasn’t afraid to be myself in terms of looking how I looked and having fun with fashion, but I was slow learning to be outspoken, to say what I think. Fashion is a communicator, it’s like a shield so I suppose that even though I didn’t speak up often, my clothes were kind of doing it for me!
What’s next for you?
I don’t know! But I am working on a new short-term plan. Early stages, so I don’t know exactly what it is yet, but that’s always ok to me.
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Words by Esmeralda Voegele-Downing