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New WEBSITE and BLOG in the works!

20 Aug

It has been very exciting over in my neck of the woods.  I’ve been absent from returning to The Returnist the past 2 months due to a complete life overhaul.  I moved to another apartment, I renovated that apartment, and now I’m onto doing a complete online overhaul of my website and blog (on top of my normal crazy styling machine workload.  Screw summer tan lines!).  I say, why pencil dive when you can CANNONBAAAALLL?!!!  Hence, I’m currently cannonballing and not blogging, but I promise to be back in full force once everything is up and running.

Stay cool in the summer heat. 



Tina Fey’s analysis of a photo shoot.

22 May

I recently read Tina Fey’s Bossypants when I was on vacation, and couldn’t stop laughing.  The part that hit home was her recap of what it’s like to be photographed.  Usually when you’re shooting someone of celebrity status (even the T Mobile girl who likes to wear pink), you’re ordered to cherish their every movement, not let them lift finger, and make little to no eye contact while doing so, which becomes pretty awkward being the person that dresses the talent.  I can smooth out your undies underneath your khakis, but I can’t make eye contact?  Hmmmm.  I like Fey’s recap because it puts the other side into perspective.  Here are a couple of my favorite quotes:

“It’s usually in some cool space called White or Smash House or Jinx Studios.  Sometimes it’s at an amazing hotel.  Wherever it is, it’s nicer than where you had your wedding.  You take a freight elevator up to a beautiful loft where there is a coffee bar at which everything is free.  Free, I say!”


“When you inevitably can’t fit into a garment, the stylist’s assistant will be sent in to help you.  The stylist’s assistant will be a chic twenty-year-old Asian girl named Esther or Agnes or Lot’s Wife.”


“If you’re like me, you probably take ten to twelve seconds a day to put on some eyeliner and mascara.  Maybe you throw in five seconds of eye shadow if it’s New Year’s Eve.  The makeup artist at your photo shoot will work methodically on your eyelids with a series of tickly little brushes for a hundred minutes.  It’s soothing, actually, because you must sit still and you absolutely can’t do anything else.  She will do this thing before she lines your lips where she puts her finger on your top lip and rolls it back ever so gently.  When she is done, you look like you have lips!  Not crazy overdrawn grandma lips like you would do, but God-given lips!”


“At some point in the morning, one of the stylists or publicists or fecalists will declare that the free coffee is “not working for me,” and some intern is sent out to get other coffee.  Or bubble tea.  Or gum, Advil, Red Bull, and egg white omelets that are destined to be forgotten about and left on the windowsill.”


“The photographer will ask you what kind of music you want to play during the shoot.  Remember that whatever you choose will be blasted through the loft and heard by an entire crew of people who are all so cool tat the Board of Ed. officially closed school.  Just murmur, “Hip-hop,” or make up the name of a hipster-sounding band and hen act superior when they’ve never heard of it.  “Do you guys have any Asphalt of Pinking?” [disappointed] Really? [shrug] Whatever you want, then.'”


“After about seventeen minutes of shooting, they call lunch.  The catered lunch makes you feel like you’re finally the person you always wanted to be.  Vegetable tartlets.  Arugula salad with figs, quinoa, fish that is somehow more flavorful and delicious than a Wendy’s hamburger.  Miniature lemon meringue pies.  Hibiscus iced tea.  You fantasize about how wonderful your life would be if you had this food delivered every day.  Oh, the energy you would have!  Your stools would be museum quality.  You could finally impress the fecalist that is on set.”


“At this point someone from your real job or home life will call to check in.  Pretend you’re exhausted and that this whole photo shoot thing is a big inconvenience.  Say you’ll be done by six and that you’ll be sure to get home in time to help organize the basement storage unit.  Then hang up!  Do not let those people kill your buzz!”

The Returnist doesn’t return everything.

29 Mar

For those who are scratching your heads at where I came up with the name, The Returnist, it is a hybrid from the famous fashion blog, The Sartorialist, and the famous back end of all styling assignments, having to do an insane amount of returns.  For those who don’t work in the industry find it really shocking that we return everything that we don’t use.  Here’s where the name, The Returnist is getting me in trouble, and getting all stylists in trouble; now with scrunched down budgets, everyone thinks that since we have tag guns we can return EVERYTHING.  Sure, we can.  You can also steal jewelry easily from Macy’s too if you wanted to, but that doesn’t mean it’s right.  Wardrobe budgets are getting silly small, UNREALISTICALLY small for the needs of the project.  If we kept everything that touched skin, meaning smelly crotches (pants) and boderific odor smelling shirts, we’d be limited to shopping at discount stores like KMart and Target.    The thing is, we all know that you can’t show up with only options from these stores when presenting to the client.  Of course, it all depends on what you’re doing, but with things like business attire, you can’t cheat a good looking suit or ladies button down shirt.  It’s true that things are probably OK if the model only wore it for a couple of minutes, but not all pores are the same when nervous and in front of the camera.

I’m writing this post to bring some awareness to the fact that putting stylist in a position to have to return soiled garments (ew), puts us in jeopardy of having bad relationships with the stores we rely on, or for having bad karma for the rest of our lives to ensure that we’ll catch bed bugs when we least expect it at Neiman Marcus.   My suggestion is that if you’re unsure what wardrobe and props will cost for a job, you should contact the stylist you’re thinking about using to give you an estimate.  Remember, if you can’t afford solid gold, you can’t wipe your armpits on solid gold.

Personal Shopper Confusion.

6 Feb

A weird thing happened the other day; I was parked outside of Target at the beginning of a hefty return day, pulling out a couple of Ikea bags and a woman stopped me and asked, “Are you a designer?”  I did a shady, “Um, uh… no,” without making any eye contact.  I then proceeded to do my routine return and the woman followed me in while accompanying me during my awkward moment at the customer service desk and said, “Have you ever thought about personal shopping?  I’m a really busy mom who’s also a massage therapist who would love to have someone shop for me.”  To be honest, there were a number of asshole responses that ran through my head.  First, and probably the least offensive, “I’m a busy wardrobe stylist that would also love to have someone do my ‘shopping.'”

I feel like I should first preface my explanation as to how my job is different, and why I would never be a personal shopper by saying, I have absolutely nothing against being a personal shopper nor do I think I’m better than someone who is a personal shopper/closet organizer type.  It’s a great career that I’m sure is challenging, and allows you to make people feel good about themselves and their surroundings.  Here’s how my job is different and why I wouldn’t take on personal shopping/closet organizer onto my roster.  I do what I do, not because I like to shop, not because I like to see the people surrounding me in clothes that they’ve worn within the last six months from their perfectly edited and sensible closet, and not because I feel like I need to fix the sometimes sensitive to the eye outfits I see on a daily basis.  I actually enjoy a hoarder, a wrinkle, an outdated capelet from Ann Taylor, and a pair of cargo pants that with a tug of a zipper becomes a breathable pair of shorts.  It’s telling of your personality, and it tells a little story, which brings me to the reason of why I spend a crazy amount of time filling my car with things from shopping establishments… I like to tell a story.

The reason why some stylists do both on set work and personal shopping is that styling is a mix of traits that lend itself to personal shopping; knowledge of everything current in every single stores, resourcefulness, ability to listen to your client to make a strong guess as to what they might like, knowing what is in style and works for someone’s body, and working within a budget.  Why being a set and wardrobe stylist is different is that you’re one single part of big team.   You’re shopping for the agency, the client, and the photographer, as well as all the variables you might run into on set, which will likely change  your original intentions.  What works in person, or what we thought worked during the pre-production conference call may not hold true once you’re on set, which in the end is the bottom line.  It all has to make sense and tell the intended agency and client’s story.  It’s a much different mind set when shopping; one that I personally think is tough to mix with a personal shopping client, or even my own shopping list.   Therefore, please e-mail me if you want to pick up my dog’s food.

Carine Roitfeld – Irreverent

2 Jan

This was one of my favorite Christmas gifts this year, the book Carine Roitfeld – Irreverent, from my amazing husband that remembers things that I mention with excitement over a month ago.  This goes through the nitty-gritty of everything you might want to learn and see from the famous ex-French Vogue fashion editor.  This book only reconfirmed her authenticity as a stylist.  She’s someone I truly admire, not because I want to style like Carine Roitfeld, (I’m not a french aristocrat and didn’t have an erotic film director for a dad, therefore that ship has sailed); I admire her for her whimsy in styling, her sense of humor, and her confidence in her spontaneous ideas.  I’m not sure how someone becomes so cool in the world of Paris fashion, where everyone acts like a black cat on a marble perch.  Probably just a perfect ball of neglecting judgemental peers and social quos, while having unadulterated superior taste in all that looks perfect on a magazine page.

Here are some of my favorite quotes taken from Irreverent.

What do you attribute your success to?  Can you define it, or is it a mystery to you?

There’s certainly something mysterious about it.  It’s not my place to say whether I have any talent or not, but success is a mix of hard work and good luck.  I met the right people at the right time, but I also knocked on the doors that I knew were the hardest to enter.  I never chose the easy option.  I have always gone after the most interesting things, even if they are the most difficult.  Always!

So what exactly is signature Carine Roitfeld in your fashion photos?  Could it be an approach to elegance with a suggestive-not explicit sexual component?

I do things by instinct.  For example, I can hang a Chanel bag around Christy Turlington’s neck and all of a sudden, the chai strap becomes a punk S&M accessory.  For me, the main thing is that the photo is sublime, and I let myself be guided by that.  I can do a very sexy photo with a simple pearl choker, or use the sort of very bourgeois lavliere shirt with a bow on it that was worn by Simone Veil, and tie it around a mode’s breasts to make it look like a bondage picture.  Actually, I love violating the codes of bourgeois elegance.  I love high heels with tracksuit bottoms and a black bra under a white shirt.  It’s probably a reaction to my bourgeois upbringing, but it’s also a way of showing a woman’s wardrobe from a different angle, overriding convention and overturning the rules of seduction.

How do you manage to preserve your creativity?

Although I’m very diplomatic, I’ve learned not to back down when it comes to my own vision.  I stay inside a bubble so I can focus on my own creativity and not feel burdened by outside influences or pressure.  I don’t live in a fairy tale – anything but.  But I remain inside my private, insulated space where I find my inspiration and my freedom.

*Carine Roitfeld on the left with a cheetah.

My next fantasy?  No idea.  I never know ahead of time what I’m going to do on a shoot.  It’s completely instinctive process.  I decide at the last-minute, and I order in the accessories at the last possible instant.  I must have my back against the wall to come up with the right ideas.

*Carine loved to use women of all body types.

Horse quandary…

11 Oct

Truth be told, I’m not a big fan of horses.  They’ve always kind of freaked me out.  BUT, for whatever reason, I seem to incorporate them in every other part of my life.  This horse bust plaque came off of my kitchen wall (minus the sunglasses), I own a number of horse themed shirts, and have horses plastered all over my refrigerator.

I never claimed I was normal.

Regardless, I love this image I did with Brian Kuhlmann.  It has everything I like about styling with telling a story, having a sense of humor, and a little bit of sass-mastery.

Courtney Rust – Chicago Wardrobe and Prop Stylist

Milk Magazine

1 Aug

Whether we like to admit it, the French sure do know how to make a good-looking magazine.  I legitimately lost a full night of sleep after going through every corner of imagery on Milk Magazine’s website.  It put my head in the right place for the project I’ve been working on.  Kid’s fashion (does not apply to real life kids, but for wardrobe styling) doesn’t have to be “for kids.”  I think it’s most successful when their look projects the future of the child’s personality as an adult, with touches of natural cleverness that only a kid could come up with.  It’s kind of like adults who speak in baby talk to a 5-year-old.  The kid can handle your real tone, there’s no need to dress up your dialect in airplanes and bows.  You just need to speak the future.

Here’s a sampling of their amazing covers.

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Get me some work.

18 Jan

In getting psyched for the Life After Assisting discussion held on January 22 at Studio East (1006 S. Michigan, Chicago) I will be focusing my blog posts up to this event on how to go from being a photo assistant to a wardrobe and prop stylist.  The #1 question I get asked by friends and family that aren’t in the business is, “How do you get work?”  Well… Good question.  You should have a seat and get comfortable because this may take a while.

Being a crew member in the photo industry isn’t a job you apply for on Craigs List.  In fact, if you see someone posting a wardrobe styling position online you’re usually safe to run the other way.  The other conundrum is that there’s not a 5 step method for getting work that works for everyone, it’s not even a matter of taking steps.  I guess the quickest response is that it’s about positioning yourself to be in line when opportunities arise and then capitalizing on each of those opportunities.

I think it’s safe to say that every crew member get’s at least 70% of their work based on referrals.  The other 30% comes from online marketing, mailings and photography resource lists.  You can send out e-mail blasts and postcards all you want, but the best way to get consistent work is to focus on the job that lies in front of you and knock it out of the park.  The photographer and producer are not the only ones that will remember you and how well you did, but also the other crew members.  You need to remember that you’re not only representing yourself, but you’re also representing the entire crew.  If you fall flat or have a bad attitude, the client remembers you and holds those who hired you accountable.  You don’t want to taint your hard work by making these avoidable mistakes.  People do talk in the industry.  You want to keep the gossip positive.

The other thing  that is good to remember when you’re going off on your own is that photographers and producers already have their favorite crew members they work with.  For the door to open for you, their top 3 stylists they usually work with all need to be booked on other jobs so you can be the next in line.  If you’re like me and can’t sit around waiting for things to happen, you can approach photographers to test or offer your help on one of their personal projects.

It’s tough because getting consistent work doesn’t happen over night.  Hiring is based around trust and trust takes time.  Furthermore, time means financial sacrifice.  When you make the jump, it’s best to have a good chunk of savings and as little overhead as possible.  It’s easy to keep taking the assisting jobs because it’s good money, but you need to stop showing yourself in that role if you’re looking to gain trust and be known as a wardrobe stylist.

There are plenty of ways to find work out there and there are plenty of jobs out there to be had.  You really have to do the research and make the connections, even if you have an agent.  Many wardrobe stylists sign with an agency because it alleviates the time and energy it takes to find work.  Finding an agency is something I will only brush upon because it isn’t a path a chose to take.   I like to have the control of doing it all myself.  I actually enjoy the business side of things and take great pride in doing it on my own.  There are pluses and minuses to both sides, you just need to find what area of the industry you would like to focus on.  If you decide it’s more fashion and catalog, then hooking up with an agency may be for you.  Another deciding factor can also be where you live.  Having an agent in LA and NYC is much more common.  In Chicago it isn’t always necessary.

When the ball drops.

31 Dec

Those who know me will back me in saying my biggest flaw is that I’m horribly, I mean horribly impatient.  I want things to happen immediately, see instant results, everyone to act efficiently, and no Sunday drivers.  In reflecting the past year things haven’t happened overnight, instead it has been a long windy road of ever ending trial and error where today I reflect on my results.  Happily, I have no complaints or regrets.  Through the ups and downs, wins and losses, I keep learning and becoming more psyched about all things out there that I haven’t been able to grope like a stress ball (perverted visual, insert here.)  I toast to 2010 and break glasses to 2011.  Keep it coming.  I like it.  Yes, I’ve had a beer.  Happy New Year’s EVERYONE!

A Christmas Story

24 Dec

Marathon?  YES!!!!!

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Side note:  The costume designer, Mary McLeod also did Resident Evil, Boondock Saints and Halloween.  That’s something I noticed last year when I was doing my movie-a-day, costume designers definitely don’t get pigeon holed into one style.  Most of them are all over the place.

Merry Christmas!!!