Ask a Fashion Stylist, an Interview with Dana Goldenberg

For anyone who loves fashion, and in particular, loves to shop, becoming a wardrobe stylist seems like a career fallen straight from heaven. Spending your days shuffling through gorgeous clothes, and playing dress up with gorgeous models doesn’t even remotely sound like an actual job. It sounds like fun. But, becoming a fashion stylist is difficult business; there are very few websites or guidebooks to help you figure out the details, and unless you have a mentor you’re really on your own. For that reason, we’ve decided to reach out to some of our favorite fashion stylists to find out exactly how they did it. Dana Goldenberg has been in the business of fashion for nearly a decade, and has worked with clients like Louis Vuitton, Harper’s Bazaar, Guess, and Marciano among many others. Today we sat down with the artist to get her thoughts on the industry, and what it takes to make it.

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Lone Wolf: So how did you become a stylist? What advice would you give?

Dana: I think the first step is to intern or assist another stylist. See if it’s something you really want to do, and understand the type of work you’re getting yourself into. It’s really not a glamorous job. The best way to approach it is to ask other stylists to tell you about what’s involved in the business. I don’t think that you really know what you’re getting yourself into until you actually do it.

This is a really hard profession with a lot of physical work. I think the most important thing is to be sure that you really want to do it, because contrary to how it looks, it’s not the most luxurious job at times. You’re schlepping clothes around. You work outside and it’s uncomfortable, and you’re always on your feet. I also think that becoming a fashion stylist is a good way to see what else you want to do, especially because starting out you don’t have to be doing it full time. But if you want to do the traditional route of a stylist, know that it is hard, and be absolutely sure that you want to do it, otherwise there’s no point.

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LW: How do you go about getting your hands on the best fashion for a photo shoot?

D: You need a pull letter – or Letter of Responsibility (LOR), that’s really what it should be called. It applies to editorial work and it’s quite important. It’s a letter that is written on behalf of a magazine, basically outlining all the details of the shoot and taking responsibility for all the loss and damages to clothing. The best way to get this is dependent to the job. It really only applies to a magazine publication that commissions you to shoot for them. It’s really only needed for proof of what the stylist is doing with the clothes. When she is sending out a request for clothes from showrooms, they typically want to know what it’s for before giving the clothes. A photographer might call you and say “oh I have this client for this publication, can you do it?” And you’re like, “yeah, but I need a LOR.”

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LW: What would you say for those who are just starting out and don’t have enough connections to get a LOR?

D: You have to build a portfolio first before you get clients or an LOR. Unless you’re a stylist and have clients, it’s hard to get an LOR. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to get it, and it’s usually something that comes from working for magazines. You will need to reach out to any of the many indie fashion publications and pitch them a story. That’s how I would get an LOR or I would already be working for the fashion magazine. It’s different for me because I typically get those contacts from an agency or the photographer. If you’re just starting out, you’re going to have to buy and return garments from a store until you can get to a point where you get LORs.

LW: Most fashion stylists, when they first start out, are primarily attracted to editorial work. How do you balance editorial and commercial work? And what do you think is the value of editorial work, especially given that it often pay so little?

D: I think the value is that you’re always challenging yourself and letting yourself be creative. It’s important to exercise those skills. It’s also the most fun, most creative to do editorials. Fashion is really my background so for me I love to do it even if there isn’t money in it. It’s a balance. You take the commerical jobs that are paid, and that’s always the priority. But when you have free time, and a great editorial opportunity comes up, you absolutely have to do that too. It’s always good to continuously work on your portfolio in this way. Clients like to see editorial work, and editorial photography gives your portfolio diversity. There’s value to every job that you do. The balance is to take the paid work when it comes and to do the other work when you have lulls in paid work.

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LW: Do you think you can be a successful wardrobe stylist anywhere?

D: I’m from Canada, and I had a career in Toronto before I moved to LA. Toronto is not like LA, but’s it’s a big enough city. You probably couldn’t do this job in Middle America, unless you’re working with a production studio. It doesn’t have to be the largest city, but it has to be a city where there are clients and opportunities, where there is a need for fashion.

LW: Who are some of your most favorite photographers you’ve worked with?

D: I really love working with John Russo. He’s really kind and fun to work with, and very easy-going. That always makes working with him nice. Steve Simko is also really fun to work with – he’s very relaxed and responsible too. It’s nice to have relationships where you can actually talk about the shoot after the fact. I also like working with Ben Duggan because he’s super talented and passionate about what he does, and always has a good vision for what he’s going to shoot. I also love working with Mackenzie Duncan. He has a good, unique eye and is very chill on set and it is such a breeze to work with him.

LW: What’s the number one thing that really turns you off about a photographer, and makes you unlikely to work with them?

I don’t like being micromanaged, but I don’t think anyone likes that. When someone doesn’t let you do your job, it makes it a lot more difficult. So that’s a turn off.

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LW: You’re favorite shoot that you’ve done?

D: I did a Harper’s Bazaar shoot in China with Simko, and that was really an honor to work with a publication I was always excited about. It was a dream come true, right off the bucket list. I’m grateful for the opportunities to do my job to it’s fullest potential.

LW: What has been your most successful way of promoting your work?

D: Social media is great, but it’s just a small part of the bigger picture in terms of your career. I think meeting people and networking is the best. Reaching out to people is the way to get work. If people like working with you, they’ll hire you again. And also being aware of the opportunities out there: reach out to companies, photographers you admire, even if it’s just saying hi! It’s interesting to see how people give you opportunities when you reach out.

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