The View magazine hooked up with Mindi Smith, a fashion advertising and editorial stylist specialised in working with kids. We talk about how she got into the business, her workflow, and much more.
TV: Hi Mindi, how are you? What have you been doing the last couple of days?
MS: Hi! Right now I am wrapping up a project for Playtime Paris/NYC. It’s a very cool kids fashion trade show sponsored by Milk Magazine exhibiting beautiful collections from the top designers in the industry. I collaborated with photographer Zoe Adlersberg on an installation that is going in one of the theme spaces for both shows. The theme for the show is 70’s Disco “Let’s Dance” so we decided on a roller disco shoot. We then blew up the images larger than life and will hang them from the ceiling with a giant disco ball and dance floor. Can’t wait to see it!
TV: Tell us a bit about you.
MS: I grew up in the 70’s/80’s in East Lansing, Michigan, a college town with not a lot of fashion influences. Still, we did the best with what we had. I immersed myself in issues of Seventeen and Vogue from the age of 12. As a result there was a lot of thrifting from a store called “Granny Takes a Trip.” I stocked up on Doc Martens, mohair sweaters, vintage Ray Bans, Levis and Lee denim jackets. I took my mother’s sewing machine and pegged all my pants super skinny at the ankle and cut the neckline off my Mickey Mouse sweatshirt aka “Flashdance.” Despite my love for fashion, when I studied at MSU, styling or design wasn’t even on the radar. I majored in Advertising (copywriting). Looking at in now though, I did put my college education to use with my advertising clients!
TV: How did you get in touch with fashion and particularly styling?
MS: After a stint in Aspen post grad I moved to San Francisco and started working in the marketing department at the Gap in the late 90’s. During that time we wore many hats so to speak as the Gap marketing team wasn’t nearly as big as it is now. I knew early on I wasn’t cut out for the desk job and gravitated towards the styling closet. I was soon offered a position as a merchandise coordinator for the kids/baby team. I gained invaluable experience on everything from merchandising to styling to production. Soon enough I was assisting the stylists on shoots for the Kids, Baby, Maternity and Gap Body accounts. I eventually stepped into a styling role.
TV: What are the biggest differences in the industry, compared to when you just started as a stylist?
MS: The industry is so much more saturated now! You can go to college these days and take courses in styling (although I don’t think styling is something you can learn, I think you either have the eye or you don’t). The second, and more obvious difference is the influence of social media on the fashion industry. We used to carry our portfolio around and meet with agents and potential clients in person. You were hired based on how strong your book was not on how many followers you had on Instagram. There is also an immediate accessibility with Instagram which effects both designers and stylists. High end designers are constantly imitated by merchandise chains before their designs ever hit the stores. And as a stylist, one of the biggest challenges used to be sourcing amazing pieces. With instagram the information is out there and more accessible for everyone. This is great for upcoming stylist and a lot easier. We used to have to put more research and work into it.
TV: Have you always been a freelancer, or did you worked in-house for a while?
MS: I have been freelancing for 13 years ever since I moved to NYC. Before that, as I mentioned, I was in-house with the Gap marketing team for 5 years. I think my experience working within the machine of a large merchandise corporation has helped me exponentially as a stylist especially with my advertising clients. Not only did I make several great connections, but I learned the right way to prepare for a shoot, and the dynamic between the merchants and marketing team and what impact that has on styling. I learned about appealing to your demographic and learned how to collaborate with the creative team in order to create a campaign that does just that. After that I moved to NYC to go out on my own as a freelance stylist. I needed to build my book for both kids and adult so I started freelancing at InStyle and Glamour as an assistant to Maggie Mann where I learned the editorial process. One day I got a call to style an editorial with an upcoming kids photographer at the time, Anna Palma. We hit it off immediately. I started doing Target and Vogue Bambini with her and signed with her agency soon after.
TV: Tell us a bit about your workflow.
MS: My workflow is a bit different between advertising and editorial jobs. With an editorial I usually have an idea in my mind (or the photographer does) either based on the latest fashion trends or a current event, movie, or book I/they like and I create a mood board of ideas. I then ask a photographer who I think will best capture this story (or they ask me) and we begin to collaborate choosing all the right components for our editorial including talent, hair and make up stylists, location, lighting, and prop stylist or set design. I then have to source and pull the clothes from showrooms that will give the story the best point of view while also keeping in mind the appropriate designers for the intended publication. So with most of my editorials (especially with kids) I act as an art director and producer as well. There is a lot for me to execute but ultimately it is still a collaborative effort by the whole team. When I am awarded an advertising or catalogue job, the Creative Director shares with me their mood board or art direction and we begin the collaboration process to help deliver their vision. I typically source clothes through stores, fashion libraries, and sometimes showrooms. Organization is key here as I have to work within a budget and most often a tight schedule. There is a lot of money that goes into campaigns so with that comes a lot more pressure to get all the right elements in place.
TV: How did you find your voice and style in styling?
MS: I think in the beginning, most stylists are just trying to find their point of view but it can be difficult as you are also just trying to make your way. You work with whoever approaches you, happy to get a job paid or not unless you have amazing connections. Also, getting the clothes is always the biggest challenge as designers aren’t going to just loan their samples to anyone. You have to know the right people. So you are left with stories that don’t always reflect who you are as a stylist in the beginning. For me, moving to NYC as a freelancer was a leap of faith and I worked very hard to get to where I am. Finding my voice and style took some time but I found that I had a knack with children. They are so unpredictable and funny but also extremely intuitive. They don’t have as many boundaries or limitations. And for me, that inspires limitless styling. I tend to push the envelope with kids.
TV: Do you have a signature, can people recognize an editorial or campaign having been styled by you?
MS: I really like to tell a story with my editorials whether it’s with kids or adults often times inspired by books or film. Anything from Patti Smith’s “Just Kids” to David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks” to Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” but I like to do it with a modern twist of course. And with kids I don’t always treat them as children. They can give so much in their images and I like the styling to reflect that as well.
TV: What other creative thing do you like to spent time on?
MS: Motherhood! By far it’s the most creative adventure I have ever been on 😀
TV: What is the craziest project you have ever done so far?
MS: I have one advertising client that is global and and there is a lot of money involved. I usually have about 48 to 72 hours to to prepare for their campaigns. One time I had to have about 24 kids costumes made for the shoot. So I had to collaborate with a team of tailors and seamstresses, organize fittings, etc. It was nuts but in the end so fun and the kids had a blast.
TV: What advice would you give aspiring stylists?
MS: There is a lot of hard work involved! Stylists have the hardest job on set for sure so you better know that going in. Find yourself an amazing assistant that is extremely organized. Immerse yourself in magazines, research online the work of great stylists (you should know who they are). Know the designers and keep your finger on the pulse of fashion trends anyway you can (fashion week, style.com, etc). But more importantly, stay true to who you are with your sense of style. Stick to your gut from conception to editing to completion on your editorials. And lastly, while you still need to voice your opinion (you aren’t a stylist without one) be open to collaboration!
TV: After a week of hard work, you love to?
MS: Take care of myself. Pamper myself with a massage, a facial, rest, yoga, healthy eating and tons of laughter with my family Boo, Max, and Marley 😀
TV: Thanks Mindi!
Images are copyright to their respective owners. Katrina Tang (rain/umbrella story), Frank Malthiery (vintage bowling story), Kim Myers Robertson (ballet story and feather/bird images with wallpaper), Zoe Adlersberg (roller disco images), Kris Lou + Erik Robert Photography (studio denim images)