Let’s see… when was I first introduced to the world of prop styling?
After magazine number 20,458 — full of clothing, accessories, shoes, furniture, objects and sets — I should have realized someone must have been hired to get all of that stuff. But I don’t think I really grasped exactly what prop styling was until I came to New York and met a professional clothing stylist while working at Charivari. Then it was like oh! Now I get it. Up to that point I guess I sort of imagined Steven Meisel was busily building sets, then rushing out to the shops in paint smeared Carharts and fur hat — with Anna, or Franca — picking up clothes for the “girls.”
In my defense, the almost ubiquitous look of bewilderment that comes over the faces of those who ask me what I do for a living (outside of New York) is a testament to how oblique a job prop styling is to the majority of the population. Even once it is explained it doesn’t really take. It’s a little like trying to explain Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, or mince meat. Honestly, unless I was there to witness the event myself I would never believe the inordinate amount of time, energy, people, props, equipment, money, Starbucks and bottled water it takes to create an image.
Once I figured out what prop styling was, I knew I was suited for the job. I tucked the idea in my back pocket and carried on with my sales job at Charivari. This was followed by a stumble into home furnishings at ABC Home — where I became the display director — and then finally, after a three year self-imposed sabbatical, I decided to pull the “styling card” from it’s obscure home.
I had recently published Interior Alchemy, this gave me the gravitas to connect with an agent; I knew Anthroplogie had just started a catalog; I knew their aesthetic was in keeping with my own career history and inclinations; I was pretty hopeful in terms of thinking they might hire me… and they did. This basically jump-started my career.
All in all prop styling is a pretty fantastic job. You get paid pretty well, you often get to travel — although propping is not easy in foreign countries, but it is always an adventure.
Sure there are downsides like having to get my own very expensive insurance, not knowing if dates and needs will change last minute and disrupt all my plans, not knowing if I have enough props, not knowing if I have what the client wants, not knowing if I will be hired again, not knowing if there will be a proper bathroom… but on the whole a pretty ideal career for some one inclined toward wandering.
Although I have had several clients, I have worked as a stylist for Anthropologie longer, and more often, than any other company. Always interested in what is new, they still maintain a distinct connection to the Past-Present aesthetic. Anthropologie’s overall look encompasses an extremely wide and varied range of styles and this means, as a stylist, I get to explore many themes and have been sent down many diverse roads. I have hooshed a bed in the surf at low tide, rowed props to a house on stilts in a bay, and haggled a Jaipur, street vendor for his dirty plastic bucket and stool.
I have been in mansions, derelict schools, houses filled with dogs, houses filled with cats, flea markets in Argentina, fortresses and palaces in India, and once I created an immense medieval style banquet while rushing to finish before the setting sun, under a canopy while it rained, on a lawn overlooking the mountains in Jamaica.
On the more peculiar end, I have taped a scarf on a squealing pig (well… Abby Walton my fantastic assistant did, but I had to watch and feel bad for her). Heather Greene and I had to figure out how to make a fountain in 20 minutes, out of a teapot, a hose, and cups and saucers.
The best part of styling, for me, is not the shopping, as some would suppose. What I love is the mercurial and ephemeral qualities of creating a set — a moment — for a brief space of time and then it disappears, like a mushroom emerging briefly from the loam.
I walk into an empty house or studio, and with the help of a slew of talented assistants who drag in, prep, and organize truck loads of equipment and stuff, some how a little space is created, an alchemical workshop. An image appears on the screen of a quiet, sunlit, cozy room or a table-top in mid preparation for an evenings dinner.
Thirty seconds later it is saved by the digital tech for potentially well… ever. It’s simply well… magic.