Now ‘The Fashion Stylist’ blog is up and running, we are planning to post a fantastic series of interviews with stylists, fashion bloggers and other industry insiders. We are kicking off with our very own Debra Lestrade, the styling genius behind ‘Style to You’ and senior tutor at The London Academy of Fashion and Styling.
Q. When did you first become interested in fashion and what sparked that interest?
A. My interest in fashion started in my early teens, and it has grown from there. I was always the one who wanted to look groomed rather than wear the latest fad. It’s funny, but when I go back and look at the old photos of me with my friends from those teenage years it’s not me who is wearing the latest, loudest – I was always the one wearing the outfit that fitted well, that I felt good in and looked great!
Q. Have you always aspired to be a fashion stylist or did you once want to follow a different career?
A. I started off wanting to to be a fashion model. I was in awe of the way they sashayed down the catwalk, looking so elegant and confident. I used to daydream and imagine myself in their shoes, gliding gracefully down the catwalk in all those beautifully designed clothes. Luckily I achieved my goal and did eventually become a fashion model. Yes, at times I had to wear some very ‘choice’ outfits that were not quite as I had imagined (that’s fashion!). Also there were occasions where a few trips, falls and slides took over from gliding down the catwalk! But overall it was a fantastic experience that further ignited my passion for style and fashion and from then on I knew that I would always be a part of this amazing industry.
Q. What got you started as a fashion stylist?
A. After retiring from Fashion Modelling at the grand old age of 27, I was at a bit of a loss. For a few years I worked in sales and marketing, but it was never fulfilling and I wanted to go in a different direction. I’d always had a keen eye for fashion and style and I used to advise friends and family on their looks and styles and really enjoyed it. They would often say that I should be a stylist, but at the time I didn’t think I had the experience to make it work as a career. Making somebody look good came easily to me, but knowing why I had chosen certain outfits or accessories was purely instinctual and I was conscious that I didn’t really know the steps and techniques that went into putting together a successful look. So I decided to study styling and that’s when it all fell into place.
Q. Have you had a mentor in the world of fashion or someone who has supported you from the beginning?
A. Not really. My partner, friends and family have been my biggest support base; without their patience, understanding, willingness to be my styling guinea-pigs and their belief in me it would have been a very hard slog. However, I still feel I would have got there as I had the motivation to succeed, it just would have taken longer. I am also part of many on-line fashion and style forums where like-minded people go to share ideas or get advice and help each other out.
Q. What do you most enjoy about being a fashion stylist?
A. The thing I most enjoy is when clients ‘get it’. You can explain how doing a certain thing will help balance out a body or face shape and they will love their new look, but when that penny drops and they completely understand the ethos behind it, that’s when I know it’s a job well done. I want clients to be able to style themselves once I have given them the knowledge to do so.
Don’t get me wrong, I love to see my clients again, but equally I love to see them again looking better and better, with more confidence and their own individual style.
Q. What has been your biggest challenge in your styling career so far?
A. My biggest challenge was starting out and knowing where to place myself in the market and what my niche would be. Once you understand and act upon those things you can build your brand, otherwise you’ll find yourself drifting along with no direction or real focus. So it’s got to be correct right from the start. Yes, things can change as you go along but the fundamentals or core values should remain the same.
Q. Do you have a hot styling tip you could give us?
A. Apparently the word on the street is that all that lovely summer sunshine is not going to last and the rain is making a comeback, so make sure you have a lovely 3/4 length trench coat at hand and choose one in a nice bright colour. With all the grey and gloom you’ll want to stand out!
Remember bold can be beautiful, but if you are not feeling confident enough for a block colour, you can opt for a pattern or print highlighting one of these colours. Alternatively you could go for a pashmina to drape around a neutral coloured coat, dress or jacket.
Q. What are you currently working on?
A. I have got quite a few projects on the go at the moment.
One of my ongoing tasks is that every time I see a new client I produce an in-depth individual style report for them, which are usually around twenty pages long (there’s a lot to cover!). I have about four of these that I need to finish and each one takes me around three to four days to complete, so yes I really need to get a wriggle on!
I am also working on a fashion shoot with Levi Jeans designed to show that all the different body shapes can look good in the right style of jeans. Another exciting new project is that I am just started working on a collaboration with ‘Branded Fashion‘ where I will become the resident fashion advisor on their new fashion portal.
I really enjoyed my stylist training and am now passionate about passing on my knowledge and experience. So, together with my very talented colleague Cynthia Marsh, I am busy developing our courses, adding content to our website, writing e-books and marking course work for the budding stylists who are completing their on-line fashion and style courses at The London Academy of Fashion and Styling (TLAFS).
Q. Where do you see yourself in five years?
A. Doing exactly what I’m doing now, styling, tutoring and mentoring. I absolutely love it, but maybe with a bigger team!!
Q. How do you feel about the fashion industry today? Where do you think it is headed?
A. I think we may have just come outside of that androgynous look where everyone was trying to make out that teenage boys look great in everything. All girls looked like young boys and all boys looked like younger versions of themselves (BIG YAWN). I am very glad to be seeing real women back on the catwalks who look like women and men who look like men. Last year I attended the British Fashion Week Plus Size events, it was fantastic! A real eye opener and there was some real business being done, with retailers snapping up orders from these very talented designers. It will be interesting to say the least to see what will be unveiled on the next LFW catwalks. I’ll be taking note!
Q. What advice would you give to someone thinking about a career as a personal stylist?
A. Be prepared….for everything and anything.
Invest in yourself and make sure you get the right training. Although at TLAFS we offer some fantastic online courses, make sure you have a good look around before you decide as there are many other excellent courses out there.
The most important thing to remember is to treat each client as an individual. There is not one solution that fits all in personal styling. Always ask lots of questions and really listen to what your client is saying or asking you.