While assisting all of these really incredible and influential people, how have you been able to develop your own aesthetic and point of view for your work?
When I first started doing my own work I was under the impression that more was better. Layer it all up. Once I started working with other stylists though it taught me to strip back and that more wasn't necessarily better all the time. Add eccentricity to your work in other ways. I feel like from that my work is becoming more considered. My friend and incredibly talented photography Anna Victoria Best brought that out of me too. She pushes me to pull back a little. I hope that people can look at my work and go, "Well, that looks like Ashlee Hill’s work." I would love to keep working this way.
Can you give an example of having more considered work?
Whenever Poppy does any editorial she does fittings, where she’ll go through all of the looks prior to shooting. I never used to think that was necessary and I know a lot of stylists who don’t work like that. I now understand how important and helpful this can be. All of the decisions Poppy makes are really thought about. I like to try to consider things a little bit more nowadays. I like to familiarize myself with looks excessively beforehand. I like to try and make time for fittings before a shoot.
It’s certainly a skill and one that I'm trying to get; knowing when to pull back and when to push it. I believe that's what makes a great stylist. Knowing when enough is enough or more is needed to make the look work.
To be a stylist do you think you have to be born with an eye for it or can you develop it over time?
Well you definitely have to be interested in it. For me personally, I was obsessed with clothes growing up which is what inspired me to do what I do now. Then assisting taught me a lot regarding developing my talent and eye. So I would say that it’s a mixture of both; if you don't have an eye, then you don't really have an interest, and then if you don't have the interest, you won't have anything to keep pushing you along this hard journey. And my god at times it can be hard.
What are some of your other recent projects?
I worked with a band called Austra; they have a new album coming out. We went to Mexico City and did their album cover at one of Luis Barragan’s amazing houses. I also just collaborated with the Game of Thrones costume designer, we shot her costumes as a fashion editorial. Lately, I’ve also been doing some advertising work. It is different from editorial, as you need to satisfy a brief and brand identity and let go of your own voice and aesthetic, which is an important part of editorial work. Now I’m trying to take on less work and just focus on the things that are exciting to me. It’s not necessarily the biggest name or the most paid things that I go for; it’s the things that I find most interesting and brands and bands that I feel speak the same language.
What was one of the best parts about assisting?
I became quite good friends with the photographer’s assistants, the hair, and makeup assistants, and the set design assistants. Since then we’ve all started working together—it’s quite nice to have that community and have all of us grow together. It’s great to have that kind of support. It’s about building contacts, relationships, and trust. Building a strong creative team and network is so important.
In your opinion, what’s the role of a stylist?
The title “stylist” is so broad these days – it can involve everything from creative research, brand consulting, costume, editorial to e-commerce. But what a lot of people don’t realize is that being a stylist is actually quite an administrative job.
In what ways?
I spend a lot of time doing research – it’s a luxury to have enough time to research. Often, it’ll be, “can you shoot this next week, can you do this tomorrow?” I go through all the shows, go through all the student stuff, look at references online, go to the library. Then it’s requesting, requesting, requesting. Lots of emails. Then there’s all the crediting, invoicing, chasing payments and work. When you’re self-employed you also deal with your own tax, expenses, budgets. Most of the day is often spent on the laptop!
Do you have assistants or is it just you?
Right now, I prefer to do a lot of it myself because I’m very specific about what I want.
Now that I’m getting more work, I do need someone to help me. You need someone that you can trust and someone that understands your aesthetic and can go on appointments for you. It’s also hard to be in so many places at once – out for meetings, on set, pulling appointments, waiting for deliveries.
In an ideal way, it’s always nice for the photographer, the set designer, and the stylist to come up with ideas together. Ultimately, it’s the photographer’s say, the final edit. Now that everyone is shooting on film, it’s really hard for anyone to even see. If you’re shooting digital and looking at the screen then you’ll want to fix the hair, fix the colors. But when you’re shooting film, it’s such a challenge. It’s such a gamble—you have to trust the photographer.
Why do you think more people are shooting on film these days?
I think because everyone can be a photographer now with his or her phone, so it’s about taking back the skill. You have to judge the light, the developing, the printing, the scanning. It’s a lot more expensive as well, so you have to be committed. You can only take a few frames; you can’t take a million shots and then choose the best one. Likewise, I feel like there are so many people who are stylists, so that’s why I’ve got to try and make stuff more special because anyone can put a girl against a white wall in Dior look 55.
I like the whole collaboration process. It’s interesting to see, you create a mood board, and give it to the photographer; or vice versa, it’s so nice to get other people’s views on the same thing. Often they inspire you, and then you come up with something else and then it leads somewhere completely different and new.
Once you’ve called in all of the clothes, you meet with the photographer, the hairstylist, and then you get to set and…
Then we shoot. Shoot day I find, is usually the least stressful for me by that point, if you’re prepared. It’s just trying to build interesting sets, go to interesting locations. We’re quite limited here in England because of the weather. Any time you plan a location shoot; it’ll be a torrential down pour. There’s only a few interesting buildings and houses, the odd beach, so it’s also about trying to find new places or building interesting sets. That’s why set design is such a big thing here.
Do you have a favorite shoot that you worked on?
Too many to remember really. I love traveling, so when I’m somewhere new and far-flung, I think, “Oh, I’m so lucky that I do this job!” For me, traveling is the best bit.
Is casting important to you?
Casting’s really important. When you have a good idea, the wrong model can kill it. It’s hard because they’re all young girls without much confidence and experience. You need someone that can connect, who has a good attitude, who can get into character. It’s important to meet the girl first. You look at a model’s book, and it’s all carefully edited, retouched, etc. - it’s hard to get an accurate indication.
What was your role at Marie Amelie Sauve?
I was her personal assistant, and I also assisted her on set all over Europe. It was really interesting because I was with her every day, so I got to learn a lot. I also did a ton of image research.
Was she a good boss?
Yeah. She's really, really demanding and tough, but I think that’s the best way that you can learn the job because it's a really tough world, a tough industry. If you have a boss who is too soft then, in the long run, it ends up being more challenging because it inhibits your ability to adapt to various situations. You need to learn how to deal.
Did she have an office?
Yes. When I was there the office was quite small but now they have a super nice office.
It’s really nice to do what you want after assisting for so long. I feel really lucky because there are quite a lot of people who want to work with me. Also being freelance, you bounce around a lot more, so I'm meeting a lot of photographers, or potential collaborators. I have some commercial work as well coming up from nowhere which is cool.
Yeah your website is really well done. I'm sure it has brought a lot of people to you.
Yes. Recently I’ve been contacted to do personal shopping for a private client coming to Paris, she wanted a stylist to help her to choose some clothes. So we went shopping together one afternoon.
Oh my god. You get paid to shop.
Have there been any challenges from branching out from an assistant position to doing your own work?
Yeah, it’s really different. When you’re assisting, you don’t have much if any free time to work on your own projects. But it’s really important to assist, especially someone you admire because that’s how you learn how everything is done. Then when you’re ready, you can branch out, and it’s a lot less stressful that way because you have an understanding of the process.
So Marie-Amelie kind of trained you, almost like being in school?
So what’s your process after you book a shoot?
It’s different every time because it depends who contacts you first- the magazine, the photographer, or a brand. If I have to build a concept or if the photographer already has one or if it’s a collaboration with an art director.
Usually, I like to meet who I’m working with before the day of the shoot to talk about the mood, the casting, the location, to give some references..
You always have a say on castings?
Of course. Styling is not just choosing the clothes, and that’s it. Which I love. You get to be a part of it all. I want to have a say in everything, the location, the model, and even hair and makeup. At the end of the day, you’re a part of the team that’s creating an image, so I think that it’s important to have a hand in everything.
What is your role at Patti Wilson?
A lot of it is sample trafficking, so picking up all of the samples, checking them in, photographing them, sorting them for fittings with models to get everyone’s look together before we go on set, and then packing trunks for set.
The day of the shoot, we know what we're doing, so we will usually put shoes, gloves, and other accessories into plastic bags and hang it on top of the dress or something and put it in a garment bag and label it with the model's name, so we know who it’s for when we get there, like it’s "for Sergio.” But sometimes we will just have the clothes sorted and labeled by designer.
I assist on set so that basically means helping Patti and her assistant Taylor Kim in the wardrobe by organizing and keeping looks together, sorting, and dressing models. Steven [Klein] always brings his three Great Danes River, Roman, and Harlow on set which always makes my day. Then at the end we separate priority pulls which means that certain samples have to go directly to another shoot from our set. The we bring the rest of the samples back to the office and do mass returns.
Then some things are packed after the shoot is over, and go directly back from set to their locations, which are usually PR firms, such as KCD or Karla Otto, that are both based in NY and abroad.
I'm just so happy and grateful to be there and to be doing it because I'm doing what I love. I don't even feel it. Literally I wake up smiling every morning because I'm so happy. I pinch myself every day. “How am I meeting these people? How am I involved in this? How am I about to go on set with my idols?” I never think, "Wow, I'm so tired," or "Wow, I'm acting like a 30-year-old when I should be still a kid.
Just this past week they asked me to make a mood board for an upcoming shoot. I'm so nervous when I do that, you know, are they going to like it, are they going to think I have shit taste? Then Patti walked over and said, "Oh, that's awesome, I love it." That took a good four months to get to that baby step, you know?
What did you do for Delphine Danhier?
Emailing showrooms, assisting on set of photo shoots and assisting with clothing pick-ups and deliveries as well as other various tasks.
What did you learn from it?
Working with Delphine changed my life and was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. Being relatively young and green ended up being an advantage as I was able to really absorb everything and learn from someone who has had so much success in fashion. Also, fashion really is all about who you know and working on set allowed me to meet photographers, models, makeup artists, etc. In the internships I’ve had since working with Delphine, I constantly refer to things she once told me and tricks I’ve learned from her.
Can you explain the process from requesting clothes to the on set execution?
Delphine would go to showroom appointments or email fashion PR companies to pull clothes for upcoming shoots. The clothes would then be gathered for the shoot and I would be in charge of picking up the clothes at the PR companies prior to the shoot. This isn’t a glamorous job, as it involves long days of traveling around the city picking up garment bags. In the end, seeing all the clothes that were chosen for the shoot is exciting and satisfying.