Thursday, December 15, 2011

Student Book Review: "Career Diary of a Fashion Stylist"

by Samia Lavenant
I really enjoyed this insight into Kim Maxwell’s job as a stylist. It gives a realistic step-by-step description of all the functions involved in order to be a successful and more effective stylist. It is about constant research, multi-tasking, and organization.

There are so many activities that are involved that need to be done in order to be a top and sought-after stylist. The activities vary from changing your image, cutting your hair, to watching a movie as research. I like how she is a fast thinker and problem solver. It shows how being a fashion stylist requires a lot of energy and to learn and keep on learning.

When she is looking for new work she has to be on top of her game and be good at selling her service. I like the part where she works with the hip-hop group and how she manages to get more wardrobe than initially ordered under the low budget she was given. She mentions what a challenge it is, but she makes up for it with her experience. However, in this example she also shows how some factors are out of the stylist’s control like the jewelry rental. This was a clear example of how even when you prepare for all of the scenarios, there could be a mistake from someone’s end that reflects on you.

However, each job has to be analyzed to see what you have learned and things that can be improved. In each day of her diary it gives you a note about things that she feels can make her more sharp and effective.

I found this book very pleasant to read and very informative. I was also more optimistic to continue with plans to develop a styling company since in my current job I have to deal with a lot of multi-tasking. It also describes a lot of activities that I already do to research or out of interest like: watching movies for researching, surfing the web, and analyzing trends. I believe even though it is a stressful business I will enjoy it a lot.

Samia is a star student and an aspiring stylist. With ambitions to work in film and theater in addition to still photography, she has the potential to go far. (That's my opinion as her professor!)
This is the first in a series of student reviews of some of my favorite styling books.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

An Impressive Promotion by Dan Whipps

Dan Whipps is a Baltimore-area photographer whom I met virtually, like so many people I "know." I had asked food stylist Debbie Wahl to submit some images for my new book and she sent several great samples she'd shot with Dan. I hope to use one or more to illustrate food styling in “Starting Your Career as a Food Stylist,” coming out next spring.

A few days later I found a package in my mailbox, a cardboard box labeled Dan Whipps Photography. Inside was a hand-assembled booklet that he sends out to prospective clients and I was honored to receive it. But under it was an even bigger surprise – two sturdy glasses. Sliding the booklet from its vellum sleeve, I discovered that it tells the story of the glasses. He says, “So, I found this glass in a hotel room in Michoacan, Mexico… It is utterly unremarkable and yet, it struck me as the perfect vessel,” and he goes on to tell of his search for the same glasses back home, where he ordered four cases.

On the front of the book: “My favorite glass, A love story. With Pictures. Dan Whipps”

On heavy paper, the pages of the booklet illustrate with beautiful photography (and styling) various uses for the glasses. Dan says he puts each booklet together by hand and I’m sure there are times he’s started this process. But it is such a treat to receive that I believe a client’s appreciation would make it worth his effort.

A composite for my book of some of my favorite images (of the 16 photos included)

I’m not sure how long he spent working with stylists Debbie Wahl ( and designer/art director Betty Walke. ( I decided to create a composite of these images for the book to feature in my new chapter on Prop Styling. It provides such good examples of prop styling, as well as an inspiration for self-promotion. Dan Whipps:

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Looking Back at Halloween

I always wish that the Halloween holiday would fall on a day that I'm teaching a fashion class so I could see what the students create. This year Brent Scherer, one of my star students in Apparel Construction 1 at San Diego Mesa College intrigued me with a description of the Halloween costume he had completed: a vinyl mad scientist costume! Here's what he had to say:

A friend helped me to use me as a dress form to drape the vinyl and cut out the main pattern pieces. Each piece was then sewn together and the edged hemmed with about 1" all around.

The standing collar was made with an extra layer of vinyl inside to serve as the interfacing (since I only had medium weight and it wasn't going to be strong enough to hold it upright like I wanted).

It has 10 straps on it (or 5 short belts), five of which were attached to buckles and the other five were designed with eyelets. All were made up of folded over strips of vinyl.

The main coat possesses 2 short vinyl sleeves with enough ease to allow good freedom of movement.

Store-bought rubber gloves were sewn with more vinyl to extend them up the arms to the shoulder point. Also used single darts to tighten the rubber gloves a little more at the elbows because they were so loose.

A square of vinyl was placed on the inside of the coat with a button snap to keep the inner flap of the coat secured to the outer flap which went across the front to strap at the sides.

Bio: Brent is a recent graduate of UCSD with a BS in Chemistry. He appreciates all things unique and dark and expresses it creatively in writing, drawing, and constructing. Taking a formal course on sewing and utilizing the expertise of friends, he's recently begun learning to create costumes and clothing. Presently, as a hobby, he makes furry tails and gloves which he then auctions off at under the seller name Kulkun.

Brent praised that he "used a lot of what you taught me." He, along with several other costume fanatics in this class, is convincing me that sewing may stay alive beyond the home sewer and fashion designer.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

On-Campus Fashion Shoot 2011

Like every year now, October brings an on-campus fashion shoot with my students at San Diego Mesa College. Last year we worked with Fashion Photography students from City College. my friend and photography professor, and other professional photographers shot our models, generously provided by San Diego Model Management.

This semester I was stumped since Siobhan is off with her baby girl and there is no fashion photography class. I decided to allow one student from our groups to BE the photographer. Turns out it worked great.

The challenge is to create an editorial fashion spread based on a concept that I provided. We use the same themes every year and they are always so different! The concepts:
1. Focus on the Fit
2. Good Morning, Little Schoolgirl
3. In Living Color
4. Skater Girl
5. Take Back the Night
6. Hippie Chic
7. Organic Beauty

The 7 groups will design and print portfolio-quality two-page spreads with a headline, subhead, captions, and crew credits in addition to fabulous fashion shots. I’ll keep you posted!

Among the impressive ideas this year were:
  • Two groups brought their own models.
  • Three groups brought in a makeup artist.
  • One group had several vintage cars and trucks show up!
  • One recruited a dreadlocked youth on his way home from high school willing to model with our “skater girl.”
  • A student jumped in as a model and found she has a talent.
  • The fashion options were extensive and cool.

Here are some behind-the-scenes views of several of the simultaneous shoots on our campus.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Fashion Styling Contest on Photo Styling Workshops

Since holding a Photo Styling Workshops contest is so much fun we've got a new one going on - and have extended its deadline. Past contests have included:
  • Show Us Your Toolkit
  • My Favorite Styling Tool
  • Photograph Your Mashed Potatoes (oddly this one received no entries, even though it was held over Thanksgiving weekend!)
  • In One Sentence: How did you discover styling?
  • and... Batting 1,000 to celebrate 1,000 Facebook friends and discover an image to use on our upcoming Home Page
Batting 1,000 brought in only food styling images, but some great ones! This was the winner by Israeli photographer Danny Lerner.
So we decided to hold a Fashion Styling Image Contest, to bring out the fashionista in our friends and customers. The winner will receive free registration for any online course or workshop (up to $50). It ends this Saturday, September 24 so pull some images. You may be the stylist or the photographer - or both!

These are a few of the entries so far:

Submissions above by Adrian Perry, Dasha Mosolova (MoDa), and Bianca Schmohl. Read contest rules here on Photo Styling Workshops. You can enter on our Facebook page or send your entry to

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Standards for Young Runway Models

As I am in the final stages of revising my book "Photo Styling," I am vigilant about any articles about the industry. This edition of the book is going to be up-to-date and universal at the same time. I spotted an editorial in a recent Women'sWear Daily by Bridget Foley about fashion industry responsibility for young and too-thin models on the runways.

She wrote of the CFDA's (Council of Fashion Designers of America) attempt to increase awareness - and assume a responsible role - of potential eating disorders in young models, and the role of society in accepting models who are really children. Bridget's viewpoint is that it is not the responsibility (even the shared responsibility) of the fashion industry to police these standards; that it should be up to parents, agents, or medical personnel.

Having recently explored the law in California regarding child actors, I was surprised to find that other states still do not have such regulation, just as it was six years ago when I wrote my first edition. So I am glad to see that the CFDA (led by Diane Von Furstenburg) has stepped up and taken a stand on the health and well-being of young models.

The CFDA website states: In 2007, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) created a Health Initiative to raise awareness of eating disorders in the fashion industry and to change the aesthetic on the New York runways and in magazines from extreme thinness to a more realistic ideal. Given the complexities of the illnesses, the CFDA felt that BMI was not an effective screening tool. To protect the well-being of models, the CFDA created a series of guidelines consistent with their message “Health Is Beauty.” Key recommendations include encouraging models to receive regular medical care and advising those who may have an eating disorder to seek professional help in order to continue modeling. The guidelines also call upon designers to support the well-being of younger models by not hiring those under the age of sixteen for runway shows and by not allowing those who are under the age of eighteen to work past midnight at fittings or shoots.

My revised book will be published in Spring, 2012 by Allworth Press under the title, "Starting Your Career in Photo Styling."

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Food Photography Student Succeeds

I was happy recently to see an article written by a former student of Photo Styling Workshops. Winnie P. Ma is a Los Angeles-based photographer who has taken both an online class and a weekend workshop with Lisa Golden Schroeder, Greg Bertolini, and me. I've been following her career on Facebook (she's often posting about some cool food she's been shooting) but was especially delighted - and proud - when she posted this article from Canon PhotoYou magazine (Summer 2011 edition).

Winnie says: This year I was asked by Canon PhotoYou Magazine to write an article about being a Food Photographer entitled "A Day in the Life of a Food Photographer." It's my take on what I've learned so far being a professional Food Photographer. 
She writes with knowledge of the importance of preproduction, a strong team, and communication with the client. The article continues with a walk through a food shoot and a page of tips for photographers. Please check it out. Thanks, Winnie for sharing your experience and knowledge!

You can read the entire article at:

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Book Review: "Image-Makers"

A fairly informative book, written by Lee Widdows and Jo McGuinness, the authors of "Catwalk: Working with Models." This career book was published in 1997 and refers to a time ten to fifteen earlier when fashion styling became a "respected profession." So there's some historical context for you. It's written from the British perspective as my book is written from the US viewpoint.

It's essentially an honest overview of the fashion styling career, with sections focusing on runway, editorial, advertising, catalog, and music promotion, and how stylists work in these aspects. But it's only an overview. There are lots of photographs showing each type of styled photo; there is more imagery than information.

Interesting to me was the section on working with makeup artists and how editorial styles in hair and makeup are established on the runway.

The kit list at the end is brief but I learned something. Tippex was suggested to "touch out small marks on white clothes." Tipp-Ex turns out to be a white-out type product popular in Europe. I hadn't thought about having white-out in a styling kit, but as the book emphasizes, it is critical that fashions on the runway are impeccable.

Image-Makers is out of print but still available at Amazon and other used book sellers. This is one of a series of styling book reviews.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Book Review of My Own Book

If I'm going to review all the books I have found about photo styling, I'd better do my own! I'll try to be objective.

"Photo Styling," a career manual subtitled (not my choice) "How to Build Your Career and Succeed," was published in 2006 by Allworth Press, one of the major publishers of books about photography and other creative arts. I completed it in five short months in the summer of 2005, after presenting my proposal and hitting the moment an editor was looking for a book like this. The following spring I held it in my hands.

This book has become the textbook in the course I developed at San Diego Mesa College, and I've received some wonderful feedback about how readable it is, as it's "written in my own voice." I hope I've guided many new and working stylists through a thorough exploration of the career.

While I like it, there are a few things I wished I could improve. The cover image, for one. This photo was taken to be used inside the book to illustrate who is who in the crew. The ghastly combo of magenta and orange on the model wouldn't have mattered there. But on the cover, well, one of my students asked me if it was an 80's shot...

And some reviews on Amazon said the photos throughout weren't so stylish. I wanted to make some text changes the first time I read it. And it was tough to market to the narrow niche of photo stylists out there.

So, it was time for a new edition, which my publisher agreed to this spring. I was ecstatic, with the idea of making it the way I wanted it to be. The writing is nearly complete and a new cover shoot is coming up with photographer Siobhan Ridgway. My deadline is August 31, exactly one month from now.

Enough about me. The new and revised edition will have a new name, "Starting your Career in Photo Styling." A lot has changed in the field since 2006. Digital technicians are part of the crew, social networking is an integral part of marketing, blogs are legitimate, and the question of what to do after styling is valid for more stylists. There are Portfolio Challenges and Research Challenges to expand the portfolio and awareness of new stylists. Prop styling gets its very own chapter. And there will be a very current cover!

As photo styling is being taught in more schools, primarily fashion schools, I hope the book will catch on as an affordable textbook. Spread the word! If you want to follow the progress of this edition, check back here and follow me and Photo Styling Workshops on Facebook.

This is part of a series of reviews of the books available on the career of styling.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Styling Book Review: Food Styling

The debut of Delores Custer's book "Food Styling" was welcome when published this spring. The significant collection of information about food styling was a long time in the making - and it is obvious why it took Delores years to write it. At 398 pages it is chock-full of everything one could want to know about the field.

When I recieved my copy I started reading at the beginning. Before long, I abandoned that ambitious idea. This is not that kind of book. This is the kind of book that one refers to when any piece of information is needed. Let's take a random look.

Page 29, The challenges of styling for live television. Page 136, Things that keep foods moist. Page 173, A glossary of herbs. Page 189, The no-fail pancake toolbox. Page 284, Melting chocolate. And page 357, Culinary happenings, 1950-1997, listing things like when Cool Whip hit the market. How useful for historical research!

One of my favorites is a chart of the popular garnishes and props for each decade of food photography. Included in the book are guides to the workday, tool lists, how-tos for any food you might need to style, and the business.

No, this isn't a book to read, it is a book to use. For anything about food styling. If a stylist needs to prepare for a particular job, the information is there. Thanks, Delores, for a beautiful and thorough guide.

This is part of a series of styling book reviews.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Styling Book Review: The Hair, Makeup & Styling Career Guide

This styling book is a classic; it's been around for years (since 1995) and surely guided many makeup artists and fashion stylists beginning their careers. Crystal Wright conducts portfolio workshops throughout the U.S. for these startup stylists.

Though it's brimming with information, I find the book hard to read. I am distracted by the blend of interviews, checklists, and advertisements on divided pages. Though I have not viewed the latest edition I imagine is a similar presentation.

When Crystal contacted me a number of years about "advertising" in her next edition I was surprised by the concept. But perhaps that is how she is able to publish and update it on a regular basis. It is a useful resource, particularly for makeup artists more than stylists, though a quite different style from my own book.

This is part of a series of styling book reviews.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Styling Book Review: Secrets of a Fashion Stylist

I've just discovered - and read - this great little E-book, "Secrets of a Fashion Stylist, How to Break into the Business and Learn from My Mistakes." Of course I contacted the author/stylist Alexandra Suzanne Greenawalt right away to talk book marketing.

She says she wrote the book because she wished she'd been able to read one just like it when she was starting out, instead of having to figure it out all on her own - by trial and error. It's currently an E-book but may soon be available in print.

New York City-based, she works with a combination of commercial photo shoots, personal styling, celebrity clients, and editorial work, like most fashion stylists do.

The book is fun to read and would be invaluable if you are planning to work in the NYC market, just as Alexandra would be a fun fashion friend to hang out with - it seems to me, she's friendly, wry, and wise. If you're working in Milwaukee or Houston, the information would still be helpful.

Of course, being the fanatic editor that I am, I immediately wanted to change a few things. ("Put down that pencil, Susan!") The formatting is a little hard to read and the font a bit large. But otherwise there were only a few changes I'd make to help get this important information across. We're hoping to offer it for sale on Photo Styling Workshops quite soon. Meanwhile you can find it on Alexandra's site,

This is the first in a series of styling book reviews.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Dear Blog,

Dear Blog, I'm sorry! Sorry I left you for so long - a full month with no posts! Let me try to explain.

I've been busy. Just when I wanted to not be busy. *The Ironies of Styling, chapter 11, "Photo Styling," 2006 edition. Having worked pretty much full time since last August, teaching styling, teaching sewing, working at the San Diego Opera costume shop, running Photo Styling Workshops, I was looking forward to mid-May when the work stopped.

I have an agreement with my publisher to revise and update my book by August 31 and I couldn't be more excited. Well, I am more excited about my first grandchild who is due at the beginning of August. I've wanted to update this book for years, ever since it was first published, when I went through it and did one more edit. Now the industry has changed already and there is new information I want to share, about social networking, digital technology, new kit lists, more about prop styling, and fashion styling for music videos. Can't wait to begin!

But the first day of my new life I got a call from a photographer friend who was in a jam. He had two huge projects going on and his staff stylist had to take a medical leave. I saved the day, and the week, and the next week, and another week after that. At the same time I was able to bring in two of my students for an internship in wall styling - that was good. So then I was styling and teaching at the same time and thinking about the book I longed to be home writing.

It was all right, I kept telling myself. I am getting fresh material after a long spell of doing few styling jobs and lots of teaching. A new perspective on the industry. I had another styling job this week (after just a couple "last" days of the wall styling job).

This was wardrobe styling for a retail business I work for about once a year and it took place after hours when the store was closed. I haven't been up much past 10:00 in ages so I was a little worried. But it was lots of fun and the crew were all tired together.

Especially fun was remembering how much I love wardrobe shopping. I love the process of dashing from store to store looking for just the right garment and accessory, the thrill of putting hundreds of dollars on my own credit card, and the relief of crediting most of it back after the shoot.

So now I am home writing... in my blog. And working on the baby shower, and I still have some returns to make from the last shoot. And invoice for expenses. And then I'll begin... next week. Sign up for email notices at upper right if you'd like to follow the story.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Essay: Married Names

Women gain something and lose something when they change their names. When I married Gary in 1980, I was thrilled to exchange my original name for my new name. A new identity. I was no longer the prissy-sounding Susan Harriss, I was Susan Cox. Just like that.

It wasn't until several years later that I realized how many Susan Coxes there were. At my local library branch there were six of my name. I became a professional artist as Susan Cox. I was Susan Cox for a long time. Then I needed something more. It was Gary's suggestion (he is my muse, after all) to use my middle name to make my name more unique while I was building an artist site. Susan Linnet Cox. I became Susan Linnet Cox and now the simpler name seems far too plain. I don't even recognize it. I have written a book, and become an educator, as Susan Linnet Cox. That is who I am. Named after a European songbird that feeds on flax.

I was thinking about married names when wondering about women artists I have known - people who I would like to find again on Facebook. Polly Holt. She was a fantastic artist when I knew her in Florida in the 80s. But I know that she and Paul Holt split up and she moved to Baltimore. How can I find her? Who is she now?

There was a time in previous decades when it was easier to disappear. You could leave your old life and begin a new life. New town, new phone number, even a married name. You could vanish if you felt like it just by moving and not calling your old friends. It's different now.

A "professional name" for a woman is a good idea. It is a name that stays with you through your career. And now that people are "finding each other" in Web media it is a convenience. I decided to add "Harriss" (in parentheses) to my name on LinkedIn so that I am findable - to selected people from the past. But that is not who I am. I am Susan Linnet Cox.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Mannequin Project

Alexandra Domont, my student in Apparel Construction has been telling me about an art project she's participating in, The Mannequin Project. Her piece is featured at the San Diego International Airport and I love how she's incorporated text with the human body and garments in this piece.

She says, "What inspired me first throughout this mannequin process was my health and my heart, I had some health issues in the beginning and wanted to use them to my advantage creatively. I thought about myself and other women going through what I was going through, and wanted to express myself in a poetic way... 
"I love typography, and I've been writing poetry for many, many years and love to be able to put the two together. Fashion has always been a love of mine and finding a way for art to meet fashion was inspiring in itself. My main focus was creating art from the heart.

"The poems are all inspirational poems about loving yourself and being strong about who you are. To me this means finding strength in your own way, not in ways that other perceive you 'should' be strong; but being strong for you.

"My mannequin holds a heart behind her back with open hands, being open with caution, continually self reflecting."

Alexandra has her own line of clothing with text, Lyriclothing. See more at her Website,

From The Mannequin Project site: "The Mannequin Project consists of 14 established local artists. Each has created a work of art from an existing recycled mannequin form or produced one from scratch with their own unique approach, technique and mediums. The result is a varied and exciting interpretation of the humanoid form." Read more about The Mannequin Project, which is a part of the Art Meets Fashion annual events.

Art Meets Fashion is a collaborative event sponsored by San Diego Visual Artists Network and FOCUS (Fashion Opportunities Connect US) with pieces displayed throughout San Diego.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Fabric-Free Fashion Photo Shoot

I recently attended - and since I was there, I styled - a fashion shoot in preparation for the Fabric-Free Fashion exhibition. Three garments were being photographed for the post card - later all the pieces in the show were documented in the studio. The first we shot was Osbaldo Ahumada's plastic forks fashion. Here are some behind-the-scenes images I took at the shoot. From makeup (by Jeanette Crutchfield) through the fun disco lighting courtesy of photographer Dave King of dk3 Studios.

The second was gorgeously crocheted of video tape by Shaun Muscolo. We played Frank Sinatra's songs to get in the mood.

And the third was my own Map Dress. Nice to see it on a person, especially a model like Ivy. When we pulled out the vintage suitcase the look was complete!

(But first I had a few final stitches to complete, right on the dressing room door!)

And this is the result, the show post card:

Fabric-Free Fashion, curated by Susan Lazear, is on view through July 24, 2011 at Visions Art Museum in San Diego. Visit for more information.