AS WITH NEARLY EVERYTHING ELSE, THE FASHION INDUSTRY IS UNDERGOING A RECKONING AND PLENTY OF SELF-QUESTIONING AT THE MOMENT. HOW ARE WE GOING TO ARRIVE AT ANSWERS? NO ONE QUITE KNOWS, BUT WE THOUGHT PROBING THE MINDS OF SOME OF SINGAPORE’S MOST LUCID ALTERNATIVE – AND IN SOME CASES LITTLE-HEARD – VOICES ON THE SCENE HERE MIGHT HELP. KENG YANG SHUEN REPORTS.
Nila, whose fashion imagery is often vivid with textures, colours and a strong and sensual undercurrent, points out that a new generation of stylists are proving to be “resourceful, big thinkers” whose role blurs with that of producers, art directors, creative directors, brand strategists and marketers. Here, a test shoot featuring the work of graduates from the Esmod fashion school styled by her and shot by the photographer Leandro Quintero are stylists still relevant?
ARE STYLISTS STILL RELEVANT?
A Q&A WITH THE INDEPENDENT AND INTROSPECTIVE STYLIST/WRITER ALLYSHA NILA, BEST KNOWN FOR HER EXPERIMENTAL YET SENSUAL EDITORIALS AND CAMPAIGNS, AND COMMENTARY ON THE CULTURAL FORCES DRIVING THE FASHION INDUSTRY
Tell us what a stylist does and what your creative process is like?
“It depends on various factors such as what the aim of the image is, who I’m working with, which city I am in at that point in time and so on. With my close collaborators, we spend most of the time exchanging visual references, researching, discovering, experiencing and feeling. We usually discuss a certain concept with the various parties involved (for example, a client or art director) and then I tend to approach it via semiology because my favourite thing is symbolism. What follows is somewhat akin to surgery where you dissect a frog to study how the parts make the whole work – this is handy since I’m constantly asked to present mood boards. Personally I can get quite myopic when I’m working on something and tend to put a microscope on things that are familiar or surround me. I’d describe it as similar to zooming in onto sand, which allows one to realise how unique each grain is. It’s a very material-based and spatial process as much as it is visual. That’s why I’m obsessed with texture.”
Has the role of a stylist changed over time?
“For sure! Previously, fashion was more a world of editors, but now stylists have paved the way in proving that we are resourceful, big thinkers. Look at Ibrahim Kamara, Lotta Volkova and Suzanne Koller – they direct music videos, lead the research team for brands and strategise and act as consultants. Our role now blurs with that of a producer, art director, creative director, brand strategist and marketer and we are incredibly capable of leading a team. Our insight goes beyond the clothes, but it’s exhausting and a pity that we’re underestimated, or when circumstances are set up to make us fail due to unrealistic expectations. We definitely have to work our way up to prove ourselves.”
What informs your work as a stylist?
“Everything! My childhood, my friends, my environment, sociology, art, architecture, film, literature, nature, science, video games, Barbie dolls, RuPaul’s Drag Race and the colour pink. I think being in Jakarta most of the time now is more eye-opening because you can’t help but pay attention to everything. It can be a depressing city at times because it’s so rife with inequality, but I can’t deny that there are sources of inspiration everywhere: the damaged roads, the flashy typography, the trash, the people, the DIY culture, how things are just out of place. So when you do find beauty, it becomes incredibly precious and it makes you want to save it and give it a home. That is the way I approach my shoots.”
Images and texts seem to be scrutinised more closely than before – does that impact how you work?
“Yes and no. I don’t mind the scrutiny unless it’s completely pedantic, unreasonable or illogical. I’m delighted that bigger powers have made it clear that racism, sexism, violence, classism, oppression, bullying and blackmailing are not okay. I often feel powerless as an individual working in the industry, but because people are sticking together, change is happening. We still have a long way to go and I certainly want peers to be on the same frequency, but whether or not there is a watchdog, you should still be accountable for the work you put out. It reflects you as a person more than you think. My goal is not just to be a better creative, but to grow as a human being. Remember that how you do your work matters.”
What does it take to create meaningful work in fashion today?
“I think about that a lot. First one needs to question: meaningful to whom? And how can it be meaningful per se when we talk about industry? Also, does everything have to have meaning? (Going by) recent presentations, it seems to require a bit of magic, newness and a genuine emotional connection. Plus points if the work addresses a phenomenon that’s currently taking place in society and not in a gimmicky way. That said, it’s still important to indulge oneself in the creative process – it should have a piece of you in it.”
Must a creative be – like you – a multi-hyphenate to be successful?
“The inner rebel in me is dying to say no. We have shorter attention spans and are ceaselessly looking for instant gratification, and I don’t want to enable that. I’ve deep admiration for those who dedicate everything to one thing. Possibilities however are endless and you shouldn’t limit yourself. The need for more revenue streams in a terrible economy is something to consider, but not every endeavour has to make money. Do what you feel is best for you and don’t forget to give different things a go!”