Claire Ginzler: Interviewing One Fashion's Leading Stylists
Late July I had the pleasure of meeting Claire Ginzler – one of the most revered fashion stylists in the industry. Claire has styled for some of the biggest names in fashion and television, as well as having been On|Off fashion director for 8 years, personally scouting the next big designer name in London, and styled a vast number of celebrity clients (including a certain new Great British Bake Off Judge). With such an impressive background, I was keen to interview her to find out what it really takes to make it to her level in a notoriously difficult Industry.
I invited her over to our showroom for coffee, but Claire was so friendly and down-to-earth, we ended up chatting for hours about all things fashion and style. Claire even dressed up in pieces from our last collection, and offered to style our latest season for our photoshoot due to her love for our concept and pieces – an incredible honour (and the result of which you can see in all our latest photos).
So I hope you enjoy this interview and find it as fascinating as I did!
Hi Claire, thank you so much for joining me today! So first obvious question: how did you get into styling?
Well I’ve been a Stylist for over 20 years now. When I was younger, Fashion Stylists didn’t really exist. I was interested in Fashion and I went to the London College of Fashion. I applied for a Design course but they said “sorry, you’re not good at drawing but we’ve got a Business of Fashion course”. So I did that, I loved the whole business and marketing but there was no styling involved. However, my Marketing Lecturer put me in contact with Arcadia. I worked there for 2 years and found that Fashion Buying, then, in a big cooperation was all about repeating something that sells. It’s commercial; it’s about figures, it’s about money. I was like “Ahh, I want to be creative!”.
Now, there was at the time a big TV Programme called ‘The Clothes Show’. It was like a magazine. It was totally glamour. It was incredible. So, one day I walked into Arcadia and said “Look, I don’t want to work here anymore”. I sent a letter to The Clothes Show and got a call within 24 hours from the producer, Jane Galpin. I went in for an interview and she grilled me. I pretty much said “this is what I want to do”. I didn’t know what I was getting into I thought I was just getting into Fashion and TV. I was given the role of Wardrobe Assistant which, actually turned into Fashion Stylist. And I’m still doing it! All those years later!
And clearly still enjoying it! So what’s your favourite project you’ve ever worked on?
There’s one key project. It was a couple of years ago. It was for Buckingham Palace for The Queen’s coronation and it was with show producer Lindsey Hunt.
It was very much about using clothes from the Royal Warrant Holders, so we’re talking couture and Saville Row. Iit was 6 months of prep work, which meant actually seeing the original uniforms. For example, Gieves & Hawkes had this room, which literally gave me goosebumps; it full of beautiful costumes that all royal men had worn on state occasions. I was incredible; I was like “how privileged am I to see this!”.
That was the beginning of the journey. For the event itself, it was big. There were 4 shows, each with 8 scenes and each scene had about 12 models! It was actually in the grounds of the Palace. And what was amazing was, we had a tour of the gardens before the event, and we were allowed to kind of pick where we wanted. Lindsey found these trees, that the royal children had planted many years earlier.
That weekend was super-hot; it was like 25 degrees! I remember walking in and the sun was coming through the trees into the catwalk and it was just the most surreal, beautiful moment. There was a whole white scene. We involved the Royal Ballet, my Family sat front row, and the Queen was there! I felt like I could retire after that event!
Wow clearly an amazing achievement. So, how does styling for shows like that versus private clients and TV shows differ? The must be quite different?
Yes! The key thing is; when you’re styling a person, they have a personality. They have a lifestyle. They have a body shape. They also have things they don’t like, so straight away I say “What part of your body are you not happy with?” because for me the key thing is making a woman feel confident in what she’s wearing. If, to me, she looks amazing, but she’s still not feeling confident there’s no point. It’s going to show and the outfit is not going to work.
I couldn’t agree more. So with presenters, for example, or anyone famous for that matter, do you style more based on their perceived public persona or do you style for who they really see themselves as?
Mm, that’s a good question! I simply style what will flatter them and their personality. So recently I’ve done another presenter who said “I’m not into this, I’m not into that’. I thought I’m going to ignore that, I’m going to break you in gently, let you trust me then I’m going to give you some outfits that originally you wouldn’t try.
What do you enjoy most about styling?
Oh, lots of things. I like the pressure. Let’s say it’s a live fashion show, things can go wrong. I’ve had to cut people out of outfits before they go on in the past but I love the buzz you get. Also I love meeting lots of different people but I think mainly for me, every day is a different day. Helping people to step outside of their comfort zone is great. I’ve seen a lot of women really change. They become confident in what they wear.
Claire styling one of our models Louise at our latest shoot
That’s my favourite part of what I do too. It’s always so rewarding when customers write to us saying “I can believe how many compliments I’ve received. I never get compliments!”. So on the flip side, what would you consider to be most challenging?
The prep is quite challenging. I buy a lot online but I find when you don’t buy designer or premium stuff online you’re not really seeing the quality. So, for that I like to walk the streets. I go really fast, to the key shops that I want to go to!
Yes I agree, it’s better online when you know the quality. So, one of the things that I know you’ve done is you’ve found some of the next biggest names in fashion including Peter Pilotto and Osman. What makes you realise they’re the next big thing? What stands out?
You never know they’re the next big thing but you get a gut feeling! When I worked at OnOff I loved it, because it made me realised actually how much goes into garments. I learnt about construction and everything.
So, when I look at a designer’s collection I’m thinking “are they here to last? Where do I se them? Where do they see themselves? Which department store?” And most importantly “can I see real people wearing it?” That’s the bottom line. I’ve seen some designers that are absolutely amazing but it’s very conceptual and they need a couple of seasons to find their signature.
But sometimes like Osman, as soon as I saw his stuff I just knew it was amazing. Peter Pilotto, definitely. And JW Anderson the same.
So, quality, cut, longevity, can I see real people wearing it? But also, are they a little bit different? What makes them stand out?
That’s the thing, I think there are a lot of designers who are very similar, or they’re conceptual and don’t think about real women.
Yes, and the thing I find frustrating is a lot of designers only go up to size 14. It’s so frustrating. At that price point your customer is going to generally be older and you’re missing out on sales simply because you won’t go up on sizes. Times gone on, everyone knows now about diversity and there are different body shapes out there!
Absolutely! Making sure designers go up to larger sizes is so important and I keep pushing it. So, what’s the biggest misconception about styling as a job?
Women think that if they can dress themselves in high fashion then they can dress anyone, and that they’re a stylist. The key things is; actually I dress down most of the time. Instead it’s about understanding how to dress other people like I talked about before.
A lot of young stylists think about the excitement of being a fashion stylist, which is a shame. They think it’s all excitement, it’s all glamour. The reality is; there is excitement, there is that bit of glamour but it’s a business, it’s a job, it’s hard work. You’re dealing with budgets, always dragging a suitcase around, doing lots of walking, and a lot of grafting.
What advise would you give to women who are looking to go into personal styling as a second career? Do you recommend courses, such as on understanding colour charts?
Personally I’ve never done the colour thing. I’m not a colour person. If you’re doing personal styling, you can do a lot of these courses, but the main thing is about understanding your client. At any age you’ve got to get a lot of experience dealing with a lot of different people. So I think the best thing is to learn on the job. Start styling up different men and women, and once you’ve built up your confidence and you’ve styled across the board and made a real impact, you know it’s for you.
Claire waving her magic again out our shoot!
Great advice. Now onto the new season: are your favourite looks?
See, I don’t follow trends…
Neither do I, and a lot of our customers don’t!
I love that. I think as a stylist, you have predictions. I’m always a step ahead, I have a feeling. All the visuals we see; we know what colours are coming through and what key trends are coming through for each season. So you might reflect that. But once you’ve got your wardrobe and colours, it’s just about adding to it each season.
One of the key looks though that took me time to adjust to was the quite loose silhouette. So unstructured, asymmetric and very straight lines. I’ve now absorbed it and it actually, flatters a lot of women. However, for Autumn/Winter it’s all about the waist again! Nipping in the waist with a lovely belt.
Yes, there have been some very interesting silhouettes lately. To me, the key is just to have a little dose of something modern to keep you fresh. But I don’t think you need to be a slave to a trend. The other big question is whether it’s right to follow ‘rules’. There are so many out there, particularly in relation to age, telling you what you should and shouldn’t wear. Do you have any?
I have a few. But it’s down to the individual person. I always say ‘What part of your body don’t you like?” and particularly with older women it might be the top of their arms. So I say ‘Right we’re not going to cover up with a long sleeve. Let’s try a ¾ length’. I focus on showing off the slim parts of your body – your wrists, your ankles etc. I also try to put colour on top as it just lifts you.
One thing I definitely always do with all my clients is get them to wear a skinny pair of trousers in dark denim! Not jeggings or bootcut. Straight cut, never! And make sure to go to a good brand. On the high street, try Warehouse, H&M or even topshop. And go for dark blue because it goes with everything.
Other than that, generally my rules depend on the person because the key is confidence.
Great attitude, and also tips! And as you say, women shouldn’t be afraid of colour. Our makeup artist Nikola Valastekova always encourages ladies at our events to wear a great colour on their lips. My mum used to wear the same colour and now she wears all different colours and she looks fabulous! Even that just adds so much!
Yes make up 100% can make a difference. I say go to a good department store and have a bit of a make-up consultation.
And it might change & update your whole perspective and look! So aside from changes in styles, what would you say have been the biggest changes you’ve seen in the industry over the last 20 years?
Politically it’s all been about diversity. Now there are a lot of organisations like “All Walks For The Catwalk” with Caryn Franklin, as well as lots of bloggers saying “we’ve had enough.” So that is slowly making an impact, although still not enough.
The good thing is it is gradually changing. With ageism, there’s Grey Modelling agency with a lot of their models getting recognised. And young designer Simone Rocha has really helped by putting older models on her catwalk this season just gone.
Yes that’s great. I just hope it’s sincere and not just a flash in the pan.
Fortunately social media, especially Instagram, is bring out some real characters and is inspiring women to go out and have fun with clothes at every age. It’s also keeping up that dialogue saying ‘We want more’. We need to keep that dialogue open so that it’s now just a trend.
Styling our campaign shoot with me and our lovely ladies
Absolutely. And as you said, there’s still a long way to go. For example, do ever find you’re imposed with more restrictions when styling older women?
Well when I style people I’m in control. And when I did the “Age of No Retirement” video last year, we just wanted to show how older women and men can wear anything. We thought “let’s push the boundaries”.
I was in the audience when the video was shown. One of the things I loved was people were saying how the video inspired them to experiment with make up as well as clothes. However, there were some people who were making comments like ‘That’s all very well but that’s all the expensive stuff, I can’t dress like that’.
Well, that was all using Graduate Fashion Week collections. The film was an inspiration, we didn’t expect people to go out and wear that! It was saying “Come on. There is no age where style is concerned”. That’s what I was trying to say, I treated them as I would any model.
Perfect. That’s exactly what we need to be showing. It’s those kind of visuals that will hopefully encourage designers, especially those in college, to open their eyes and embrace diversity. What other areas do you feel we need to improve on with educating new designers?
Finances. London has a hub of creativity. Saint Martins and London College of Fashion produce a great quality of designers. But the financial side and the business side is lacking. There is financial support out there and there is more than there was. But to do a collection every season, it costs at least about £10k, and then to put it on a catwalk around £20-30k.
Unfortunately what’s happening is they learn straight away the costs at university, and then think they can’t do this as they don’t have the business skills. So a lot of them disappear. What’s the answer? More funding, more sponsorship for sure. And perhaps more support from the government?
I completely agree. And even those that do manage to start their own fashion business, often they find that their creativity is squashed by the fact they just have to make what sells. That happened particularly during the Recession – designers felt they had to play it safe – and now, due to Brexit, there’s a similar feeling brewing. Do you have any views on what might happen next in terms of fashion due to this?
Everyone’s keeping it low risk now but I think we’re going to start seeing rebels. The catwalks are saying “let’s get away from this mood. Let’s do brights, let’s do metallic, let’s just have fun.” So high fashion in particular is going to have a lot more fun, whilst the high street will probably play it a lot safer as shoppers are playing it safe.
That said, that’s largely due to the Press. They keep saying “everyone’s playing it safe” so people feel pressured. And yes, some will play it safe. But I think eventually people will think “sod this”. Eventually the bubble with burst and people will just want to enjoy life again.
I also think it’s an inspiring time for new designers coming through. Young people have that expression, that anger, which they then show it in their clothes. So I can’t wait for the designers studying at the moment to come out.
So exciting times hopefully ahead! Finally do you have one piece of style advice you would give to everyone?
If you don’t feel confident in it, don’t wear it. Don’t walk out the door. It’s about a feeling. Don’t even look in the mirror. It could look great on you, but it’s not about that. It could just be, that day, it just doesn’t feel right. It just doesn’t matter. Just take it off and put something else on.
And it has to be how you feel, not influenced by someone else, such as your husband or partner?
Yes. When I was working on a famous TV styling programme we had a lot of women that we had to style, who had very little confidence in themselves. A lot of them had husbands who belittled them. But when we styled them up, by the end of it, it was almost as if they could divorce their husbands.
Having seen this, my view is, yes your husband will always have an opinion, but why ask?
It’s your opinion that matters. My husband will ask my opinion. But when I give an answer, he won’t really listen and I’m the same. If it’s a close girlfriend, fine, ask her opinion. But your husband, no. Because he naturally sees you more as a sex object; he will always want to see a bit more of this and bit more of that and more of your figure. When you ask an opinion, it can almost be asking for approval and it should be about that.
I completely agree. Well, that’s everything I wanted to ask, is there anything else you’d like to mention?
I think it’s great what you’re doing! I think its brilliant! And I love the fact that you’re talking to designers and saying ‘Right, can we put a longer sleeve on this’ even if they’re not listening now they, hopefully, will.
I think your target market is great, there’s definitely a call for it and there has been for a while. You’ve got similar brands that I would have picked. They’re interesting and you want to continue that!
Thank you so much Claire!
Outfits featured (click the name for more details):
First look - Our Sashenka Moon Skirt & 100% Cashmere Ines Breton Sweater
Second look - Our Juliette dress & Sterling Silver Flower Necklace
Third Look - Our hand-made Bowie Sweater in Red, with our Circus Star Blouse worn under
Final Look - Our Brena Jacket & Nadima Trousers