A Day in the Life of a Stylist “Look at my talent, not my Postcode”

“Look at my talent, not my postcode.” A Day in the Life of a Stylist, creating a lookbook for designer label Syd & Mallory.

In an economy sardined by hostile multinational chains, it takes a certain devil-may-care determination to run an independent fashion house. Defiantly Sheffield-based boutique Syd & Mallory have evolved from reworking charity shop clothes to making their own collections. 2013 sees them relocate with a 90s inspired S/S collection.

I spent the day with black-bowlcut sporting stylist Helen McGuckin, charged with creating the lookbook for Syd & Mallory’s S/S13 collection, timed to go with their move. Named after a pop culture mash-up of Pink Floyd babe Syd Barrett and Juliette Lewis’ firebrand character Mallory Knox from Natural Born Killers, Syd & Mallory creations are bound to get you noticed in a world full of High Street fake vintage and a vintage market where the ‘one-offs’ all look the same.

‘Repetition’ is Helen’s concept for the shoot, inspired in part by Solange’s Losing You video. For their new collection, Syd & Mallory designers Kirsteen Hardie and Lucy Newell created a gothy motif of a Victorian couple in silhouette. In keeping with their philosophy, the design was printed locally by Crow & Dunnage.

“I chose to build a set out of doors,” explains Helen, “which I painted white to create repeated lines. This kept the background simple, so the images focus on the product.” It’s the job of the stylist to source on-trend pieces to fit with the collection, complementing, without stealing, the style limelight.

Together with makeup artist Lucie Norris, who worked on the Thandie Newton Ulay ad, Helen creates a “simple look with a modern grungy feel,” in keeping with the DIY ‘tude of the label. There’s a 90s Daisy Age influence, with the cheeky Daisy Tits tees and sweats, shamanic hands and stylized blinking eyes (think 90s I-D cover). Helen teamed these with skyscraper block heels and Beetlejuice tights & socks to create a street style mash-up.

Originally from Chesterfield, where she met Lucy at Fashion College, Helen made the inevitable move down to London in search of work, along with equally prolific illustrator/musician boyfriend Tom J. Newell (Dead Sea Mob). But this year saw them bucking the trend, returning to Sheffield in a move defying London’s magnetism. “I accomplished a great deal and openly accepted every experience I was offered, which has led me to where I am today,” she tells me, “but I found it difficult to be in London and the move back felt comfortable and right for me”. I asked her if it’s harder to find work up here; my impression is that ‘London fashion types’ rarely consider talent outside the city. “My dedication to styling work will make those fashion types consider my talent rather than my postcode,” she replies with confidence. In reality though, most of the work is still down South: “I’ll still be travelling to and from London for editorials and commercial jobs,” Helen admits, “though to be honest, the commute could be faster than the 55 from Clapton Pond to Oxford Street!”

“I was lucky enough to have worked with some wonderful, inspirational stylists, models and photographers in London,” Helen tells me, “from the beginning I was assisting Francesca Burns, Victoria Young and Jo Barker, before getting involved with Karen Langley and the Dazed & Confused editors.” Quite a career curve. She then moved into Menswear with Steven Westgarth, and collaborated regularly with Photographer Patrick Schuttler and Director Stephen Lally on personal projects. A stint in Beyond Retro‘s Press Office also gave her an insight into ‘the other side’ of the industry. Her pimped-up CV has since landed her a consulting role with Manchester-based vintage behemoth Cow. In an era when digital presence is everything, she’s got a crucial role in relaunching their website, styling a two day shoot at the end of this month to create a new campaign, complete with style guides, features, and another lookbook.

Kirsteen and Lucy (sister of Helen’s boo Tom, and singer in Canyon Family) have worked hard to make a name for themselves. Moving from a small warehouse space to The Forum, the hipster department store on Sheffield’s Division Street, Syd and Mallory have made good, building the skill and confidence to strike out with original designs. Combining dainty babydoll touches with more punkified and hip-hop shapes, their label stitches a thread through a history of female icons from Vivienne Westwood to Courtney Love, from Grimes to Rihanna.

For today’s shoot, Helen has hired S1 art studio and assembled a crack team. Photographer Jade Richardson is an art graduate who has spent the last 4 years teaching herself how to shoot fashion and music videos. Punky models Olivia Rossanagh Elise Neller and Charlotte Tyree (who had a starring role in Shane Meadows’ 2012 series This is England ’88) spend their time in between shots warming their privates on tiny fan heaters and their hands on endless cups of tea.

Helen is on a spray-on-tight 7 day deadline to shoot, edit, collate and print the book in time for the massive Pure London Trade Show where Syd & Mallory will compete for the fickle attention of industry heavyweights like Topshop for representation in their stores. It’s a massive deal, and Lucy and Kirsteen have been working day and night to get everything in place. Helen tells me that the lookbook is crucial because it’s “a visually exciting tool to show customers a brand’s new collection.”

I ask Helen about her plans for the future; “I look forward to working with a whole new bunch of graduate designers that I have my eye on, and also meeting up with a new team to maybe create our own magazine in the future. It’s just an idea at the moment but I know there’s so much talent around that may not get the recognition it deserves.” Watch this space.

Update: A week later, glossy lookbook in hand, Kirsteen and Lucy scored a major order from an L.A. store at the trade show. The only trouble now is how two sewing machines can stitch 400 clothes…Fashion never stops.


Helen’s website

Syd & Mallory at asos

Follow Helen’s awesome Tumblr

Follow Syd & Mallory’s equally awesome Tumblr


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