Cultural Experience | New York

Dialogue With: Sarah, Freelance Stylist

one registered nurse tells us how she’s making it…in the fashion world.

By Jessica Hwang, Colgate University

If there’s one thing you can find in all college students’ nightmares, it’s making it after hooking that degree.  Questions that haunt me have to do with how to land the first job, where to look, and, more in the moment, what should I be doing now?  As someone who’s struggled with what I want to do in life and how I’m supposed to get there, my first thought was to turn to Sarah, expert on me time, finding your niche, and pulling up the guts to go for what you love.  A visual merchandiser for Forever21 and a NYC freelance stylist, Sarah’s a lifetime member of parent and professor nightmares and she’ll be the first to tell you: be an opportunist and what you have printed on your degree won’t actually matter all that much.

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Sarah’s latest freelance project modeling for a Puerto Rican designer’s High Fashion Week collection, Nafrit

How did you decide to go from medicine to of all things, what you’re doing now?

However uncertain my previous career choices have been, fashion has been the one area that I’ve never failed to deliver and impress in, and it is also the only area that has never failed to deliver or impress me.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Visual mercy for  is a full time job.  Trends in fashion wear quicker than underwear and there are always changes to be made, mannequins to dress and re-dress, product to push and pull, etc.  We receive shipment every day.  Lots of being an aesthetic perfectionist—eight hours a day, five days a week, many overnights.  What I love about visual merchandising is that it combines what I do as a freelance stylist with the forward thinking of retail, and I get paid well for it.  Freelance gives you complete creative freedom, but it’s hardly a stable job. 

Styling for photo shoots is more relaxed.  I will usually pull things the day before from sponsoring shops or my own wardrobe, at least a good 5 different outfits, accessories included, in case a few don’t end up working out.  I have my personal wardrobe and a wardrobe of statement pieces I keep for styling purposes. (Mostly shoes and accessories)  The day of a photo shoot is where you really get to let loose and it’s always fun.

What was the best project you’ve ever worked on?

I did a video photo shoot as a stylist as well as a model at Nicola Formichetti’s studio in Soho and got to see and use pieces from Lady Gaga’s  actual stage wardrobe because that is where all of her performance outfits are docked and shipped out from. That was a trip and a half!  I also did a runway show at Webster Hall for a friend who designs footwear for Calvin Klein when she branched out and started her own jewelry line, and that some of the sickest getup I have every graced my body with.

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Sarah modeling Nafrit

Thoughts on travel? How does it affect your life? 

I live for traveling.  When I am not spending my money on shoes I am spending my money on plane tickets.  It keeps my life an open box and prevents me from the ‘cage syndrome’ most NYCers face.  When you live in a city that has everything, you tend to forget there’s an outside world too.

What inspires you and how do you bring your ideas to life? 

I take little bits and pieces from everything in life that I find inspiring, whether it be aspects of a certain time period, the architecture of a building, the texture of the sidewalk, the chic, blunt bangs on the girl on the subway, and then mangle it all together into something cohesive in my head.  If I’m feeling uninspired I’ll usually treat myself to a sweet indulgence or new lipstick/nail polish shade, buy a magazine, take a hot bubble bath, etc.  I live for luxury and pampering myself so if I am ever feeling uninspired I know it’s because I haven’t been taking time to just relax and unwind.

What’s a failure you’ve experienced and how did you overcome or build from it? 

I felt like a failure most of my late teens to early twenties because I just couldn’t find my niche.  My family was always on my case and I had wasted my years in high school and the few years I was in a legit college having more fun than studying, so my prospects always looked bleak.  Even when I was an active RN I still felt like I was in a sinkhole because it was not a career I enjoyed.  I told myself that because I couldn’t afford to go to Parson’s for proper fashion industry education it would rule out that area completely, but once you get to that lowest point and realize you literally have nothing to lose, you start getting riskier and riskier with your actions.

What’s one thing you do that helps you tackle your own profession?  Any recommendations for other future fashionistas? 

There’s a lot of information to take in and things to remember.  Not to mention a list of crazy retail lingo.  Focus is a must.  Staying updated on current fashion trends/forecasting is imperative. Style.com is my all time go to for a constant high fashion feed but not only do you have to know your high fashion, you need to know what the people on the street are wearing too which is where personal style blogs come in to play.  Though I tend to gather my information off the people I follow on Instagram rather than actual blogs because nowadays most bloggers are being given clothing by companies to show off and it’s less about their personal style.

What’s your favorite online tool or resource and what do you love about it?

Social Media is everything these days.  I mean, duh every smart person knows this but truly, if it weren’t for the solid following I’ve gained through my Tumblr blog and also contacts from just being out in the city I wouldn’t have been able to gain the experience that led me to where I am now.  Networking is everything for a freelancer and sites like Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr have given me access to people who want to work with me as a stylist or model.  

Who are three people to follow online?

I really really love Humans of New York.  I think I tear up every time I look at Brandon’s blog.  And he also has a book that has just launched that I’m dying to get my hands on.  I also follow Anthony Bourdain and stalk Kiko Mizuhara’s IG daily.  I wish she updated more.  Haha.

She’s worked on freelance styling and makeup gigs and for a film talent agency.  This certified RN has gone through beauty school and courses for teaching at daycare centers. Her strategy? Forget investing in one career path and stock up on what knowledge and experience you can.  If you can’t figure out what you’re doing, she says, be an opportunist.  From her blog: “what matters most…is being well rounded enough to be able to travel anywhere and be able to get a decent paying job off the bat. You’re not a millionaire, but you make enough to support yourself with a generous amount left over for your leisure.  I’m a bit of a sophisticated gypsy I guess you could say.”

Pick up more bites of Sarah wisdom from her blog: Devilette

Jessica Hwang

Colgate Univeristy | 6 stories

Jessica is a sophomore studio art major/geology minor at Colgate University in Central New York. She is an inveterate wearer of black, digs free food, and listens to music your dad probably listened to when he was your age. When she's not freezing to death, this New Jersey native can be found doodling, visiting her second home in Shanghai, China, and not studying anything to do with dentistry.


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