Stylist Sarah Stuart on her exciting career and best styling advice

Sarah Stuart

Stylist Sarah Stuart. Images by Tori Hayley.

Sarah Stuart is the talented head stylist at MediaWorks and brings over a decade’s worth of experience to her very busy role. She studied fashion design at AUT before embarking on an exciting and challenging career that has seen her dress a fascinating array of people, including Mick Jagger. Sarah’s eye for style and gift for colour and detail has seen her become an in-demand stylist working in NZ, New York, Dubai and London.

We caught up with Sarah to find out more about how she got to where she is, who her favourite NZ designers are and her best piece of style advice.

We’re celebrating 20 years of FashioNZ this year. Can you take us back to 1998, what were you wearing/listening to/reading?
All I remember about 1998 was the music. I was living in the country and was obsessed. I would spend hours watching and studying the latest video clips learning the lyrics and making sense of it all. I loved the beauty, creativity and originality of the musicians which was in complete contrast to my everyday life but heavily influenced what I was wearing at the time. My favourites were No Doubt, Brandy, Alanis Morissette, Beastie Boys, Mariah Carey, Spice Girls, Stabbing Westward and Dr Dre… the list could go on!

What made you become a stylist and how did you go about getting there.
I have always loved creating characters and it always fascinated me how you can use clothing as an outlet for self-expression. After university, I worked for years assisting for free, attended courses, looked internationally and just did anything I could to gather knowledge. I had side-jobs to get by. It may be different nowadays but that’s how I got where I am now. Being open to experiences allows you to come across incredible people.

In London, I worked in Browns boutique where Mrs. B the ‘fairy godmother’ of fashion made Alexander McQueen, John Galliano, Gareth Pugh, Hussein Chalayan and Christopher Kane famous with her instinct for fashion. Since completing my Bachelor in Fashion Design at AUT I now have over a decade’s worth of experience working in New Zealand, New York, Dubai and London, and in everything from wardrobe, styling photo-shoots (editorial and advertising campaigns), music videos, television promotional shoots and personal styling.

What does an average day at work for you involve?
No day is ever the same. I dress over 20 presenters for 7 shows. I work across all the network’s news shows, from the very beginning of the day with Duncan Garner, Amanda Gillies and Mark Richardson on the “The AM Show” to “Newshub Live at 6” with Samantha Hayes and Mike McRoberts. As well as styling the studio presenters, I also work closely with all the on-air reporting teams across the country from Auckland to Dunedin, as they report from mountain tops and flooded plains, from the High Court, the UN, the Beehive and the Oscars.

How do you balance the creative and admin demands of your role?
The creative part is what comes naturally to me and I would count it as the fun side of my job but my admin demands are around 85% -90% of what I do. Discipline, there is no way around it.

Sarah Stuart

Sarah with Amanda Gillies (left). Image from Amanda’s Instagram. Sarah Stuart (right). Image by Tori Hayley.

Dressing people is quite an intimate thing and you work quite closely with clients and colleagues in your job. What’s that like for you and how do you manage it?
I always have a clear idea of what I want to achieve. You’re approach and delivery is key and it’s important to remember that every person is different. I can clock a person’s insecurities quite quickly and sometimes these are actually their best assets. My aim is to make them look, feel and acknowledge what a fabulous creature they are.

How has being a stylist and shopping as part of your job changed your thoughts on fashion retail and where do you see its future?
For me I much prefer the retail experience, to assess the quality, style, and cut. But I do realise that convenience of fast fashion seems to be what is favourable to the consumer in the current climate. I can see the damaging effects fast fashion has on the New Zealand market. I know personally, I will always try and buy NZ made.

How would you describe your personal style and how does it influence your job?
I love colour, preferably an autumn palette… I hardly wear black. Travel has definitely influenced my personal style –  different countries and cultures have exposed me to new trends and tastes. I love vintage shopping and my style has a nod to retro styling.

Out of the many projects you’ve worked on, which ones stick in your mind as favourites and why?
I have a few that come to mind but the extraordinary jobs are the ones I did in London. My favourite hands down was having the opportunity to dress Mick Jagger for obvious reasons and also working on a shoot for Little Mix was memorable.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve received that you keep referring back to as a stylist?
Once you know which silhouettes flatter you, filter trends ruthlessly.

Sarah Stuart

Sarah (left) on the set of Funny Girls. Image supplied.

What is your advice for anyone who wants to become a stylist now?
Take every opportunity, whether it’s paid or not paid. Search for work and be curious. Do not be deterred by rejection, let it fuel your determination. Also, listen and formulate your own preferences. Find your own style and know what you like.

Don’t just reference from Instagram and Pinterest, be inspired but much more like artwork, film or everyday life.

What is your all-⁠time favourite purchase?
I would have to say my Maison Margiela long coat. The cut is incredibly flattering and can make anything I’m wearing instantly become formal.

What wardrobe item should everyone invest in?
More important than a particular item, invest in a good tailor or alterations company.

Do you have a style rule you always obey?
If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun! Actually spend your budget on accessories.

Finish this sentence – You would never catch me wearing…
One thing I have learnt is never say… never. Fashion goes around in circles, what you hate today, you will wear tomorrow.

Who are your favourite New Zealand designers/brands?
Have you got all day… Trelise Cooper, Tanya Carlson, Kate Sylvester, Maggie Marilyn, Wynn Hamlyn and Kowtow.

Do you have any style icons that inspire you?
I have style appreciation for 70s Cher, the inspiring fashion that came out of Studio 54. Currently there is a model that I am obsessed with called Jazzelle Zanaughtti.

Sarah Stuart

Sarah Stuart. Images by Tori Hayley.

New Zealand Fashion Week is coming up soon, what is the experience like for you and what do you most look forward to?
I am in an unusual position as I’m buying, attending, and usually styling offsite shows. For my job, I am always on the lookout for new designers to fulfil my TV brief, which is mainly tailoring and on the corporate side. I also love seeing what the established designers have to offer. I like seeing the street style and love people living beyond their fashion boundaries with their street styling.

What’s your advice for people on putting together outfits for fashion week?
This is the week of all weeks to bring it out. Those accessories you’re too shy to wear, that jacket that you love but feel like it’s too much… bring it out. I want to see it!

Looking to the future, how far ahead do you plan and what makes you excited about the future?
I am an excitable person so a lot of things make me enthusiastic about the future. I usually make goals and then make plans to move towards them. Although there is one thing that I look forward to and that is travel. Whether it’s right or wrong… I think to invest in travel is to invest in yourself. Keeps me fresh and inspires me. I will always have trips planned throughout the year.

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes.

Follow Sarah Stuart – @styledbysarahstuart.

Images supplied.

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