Renowned stylist and Contributing Fashion Director for British Vogue, Kate Phelan joined the Condé Nast College this week to share some incredible advice and inspire the Condé Nast College students. BA Fashion Communication student, Devon Armogeda reports on Kate’s talk…
Kate Phelan Contributing Fashion Director for British Vogue
Kate Phelan started her career with British Vogue in the mid-nineties on her graduation from the famed Central Saint Martins.
Prior to launching her glittering career at Vogue, Kate spoke about the importance of imagery at that time and elaborated on how she would often take a copy of Vogue to second-hand shops and find pieces to recreate the looks she would see in the magazine.
Labouring the importance imagery has on defining social commentary, she added insight of a pre-internet world where consumers waited eagerly for a Vogue publication, whether American or British, to land at their local corner shop to see the latest trends.
Sitting within the same room as Phelan, we were able to feel her passion for the work she does, even thirty years into her career. She gesticulates enthusiastically alongside her lush vocabulary, punctuated by her raised eyebrows and slighting upwardly looking gaze which searches for the memories of glorious fashion moments both past and more recent.
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The importance of relationship building in Fashion
Brushing shoulders with the likes of Paolo Roversi, Nick Knight, Tim Walker and Corinne Day, Kate emphasised the importance of building relationships with photographers to comprehend the individual behind the lens. Kate’s down-to-earth approach to communication nearly undermines her innumerable, far-flung travels conducted with British Vogue throughout the years. Speaking to the Condé Nast College students, Kate put great importance on certain qualities in order to be a successful stylist leading a shoot:
- Being hands on
“The success to being a good stylist is to really understand clothes. Always be open to ideas. Don’t follow trends, always look at the trend and think ‘how can I do that in a different way?” Kate Phelan
A flurry of striking photographic imagery whether from rainforests of Jamaica, to the steppes of Mongolia, or even the more local River Thames. She so eloquently weaves the background photographic narrative with a strongly supported zeitgeist for each photograph that is dashed before the viewer’s eyes, jumping from one refined detailing to the next.
“The clothes don’t need to define the picture. The clothes are there to make the picture.”
During her talk, Kate spoke about working as part of a global team and creating shoots that resonate to the worldwide Vogue audience.
One example being the post-pandemic returning to work editorial, which, to her dismay, other Vogue’s outside the United Kingdom weren’t as keen to observe with a classic red double-decker London buses behind a school boy-clad model. The moral of the story; flexibility and versatility. “It doesn’t resonate in that way, not everyone wants to see a London bus. I love to see the London bus but that’s because we live in London. So it’s all those things you’re learning as you go along.”
Kate collected her photographic visual vocabulary and knowledge through working in Vogue during such a formative period within her career. She emphasises the need to consume photography books, and consume knowledge both in fashion and outside of fashion to rework inspiration into one’s styling work. With the ubiquity of the internet it’s of paramount importance to continue to read physical books as these quantities are limited compared to digital articles where an increased number of eyes land. Obtaining knowledge on colour theory, silhouettes by their chosen decade, and have a craving for understanding fashion from both a commercial and also artistic standpoint are also relevant skills to have.
Fashion Trends & Styling
With regards to fashion trends, Kate explains,“it always comes back around and it might seem a lifetime to you, but it’s actually referenced over and over and over again.”
Kate continues, “ I think the success of being a really good stylist is to understand clothes”.
Alongside the tangible aspect of being a stylist Kate outlines the need for endless research and exploration both through various magazine publications and also utilising social media to comprehend the style of the moment.
Kate also spoke about the creative challenges that arose during the pandemic and how more challenges will arise as we enter the metaverse – albeit currently unknown. As much as Kate’s roots are based in tangibility, she emphasises how the industry has changed, assistants work primarily with spreadsheets and conduct online orders for shoot preparations, in contrast, to her experience of trotting through the streets of London picking up bespoke pieces from tailors or designer pieces from showrooms for Vogue’s top stylists.
The moral of the story, the industry has altered to the whims of technology’s modernity yet older working style still permeates.