He’s styled the likes of Jessie J, Paloma Faith and Leona Lewis, worked on shows such as The Voice and Radio 1’s Big Weekend in Hackney and created editorials for some of the country’s biggest magazine titles, earning him a greatly respected reputation as a stylist within the fashion industry.
However, for the past few months Karl Willett, the Suzuki Theatre fashion stylist for a second year, has been busy putting together nearly 300 outfits for the epic catwalk extravaganza based around the day in the life of a fashion magazine. We caught up with Karl backstage at the Clothes Show Live in Birmingham, before the final show of the day.
Don't forget to check out Anna's photos from the Clothes Show Live from Birmingham that we took before the interview at the bottom of the page.
How did you get into fashion styling?
“I fell into fashion styling actually. I worked in an office for five years, then decided one day I wanted a change and a month later I started interning at Selfridges doing their window displays. I’m completely untaught, untrained and I’ve worked myself up by meeting people. I’ve always loved fashion, making and creating things, I was one of the arty creative kids and I kind of decided that I wanted a good way to get into the industry of fashion and entertainment. I started with doing the window displays, I’ve done interior, still life and I’ve worked with animals, small children, everything they’ve said not to do; I’ve done it. Editorials, photo shoots, stuff abroad and in the UK and then I just stuck to fashion because I liked it.”
What advice would you give to aspiring fashion stylists?
“The one thing I would give advice wise is determination, hard work and the ability to be flexible in everything you do. The industry isn’t easy, everyone does see it as this crazy glamorous world but it’s a lot of hard work, a lot of sweat and lots of hours. It took me a good five years to get the reputation I’ve now continued with. So I think if you’ve got it in you to go through the first two years of working really hard and forsaking your family and friend commitments then you’ll have a great career.”
What qualities do you think a good stylist should have?
“To be able to communicate well is so important. You meet so many different people on different levels; you need to be able to talk to an aspiring designer up to a managing director of a design house to international designers, so you’ve got to know how to communicate. Some people will want a simple answer and others need to be mollycoddled. In any sort of stressful environment, you can remain calm and not lose it, when people lose it they don’t get booked. I’ve learnt through not my mistakes but watching other people and think you can’t behave like that because it’s quite a stressful environment actually.”
How long does it take you to put all the outfits together for a show of this size?
“We actually start the initial meetings four to five months in advance prior to being here now. To physically get the clothes and plan those fine details about two months and then a month solid every day until god knows when at night and through the weekends.”
What is your favourite scene from the show today?
“I’ve got two actually, it’s both sides of my personality. There’s the Shoreditch scenes: An eclectic mash up of everything. It’s colourful, it’s out there, it’s supposed to be something fun and tongue in cheek and the sort of thing where people will be looking at the stage and think oh my god how do you wear that! It’s that extreme. The other one is the Sicilian photo shoot: Very beautiful and elegant, that’s exactly who I am as a stylist; crazy one end and high end beauty and glamour the other.”
Who is your favourite celebrity to style?
“Paloma Faith! She is the epitome of someone who will push boundaries. I think there are so many artists out there who in particular are just very commercial, whereas it’s so inspirational to work with someone who is so crazy and out there. You can play more and diversify more. I always try to encourage people I talk to, to try that in their own work. If they’re not able to push themselves enough in the jobs or clients they’ve got then to use their own avenues and push boundaries more, it’s more exciting and creates more fun in the job.”
What would you say is your career highlight so far?
“I’ve had loads. I’m very thankful to be in the career I’ve got, everything I do is a big highlight, which probably sounds a bit lame but it’s the game that I try to teach people who I talk to and want to be stylists is that enjoy every moment of it, because you don’t know when it’s going to end, you don’t know how big it will become. But one of my major ones was going out to Milan with Paloma Faith to a Dolce & Gabbana show, and being invited to go out to dinner with Stefano and Domenico and meeting them. Since then I’ve had a good relationship with the designers for about five years now.”
I heard you led the choir in the closing ceremony of the Olympics as well. How did that come about?
“It was crazy. I have this weird double life, not only am I a fashion stylist but I also run a Gospel choir of sixty six singers. We got to perform with Take That, George Michael, The Who, so many major artists, and that was again another crazy experience to have. The choir I run is eclectic, it’s a big community of London vocalists, and we’re all quite individual looking. We were just spotted at a gig and someone said you really represent what London is, and that was what everything was about at the Olympics, showing what London is about to the world. Again, I always push people to have other avenues, it’s such an important thing in an intense job to have other things that you do in your life and really helps creatively with being a stylist.”
Any there any up-and-coming British designers you think we should keep an eye out for?
“Well someone who is showing here is Mark Fast, I love him and it’s nice when you see British designers who are doing something that isn’t the common thing. What he does is so consistent from what he started with in his knitwear, so for me I love designers who will do something and continue to do it each season and not be pushed into pigeon holes by the industry. For me, I think London is the hub of young cool interesting new talent, and then suddenly the world grabs hold of them and they go in different directions. Someone like Mark Fast and Henry Holland who are here at the Clothes Show, are great examples of British fashion to look out for as they grow.”
Are there any favourite trends you have for next season?
“I know they’re big in the industry but I like to push influence to set their own trends so whilst the industry says big faux fur, military is in, I like to encourage young girls and guys to find what is them and their own trends; they’re the sort of people who are now standing out in everyday life. As a young kid you’re quite often influence by fashion and pulled into what you should and shouldn’t wear. I really like to encourage people to find your own trend whether you’ve got a cool east London vibe, gothic vibe really hone in on that, and each season take bits from what they say is current and still keep your own personality. I want to encourage using the trends but working them into what you do, rather than changing your style each season just because the magazines say you should. I’m a big fan of being yourself throughout and standing out that way.”
Sometimes that’s not always easy in quite a commercially led environment is it?
“Absolutely. I think in any sort of climate like that, where it’s so commercially led, anyone that has their own style or their style is looked at and snubbed a bit. When you get older they’re the people who become the cool eccentric people who push the fashion industry in such a new direction. So I think it’s really important to find your niche or the thing that you love and actually each year to build your own trend on top of that.”