Nestled in the corner of French Connection in Quakers Friars, we chatted about the influence of shop assistants, the must-read fashion blogs of the moment and style tips for S/S 2010...
SSBF: So Natalie, could you tell us a bit more about the concept behind the Shopgirl to Stylist competition?
NW-J: Our editor, Lorraine, went to New York and basically in New York there’s this whole big thing with shop assistants there – they are almost like celebrities there so she absorbed this kind of power.
The high street is very important to Elle. It’s all very well us shooting high-end designers like YSL, which I don’t actually think is affordable to everyone at the moment, but there are really strong mid-range and high street brands out there so its important to us to push that. I guess that all kind of mixed together to inspire us to find a great shop girl on the high street that wants to be a stylist and give them the opportunity to do that.
SSBF: There is so much information and inspiration available to consumers now, such as window displays, magazine spreads etc. How do you think shopgirls and guys have an influence in the way people dress?
NW-J: I think its not just in the shop either, I think that what is fantastic now is that, and I’m already starting to see developments having only been to French Connection in Bristol and Whistles in London so far, is that the people that work in these shops already have their own identity.
The Whistles girls all looked so incredibly chic, obviously dressed in Whistles, and the French Connection gang here are really, really cool, and they all have this identity, almost like its affiliated to their shop. Whether we find that regionally, I’m not too sure yet but seeing them out on the streets, they are almost setting a trend – I think that’s very true of the Topshop staff in London, they’re all almost part of a little gang in a way and they’re literally pioneering what [clothes] they have in the shop by simply being out and about in it themselves.
I’m constantly impressed by young people that I see on the street that put together high street in a really intelligent and cool way. I look at them and think ‘that’s amazing’, and I absorb that information and it influences me. I think as an outside thing it draws people into the store that can take inspiration from [the shop staff].
SSBF: There are many websites and blogs out there, such as ELLEuk.com and The Satorialist, which focus on street style and real people. What do you think of those kinds of blogs, ‘cause to me it feels like a revolution, making people a lot more aware what they put on their backs…
NW-J: I think you’re totally right, I think its fantastic. I actually just did a shoot with Garance Doré, who I think is a fantastic blogger and not only was she really cool to shoot with because her perspective, the way she looks at things is really new to us in a sense: its not a very controlled studio environment necessarily, it’s a bit more free, a bit more natural. We had many, many chats about fashion and she’s looking at it from a really intelligent point of view, not necessarily having this enormous background, she almost fell into it in a way and she’s and incredibly talented illustrator.
She has all of this going about and I think actually yeah you’re right – [bloggers] are pioneering a new moment in fashion for us and I think that’s why people are really recognising them and giving them a fashion status so to speak; Dolce & Gabbana putting them in the front row at their show for example. ELLE actually used Scott (Schuman, of The Satorialist) for a photo shoot a few years ago, before my time there, but this has been happening for a while and now its suddenly exploded and its almost like they have a certain amount of respectability.
SSBF: I guess that ties in with the Shopgirl to Stylist competition in that very few of the numerous fashion and style bloggers out there are in the business – they might have previously been in the business or are aspiring to get into the business but many of them have just fallen into it because they love fashion and now they’re seen themselves as fashion icons in a way. Do you have any particular websites or blogs that you like reading?
NW-J: Garance’s blog, I love her blog, Scott’s blog – I love his work too… I have to say I love the Purple blog by Olivier Zahm – I get huge pleasure out of looking at that – those are the three that my main focus is on.
SSBF: Do you have any favourite stylists?
NW-J: I do, I think that Melanie Ward is a fantastic, hugely influential stylist, I think Jane Howe was a massive stylist when I started assisting, I mean, she was the one who I found huge inspiration from. I think there are some amazing, hugely iconic stylists out there.
SSBF: Thanks to two universities Bristol has a huge population of students, many of whom will be graduating this year – do you have any tips on how they can break into the fashion industry?
NW-J: Perseverance; do as much work experience as you can. Every job for me, climbing the ladder to where I am now, has been through working for free and being in the right place at the right time but doing as much work experience as possible I know its hard when you’re not always being paid but do as much experience as you can and hopefully you’ll just get that moment when someone wants to employ you then it all sort of goes from there.
SSBF: So, so much of it can come down to timing then?
NW-J: It does, and that’s why this competition is so fantastic actually because to give you an indication, I will probably start to get CVs and applications on my desk around January from people asking me for internships and we don’t even start to look at anything till July. So you can imagine the amount of applications we get and a lot of them just get filed away unless there’s something like ‘friend of a friend’ situation, which does happen.
So with this competition the winner is being fast-tracked right to the front of that enormous queue and even if you enter and don’t necessarily win, you still get the chance to come and be with us in the office and spend some time with us. So to have that connection – if people come back to us in two years we’ll know who you are - and I think its simply being able to put a face to a name is really helpful and not just reading a CV that gets filed away somewhere.
SSBF: One final question: what would your best tip for Spring/Summer 2010 be for ELLE girls on a budget? Is there one particular piece or trend that they should look out for?
NW-J: I think keep it simple and keep it chic. There’s definitely a sort of French feel in the air so I’d have to say a really great trench coat.
Thanks so much to Natalie for the interview, the lovely staff at French Connection and Arabella from Talk PR for contributing to this interview.