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October 27, 2017

How Different Kinds Of Stylists Are Carving A Niche For Themselves In Our Lives

Text by Ranjabati Das

A luxury store window…an Insta-worthy sushi platter…you may not have given them a second thought but you too have been wooed — and won over

Look closely and you will find the handiwork of stylists all around you. Not too long ago, the public perception of the profession was so skewed in India that it was more or less thought to be synonymous with the world of fashion. So constricted was the view that you could befuddle the majority by asking them to differentiate between a ‘stager’ (those who style and furnish properties for sale) and an ‘interior stylist’. Over time, however, the body of work of these curators of style have expanded to encompass many spheres of modern life where they operate behind the scenes. From choosing the catwalk looks before a show to dressing up a wedding venue and setting up the interiors of a hotel suite or a store, today these creative mavens are ubiquitously influencing personal aesthetics and driving lifestyle choices. Sourcing props, researching trends, moodboarding ideas or collaborating with the photographer and the social media team — it’s all part of the job, which in essence is geared towards courting you, the consumer.

Burgeoning Demands
Have you ever walked into a five-star hotel lobby, only to stop and marvel at a gorgeous floral arrangement, standing tall in the centre of the space? Where the foliage, painstakingly foraged stem by stem, plays the perfect foil to blush-pink peonies peeking out from behind a pleasing palette of orange, coral and lavender — chrysanthemums, roses and hydrangeas, whose dewy freshness belie the miles they have journeyed to sit pretty in your line of sight. In totality, it is a powerful vision, assembled to transport you to an English garden in bloom. A study in grace, it injects a personal touch into the swanky space that’s otherwise all marble and glass. It’s much more than a balancing trick though; it’s an installation, the pièce de résistance. But whose praises should you be singing? To clear your confusion, you should be thanking the floral stylist. Yes, it’s a bona-fide profession now, albeit one that is still quite niche here in India.

One whose name is on the tip of the tongue is that of the 34-year-old proprietor of the Mumbai-based House of Flowers by Marry Me. “My wife Candice (Pereira) and I started with our wedding planning and styling companies. While executing weddings all over India and internationally too, our main focus was the look and the florals, which we always personalised to create a bespoke experience. But even after the assignments, clients would get in touch with us for the latter. That’s when we realised that there is a gap in the market, which in turn led to the birth of House of Flowers in 2014,” says Jarret D’Abreo.

Nifty floral entrepreneurs like him are keen on exploring the potential of florals, over and beyond the arena of weddings, once the cynosure of the floristry industry. The plethora of services on offer therefore includes table styling, decor and shoots for a range of luxury lifestyle brands, celebrities and retailers. In order to stay connected to their clientele, they also place serious emphasis on customisation, importing flowers from continents as far away as Africa and South America on a regular basis. What’s more, business is blooming. Once dismissed as a hobby, brands have undergone a change of heart — what was once regarded as superfluous is now de rigueur —making floral styling a viable vocation with plenty of scope. “Today, clients are particular about the looks they want to achieve. Understanding the requirement, preferences and style of the brand or event, we translate their vision into reality,” signs off D’Abreo.

Net Impact
Another area that these masters of style have totally transformed with their expertise is spaces of different kinds — it could be a hotel, a store, a store window, a show apartment or a residence. Propelling the sharp-eyed visual artists centre stage is of course social media, which has emerged as a champion of these style gurus. And in an age, where our Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr feeds are forever crawling with white rooms and Parisian bistro-inspired kitchens, the incentives of hiring a stylist are huge.

“When you’re talking to clients or customers at a store, it is really important to think about and deconstruct their needs. It is vital for them to communicate to you and for you in turn to communicate their vision,” says Divya Kapoor, 37, who worked as a stylist and visual merchandiser with decor store Good Earth, before moving on to contemporary lifestyle brand Nicobar, where she heads design for the travel vertical, apart from styling the stores. “When it comes to styling, I especially enjoy taking a space and putting it together, which is what I’ve done for a lot of Nicobar pop-ups in the past. Styling is like a movie — there are many layers and players. My favourite part is table styling. How you connect that one flower to the colour of the mat, the material you choose for it, the selection of every element is important, as I can give the same product five different looks by simply changing its supporting elements. My new role as a product designer has been fortified by my background in styling — an area where attention to detail is paramount — and this transition has drawn me into the entire journey of the product.”

Today, the buyer is cautious and feels the need for those with a trained eye to lead the way. They are also likely to stay abreast of trends, keeping people like Kapoor on their toes alright. But, is the overload of information available online posing a problem of plenty by causing indecision and even anxiety among shoppers?

“Traditionally, decor has been associated with premium homes, while the middle class was primarily interested in functionality. There are no such rules now. Across all segments, tabletop decor is big, as are terrariums, area rugs and indoor plants. The internet has helped Indians get tuned into style and design, but the net also confuses the consumer and makes it hard for them to choose. We understand aesthetics and depict decor and furniture in a setting that appeals to the customer in our new offline stores, helping them to single out what will look good,” says Pradeep James, director of design and visual merchandising at furniture brand Urban Ladder, which has recently ventured offline and tied up with ace architect Ashiesh Shah for a series of four collections.

Art Thou Food
Unsurprisingly, photo-sharing giants like Instagram have had a big hand in enticing millennials to ponder the profession. “Instagram was at its peak just after my journey with MasterChef India in 2015 and it got me obsessed with food styling and photography, and since I already loved cooking, it was a natural progression of sorts. What’s more, I get every assignment through Instagram,” says 30-year-old food stylist Karishma Sakhrani. One of the most lucrative spheres in the styling business, it is pretty commonplace to see hot chefs — including names like Vikramjit Roy and Eric Sifu — donning the hat of the stylist as well. Sakhrani also helps develop menus, participates in endorsement campaigns, conducts workshops and collaborates with restaurants, retailers and brands including The Pantry, Inox Cinemas and Foodhall.

As a bunch, however, they can be quite diverse in their thinking. While some fancy themselves as refined make-up artists, others concentrate on keeping the food edible and flatly refuse any sort of touch-up. In a professional’s kitbag you may find edible paint, spray varnish, a blowtorch, tweezers, paint brushes, ropes, a steam iron, toothpicks, knives and a myriad other sundries. Because it involves perishables, one has to take precautions. “With food photography, I think timing matters the most! It’s best to work really quickly once the food is prepared to capture it in all its natural glory. And of course, I don’t always cook the food all the way through. Sometimes, I even leave some ingredients raw. This helps maintain a consistent form and gives you more time to play with the styling and photography,” reveals the management graduate with over 40,000 followers just on Instagram.

Aura of Authenticity
Styling is then essentially an informed, rather meticulous arrangement or placement of elements like colour and texture, which as a composite whole speaks a certain visual language and evokes a specific ambience. Creating these layers and proportioning them also decides what the focus is, whether it is the floral arrangement on the table, the food, the dinner set or the table itself. Ultimately, it’s about reading and interpreting the subject in detail and in a particular context so as to create a memorable experience driven by the visual and the vibe. As Kapoor says, “Even the kind of flowers and leaves you use help in telling a story”. The subject can vary from a head of hair and a car to a house or a film. In the last category, the Anderson aesthetic, as the look and mood of director Wes Anderson’s hyper-stylised films have come to be known, is a valid reference point.

It’s all about optimisation then. Upcycle. Edit. Personalise. Reinvent. “When you want to redesign your house, first declutter and rearrange the things in your room instead of replacing everything. Moving furniture around and changing the placement from north to south can alter the flow of the energy. Taking a simple element and using it creatively can give the space a completely new look,” says Kapoor, whose passion comes through even over the phone.

With a turn of their wands, these whizzes can make any old thing an epitome of effortless chic, thanks to their quick wit, discerning eye and magic touch. So the question is what does it take, besides manual dexterity, to make it in this field? Surely, originality. In a sea of sameness, these canny hustlers are nothing if not individualistic.

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