Posted by Stephan Moskovic | October 26th, 2016

Storytelling through fashion is as difficult a process as any in this business and few have been able to make as great of a visual impact as world-renowned stylist, Patti Wilson. As far as career profiles go, the petite phenom has maintained one of the most respected portfolios in the industry moving effortlessly between elite tomes like Vogue Italia, Vogue Germany, Numéro, and V Magazine. Influential photographers like Steven Klein, David LaChapelle, Steven Meisel, Mert & Marcus, Sarah Moon, Sølve Sundsbø and much more have called upon her sartorial expertise to cultivate looks that are as perfectly bold as they are engaging. Whether elegantly decked out in film noir garb or Marie Antoinette-esque couture, all of her subjects seem to have a commonality – they’re superhuman. Models.com spoke to the purveyor of style about her humble beginnings, monumental collaborations, and what it really takes to keep a fresh perspective after all these years.

Interview and text by Stephan Moskovic and Irene Ojo-Felix

Portrait by Emma Summerton (CLM)
All other images courtesy of Patti Wilson and Streeters
Patti Wilson is represented by Streeters

Vogue Italia 2016 Steven Klein

Irene – So I was telling Stephan, as far as legends go, you were at the top of my list to interview.

Patti – I’m not a legend though.

Irene – Don’t run away from it! You are!

Patti – I don’t know. I’m really bad about the past, I’m not into it. I’m so bad that I’m completely turned off to what I’ve done before. It never looks the same, which is what I love. At least I don’t think it does, I hope not.

I think that’s why it’s always good to use established designers that I like, but always investigate the young. I’d rather spend more time on that.

Irene – You’re always evolving.

Patti – Yes, for sure. Or it has to always be different so I try to completely forget my past work. Today, I was trying to remember my Steven Meisel pictures and my favorite Steven Klein ones. And I just kept going…wait a minute! This is kind of good! So, I guess there are good points about the past but I never think that way. I think that’s why it’s always good to use established designers that I like, but always investigate the young. I’d rather spend more time on that.

Irene – It seems like that excitement kind of drives you. For projects that you take on, does that need to be the bottom line?

Patti – It’s gotta be. For me, if I’m not excited for a project I just have to say “It’s not going to happen.” Sometimes halfway into it you realize that you’re not inspired but you have to finish it, but you just don’t have to do it again. It’s like, “Okay that’s done. No more.” Somebody was trying to get me to work with someone where it just wasn’t…

Stephan – It just wasn’t clicking?

Patti – Yeah. They just don’t understand that you’ve got to click. And they said, “But the pictures were so great!” But I have to say, it’s just not there.

Irene – So I know you said you have this adversity to talking about the past, and I won’t go too deep!

Patti – Good!

Vogue Italia March 2004 Steven Klein

Irene – But…you know, as a young person growing up and trying to learn about the fashion business, I always want to know how people got into it. How did you get your start in the industry?

Patti – Well…I can’t give you dates. I just don’t remember them, I’m terrible! But I was hostessing and working at a restaurant in a jazz club. It was great, I loved it…and the tips! It was there that I met a photographer. They kept looking at what I wore and they said, “Did you ever think of being a stylist?” And I said, what on earth? I had never heard of anything like that. It was this woman you might not know, but her name was Maureen Lambray and I’ll never forget her. She had just finished shooting Alfred Hitchcock and she was deep this woman. She had a sister who was a stylist and she said, you can assist her. And I looked at Maureen’s work and I was like wow this woman is incredible. It was the best thing that happened to me because I started to really find out about styling. I learned a lot. And then Maureen ended up having me do something with her for the United Negro College Fund. I’ll never forget that. It was fabulous! I had to dress everybody and it was supposed to be real, but it was all actors. And that’s how I first started! That was my first thing that I did on my own, it was through her.

Irene – And you caught the bug, so to speak?

Patti – Then I really got into it, yes. So I started to get work and I assisted for quite some time. I can’t even tell you how long, but years. It’s a good idea to assist for a while. Those end up being the ones that hang in it for the long haul, you know?

Irene – For sure and it’s a good education. And do it on someone else’s dime rather than trying to start on your own.

Stephan – It’s like the 10-year rule. It takes at least 10 years to get really good at something.

Patti – Yeah and I’m still trying! Everything changes all of the time; the people, where everybody goes, sometimes it’s like starting all over, you know? Doing the European circuit, London, Paris…keeping up with those showrooms and then finding out about new things in places like Australia and Hong Kong.

Irene – How did that first job and assisting eventually lead you to the luxury fashion market?

Patti – It just kept going. I think the best thing that probably happened was of all people, a guy called David LaChapelle who was totally the opposite of what I was about. I mean you couldn’t get two persons more different together. I was totally into fashion and he was an artist.

530627_10151379953244777_342657108_nheight
Vogue Italia March 2003 Steven Meisel

Stephan – Yeah, he’s an amazing artist. So extreme.

Patti – So extreme. So fantastic and he made me laugh so much. Because you don’t laugh very much in this business, everything is so tense. He would make so much fun of me and we’d just laugh it up. That’s how I got into Vogue Italia. Nobody knows that but it was David LaChapelle that pushed for me. Franca (Sozzani) called him and they wanted him to work with another approved stylist and he said, “I worked with this girl and I really want to work with her on this.” It was really unheard of that someone could do that, it was fantastic. And you know before all that, it was Bill King. Bill King was great and he got me in on an assistant level and he started testing me and pairing me with fashion editors. He’d say, “You work with her, help her” and that was really the start.

But it was David that pushed for me into Vogue Italia and meanwhile I hated every minute with David when I was styling because he’d go, “What is that? What is that dress? Are you crazy?” And I’m thought, “Oh my god! He hates everything!” But I stuck with him because he was so great and I realized people were interested in him, all of the fashion people. All I cared about was fashion, that’s all I wanted to do. It was just great because Italian Vogue saw the artistry in it. It was an education working with him – huge shoots, plenty of talents and actresses. They hired him and we did shoots together and then from that, one day I get a call from Meisel and that was after being with David for almost two and a half years. When I got to him I was lusting for fashion so it was good. It was a good thing.

Irene – You said yourself you worked with David LaChapelle, Meisel, Sølve, Steven Klein. You worked with so many people, are there any big moments that stick out in your mind?

Patti – Meisel is phenomenal, there’s no mistaking a Meisel. He is great fun, he really is. Now I’m working mostly with Steven Klein, who I love. Then I work with Sølve, and some very young photographers. I love it! It’s just sorting out the young ones who are going to be special versus everyone else who’s doing the same thing.

Vogue Italia March 2003 Steven Meisel

Irene – You’re completely right. We notice it in the office that there’s certainly a trend of how visuals are being represented. Do you find that from clients or brands there’s a pressure to all look alike or be safe?

Patti – I think so. I think it comes from the brands. They make it so that everybody hops on the bandwagon. But that’s why I love somebody like Steven Klein because he never does that. It’s always going to be his own thing. I love Jamie Hawkesworth, I think he’s great and I love this guy I just worked with, Tyrone Lebon, he did the Calvin Klein ads.

Irene – It’s curious because I notice that the brands that you align yourself with take very big risks, like Iris Van Herpen. I know she was featured profusely in the recent Met exhibition, Manus X Machina.

Patti – Oh yeah! That exhibit was fabulous. Finally, right? I had been doing her shows, I think it’s my 3rd season and this show really did it for me.

Interview Russia December 2012 Mert & Marcus

Stephan – Crazy how she pushes her designs like that. All the 3D elements are super out there.

Patti – Yes, she’s fearless! I think in this business a lot of people are nervous. The young photographers and designers are fascinating to watch since they’re free to experiment and take chances without the pressure that comes later.

Stephan – It’s true. It’s rare when people succeed that they remain fearless.

Patti – It is unusual.

Irene – It’s probably when the money comes into play.

Patti – Yes and even I get scared! I really do. I think, oh my god maybe I shouldn’t be doing that. I think the thing with many magazines now is the credit thing, you have to shoot those designers.

Vogue Italia January 2016 Sølve Sundsbo

Irene – I was just about to ask that. How is it as a stylist having to work within that restriction?

Patti – It’s hard. It’s getting harder to style now because it’s really important that brands see their clothes fully. So, you have to be more creative stylistically and it’s got to be punched up in hair and makeup, it has to happen in the initial bold idea

Irene – And now it makes sense going towards new brands because they don’t have that restriction…at least I would hope?

Patti – New brands? No. I mean Iris is not going to care what you use. You know, as long as the picture looks good. Then I’m working with, I love this guy Marco de Vincenzo?

Irene – Love him! Fabulous shoes! He’s great because coming from Italy and showing in Milan there’s not that many new brands that are coming from that region.

Patti – And I think Alessandro Michele from Gucci took a risk and changed things for sure. Made us hope, you know? And look what Jeremy Scott did too, in his own way. I mean not everybody is into Moschino but he gave Italy a shot in the arm. He really did. It’s an exciting time.

Left: i-D Fall 2012
Above: Vogue Germany June 2014
Right: Vogue Germany September 2016
All: Luigi & Iango

Stephan – It’s great how you always supported new designers. That’s how I first met you when you were doing the Rad (Hourani) show…

Patti – Oh yeah he’s great! Very talented. People are taking more chances now. With Vetements it really made people think differently. And it’s in the stores! And it’s expensive.

Irene – And it’s selling out! They’re limiting the product so that it’s in demand. They can justify that price tag because it’s so hard to get.

Patti – And did you see that collaboration he did with Manolo Blahnik? That was brilliant too. What a great business mind that guy has!

Stephan – Yeah, he clearly comes from outside that system. Like you said it’s not driven by fear.

Vogue Italia January 2003 Steven Meisel

Irene – You’ve seen the ins and outs of the business. What do you think has changed in the industry, good or bad? Have you noticed anything you’re here for or you’re not feeling how the direction is going?

Patti – I’m a little stumped on that one. I mean, with the new people and the new photographers coming in. I hope it doesn’t become a money thing, you know? That they try to lower the rates because…you know how this industry is.

Irene – Has the industry always been full looks? Have the brands always demanded it?

Patti – No, it’s been lately a lot more. I mean it has been going on for like 5 years at least but now it’s really like…

Irene – They’re turning the requests up.

Patti – And it makes it very hard. Sometimes I get away with it but you think twice about it. You really do, because I want to be able to pull certain designers. And if you don’t shoot it right, they won’t let you borrow ever again… I’m respectful but at the same time I’m going to respect the pictures. You just have to try to make it work. Because sometimes I shoot the credits and you don’t recognize them.

Vogue Italia January 2015 Steven Klein

Irene – What really drives you and inspires you stylistically?

Patti – Really everything. I get it from film, from paintings, from so many things. I can see something as simple as an Instagram image and go, “Oh, I could do something like that!” You know, it just comes! It depends on what you’re doing.

I don’t feel happy if my styling looks straight-edge. If it looks too straight I think, ‘Oh I’ve got to do something quick to jazz this up!’ Something interesting has got to happen.

Irene – I find that when I was looking at your portfolio there always seems to be a super cool edge and grit. I’m sure you could explain it better.

Patti – No you’re right. I don’t feel happy if my styling looks straight-edge. If it looks too straight I think, ‘Oh I’ve got to do something quick to jazz this up!’ Something interesting has got to happen.

V Magazine Fall 2015 Steven Klein

W Magazine March 2016 Steven Klein

Irene – Like a coat off the shoulders…

Patti – Yeah you’ve got to twist it. I try but you know sometimes you do that stuff and you have to do it subtly. I had to do a cover shot with Gisele (Bündchen) for Vogue Brazil shot by Francois Nars. We did it with Giovanni Bianco and it was all Chanel. So you know, I kept wanting to do something but Gisele is very particular so you’ve got to be creative. I kept wanting to push it further so I gave her a whip. **laughs**

Irene – Really? Does Chanel have whips?

Patti – No…they will. **laughs** No but it was funny, it just needed something and once I gave her that it became something.

Left: NARS Sarah Moon Holiday Collection 2016. Right: Vogue Germany February 2015 Sarah Moon

Stephan – I imagine you do a lot of preparation when you’re coming into a shoot. What is the process like? Do you do mood boards? I guess it depends with each photographer also. With Klein is it his ideas?

Patti – Steven has such incredible ideas. At the same time he’s so great to work with because he’s open to suggestions. We just finished doing a sports theme for Italian Vogue and neither of us like sports. *laughs*

Irene – I remember one of the most iconic covers that stands out in my mind as far as celebrity, was when you did all that couture with Vogue Italia, Steven Klein and Rihanna.

Patti – –Yes, that was fabulous! I couldn’t imagine a better pairing of artists than Steven and Rihanna and I think the images really capture that… and she really put a whole new slant on couture.

Left: Paris Vogue 1998. Right: Paris Vogue December 1997. Both: David Lachapelle

Irene – When it comes to faces what are you looking out for?

Patti – I mean I’m always looking. But, I don’t know it just comes. I’m getting ready to do a story with Sølve Sundsbo for Italian Vogue. And I just saw this girl she just popped up. Nova Orchid? She’s great. I just sent her to Sølve and he said we’ve got to have her. That’s where Models.com is fantastic.

That’s the other thing the girls don’t last long. That’s the only thing that’s sad. Nobody is spending the time to really develop them. These girls come and they go…

Irene – Even ourselves we get inundated and are constantly trying to keep abreast of all of the new girls coming in. Just like everything, modeling is fast paced…

Patti – Super fast. That’s the other thing the girls don’t last long. That’s the only thing that’s sad. Nobody is spending the time to really develop them. These girls come and they go…

Vogue Germany October 2016 Emma Summerton

Irene – So you get the new cream of the crop girls, but like you said they’re not developed. When you’re a stylist and they have to carry the clothes and sell it, it must be hard to find girls who know how to do that from the start.

Patti – I mean some of them do, those Hedi Slimane girls, a lot of those girls are great. There’s some that come off the boat, I don’t know how or where they learn it. Like, Lili Sumner has it. There’s a girl called Cheyenne (Keuben) and she’s got it. They’re new but they can do it. So, you just have to find them.

Irene – Very luck of the draw sometimes.

Patti – And Hedi Slimane has a very good eye for girls, so I watch him.

Dior Couture 2011 Patrick Demarchelier

Stephan – He does, yes. There’s a few people that have the passion, Meisel of course.

Patti – He’s ridiculous. That is one incredible man. He can do hair, he can do everything.

Irene – He can do hair?

Patti – Yes and he’s really good. A lot of photographers don’t know how to do any of it, but he knows how to put a roller in and if you put the roller this way what it’s going to do. I mean he is so impressive. And makeup too! He just knows all of Pat McGrath’s numbers *laughs* but isn’t that great? That’s hard to find. He was an illustrator to begin with. Coloring the lips and he can draw the eye. He really has all of that.

Marie Claire September 2015 FRANÇOIS NARS

Irene – Would you ever be locked down to a magazine as a fashion director?

Patti – I don’t think so, but I don’t know it depends. I once interviewed for a major magazine…I got so nervous and dropped things. I was a mess. I just said, I gotta get out of here. I don’t know if I’m necessarily cut out for that environment. I’ve worked with the same small team for nearly ten years and it just seemed like too many people. Plus I love the fact that I get to work with different magazines, I think it helps to keep things fresh.

Stephan – Do you work with any American magazines?

I’ve done a number of stories with V Magazine which was incredible. I’ve also been freelancing with Marie Claire and part of me couldn’t believe that I did a Marie Claire shoot but looking at the magazine, they’re changing! Looking back at the shoot it was so cool! I did it with Francois (Nars). I’ve done 2 issues so far now. I shot girls wrapped in Cellophane and there were live monkeys and lizards!. It’s good! I would never even think a book like that would be OK with that.

Irene – Slowly but surely.

Vogue Italia September 2008 Steven Klein

Patti – Yes, for sure. Nina Garcia. She said, when you came and you did that one story for me all of my fashion editors were waking up and trying to do something. She said, it really made them think! She said, I really want to keep that kind of thing going.

Irene – It’s good she’s open to taking a chance and pushing.

Patti – I was really surprised. Every time I sent them a picture I thought they would freak out but not at all! She was like, oh fabulous. So that’s how advanced they’re getting. They have Amy Schumer on the cover the same month that American Vogue does? That’s pretty good.

I just want to keep growing and evolving. That’s one of the reasons I really enjoy working with new publications and young designers. There’s just something about the energy and the freedom for experimentation that can be really exciting.

Stephan – So what’s next?

Patti – I just want to keep growing and evolving. That’s one of the reasons I really enjoy working with new publications and young designers. There’s just something about the energy and the freedom for experimentation that can be really exciting. At the same time, I’ve been lucky enough to work with Italian Vogue for nearly 15 years and I’d love to be able to work with them for 15 more! It’s such an honor to have them trust me and my work. The fact that I get to collaborate with someone like Steven Klein on these amazing epic shoots is still unbelievable.

From left to right: Vogue Italia June 2015 Steven Klein, V Magazine Fall 20116 Steven Klein, i-D April 2000 Steven Klein, Vogue Italia March 2009 Steven Klein, V Magazine Spring 2016 Steven Klein, L’Uomo Vogue September 2004 Steven Klein, Vogue Italia September 2008 Steven Klein, L’Uomo Vogue September 2003 Steven Klein.

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3 Comments to “Patti Wilson”

  1. Raouf says:

    I worked with Patti Wilson when I was a makeup assistant , She was just amazing and taking risk and nothing stopped her . You could tell each day she was coming to the shoot with a different eye and perspective and having so much fun. Now that I’m a photographer I’m dreaming to work with her !

  2. Victoria Wilson says:

    Very inspirational.

  3. brit cato says:

    She’s my inspiration! Her process is so deep and what a real stylist should embody is to work hard and not settle for easy or safe. Its important to push envelopes and make statements. It really helps you grow as a stylist..

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