Behind The Image – Julie Ragolia on Going from Data Entry to Styling Vogue Covers

Behind the Image is an ongoing series taking a more personal look at both established and emerging creative talent.

courtesy Julie Ragolia

Julie Ragolia

Hometown: Brooklyn, New York
Based: Between NYC and Milan

How would you describe your work? What’s your trademark?
My work has always been an exercise in telling human stories. We humans are beautiful, we are curious, and we are all imperfect. For me as a stylist, that interest in finding commonality amongst us, even within luxury, injects a certain irreverence into my work, and informs my direction in everything from casting, to collaborators, to the way I layer clothes. I also impart traditionally masculine codes to femininity and vice-versa as a way to subvert and challenge traditional expectations.

How did you get into your chosen career?
I didn’t set out to be a stylist initially. I grew up in a challenging environment, so I saw fashion as something not intended for people like me. Just the same, I have a fighter’s streak, so I found fuel in exploring the ways in which people like me inform fashion, and how we can interject in that space with voice and impact enough to be seen. What fashion dubs as streetwear, for example, is simply observation to me. And there is something to value in all I observe because everyone gets dressed; the streets are filled with people from all walks of life and interests. Fashion for me is a medium with which to pursue exploration and observation on a bigger, more aspirational scale. My stories are not necessarily documentary in form, but there is always a hint toward some form of reality in execution. Luxury is less about items of extreme monetary value to me than it is about sincerity and artistic self-expression. And being able to play in that space from all the extremes of my mind is a fascinating form of play.

What other jobs have you had?
I started working in fashion while still in college through unexpected means so, funnily enough, I haven’t had many other jobs aside from being a stylist and editor. Years ago, while assisting Alex White, I also worked a night job doing data entry to help pay for school. It was quite strange to go from the W office or a campaign to click-clacking over legal cases past midnight. It put a lot into perspective.

What have you watched/heard/read lately that has inspired you?
I’m currently absorbed in Frieze’s virtual galleries… there is lots to be found, though I miss being there in person. I spend far too much time obsessing about politics at the moment, but it’s important for me to stay connected to human basics. It’s generating a new form of inspiration: from what is ugly, find something beautiful.

What do you love about what you do?
I love how each job is essentially the building of little capsule families. We come together to share and tell different stories.

What have been the biggest challenges you have faced professionally?
I think I struggle most with feeling misunderstood, sometimes unseen within the fashion industry. I haven’t run on traditional tracks, but there’s a reason behind the decisions that I make. Sometimes it’s easy to be placed in a box according to old codes or judgments. But these are new times, with new ideas, so I’m trying to navigate through as honestly and sincerely as possible.

What’s one thing outside of your work that you would like people to know about you?
That I know how to use a power tool. I bought an old farmhouse last year, which I spent much of lockdown renovating. I’ve essentially been stripping the house down to find its hidden history, discovering layers of original finishings from the 1890s through the 30s, through the 50s until now, where I am adding a bit of my voice to the story. I’m also learning how to till the land. Growing up in buildings, tending to acres of land was not in my training. Being good to what is around me, however, was. Learning to live symbiotically with nature is quite special. I’m grateful to have this opportunity to observe and learn.

Who do you think is one to watch?
Keep an eye on Cheikh Kebe. Many know him as a male model, but he is also a driven fashion designer making very special things, and exploring his own culture and upbringing in Senegal while doing so. Expect big things to come from this gentle spirit. I’m also standing strongly behind Austin Stoll. I love that he’s building a little design movement in Buffalo, New York. With the way so much of our world now exists virtually, perhaps fashion capitals are a construct of the mind.

Selected Works

courtesy Julie Ragolia

Cedric Buchet and Lennon Sorrenti for The Fall photographed by Vanina Sorrenti
Vanina took this photo of Cedric as he photographed her, while their daughter, Lennon, slept in Cedric’s arms.
I have come to know Vanina and Cedric well over the years, both as photographers and friends, and love them very dearly. Until this point when I asked, they had never shot each other or Lennon for a magazine. We spent a long weekend in Majorca together, playing with clothes and documenting this family album. Several magazines have since asked them to do the same thing, but it all started here with me. This particular photo captures everything I try to achieve in my styling work: interesting casting, a sense of truth, a strong sense of color and the warmth of human spirit.

courtesy Julie Ragolia

Self portrait for 10 Magazine
10 Magazine had asked me for a portrait of myself. I was quarantining in Milan at the time, so decided to shoot myself to pass the time. I used to take self-portraits in college. I was not a photography major, but I had a key to the darkroom because the head of the department liked the way I saw the world as does a child in my photographs. To shoot this I used a camera, but also involved my iPhone since, in reality, the majority of my self-portraits these days are done with a phone for Instagram. It was fun to get back to this manner of concentrated self-study, and the exercise helped to speed up my quarantine. Of course, I’m wearing men’s tailoring, my favorite.

courtesy Julie Ragolia

Ermenegildo Zegna S/S 19 Fashion Show
This is an image from the finale of the Zegna SS19 fashion show in Milan, which I styled. We timed the show to begin exactly as the sun was setting so that the palate of the collection would have the most dynamic backdrop, the sun’s reflection on the Mondadori building. I cried at the end of this show, as I was so moved by what we had done. The casting, the clothes and the location were pure magic. Working with Alessandro Sartori and the Zegna team is a highlight of my career each season. Zegna is such a special house, and I couldn’t be more excited about each collection.

courtesy Julie Ragolia

Kestlemann photographed by Romain Sellier
This was Kestlemann’s first-ever photoshoot. I’m as obsessed with casting as I am clothes. I love discovering new people as part of the fashion journey because they bring something special that I haven’t experienced before. Kestlemann’s sweetness and ease within his own body is everything to me about this photo. Within the nature of Fontainebleau, black textures highlight Kestelmann’s eyes and forever expression.

courtesy Julie Ragolia

Monica photographed by Daniel Riera for Umit Benan B+
Working with friends is my joy as a stylist. Umit is a friend and a brilliant tailor. He says that my styling brings fluidity to menswear, but I think Umit brings a bit himself. Daniel and I have been on many photographic adventures together, and his light here is magical. Casting plays a huge part in my styling. I can have an idea of what I want to do, but it’s not until I am looking at someone when clothes can truly come to life. Monica was such a dream to style. She had never modeled before, but you wouldn’t know from her images. This is a favorite of mine and is precisely how I want to dress when I’m her age.

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