Behind the Image: Beth Fenton on Clothes Speaking for You

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

image courtesy Beth Fenton

Beth Fenton, stylist

Hometown: Originally Manchester UK
Based: Between NY and London

How would you describe your work? What’s your trademark?
I treat each project as if I am telling a story and being detail-obsessed I think it’s important to concentrate on small details like a sleeve roll, tying a belt, etc, so people feel comfortable and it doesn’t ever look contrived. Authenticity is key, I always like to personalize and individualize pieces for the subject in a style that fits them, such as have their initials on the jewelry for all the models in a Topshop Unique show, or I customized and monogrammed the underwear that Gigi wore on the Allure cover. I think clothing is an extension of what we are trying to project and an indication of how we feel from one day to the next, it’s important that it feels representative. I will always ask people in fittings, ‘how do you feel?’. As a fairly shy person, I prefer subtle communication in how I present myself. I am really interested in the psychological aspect.

How did you get into your chosen career?
The summer before my final year at Northumbria I wrote to just about every magazine going for an internship, as I was really curious about styling. I followed up on my letters with a phone call. At the time Sofia de Romarate was at Nova Magazine (she then went on to Another Magazine). Sofia answered the phone and said to come in for an interview. I was hired there and then for a week and ended up staying the whole summer and got paid some money thanks to Sofia and Cat Callender pushing for it. I loved being in that environment and watching Venetia Scott and Nancy Rohde prep their shoots and see how a magazine was put together. Especially that magazine at that time, it was really exciting and very different from anything else. Sofia was really instrumental in my career; when Venetia needed an assistant for a Calvin Klein campaign she suggested me. After that, I kept in touch with Venetia’s assistant Zelda and when I graduated ended up working with Venetia full-time for five years. Those years working with Venetia were a true education, she is exacting in her approach and has so much integrity to her work. Assisting her whilst she was the creative director at Marc Jacobs was an extraordinary experience; to be involved in the consultation and design process throughout the season, absorb the atelier at work and observe Marc producing those phenomenal collections and be a small part in those incredible shows. Also through Sofia, I was introduced to Karl Templer and assisted him and worked at Another Magazine on and off whilst with Venetia. I learned a lot from both environments. Another shared an office with Dazed and that is where I met Cathy Edwards and Jefferson Hack who gave me my first story in Dazed with photographer Pierre Bailly who’d mentioned to Jefferson he wanted to work with me. Cathy was amazing, so positive and encouraging and light. When I said I wanted to shoot my third fashion story with Ari Marcopoulos, her response was ‘love it, go for it’. I emailed Ari directly out of the blue and he was up for the shoot and invited me to California, where he lived at the time to stay with his family. We spent a week making pictures in such a beautiful part of California.

What other jobs have you had?
Serving pate and cheese in a bar in Manchester, waitressing and salad maker at a wine bar. My first Saturday job was selling jeans in Stockport. Then I worked in Benetton on weekends and holidays throughout school. Whilst at college at Northumbria, Newcastle, I worked at Flannels. Though excruciatingly shy I was always determined to make a sale! There was something satisfying about seeing someone walk away with an item that made them feel good about themselves.

What have you watched/heard/read lately that has inspired you?
The film Rocks, it is so well done, touching, beautiful, and tenderly handled. The team seemed to approach it in a collaborative and anti-hierarchical way, working closely with the phenomenal cast. Nong Rak is an online vintage store, I love their eye and how they present their collection, it feels so authentic, organic, and fresh. Every time they release a collection I am inspired and want to buy everything.

What do you love about what you do?
Every day is different and every interaction is a learning process. When you have a team that truly collaborates and there is loyalty it can be really fulfilling and often brings the best work. I like seeing people feel good about themselves or being part of something that hopefully incites joy, inspires, and motivates people in a positive way.

What have been the biggest challenges you have faced professionally?
I find the industry can sadly be hierarchical, especially when it comes to credit and payment for the team. Stylists seem to be undervalued; why would they not be entitled to a syndication fee as their input is just as instrumental in making the image as the photographer? It can also be disappointing when details as the full team credits are overlooked. I’ve experienced my name being excluded a lot. Everybody has had a part to play and should be recognized for their input. I was very uncomfortable working on some shows or productions where the models were changing into clothes and exposed, as there are so often crew, people, and photographers hanging around. The further I got in my career I tried to change this and a lot more people in the industry, including the models, are speaking up about it now and structuring more privacy.

What’s one thing outside of your work that you would like people to know about you?
Meditation and breathwork keep me sane.

Who do you think is one to watch?
Daniel Jack Lyons, photographer
Paula Abu, who I came across researching London based, female photographers; she also writes and is the creative director of a magazine.
Lina Caicedo, who works with archive material in the film industry has set up www.latinidadldn.com which is an archive documenting and preserving the personal histories of the Latin-American diaspora in London, after feeling there was a need for telling the stories of all communities, especially those that are less visible. For Lina, she sees ‘the importance of using social memory and the intentional act of remembering, as a form of healing. This project is also about giving space and agency to this community to create a vision of themselves that doesn’t always square with how they are popularly perceived, making them in charge of their own narratives.’
Despite all the feelings of uncertainty, it’s an interesting time to try things and take risks, perhaps do things we may not be known for by diversifying and experimenting in the creative field or doing more than one thing.

Selected Works

image courtesy Beth Fenton

Coldplay costume in the V&A Museum
Since 2007 I have collaborated with Coldplay on their costumes for every album and tour. Each time their look needs to fit the universe or the story of that album. The process is one of the most creative projects I’ve worked on. It’s like designing a collection. The first album I worked on was Viva la Vida which was extremely collaborative; hand-painting the jackets and placing the vintage sourced trims together. This costume is now part of the V & A Museum’s permanent exhibition, where I am credited alongside Sara Jowett, who introduced me to the band through Stella McCartney. Working with the band has since taken me to Glastonbury, the Superbowl 50 halftime performance and live concerts at sunrise and sunset on the top of the Amman Citadel ruins in Jordan.

image courtesy Beth Fenton

Aya, Lineisy, Imaan, Teen Vogue, Daniel Jackson
This was thanks to Amy Astley, editor at the time, and Marie Suter, creative director, who really supports you to be creative and get the best work from the team she commissions. It was actually meant to be something completely different for the cover but the denim just worked in the moment as Dan was shooting. It was refreshing to have three black models on the cover talking about their experience in the industry. They were all having particularly good seasons and their presence walking the shows was noticeable. I remember feeling that as an attendant of the shows that season. I remember seeing Lineisy and thinking who is this? It all felt very timely.

image courtesy Beth Fenton

Cindy Crawford, Muse, Mariano Vivanco
The weekend before we were scheduled to shoot this cover with Cindy, I walked into Reformation and saw that sweatshirt. It was like slow motion, I turned to my friend and said ‘um, I’m shooting her this week’ and so I bought it. Cindy was so trusting when I took her through the clothes and straight away upon seeing the sweatshirt said ‘oh, that’s fun’. Cindy is a total pro and knows how to get the image, she knew the sweatshirt should be worn on its own and what to do in it. Of course, that became the cover. I gave the sweatshirt to her after the shoot, I was like ‘well, it’s got your name on it’ and she said her daughter would love it. I was the Fashion Director of Muse from 2012 to 2015, it was great to be involved in the commissioning of the teams and concepts. I loved getting to shoot with artists I admired like Barbara Kruger, Gillian Wearing, Todd Hido and Jason Evans–who rarely shot fashion–and working with Mark Peckmezian when he had only shot a couple of fashion stories at the time.

image courtesy Beth Fenton

Sasha Lane, Teen Vogue, Daniel Jackson
I just love this moment and the spirit. It happened so quickly and wasn’t really planned. We had the dancers there, as we were shooting a series of young actors and so made the concept of the shoot about performance. It was quite a look but Sasha is so nonchalant, she has such an ease about her, so she pulled it off. I dressed the dancers they got in the shot and then it all came together.

image courtesy Beth Fenton

Adwoa Aboah, ELLE UK, Liz Johnson Artur
This issue was significant in many ways. ELLE asked whilst we were in lockdown if I would shoot the collections story with Clare Shilland. At the time it only felt appropriate to communicate the feeling of community, unity, intimacy, freedom, and love; I suggested we photograph the actor Sonoya Mizuno and her sisters and document their unique bond. The editor Farrah Storr and ELLE team then proposed I styled the cover as well which was Adwoa and described the mentee programme of the issue, giving twelve students across the UK access to the making of the issue. I have great respect for Adwoa and all that she does, she is a force on every level and the concept of making the industry more inclusive by the mentee programme was really appealing. I have a huge appreciation for Liz Johnson Artur’s work so I was really happy ELLE supported the idea and Liz agreed to do it. It was wonderful to work so closely with the ELLE team and be so involved in this issue throughout most of lockdown. The styling for Adwoa was inspired by her own indomitable flair, her loyal support, and advocacy for British based, independent designers and vintage clothing and celebrating her heritage. After a time of us all wearing the same thing, the intention was to prompt dressing up again and to express confidence and optimism for a hopeful future.