Somewhere between his childhood sketches and stylist Patti Wilson, the foundation was laid for Edward Bowleg III to turn his early artsy curiosities into a fashion portfolio that’s now far too outsized for a description like emerging or budding stylist. And the New York-born creative, who currently splits his time between Paris and his home city, knows that he’s “graduated,” in a sense, though that’s not to be confused with any shortcomings in ambitions. After being introduced to the fashion scene in his teens, Bowleg III logged early stints with publications including Interview Magazine and Vogue Paris, as well as crucial assisting gigs in which he explains, “my whole life changed.” While work with Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, and Valentino seem to stamp his rising star today, the Streeters-repped style creator isn’t jaded, reminding himself to have “patience” as he continues to strive for the next milestone. Below, he shares with Models.com contributor Nia Groce what that next milestone is and the journey he’s been on thus far to get there.
What sparked your initial interest in fashion?
Art was my favorite class in school and I loved to draw, so I would be in homeroom doing doodles and things like that before class. Then, in 1996 it was Christmas time and we had family visiting. We went to Fifth Avenue in New York, and we were walking up and down to see all the lights and windows. And I’ll never forget it but Tom Ford had done this collection for Gucci that had these iconic white jersey gowns at the end [of the runway show]. They had them in the window of the Gucci boutique beautifully lit, it looked so glamorous. Before I even knew what any of that was, something in me was like, ‘Wow!’ From that moment on, it switched from me drawing random things to everything was about fashion at that point. I remember I spent my summers in my room watching Style Network, this show Fashion File with Tim Blanks, Fashion Television with Jeanne Beaker, and CNN Style on Sunday mornings with Elsa Klensch. The way other kids would wake up to watch cartoons, that was my cartoon in the morning.
How did the transition come about to really dial in on styling? How’d you get your start?
I wanted to be a fashion designer. That’s what I told myself in my head. ‘I love fashion. I’m a designer.’ I didn’t know a stylist was a job back then. I didn’t understand an editorial in a magazine. I just knew there were pictures. A woman that [knew] my mom, her neighbor was a stylist and he was friends with Patti Wilson back then. I was 16 and [my mom] drove me from Jersey to Pier 59 Studios, dropped me off, and I remember it was a Vogue Italia shoot. Seeing that and being wowed, I was interested in it, and that summer I started assisting.
Throughout this time, I was still wanting to be a designer. I went to The Art Institute for fashion design and realized I am not interested in sewing – the math aspect of it I was horrible at. What clicked in my head was when I would open up a magazine, I would look at the bags and shoes and love putting things together and because I had been assisting since 16 years old, I [realized] that’s what I should do. So I transferred to FIT to the advertising and marketing program. From there, I started doing a string of internships and once I graduated, I started assisting all the people that I had met in the Conde Nast International office. Then I moved to Paris, where I continued to freelance and about six months later I moved back to NY and worked for Beat Bolliger after he asked if I would work for him as his first assistant. My whole life changed within that year, so much of it dictated the rest of my career path. I was traveling every month, to all these countries I had never been to before. It was incredible. After about 3 years with Beat, I went on to work for Joe McKenna for several years – finishing my time assisting.
Have there been any surprising or eye-opening parts of being a stylist?
The one thing is the business aspect of it all. When you think of a stylist, perhaps people don’t think of being a business person, but I mean, I do run an actual business. You have assistants to pay, supplies to buy, expenses. When you’re working on a shoot and you have a massive budget to look after, that’s a huge part of it. I will say, having assisted, it wasn’t something that was so much a shock as it is a huge part of what you do outside of creating an image. The backstory of that is that there is a business that is being run simultaneously.
How do you continually challenge yourself and your artistry?
The way I challenge myself is by working with new people. And one of the things I think is so great about what we do, is that you can have multiple sides to yourself. Now I’m excited because I’m finally in a moment where I’m starting to get to express that and show different sides of my personality; things that I enjoy about fashion and not just this one thing or that one thing. That’s why being able to collaborate with people that have different points of view and being open to new ideas is important.
How do you keep busy in between projects?
For one thing, removing myself sometimes from fashion in the sense of being close with my family, keeping myself grounded in that way. But also always having my eyes and ears open because I can find inspiration in the most random of things. Just constantly feeding my desire for wanting to create things and create images. Whether that’s watching movies, TV shows, reading, going to galleries, traveling, listening to new music. That’s how I keep myself busy and keep ideas flowing, because I want to always be excited about something or have an idea stored in my head.
What are some of your most memorable styling projects?
I think all of my firsts. The first cover that I did [Replica Man Magazine], then actually receiving that issue and seeing something tangible to be like, ‘that was my work.’ Seeing your name in print may seem like a small thing, but it’s still quite cool for me to get something that I worked on in my hand. My first fashion show that I worked on by myself [Prabal Gurung], that was a big moment for me. Any of the firsts that I experienced in my career are still memorable because they’re milestones that you want to hit.
Are there artists that you come back to time and time again for your inspiration?
Some of my favorite photographers are Richard Avedon and Helmut Newton. I have this huge tome of Helmut Newton [photography] that I constantly look through and the images are so beautiful, they’re so well done technically. That’s something I always look back at for inspiration because there’s also a mood that comes across in those photos. I look at films a lot, like Fellini is one of my favorite filmmakers because the composition is so beautiful, the clothes are quite timeless, and it’s really chic in a way. I love interior design. LIAIGRE [for example], there’s a showroom in Paris that I love to visit every time I’m there because of the colors and the materials used.
Who are some of your favorite collaborators from over the years?
Jeremy Everett is someone that I’ve worked with pretty frequently, and he’s an artist as well. We have a good rapport, and it’s always a great atmosphere and energy on set. He’s one for sure that comes to mind because there’s such an ease there. Also, collaborating with people that I came up with while assisting. Even if I can almost reframe the question, there are people that when I was assisting, we’re all still coming up in this now, and we all are starting to work together or wanting to work together. That’s exciting because we were in the trenches of fashion together, and we’ve kind of graduated. It’s cool to be working with your peers.
What are some of your future projects or goals?
A career goal of mine is to work on a capsule collection or collection of some sort that I help to design, whether it’s pieces that I love and adore in my own wardrobe or consulting. That’s high on my list of things to accomplish at some point. And to continue traveling and expanding my mind. For me, there’s a big wide world out there, and we should experience it.
What advice do you have for others who would want to pursue a styling career?
What really was invaluable to me was assisting. I can’t stress that enough. Assist, assist, assist, because you learn so much beyond what [comes to mind] when you think of a stylist. You may just think of someone that puts clothes together. That is definitely what we do. But outside of that, there’s how to run a set, how to work on a set, how to communicate with people, whether it’s drafting emails appropriately or dealing with budgets. When you have a wardrobe budget of $25K, how are you divvying that up to make sure that you do the job properly? Patience as well, which is something that I constantly have to tell myself. Having patience that one day the stars will align and things will click. Not everything happens at the moment that you want them to, but just really trust the process.