Stylist Beat Bolliger On Pushing the Boundaries of Menswear and Beyond

Julien Martinez Leclerc | Image courtesy of Art Partner

Since his collegiate beginnings honing his craft at Paris’ renowned Studio Berçot, Swiss-born stylist Beat Bolliger has been an irrefutable presence in the fashion industry. After a brief stint in casting, Bolliger launched a prominent styling career, including collaborations with photographers like Inez & Vinoodh, Sølve Sundsbø, David Sims, and Mario Sorrenti. Since the early aughts, his work has graced the pages of elite publications, including Document Journal, L’Uomo Vogue, WSJ, V Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar, showcasing his expertise in seamlessly blending quiet luxury aesthetics with contemporary modernity, a penchant for flair, and his added strength in menswear. Brands like Hermes, BOSS, and Tod’s have called upon Bolliger to lead visuals, and as a revered name in fashion, Bolliger has raised a new generation of sartorial creatives like stylists and former assistants Edward Bowleg III and Stella Greenspan, who have learned under his thoughtful guidance. spoke to Bolliger about his first major styling gig, being a mentor to many, and how collaborations are key in his line of work.

Mario Sorrenti | Image courtesy of Art Partner

Do you recall some of your first connections to fashion?
It was when I was about 4 years old and my mum got my brother and me in head-to-toe Levi’s outfits. It was a complete oddity at the time in Switzerland, where I grew up. She had a children’s clothing boutique and would organize kids’ fashion shows in town; I recall one time I was supposed to walk in one. I was so excited but suddenly got the flu and could not be part of it. I was devastated. I would also love to watch my mum doing her hair and makeup as she got ready to go out. I was always fascinated by the transformation and the step-by-step changes, and the final touch when she got dressed made such a lasting impression on me.

How did you use fashion to craft your identity growing up?
Fashion has always played a big role in my life. When I grew up, we did not have the fast fashion brands of today that are super affordable. I would always go to the few boutiques in Zürich that have the coolest pieces. I’d put one piece aside at a time and save up all my money so I could eventually buy it. Having a teenage budget was also one of the main reasons I got into vintage at a very young age. I went through many different stages and experimented with lots of different styles. I, for sure, had my goth moments, new wave and grunge. I loved to be able to express through clothes whatever I felt at the moment. I must have gone through the whole palette of crazy colors at the time, dying my hair.

Mario Testino | Image courtesy of Art Partner

How did you get your start in the fashion industry and who gave you your first gig?
I was a student at the fashion school Studio Berçot in Paris. I didn’t know anything about the industry at the time. Very soon, I would crash all the fashion shows in Paris, and I started to meet a lot of the creatives of the time. Soon after, I rang up all the magazines and reached out for assisting positions. My first gig was as an assistant on a shoot with Helena Christensen and Miles Aldridge for Allure Magazine in the 90s. I was so excited to be on set with these amazing people and to see the process of creating imagery. At the time, I had no idea how fashion images were created or all the talented people who contributed to this magic. I knew this was what I wanted to do. After that, I started testing with different young photographers and kept assisting for a short while. In retrospect, I think my curiosity in learning and being involved in many different aspects of the industry helped me understand it in its entirety. I’ve worked in casting and even modeled. My first big gig was given by Inez and Vinoodh for V Magazine and Mario Testino for Vogue Italia, which was an amazing opportunity!

Who are some of the mentors that have shaped your trajectory?
I think every collaboration with another creative keeps shaping one’s trajectory. We grow constantly and learn something new daily. I was very lucky to have been given the opportunity to collaborate with some of the greatest talents in our industry, including Inez and Vinoodh, David Sims, Mario Testino, Solve Sundsbo, Karim Sadli, and so many more. I have also had long-standing collaborations with fashion designers such as Stefano Pilati during his YSL years and Veronique Nichanian, the creative director of Hermès, with whom I have worked for a very long time up until today. New collaborations and ways of working keep arising, which makes our industry such a great platform for constant growth.

David Sims | Image courtesy of Art Partner

Tell us about your ideal working situation – where do you feel most creative?
That really depends on the project I am working on, but I love to be in a place where I have enough space to organize properly and have a very clear overview. As for the creative part of my daily life, it is not bound to a specific place. I used to spend hours at the FIT and Conde Nast library in NY back in the day, but today, there is simply no more time for that. Bless or curse the Internet for it…but I think we are constantly surrounded by inspiration.

What makes a good stylist? What skills do you possess that are most useful?
Having a strong aesthetic and a critical eye. Following your gut when it comes to new seasonal trends and being in tune with the zeitgeist. Understanding my clients and their target customers. Collaborating! Stamina and commitment, for sure. I will always try to get the most out of a collection and discover the best way to bring my own twist to it.

“Menswear has evolved a lot in the past couple of years. The desire to break established norms and explore new territory has had a great influence on how men approach dressing nowadays.”

So many people have sung your praises as a mentor to many, what do you look for in someone starting out joining your team? How important is mentorship to you and why?
I look for assistants who have the same passion and ambition that I still feel and have for my job. Being a stylist assistant is a very tough job. I think a lot of people do not realize all the hard work and dedication that goes into it. We start prepping for shoots 2 to 3 weeks ahead. Besides all the creative aspects, you have to be very organized and skilled when it comes to logistics and managing budgets. Communication is a big part of it, and you have to know how to talk skillfully to people in person or over email. I like to be surprised by my assistants, who think outside of the box and are not afraid of putting in the work. Also, someone that I can have a laugh with – that is very important to me as you spend a lot of time with your assistant. In the end, you are only as good as your team. Mentorship is what shapes the trajectory of the new generation, which to me is very important and key.

Working between Milan and Paris, what do you find menswear fashion gets right when it comes to fashion?
Pushing the boundaries. Menswear has evolved a lot in the past couple of years. The desire to break established norms and explore new territory has had a great influence on how men approach dressing nowadays. Everything is possible now when it comes to dressing a man.

Thue Nørgaard | Image courtesy of Art Partner

How important is collaboration in your line of work and do you have any people you love collaborating with?
I would say it is key. No matter if you do a photo shoot or if you are working on a show or as a consultant. Exchanging and communicating your thoughts to the rest of the team will start the creative process. I love it when that magic moment happens on a photo shoot after hair and makeup, photography, and styling bring the character to life. It should always be a team effort. I love all the artists I have been fortunate to work with. Each collaboration has its own unique power and purpose,

Looking back at some of the projects that you’ve done, what moments have stood out as special or defining in your career?
There were so many. Each milestone has been marked by a special moment or collaboration with an artist. For example, when I started working with Stefano Pilati on the YSL Men shows or with Melanie Ward when she was the Creative Director at Karl Lagerfeld, where I would style the show. Then, working for the first time with Karl Lagerfeld, a campaign shoot with Steven Meisel, for sure, and all the great mentors mentioned above. These moments keep coming with new artists from the new generation who continue to define my career.

The fashion landscape is always changing, but what is some evergreen advice you would give to people who are starting out in styling now?
Follow your passion. Give yourself the time to experiment and to find your own voice. Listen to your instincts and be true to yourself. Stay humble and have fun. I think that we are so lucky to be able to go to work every day and do what we love for a living whilst being surrounded by other creatives. Find yourself a team that has and understands your creative language and aesthetics that you can inspire and be inspired by. Collaboration is key. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself; just have fun with it.

Beat Bolliger | Image courtesy of Art Partner