JOE ZEE Fash­ion Guru

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THE GIG This for­mer Toron­to­nian, who’s now based in NYC and L.A., shares an ex­cerpt from his new book, That’s What Fash­ion Is. STYLE SA­VANT “I’m so in­spired by Ri­hanna. I love that she can lit­er­ally wear any­thing and pull it off. It’s a real skill to be able to turn the worst

look of the sea­son into some­thing great.” n

I re­mem­ber be­ing 16 and talk­ing to Ge­orge, a much older friend of mine in Toronto, about want­ing to move to New York to do some­thing—what, I wasn’t sure—with clothes and fash­ion and mag­a­zines. Ge­orge was a hair­dresser, and so when he told me, “You should be a stylist,” I thought he was talk­ing about cut­ting hair. “No dis­re­spect,” I told him. “I like what you do. But I don’t think I’d be any good at cut­ting hair.” When he told me that he meant a wardrobe stylist, I was con­fused. That’s a job? To pick out clothes? To shop for other peo­ple? And they pay you? I didn’t get it.

A few months later, Ge­orge called to ask if I might be in­ter­ested in styling a “test shoot” he was do­ing with a pho­tog­ra­pher, a makeup artist and a model. This is some­thing cre­ative types of­ten do (when they have the time) in order to ex­per­i­ment, help fill out their port­fo­lios, or just have fun. I said yes right away, though I still had plenty of ques­tions, in­clud­ing: What was it, ex­actly, I’d be do­ing again? “You can dress the model how­ever you want,” he told me.

Armed with that and lit­tle else, I went to all the lo­cal depart­ment stores, charged arm­fuls of clothes to my mother’s credit card—look­ing, I’m sure, like a young drag queen get­ting ready for the show of his life—and then hauled the bags and bags of pretty dresses and coats and shoes and tights to a dirty ware­house in east Toronto. This would mark the be­gin­ning of my pen­chant for over-pulling and over-prep­ping for magazine shoots. I might bring ten racks of clothes and some fifty-five pairs of shoes for a one-girl story. The more stuff, the bet­ter, be­cause I never know how I’ll feel in the mo­ment and the worst is be­ing on some re­mote set and wish­ing I’d just packed that one busted skirt ev­ery­one de­spised. A skirt is never so per­fect as when it’s three thou­sand miles away. I am sure many other stylists will tell you the same thing.

Dur­ing the day­long shoot in the Toronto ware­house, I kept all the sales tags at­tached, was su­per care­ful when get­ting the model dressed, and when the pho­tog­ra­pher asked me about pin­ning and tap­ing things to fit the girl (who knew stylists did that?—be­cause, let’s face it, I had never done this be­fore), I in­wardly freaked out. This pho­tog­ra­pher wanted me to pierce these new clothes with a pin? And where ex­actly was I get­ting this pin? Yeah, sud­denly, in my dis­or­ga­ni­za­tion, dress­ing some­one seemed a lit­tle less fun. In­stead I found a piece of mask­ing tape that had been used to tape a shop­ping bag shut and I care­fully pulled that off and used it mas­ter­fully to make the shirt look more fit­ted. Look­ing back, I re­al­ize I MacGyvered my way into this ca­reer. When the shoot was done, I re­turned ev­ery­thing im­me­di­ately to all the depart­ment stores, mak­ing ab­so­lutely no eye con­tact with the dis­ap­prov­ing sales­women but se­cretly feel­ing so sat­is­fied. I don’t even re­mem­ber much of the in-be­tween, in­clud­ing what the pho­tos looked like, but I will never for­get the in­tox­i­cat­ing feel­ing of walk­ing through the mall on a mis­sion to make some­thing of my very own. From that day on, I was a stylist.

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