Meet Ana Patino, a UNT graduate and Merchandising Inc. alumna who has built a name for herself as a respected stylist in the Dallas fashion industry. While earning her degree in Merchandising, Ana interned at D Magazine where she discovered her love for creating fashion editorials. Known as the girl in high school who made "things that were cheap look super expensive," Ana always knew she was passionate about styling. She worked in the corporate world for several years, but at a certain point, she couldn't help but feel like something was missing. It was then that Ana followed her creative instincts and returned to a collaborative life on set with photographers, models, and of course, racks and racks of amazing clothes.
In this interview, Ana tells us about her journey to becoming a fashion stylist. After starting off where she wanted to be, deviating for a few years, then making the decision to pursue styling full-time, today she is back and ready for more opportunities to come her way. As Ana explained, now she is "happy, at peace, and truly doing me." However, success as a freelance stylist did not come overnight. Only once she invested in herself and built relationships with other was she able to get the recognition and clientele that she deserves. Needless to say, Ana's talent shines through in her work, and we're certain you'll be inspired by her story. Keep reading for more on Ana's experiences, advice for aspiring stylists, and lessons she's learned along the way.
Name: Ana Patino
Current Title: Fashion Stylist (Freelance, Dallas-based)
Education: B.S. in Merchandising at the University of North Texas
What was your career path to becoming a fashion stylist?
I did an internship with D Magazine. I worked in the marketing and editorial department. I got into marketing because editorial was already taken at the time. Then, when I finished my marketing internship, [D Magazine] was like “Hey, we need some interns for editorial,” and I said “Yes, I’m there!” So, I interned for D Weddings. That’s where I got my first look at doing big shoots and productions, aside from Merchandising Inc. [where] we would do fashion shows in the spring and fall. After I did that internship with D, I worked in different places. I was a fashion stylist at Express part-time for a while until I found a job right out of college. Then, I got a job at Fossil. I always knew I wanted to do styling but I just wasn’t really sure how to go about it. I [thought], you know, what if I do marketing? With marketing, I had experience [due to] my internship. Marketing involves collateral, photography, and models, and [I thought] surely that [has to] count for something. So, I kind-of started going that route. After two years in marketing, I just really missed the fashion aspect of my job. So, that’s how I started styling.
Are you represented by an agency? How did you get signed?
Honestly, [becoming represented by an agency] was luck I guess. In my marketing job, I had met my would-be agent. We actually got to work together, and then she left the company and started her own talent agency. She had been a talent agent for a while. We connected and whenever she opened up her agency, I [asked] “Are you going to be representing artists?” And [she said] “Yeah, I’d love to.” With really no experience [or] huge portfolio, she took me in because she knew me, because we’d worked together. And the ball just started rolling from there. Previous to [that], I had done projects. I had interned. I had done what I could. When I joined the agency, [I] kind-of just learned on set. Then, it snowballed from there. Now, it’s [been] three years since then!
Many students fear that a career as a fashion stylist will not be as financially stable as some of the more traditional, corporate careers. Is this something you’ve experienced and if so, how did you overcome it?
Most definitely. Two years into my marketing job, I knew I needed to go back to fashion because I was starting to feel like I didn’t want to get sucked [into corporate]. My marketing job was a corporate job. But at the same time, I needed experience [with styling]. I didn’t have a lot of experience coming out of college, so I needed to do something. I actually juggled my full-time marketing job and my styling job for three years. I just recently left my marketing job about two and a half months ago in August. The reason I had been keeping both jobs was because of that [concern]. You know, the corporate world, stability… [wondering] what am going to I do? I guess you do overcome it eventually.
What were some of the first steps you took in order to establish yourself as a stylist?
I would say I’m in the beginning stages of being freelance on a full-time basis. But, I think when you are trying to pursue styling, at least the first one or two years you’re probably going to be working for free a lot of the time, only because you don’t have a portfolio. You have to build it, you have to build your style, you have to build your skill as a stylist. You have to build the trust that people are going to put upon you to do shoots, or fashion shows, or whatever the case may be. So it’s really going to take some time to get established, to get to know your work. I felt that after three years, my portfolio was a lot stronger than it was [before]. I felt like I had met with a lot of people. I networked a lot. So, I kind-of felt comfortable. I thought maybe [it] was a good point to keep working hard, but maybe I wouldn’t have to juggle as much. It took three years for me to feel that I was ready to move on and not be juggling both.
Which areas of styling do you specialize in?
My baby - the one that I started with - was editorials and anything print. I love doing fashion show styling as well. Most recently - almost two years - I’ve been doing tv styling, so I [style] segments for tv. I also do personal styling. I just get requests, so that’s something I do. I don’t really market myself as a personal shopper, but when the requests come - if people like my work - I’m definitely open to working with them and helping them with their fashion needs.
You majored in merchandising at UNT. In what ways has your education helped you with your career?
I think it’s helped a lot actually [by giving] me a lot of credibility. Now that I’ve been in the industry for a few years, [I’ve noticed that] many of the stylists I’ve met have been self-taught or they didn’t have any formal training or schooling. I think that having a degree in merchandising and being educated really helps [with] my confidence - just personally. I think people trust me more, and they [think] okay, this is what she went to school for. This is what she studied. She must know more than other people. Also, if [a corporation is] trying to hire freelancers, I think anyone with a degree is going to be up first [for those jobs]. Or, say that tomorrow I didn’t want to pursue a freelance career, I could always fall back on being an in-house stylist or doing something else. Most of the jobs that I’ve seen out there always require a degree. For me, my second choice is a corporate job... a fashion corporate job. They’re always going to ask for a degree, so I’m always thankful that I do have it and that it’s there.
Can you describe the process of getting booked by clients?
It varies depending on what project I’m working on. [For example], with a print styling job - let’s go with a magazine. I shoot a lot for ON Magazine. The group is mainly the photographer, the stylist, the hair and makeup artist, and the model. I build a lot of my relationships, especially for print, through my photographer. So, it really starts with the photographer. If the photographer likes my [work], and if it [compliments] their client, [that’s how I get booked]. Half of the time, at least with print styling, it’s usually through the photographer. The photographer will say “Hey I’m working on this editorial.” The deadlines for the editorials are usually two months ahead of time. So we start brainstorming. We put the theme together. Either the editor has sent over ideas that they’re thinking [of] for [the upcoming issue], or [ideas for] whatever they’re going to be talking about. Then, we - as artists - also put in our own input and ideas. We really just work off of eachother. That’s the first thing that happens when I’m preparing to do an editorial.
What is your role in bringing the concept to life?
From there, my job as a stylist is to pull the clothes to tell the story. A lot of that requires research on my part, whether it’s online, physically going to the stores, or making calls to local designers. I’m constantly researching, and networking. It’s always good for me to know [which clothing providers will] fill the style or just have someone in mind for whatever project I’m working on. That alone takes a while... maybe a few days. I would say [the time commitment] for an editorial depends on how many looks we’re doing. If we’re doing 6 looks, it could probably take a good 20-30 hours of a week. Once I [determine where] to pull the clothes, I call the stores and say “Hey, I’m working on this editorial.” It makes my job a lot easier when I’m [working] for a magazine, because [the partnership] is for credit for their stores. So usually they’re like “Yes, of course! We’ll let you use our stuff.” After that, I gather all the clothes. I put it together. I say okay, what do I want to shoot?
What does a typical day on-set look like?
We get on-set, and I usually do fittings first because typically I don’t get to fit the model before the shoot. [I just do that] to make sure everything fits, and if it doesn’t fit, I figure out what we’re going to do as a backup to fix it. From there, the shooting process happens. For an editorial, I’m usually at the studio all day long. It could be a 9-to-5, [or] 8-to-6 hour day. During post-shoot, I go through the clothes to [make sure] that nothing got stained or ripped. Then I organize it. I pack it up, and either ship it off to wherever it came from or physically go drop it. The last part I do is put together the credits sheet [of what the model is wearing in each look] that is actually going to go on the magazine photos.
How many projects are you working on at any given time? How do you manage everything?
I am usually working on multiple. [I] have to prioritize. I work very well with to-do lists, so I just make checklists for myself. I start with whatever project is going to come first. Now that I’m doing this full-time, two or three [projects], is basically full-time work for the week. It’s not just me sitting on the computer. [I’m getting out]... there’s a lot going on. So, with three jobs I’m pretty much booked. I really have to prioritize and stay on schedule. Luckily I’m organized. [At my corporate job] we had a lot of deadlines, so I just learned to be very organized. I’m able to juggle multiple things at once.
What are some of the skills and personality traits needed in order to be successful in the field?
For a stylist [career], you really have to want it if you’re going to pursue it. You really have to believe in yourself. There’s no right or wrong way. Aside from [figuring out] this is what I want to do with my life… this is what career path I want to take, you also have to be honest with yourself and [ask], am I good enough? [Determine], is this for me? Because if it’s not, you might as well learn that in the beginning.
After that, then you definitely have to be willing to get out there and work for free because you don’t know how the industry works. You have to have an open mind about wanting to learn, and that also encompasses wanting to work in a good team environment. You have to be a good team player because [with] all photoshoots or fashion shows, there’s always teamwork. There’s always going to be at least three other people besides you. You definitely have to work well in the group.
As stylists, you’re also seen as style experts, so you have to be on top of what trends are happening and any special event that happens. Get on Women’s Wear Daily. Look for inspiration. See the new line. I used to not really pay a lot of attention to fashion week and what would come down the runway, but now that I’m a stylist I definitely feel the need to know about what’s going on. I tend to track presentations at least every fall and every spring just so I’m in the know. You are a stylist, but people really see you as a style expert, so you have to know your stuff. People are going to ask you questions and you don’t want to [say], “Oh, I don’t know.” You might lose a bit of credibility there. Definitely take some time to study your field and know what’s going on.
Styling is very hands-on. If you don’t know anything about sewing a button or faking a hem - anything that’s more hands-on [and] more [typical] of a design student - you really need to educate yourself because you’ll definitely need those skills on set. You [need to] learn how to pin correctly. You need to pay attention to the small details, [such as], oh, there’s a wrinkle. Everything needs to be perfect. [Beforehand] you don’t really have that practice of looking at every detail, but once you become a stylist that is your job. Your job is to make sure that the image or whatever it is that you’re creating looks amazing and perfect.
What are some of the challenges of being a fashion stylist?
For challenges, I would say getting my name out there. I feel like it’s taken me a while, but eventually people started to notice my work. Another challenge [is that] people think that styling is a glamourous job. But, it’s really not. It’s actually pretty taxing on the body. You’re out all the time, you’re walking around, you’re carrying around bags, you’re steaming. You kind-of get a workout. Sometimes it can be tiring, especially when I have weeks [where] I’m working on two editorials. You’re definitely beat by the end of the week. You’re carrying around everything, [and] just the logistics of it [are exhausting].
What are some of the rewards?
Some of the rewards - for me, at least - [include] seeing my name in print. To have my name next to [anything I do] is always one of my proud moments. I’m always super excited to see the final images because it’s always nice to check-out [and see if the photo is] the way I wanted it to look. You know, when the model went in there and owned every photo, and the photography and lighting was amazing, and the hair and makeup was on point... And the styling! [You think about] when you were pulling and wondering, is this going to work?, is this not going to work?... and you see the photo and it looks great. You just feel like everything worked out perfectly. For me, that is very rewarding. It’s what you work hard for… for the idea or the story to come through... and if it does come through the way that it should, that’s the most rewarding.
How would you describe the Dallas styling industry in comparison to those of Los Angeles, New York, and elsewhere?
Luckily Dallas has a lot of commercial work. But say, if you wanted to be a celebrity stylist, you probably wouldn’t get a ton of work here in Dallas. You’d have to go to LA. I think that depending on the demographic of [the city], you might make more money elsewhere. And if your family lives here, that’s a big decision to have to move. That’s something you definitely want to consider.
How important is it to be creative in the field?
You do have to be creative, and you do have to be willing to get out there and try things. People are going to trust you on-set with whatever [expertise] you have. And even if you don’t, you have to own it. In the beginning it’s really hard to decide on one jacket or the other. You second-guess yourself a lot. You have to [know], how am I going to work through this project? and, where am I going to gain this inspiration from? whether it’s magazines, the internet, or something you ate. Now [when I go to the store] I can definitely differentiate, and [think] this would be great to wear, and, oh my gosh, this would be great for an editorial. That’s the way that I think now. For me personally, I tend to get inspired more by the clothes first. If I see something, I just start to imagine the rest of the set, and the rest of the looks It usually starts with one item of clothing and then I go from there.
What advice would you give to an aspiring stylist in college?
Intern, intern, intern! It’s super important. I wish I had done more of that when I was in school. Study like other stylists out there. [Find out] what was their career path? What did they do? Obviously now that the styling profession is a little bit more mainstream and known of, there’s people that you can research and [find out] well, what did this person do? You learn a lot from that as well.
Networking is also super important. As a stylist, probably a third of my time - or sometimes more depending on the time of year - is spent going out to network. I attend a lot of fashion events. Whether it be the opening of a store, a designer coming in to town, a new collection being unveiled… anything. I usually attend all of these because people know people. Now, I get referrals from people that I know, especially from the Dallas area. So, it helps to really get out there. You have to get out there. And [it’s] not just networking. [It also involves] reaching out to people, whether it's a photographer, a hair and makeup [artist], or anyone you might admire. Don’t be afraid to reach out!
To view more of Ana's work and to get in touch, visit her portfolio: www.anapatino.com
Copy & Graphic 1: Ashley Nudge, Editor-In-Chief
Photos c/o Ana Patino