Industry Spotlight: Wardrobe Stylist Hoda Salameh Talks About the Realities of Being on Set
Hoda Salameh knows the ins and outs of styling. From dressing herself every morning in her usual fashion-forward style to the countless fashion shoots she styled for StyleLine (RIP), and now with her personal styling role at Nordstrom, this woman knows and understands fashion. The way styling is glamourized on TV, we aren’t surprised when we hear young fashion students exclaim that they want to have exciting careers as stylists, but some things aren’t always as they seem. Here, Hoda brings the idea of a styling career back to reality.
DG3: Tell us how you got your start in fashion and styling.
Hoda Salameh: From drooling over glossy fashion editorials to growing up watching countless segments of the Home Shopping Network, the art of style always intrigued me. I will never forget the day I came across a style seminar invitation for college students in Detroit. The event included informative workshops featuring local fashion experts. I had my outfit picked out and I was eager to attend. There was just one problem ... I was only 15 years old at the time. However, I didn't let that stop me. I had my mother drop me off and I somehow made my way into the event. I was honored to meet prominent fashion figures in the industry, including the former fashion editor of Hour Detroit magazine. I expressed my interest in shadowing the editor, and she was kind enough to let me follow her footsteps. A one-day job shadow eventually led into an internship with the esteemed publication. It was then that I discovered my dream job of becoming a fashion editor. I was determined to make my dream a reality, so I earned a bachelor's degree in journalism with a specialization in fashion design from Wayne State University. I landed positions with various local media outlets, most recently as the Associate Editor of StyleLine, where I wrote and edited monthly feature pieces, as well as styled innovative fashion and product shoots. I’m currently a Personal Stylist at Nordstrom at Twelve Oaks Mall, where I work closely with customers to help maximize their wardrobe and enhance their shopping experience. I have also launched my own website, www.thedamselindetroit.com, where I offer my fashion styling and writing services.
DG3: What are the differences between styling a photo shoot and being a personal stylist?
HS: When styling for a photo shoot, it’s important to amplify the fashions to create a believable fantasy. I always try to tell a story when I’m styling an editorial photo shoot; I look at the garments as my words and the accessories as my punctuation. As a personal stylist, I outfit my clients according to their lifestyle, as opposed to a conceptual theme. I like to create ensembles that are fashionable yet functional and truly express my client’s personality.
DG3: With a show like Rachel Zoe’s, styling is very glamorized. What are the realities of working on a set for a photo shoot?
HS: The glitz and glamour shines in the finished product; however, the execution entails endless schlepping of heavy and super-expensive merchandise, which serves as a huge liability for the stylist. Some of the many stylist duties on set include taping the bottoms of shoes so they can be returned to retailers in sellable condition, carefully steaming delicate garments, clipping and pinning garments to fit the model’s figure, recording shoot details to assure proper credit, organizing all of the merchandise, overseeing all assistants, styling various looks so they all adhere to one cohesive concept, and clearly communicating the shoot aesthetic with all team members. Stylists typically prepare for a photo shoot far in advance by searching for inspiration, creating mood boards, and securing a shoot location, photographer, model, hairstylist, makeup artist and manicurist, contacting retailers and setting pull dates. A stylist’s job is not done after a photo shoot. He/she has to return all of the merchandise in mint condition.
DG3: Describe your role as a personal stylist at Nordstrom?
HS: It’s crucial that a stylist does his/her research before an appointment with a client. I reach out to my clients in advance and have them fill out a style questionnaire, which asks about their sizes, measurements, immediate wardrobe needs, lifestyle needs, preferences, style icons, etc. I then walk the store to pull pieces that I think would best fit my client’s request, but I also try to find items that I think will allow my client to step out of his/her comfort zone. I then lay out the styled looks in a fitting room and discuss why I chose these specific items for my client. After trying on numerous outfits, I help finalize the selections. I continue to follow up with my clients to let them know when a new item comes in that reminds me of them that I think would be a great addition to their wardrobes. Most people don’t know that the personal styling services at Nordstrom are complimentary to the customer. Why not take your shopping experience to the next level of professional and personable treatment?
DG3: Do you have to have good sales skills if you want to be a personal stylist?
HS: Yes, it’s important to have good sales skills to be a personal stylist, but it takes more then just that. You need to be honest with your clients. It’s imperative that you do your homework and understand the product knowledge of the items you are selling, but you don’t want to sell your customer something that’s ill fitting for the sake of making a good sale because after all, it’s your reputation on the line. Once you build a sense of trust with your clients, they will spread the word about your stellar services, and the sales will naturally follow.
DG3: Have you styled a commercial shoot? If so, what was that like and how did it differ from a fashion shoot and personal styling?
HS: Yes, I have styled a commercial shoot. With a commercial shoot, it’s all about selling a product, which means the styling, backdrop and lighting are very simple to assure that the product is the focal point. In a fashion shoot, you have more creative freedom to experiment with the styling and produce more dramatic imagery. When personal styling, you are selling a product but it’s personalized to your customer’s lifestyle.
DG3: What's the best advice you have ever received?
HS: I love the quote “The road to success is always under construction” by Lily Tomlin, a Michigan-native actress, comedian writer and producer. Success is an enduring process and you must be able to adapt to change to upgrade your life. You will encounter detours, bumps, dead ends and accidents but it’s important to not take your eyes off the road and to create a new path for yourself. I have to constantly remind myself to slow down and enjoy the ride because the journey is just as significant as the destination.
DG3: What advice would you give a student wanting to pursue a career as a stylist?
HS: First and foremost, be sure you are truly passionate about fashion and you’re not just pursing a stylist position because you think it’s a glamorous career. As I previously mentioned, the job requires a lot of hard work. If you’re truly serious about becoming a stylist, I recommend securing internships or shadowing a stylist so you can get a feel for the position and see if it’s a right fit for you. I also recommend taking some fashion courses and educating yourself about the specific type of styling you wish to pursue. Be sure to network by attending fashion events and properly promoting your services through the power of social media.
DG3: If you could work for any Hollywood stylist, who would it be and why?
HS: This is a tough one because there are so many talented Hollywood stylists, but I’m going to go with Patricia Field. I had the honor of interviewing Patricia during New York Fashion Week, and she kept it real. She’s the mastermind stylist behind the unique fashions in “Sex and the City” and “Confessions of a Shopaholic”. She has a great eye for fashion and is not afraid to experiment with contrasting styles. I think I could learn a lot from her daring yet identifiable styling skills.
DG3: Describe your style.
HS: My style is pretty eclectic. I love chic and contemporary ensembles with clean lines but then I also adore vintage statement pieces. I’m all about infusing ethnic elements into my wardrobe, such as caftans, kimonos, turbans, etc. I try to find original ways to wear timeless staples with a trendy twist.
DG3: Do you every wake up in the morning and think "I have nothing to wear!"? And if you do, what's your go-to outfit?
HS: Yes, this just happened to me the other day! I was running late to work and pressed for time to pull together an ensemble. I kept trying different things on and nothing was working. So, I reminded myself of my cardinal rule: “When in doubt, wear all black.” I slipped on my black leather pants paired with my black chiffon blouse adorned with subtle leather accents. My black leather booties were the perfect finishing footwear to the sleek outfit. I then applied some deep, fuchsia berry lipstick and I was good to go. I ended up receiving the most compliments on my getup that day.
DG3: How do you take your coffee?
HS: Call me crazy but I don’t drink coffee. I have always been a tea lover. As long as I can remember, morning and evening tea were necessities in my mother’s daily routine, and she got me hooked. With all of the amazing options including white teas, green teas, oolong teas, black teas, herbal teas, I can’t resist the calming beverage.
DG3: Johnny Wujek or Micaela Erlanger?
HS: I commend Johnny Wujek for the show-stopping ensembles he has created for Katy Perry and I think he has a knack for costuming but I have to go with Micaela Erlanger for her effortless elegance. From the gold-and-white Alexandre Vauthier gown Michelle Dockery wore to the Golden Globes in 2013 to the pale blue custom-made Prada gown Lupita Nyong'o wore to the 2014 Oscars, stylist Micaela understands natural femininity and how to express the individuality of the celebrity she is dressing.
DG3: Dresses or skirts?
HS: While I do love my go-to frocks, I’m going to say skirts because they allow more styling possibilities. I love that I can create numerous looks with just one skirt.