Styling is more than merely picking clothes for editorial or commercial shoots. According to Christian Stemmler it can be a political act. In this interview, he tells us about his job: a lesson in how trends emerge
A good stylist can elevate the most basic piece of clothing, let’s say a white polo shirt, into a desirable product, all by putting it into context.
Stylists need to have a fine sense of what is going on around them. They are the ones who connect a designer’s work with the audience and as such they need to know what their cravings are at a particular moment in time.
What is the feel of the moment? Want more edge? Put said polo shirt on a skinny boy with a shaved head, button it up and combine it with a pair of black laced leather trousers and moto-cross boots. Is the mood more country club? Loosen the top button, choose a pair of khakis and put the outfit on a man with a side parting.
One of Stemmler’s preferred labels to shoot: KTZ
When I first met Christian „Stemmi“ Stemmler more than ten years ago, he was an assistant, carrying a big blue bag, (you know, the ones you get at Ikea), collecting samples from Berlin designers for a shoot.
Today, Stemmler is well over the stage of being an apprentice. He is not only a renown freelance stylist and creative consultant for various fashion brands in his own rights, he is also fashion editor-at-large for the German edition of L’Officiel Hommes.
So what is Stemmler’s feel of the moment? „Stemmi“ feels political responsibility, regarding diversity and the blurring of the genders. And Berlin club kids. Read on for a lesson in how trends emerge.
(Credits both header images: Kristin-Lee-Molmann for L’Officiel Hommes)
The process of styling often starts way before a photo shoot. You also consult designers on their collections. At which point in the process do you start to be involved?
When they start designing, they’ll ask me for my opinion. Especially the designers I have been working with for longer. With Hien Le, for example, I’ve been working with for 14 seasons now. Almost from the start. With Sissi Goetze, from her third collection, if I remember correctly. When you shoot one season, you already start to talk about the next.
Isn’t that the designer’s job? What is your function?
Of course. As a designer, you design the clothes that you want to sell. However, sometimes they want to know what would look good in a picture or which looks would help to represent the brand. It starts when picking the fabrics. Sometimes we pick one that later might not even go into production but will look great in an editorial. Sometimes, I’m there to give a little more edge.
Goetze spring summer 17
For Goetze, you have started to do „genderless“ shoots.
When Lars Parschke joined Goetze for strategic development and image direction, he started to review all the content that there was. Lars teaches and is a bit more of a fashion theorist. Sissi never wrote any of this down and he started to look behind it.
I tried on some of the pieces of the collection before the lookbook shoot, and then Sissi did … this is when we had the idea: why don’t we shoot the collection, which is menswear, also on women? Sissi is designing the collection also for herself. The cuts are made in a way that most pieces will work on a woman too. Especially today, when the oversized silhouette in womenswear is one of the biggest trends anyway.
For L’Officiel Hommes
The first time we used one girl for the image campaign, the next time two. We didn’t call it „genderless“ but yes, Lars kind of helped to give the whole thing a name. Hien Le works in a similar way. A lot of his styles come for men and women, adapted, in his case, maybe with a different sleeve or a different fabric.
When Gucci did it, it was proclaimed a trend. I saw the show in Milan. I’m actually not such a huge fan, it’s a bit too wild for my taste. I don’t see a lot of customers who are actually going to wear it. It’s great material for editorials, of course. What I found intriguing in the showroom is that you can no longer tell when you see the collection on hangers whether it’s a piece is for men or for women. And the bags are great obviously.
It’s not a new phenomenon, though. All the cool girls here in Berlin have been wearing their boyfriend’s bomber jacket for a long time. That’s where the bomber trend and also the oversized trend came from. It’s not because they’re such cool fashionistas, it’s because they don’t have too much money. That’s why they wear their boyfriend’s jackets or they get it from the thrift store where they can’t always find it in the right size. That is, what’s being interpreted and blown up into trends.
Often, genderless dressing works in one direction: women wear men’s clothes. Do you observe a trend in the other direction?
Yes, although mostly on Instagram. I come from a generation where that didn’t happen so much. Today, 20 year old males are pretty comfortable wearing dresses, nail polish or the girls’ Balenciaga plateaus. That inspires me and I integrate these ”feminine” elements in my men’s editorials.
Black performance artists in drag on a bed – that is kind of pushing boundaries for the more or less commercial publication I work for.
For L’Officiel Hommes
But in the streets you don’t see it as much as girls wearing boys stuff. It seems to become more and more accepted though. In my teenage days, the early and mid 90s, if you wore drag back then, they’d beat you up if you showed up in the wrong place.
Just a few weeks ago we had a straight male model with polished nails at Sissi’s Lookbook shoot. The color of the nails fitted perfectly to the collection so we kept in on. I like that gender borders slowly disappear, in baby steps, that it’s no longer a feminine thing to wear nail polish. It’s the little things. Of course we are talking about a certain scene here, but maybe one thing leads to the next and in ten years nobody cares anymore.
This is why it’s so important that we get these messages out there. I need to do editorials like this and I hope that other colleagues will do as well. It’s important to confront people, especially outside of our little bubble.
We have a political responsibility. It’s not only about clothes anymore, there is a story behind it and a message.
So fashion should be political?
It should be these days, absolutely.
Is diversity important to you?
Very much, we need to show diversity, it’s very important. For years we neglected it, including myself. Most models where white and the boys needed to come across as straight. Showing diversity is something I pay close attention to in my work now.
For L’Officel Hommes
You use a lot of your friends and Insta-people for your editorials. Why not forgo print – what is the purpose of a magazine made of paper in this scenario?
It’s more personal this way, more personal than using models. But yes, interesting question. I believe that people buy less magazines in general, the stories I produce get seen by way more people on social media than in the actual magazine. I post pictures of a shoot, the photographer does, the model, the model agent, the hair and make up artist and sometimes even the brands we’re shooting. I remember when Versace once re-posted a picture I got about 30,000 likes.
However, you need the magazine as the hub. It is what connects everything. It’s the platform.
If you follow the feeds of the cool Insta-kids, they seem to be relying on a kind of uniform: black bomber jackets (see above) and iconic sports brands all over. Do you think this is a reaction to the fashion system as we know it?
I think people still like fashion and put on different clothes. But they don’t necessarily want to spend a lot of money on them anymore. Especially young people.
In Berlin you get stuff from the second hand store. But people still want new clothes, I think. I don’t think that the ”uniform“ as described above is a reaction. I think fashion still works and people still want to buy clothes.
I think that at the moment styling and fashion is inspired by Berlin a lot. We all know where Demna Gvasalia and other designers in Paris or even London get their inspiration from – the Berlin club kids.
So it turns into a trend as everybody, in turn, then copies Vetements and Balenciaga.
Black bombers everywhere
These kids come from everywhere. They are Danish, Portuguese, French, Brits, Swedes, from Israel, Australia. They all gather here for a certain reason: because they weren’t happy in their home countries. Here, they can live however they want.
Berlin is a melting pot, they way New York is or used to be. It’s still is amazing place for artists and creatives in general, it’s great that they found a place to gather here. There’s no other place like it. Daytimes they work as photographers, stylists, models, bartenders and study art and film and at night they meet at Berghain or Herrensauna.
And they say Berlin is not a fashion city.
Berlin is more the inspiration, I guess. It’s not a fashion city. It’s a kind of a bitter realisation, also for me. For more than ten years I have been working with Berlin designers and I always kept the faith in Berlin. But I had to realise that it simply doesn’t work. Even if they have a show at Berlin Fashion Week and go to the trade shows here, the designers need to go to Paris to actually sell their clothes. None of the international press or buyers will come here to look at their collection. Not because they wouldn’t like it. There’s simply not enough time, there is no more space in the international fashion schedule.
„Herrensauna, that threw me back to the Suicide Club 1995.“
It’s packed, there are fashion weeks from Kiev to Sao Paolo.
From a commercial standpoint, Berlin Fashion Week is a fail. There’s only a handful shops or department stores in Germany that could buy German designers but even if you keep drinking champagne with them at the Modesalon, most of them will not order your collection.
You’ll get German press but that’s it. Some designers get a little attention and recognition that helps them to get design projects to cross-finance their own label.
That has changed a bit. But that’s all.
What are your favourite designers?
Hard to say. There’s the ones I like to photograph and there’s the ones that I like to wear. What I wear is super boring to put in a picture.
I like basics. If I like something, I’ll buy it five times.
As you can see today, I’m wearing a navy rollneck jumper, with a thinner one underneath. Both from AMI.
Sure, if I have a little more money left at the end of the month I might buy a jumper or a pair of trousers from Jil Sander. It’s never gonna be a coat though, simply too expensive.
For editorials: I never really know how to answer that question. Marni, J.W.Anderson, KTZ or Wooyoungmi, maybe. I usually come up with a story first and then I check the collections to find the pieces that go with the story. I don’t care too much about the trend of the season or the label of the moment. You can find everything today.
If the story is ”pink lycra“, you’ll find some pieces and if not, I’ll buy some second hand.