Interview with Celebrity Stylist Sara Acevedo
Meet my friend Sara Acevedo – former New York model, celebrity stylist, and personal shopper to anyone looking to up their fashion game and create a cohesive style.
Sara has an amazing talent for matching her clients’ wardrobes to their lifestyle and personality, creating a look that is approachable and authentic. And her own style is oooo la la so very French!
I’ve been wanting to interview Sara for over a year, and finally the stars aligned. I met Sara at the door, she looking impeccably dressed after a busy day of shopping and fittings, me in my usual work-from-home uniform which includes yoga pants and well-worn Uggs. But no judgement – we poured a cup of tea and got right down to business, and here it is.
(What follows is a summary of the interview. For the full interview, check out the audio!)
I realize you probably can’t talk about who you’ve dressed, but tell me about some of the events you’ve dressed for.
I’ve pretty much done every major awards show, regular TV, all the TV circuit. Celebrities generally have a beat, depending on whether they’re on a show or movies or whatever. There’s definitely a circuit beat that celebrities have. Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel. It’s interesting to say it out loud.
So yeah, I’ve done all the major award shows. I don’t usually work with musicians so those are the only shows I haven’t done. So, I realized recently that’s my next “thing,” because the style is so different.
I think the longer I’ve been styling, just like anything, else, I think you get more ambitious to go in the direction you want to go in because you have enough experience to trust yourself and know you’ll do the right thing.
What are some of the reasons someone should consider working with a stylist.
I think it varies depending on the person’s place in life, what they do for a living. I think anyone should consider having a stylist but for different reason. Celebrities have it because they’re in the public eye, but also when you look at the amount of work they do in their career and the time they have, it’s not practical for them to do their own wardrobe. Imagine having a rigorous schedule like that, you’re filming all the time, getting up at 5:00 in the morning, working 12 hour days, on location, so for them to have to think about what you’re going to wear.
And shopping takes dedication.
It really does. And you know, because you’re very specific about how you look, a vision. When you have that it’s not just a matter of going down and getting whatever. I think that’s the difference too, the way to control your image, but you’re really controlling it what a stylist. Someone who will spend the time to do that.
Then you also have your regular, every-day person. This is just what I believe and I’ve never found it to be different in any case. I think it starts with yourself and getting ready in the morning, that’s the first thing anyone would normally do, so it starts out the day. Usually if you know what you’re going to wear and look like, it’s like deciding what you’re going to eat and eating healthy; it’s a way to control how the day goes and have some control on what your mood is going to be like. I always have a better day when I know I’m going to look good. It just translates to more production and I really like that about it, so it really is for anyone.
For people that don’t have a celebrity lifestyle, they are looking more for reassurance and confirmation that what they like is OK. That’s why I’ve also doing personal shopping, because there isn’t a difference between “regular people” and celebrities. The resources might be different, and the schedule and lifestyle different yes, but people are not different and people look at celebrities and think they have this great style, but truth of the matter is style takes time to cultivate. Unless you grew up in a household where your mother was stylist or whoever, and you had an influence, it’s like a muscle. You have to work it out and flex it and learn to be stylish.
I don’t really cook like you do so to me trying to be healthy is work – I have to think about the ingredients and it’s a bit effortful, and I don’t really think like that because that’s not how I was raised. And I think style is the same way.
The more you get exposed to it and the more you have pieces in your closet that are the style you’re looking for, it’s easier to get dressed. So I think that really is something people don’t realize. It’s effort.
That’s for me, just as an aside, what I feel is different about how I style. That’s the one thing that I feel sets me apart from other people in the fact that I do celebrity styling also, because I do like fashion a lot, but for me styling is not just about fashion. I prefer quality anyway, but that’s more of my “thing,” but even if you took that away I’m more about how can a person feel about themselves when they’re doing their job. Because if you don’t feel like yourself, that isn’t productive.
I would think too, as far as hiring a stylist goes, that if you were wanting to maybe move up the ladder at your job. They say dress for the job you want, not for the job you have.
I totally agree with that. You have to decide where you want to end up, not the life you want to have right now, and that doesn’t have to do with economics. It’s like, OK great, if you want to wind up as the CEO then that’s the beingness you should have even if you’re the receptionist. Maybe if you’re the receptionist you’re not going to wear a business suit but you could still wear a blazer or find a way to be professional.
Step up your game a little bit.
That’s right. And people do notice that. That’s another thing. We can all get very deep and how it’s all superficial and looks aren’t important, and I just roll my eyes because statistically it’s just not true. If you don’t agree with the way someone looks, especially if they’re in a position of power, you don’t listen to them. If they don’t “fit the bill” that’s just what it is. So if you’re a movie star then look like a movie star. It doesn’t mean that you can’t wear sweatpants or be comfortable or have a normal life.
Right, on Sunday night at home with pizza. Not in public.
Put on a trench coat or whatever. There’s ways to do it so you don’t look crazy, but I do really feel that how you look does influence things and when I first started styling I did toy with that, I tried to see whether my appearance did influence the jobs, and invariably I got more jobs when I looked better. It’s just the way it is. That’s what walks in the door before you even open your mouth. And plus we’ve given so much significance to things, even colors.
So now, walk me through the process, how do you work with a new client?
I always do a survey with a new client, because I like to find out just what their goal is, what’s the objective here. I try to find out where’s the person going. If it’s a celebrity, what kind of movies do you want to be in? Do you want to be in comedies, do you want to be in great dramas, what’s the thing you want to do? Do you want to be a CEO? Are you a stay at home mom? I have a client who doesn’t work but she hikes a lot with her dogs and she then goes out for coffee and sees her friends and she’s embarrassed after she’s gone to the dog park and she has slobber all over her, so okay, what do we do with that? So it’s always first what’s the objective, and does the person have appearances – if it’s a celebrity or if the person just has an event. Is there a reason they’re hiring a stylist other than just good style?
So I start with that. I usually look at photos of things they like clothing-wise. If they don’t have that I look at whose style do they like and I really try to understand what they like about it. Because people will say “Oh, I like, I want to look like Jennifer Lopez,” and you’re like, “okay, fine.” But they have a totally different body, a totally different life. So it is my job to figure out okay, why do you like that? What is it that you like about it. So it’s a little bit of a search and discovery to find out why the person likes it. I spend a lot of time on that because if you do that, even if you don’t have a stylist, it’s easier. Like if I’m just consulting someone that’s the advice I give them is pick apart why you like it, and then what your life is like and where you’re trying to go. And when you do that it’s so easy because you can recognize very simply “oh yeah I want that dress, I want this,” and any time I skip that piece it’s just much more work.
So you get the idea of what it is you’re going for and, too, you have to play off the person’s body and their sizing, what the financial aspects do they have, do they want to spend money on dresses, are designers important to them, will they wear vintage, will they wear leather, whatever it is; and you’ve really got to think with okay great so maybe the person’s a plus size and they tell you they like Kate Hudson. Well she’s teeny tiny. So I spend a lot of time with that to go okay great well they like suits – let’s find suits to fit their body. If I can I take all their measurements. Because that’s another thing too, now sizing is everywhere. I could be a size 12 and sometimes I can be a size 6.
And also, sometimes you just want things to fit differently. You want a sweater to be tighter or bigger.
That’s right. And that’s where a tailor comes in too. That’s like to me the secret weapon at the end that, any article I’ve read on any stylist that’s not a secret thing, but tailoring is a big thing, because clothes are made on the pattern that they’re made and each size goes up by inches. So that’s just very general, but if you’re more curvy … everybody’s got a different body. And that’s another thing too though people don’t realize. They see celebrities and they go “wow these people have these perfect bodies …” and it’s like, not really.
I feel like you almost have to consider tailoring as part of the cost of the thing.
I always price that out because there’s no way, you know maybe less than 10% of people fit clothes off the rack perfectly. So you do have to handle the proportions, that’s just what you can do with a tailor.
So we go through that whole process and, once that’s done, we figure out the shopping. I usually end up doing the shopping for or with the person, and then we’ll just go out and we have our ideas, we have our mood board, I make a list of what things the person needs against maybe what they do have. If they have nothing okay then we figure out that, and then we just go for it and find the things. I’m a big fan of capsule collections.
I was just going to ask you that!
I’m a huge fan of that. I’m not crazy about waste. I do love that sustainability is the thing now. But there’s so many ways you can translate sustainability now and I don’t like synthetic fabrics personally. They don’t do what you want them to do, they don’t lay right, they don’t feel good when you sweat, there’s just so many reasons why I don’t like them. But I like capsule collections and I like that idea a lot. I think the capsule collection is amazing because when they were doing that it was one coat, one pair of trousers, one dress, one top, and everything went with everything. So when I shop especially for someone’s wardrobe for a lifestyle thing, I try to keep that in mind and I don’t like to just go in excess. Let’s pick and style. I think that works for most people. For me it also works very well. It’s much easier to get dressed like that. Also I try to pick a color scheme, that’s another thing I’m pretty adamant about. If you pick a color scheme and then you can pull in a bright purple, so when you do that I think the cohesiveness of picking things and picking styles, that is where it makes it easier to get dressed and makes it like a second nature thing.
Have you ever come across clients that want to dress in a way that you knew was completely wrong for them?
All the time. I think it just goes back to that thing of really understanding why they like it. What is it they like about it. And so if you break that down enough and the person’s willing to communicate with you enough you can find that common denominator and make it work for them. But it’s also just giving them wins. I have clients all the time, celebrity or not, you say “put this on.” “No, I’m not wearing that.” “Well just put it on, it doesn’t cost anything to put it on.” “No, it’s not going to look good.” “Okay, just put it on.” And they put it on and it’s like, wow, I love this. So I think you just get the person to drop their considerations on what they think and when you’re dressing for your body and your style, they see it in a different way.
In every fitting I do take photos because what you see in real life, it’s not that it’s distorted, it’s just too hard to look at it and really go “Why does it look good?”
Isn’t that funny, when you flatten things out it looks so different?
It looks so, so, so different. We’re in this age where with social media and photos and especially with celebrities – sometimes, most the time, we’ll pick what looks good in the photo. It has to look good otherwise, but if there’s two looks that look really great and one that looks better in the photo we’re always going to go with that, because in that case that’s the thing that’s lasting. Nobody’s going to talk about that night, but if there’s a photo of it, the photo is what really happened. And that’s kind of now how we’re changing. We have our narratives, and our narrative is what did it look like on Instagram and what’s their life like on Instagram and fine, it’s a bit of an illusion. That’s a great way to educate too though is to take the photo and you’re like look in your midsection, it’s poking out more and it’s not a straight line and the waist doesn’t go in, and color’s so bright I don’t see your face. That’s a big thing for me is the person wearing the clothes. In a photo you can really tell. If you just look at the clothes I don’t usually pick that.
The clothes are wearing the person.
Fully. You look up to the person’s face and it’s like “oh, there’s Kelley!” In the celebrity world, I think when that happens it’s the case of a bad stylist or someone that influenced them in an incorrect way, and usually those people do end up on the worst-dressed list. If you look at like Tracy Ellis Ross, she’s got great style and it’s more out there than others, but it fits her. She just does it. Everything she does for the most part is pretty amazing. But she’s go this big personality. So that’s a case of it’s “out there” but it works. And I think that it doesn’t work for everybody.
Well, I think nothing’s worse than feeling conspicuous so if you can’t pull off that attention, don’t attract it.
I agree with that. People are generally strangely uncomfortable with attention. Celebrities do it too and I find it interesting. Because it’s part of the job but everyone’s not the same, but there are these common threads that run through everyone.
I was curious about people who don’t live in L.A., do you do Skype consultations?
I do. It’s actually – thank God for technology, you can do so much. I’ve done fittings with celebrity clients to where we just don’t have time and I drop off stuff, and they try it on, I’m sitting at home and we’re laughing. It’s really fun.
It’s cool I can sit and snap photos of the screen.
I find doing consultations is better because what they need is education. Not everyone can afford having you go out and spend hours and hours to search for things, and people don’t necessarily need that. If they want it, great, but what people really need is education on how to dress, and what to do with it and where to go also because now the brick and mortar stores are less and less. It’s an interesting thing because buying clothes on line – that’s where the things in two dimensions don’t work that well. Some websites like Net-a-Porter have a video where someone’s walking.
I started doing the personal shopping for people for this reason, because I found that people just needed education on it, but also I started doing a monthly thing where we just do consulting, where someone pays a monthly fee after we do an initial consultation, and I send them three or four things a month and just say “this is what you should buy.” Once I know their wardrobe it’s really easy. So they can maintain it and keep it up and it doesn’t have to be a big thing. You’re not shelling out thousands of dollars all the time.
So that brings me to the next questions, which is, is there a certain shopping budget a person should have in mind before they work with a stylist?
I think you should know where you’re at economically but I usually develop [that] with the person based on what they’re trying to do, and I can come up with solutions if I have an idea of their budget. So I think yeah, I think one should have a concept of like, you know, if $10,000 is completely out of the question I’d like to know that, but I think a person doesn’t know. They don’t know what they’re looking for so how would they know what it’s going to cost.
So maybe you’d start with a consultation?
I just had a person I did that for where she, I did ask her her budget but then I looked, I went to her house and I looked at what she had, and she had nothing. Absolutely nothing. She had good style, she just didn’t know where to get it from. And in this particular case she was also plus size, so the options were limited. So I went there and looked and thought OK, great, we’re going to have to start from scratch. So I made a list of all the things that she needed and priced it out and said this is about what you’d look at spending and asked is that okay with you?, and she said “yeah, I can swing that.” So we did it in the range of where she’s at economically.
And I try to really stay away from fast fashion though. I think that is what’s cool about having a stylist because there’s a lot of ways, everything’s about presentation, so it’s not just can you shop at Bergdorf’s or do you shop at Target – there’s such a range in between, there’s so many great brands that make modern things. And if you know what you’re looking for, that’s where the list and the planning come into play. If you’re looking for a cotton T-shirt, like a French-y stripe T-shirt, you kind find that. I don’t do the high route sometimes when it comes to classic things, classic cuts.
The other smart thing is shopping and knowing when the sales are. In LA especially there’s all these great vintage shops. But vintage now isn’t vintage 20 years old vintage, it’s just gently used really, most of it. Anyway there’s so many ways, it’s just depends on how into it the person wants to get. And also that’s how, if you like nicer clothes, you can continue to create a budget for yourself without continuing to shell out money.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve had in working with clients?
Probably I’d say their preconceived ideas, and that’s for all range of clients. It has to be designer or it has to be like this or this is what everyone else is doing, and getting someone to really hone in on who are you – it’s about the person, so who are you? And really getting them to look at that and be honest with themselves.
In the beginning the hardest thing about styling was that, because there’s so many opinions out there, and that’s what is different about me. I’m not interested in being a dictator. I just want to get the person to look and have some education, and understand what they’re trying to do so they can be themselves and not be distracted or introverted when they’re doing things. And that’s for all range of clients. That isn’t that way in fashion and I think fashion is coming a really long way in that it is more inclusive. The history of fashion is so interesting because it had to do with economics. You know, people wearing couture in Paris in the ‘30’s and this was very much an economical thing. But we’re not in that anymore. So I think it becomes easier for people. There’s a lot of plus points about the Instagram and the things, a lot of “be yourself,” but there’s just as much weird rules and arbitrary things that people come up with and think they can and can’t do and they’ve got to be like this person, and so I just am not interested in fashion as dictatorship and I don’t like that about it, whether it’s a $10,000 gown or not I do think it should feel approachable otherwise we can’t reach for it, and so I think getting through those preconceived ideas.
People think they still can’t wear white after Labor Day and I think why? What? You can’t wear a beautiful suit in the winter – I think that’s gorgeous, a white suit in the winter, or a gown. Just these weird ideas – where did these things come from? You know, they’re so strange, and they really stuck. It’s amazing to see how they stuck. Or their mom said they couldn’t wear blah or things have to be this length, and I think that’s what actually makes fashion really hard for people. It’s outdated, and those rules are outdated. You can do whatever, when you drop the rules, that’s the hard thing but when you get someone to drop the rules and just try, just try it on, look at it, play with it. So once people get over that, they get comfortable, they can play in that space and not get uncomfortable.
When should a woman start thinking about dressing age appropriate, and what recommendations do you have about that?
I think aging’s amazing. I just think naturally with someone’s body as it changes, one does feel inclined to cover up a bit more. I don’t really think that’s an age think per se; if you’re 80 years old and you do Bikram yoga every day and you have amazing arms, who cares if you’re 80? But in good taste and probably with someone’s comfort level, I think probably into someone’s 40’s and 50’s, really when someone’s body starts changing and it’s noticeable, I think it’s a good time to start covering up but when I say cover up, wear a ¾ sleeve, you don’t have to wear a burka, you’re not thrown into the garbage.
My own opinion, I’m not about the skimpy clothing anyway, so I don’t have to factor that in. I just think it’s too much of a good thing. You might have a great body but there are some rules I do find helpful. If you’re going to do a good cleavage maybe cover up your legs. I don’t think it’s about the sexuality of it or that it’s too sexy or anything else, I just think it’s too much. You’re communicating too many things at once and I think it’s too hard to say what you’re trying to say. It goes back to the communication thing, what are you trying to communicate. But in terms of age, yeah, I think probably late 40’s and 50’s but I think there’s still ways that people can wear the things that they want to wear, like wear tights – you can still wear a short dress. Wear a deep V top with a longer sleeve. There’s way to do that to where you don’t have to be matronly. And matronly is a rule I don’t agree with anymore.
I think it’s utterly ridiculous to think you have to cut your hair short or do weird things because you’re getting older and I think with small tweaks women can still feel good about themselves.
I love that the rules are changing. On the skin thing, the French women have a rule at any age that you only show one skin at a time, so if you’re showing your arms you cover your legs.
If you just look at it from what is it you’re trying to say, what is it you’re trying to do, that’s different. I think it’s amazing that times are changing and there are less rules, and I think it’s a benefit to a lot of people.
I think wearing cheaper clothes once you start to age becomes a bit inappropriate. Because something that’s cheaper tends to fit the body or hang in a certain way that maybe highlights something that you don’t like, there’s no structure. What looks best in my opinion is to be a bit more polished.
The last question I had prepared for you is, if you had to pick one universal rule for fashion, what would that be?
I’d probably have to say it’s the “show one thing at a time.” I’m inclined to say really be yourself, and own that, and do it with style. Figure out how to do it the right way and own who you are.
I do have a naturally French style – it’s weird and it’s very effortless for me but I realize the French really do have their ways and rules, and it’s funny because they are dictated by rules sartorially but they don’t say that they are. It’s all about spending the 3 hours to look like you spent half an hour. I think that’s a look and for me that’s what I do try. I do like things that are structured with the unstructured, I think that’s very French. There’s the dichotomies and things that play off each other and very natural, and I think that’s very cool.
If you were to give a name to your personal style, what would you call it?
I wouldn’t extend this to clients because they’re all different, but probably utilitarian chic. I’m very pragmatic in my own style because I don’t like to be uncomfortable, and this just works for me. I don’t like a 6” heel. I like to be able to do whatever I’m doing and I don’t want to have attention on my outfit, but that isn’t to say I don’t love a good ballgown. But I really like an undone – I love a crisp white shirt with a good red lip and a messy chignon. I love a sequined crazy top that you’d wear with jeans and a pump. I think French style is very much about that. I think Americans try so hard sometimes.
I hope you enjoyed this as much as Sara and I enjoyed doing it! If you want to get in touch with Sara for some help or advice, you can contact her through her website at www.saraacevedo.com.