In a scene from the trailer of "Styl'D," a new reality show premiering at 10 tonight on MTV, junior stylist's assistants Janna Brown and Gary Samuelian wearily drag, shove and push rolling racks full of clothes up a steep dirt hill in Runyon Canyon. It's an extreme scenario, with shades of gimmicky stunts a la "America's Next Top Model," but it aims to illustrate the physical and mental demands stylists go through for their job -- showing it as a literal uphill battle.
Brown and Samuelian are among five junior assistants competing for a styling contract and spot on the Margaret Maldonado Agency's impressive roster of artists. This reality show is more like "The Hills" than "Project Runway," with cameras following the assistants from working on set to "off-duty" personal dramas (think romance and roommate problems). There are no weekly eliminations, no one being told "you're out" and no formal challenges. Instead, over the eight one-hour episodes, the assistants are cumulatively judged by three senior stylists -- Jen Rade, Eric Archibald and Julie Weiss -- on their work on various jobs throughout the season. During the final episode, one will win the coveted contract.
Rade, Archibald and Weiss exemplify how a slew of successful stylists have stepped out from behind the scenes to share the spotlight they've helped create around their celebrity clients. Stylists such as Rachel Zoe have become known by name, signature look and endorsement deals, not just by the people they clothe. "People have always looked to celebrities and fashion icons for their style inspiration," says Kent Belden, a Maldonado executive and a "Styl'D" producer. "Now, people are more privy to the fact that there is a whole team of people behind them creating the trends they are wearing and the images they portray." With a show centered around breaking into the profession, millions of young MTV viewers will find out exactly what a stylist's work is like and why the job is as demanding as it can be glamorous.
Stylists traditionally have been the people who interpret fashion in magazine spreads by setting up arresting images, using clothing and accessories as tools much as a painter would use paint. Their images tell stories that can be full of whimsy, color or just plain wackiness. The role is perfectly captured in the documentary "The September Issue," where Vogue creative director Grace Coddington upstages editor in chief Anna Wintour as the artistic force behind the magazine's illustrious photo shoots.
More recently, stylists such as Zoe have been dressing celebrities for red carpet events, working closely with designers to create gowns and looks for their clients. Stylists are integral in building brands, whether that means for a celebrity or for a sneaker company.
The junior assistants on "Styl'D" dream of constructing impressive fashion editorials or picking out the perfect Oscar gown, but first they must endure the manual labor involved with styling. Most of this falls to assistants, who are expected to pack and unpack clothes, unload rolling racks and schlep garment bags in and out of designer showrooms. "This is a lot more physical than people realize," Archibald says. "Everyone thinks you're running around and going to go meet Donatella at Versace. It's not like that. This is work."
A successful stylist must also have an innate sense of what looks good and what works for a given job, whether it's a red carpet, commercial or high-concept magazine spread. As Rade puts it, "Anybody who wants to be a stylist needs 30 minutes, $20 and a Goodwill. If you can't put together a great outfit with those things, then this is probably not the job for you."
"Styl'D" airs at 10 p.m. Sundays on MTV.
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Meet the junior assistants of "Styl'D." One of them will win a coveted contract and may just be the next superstar stylist.
Cody Conti, 25, from Huntington Beach. Fashion runs in the family. Conti's mother was a vice president of sales for Versace and Gianfranco Ferre, and from a young age he got a first hand look at various aspects of the industry. He may be the most well-rounded of the bunch. Conti also started a T-shirt line while earning a finance degree at Arizona State University.
Gary Samuelian, 24, from Laguna Beach. Got top-notch training while interning at Men's Vogue in New York. Samuelian is confident, outgoing and exhibited strong delegating skills when asking a fellow assistant to help our photographer with her equipment after our cast shoot.
Janna Brown, 25, from Temecula. Brown was a student in product development at FIDM before joining the cast of "Styl'D." Her levelheaded approach to styling shows focus and determination.
Brett Nelson, 22, from Overland Park, Kan. Nelson gained retail skills when working at Abercrombie and Fitch and managing Up Against the Wall stores in the L.A. area. His infectious smile and unaffected attitude are shining and refreshing qualities, especially in the fashion world.
Tara Ahmadi, 23, of Mission Viejo. A former intern at the Betsey Johnson Los Angeles showroom, Ahmadi has loved fashion since she was a child and has developed a fun and quirky sense of personal style -- the day of the shoot she wore bright red, high-heeled, laced-up combat boots. She has a bubbly personality to match her eclectic sense of style.