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Working Hollywood: Soyon An helps female 'American Idol' singers find their image

The wardrobe stylist dresses the would-be stars to match their personalities.

January 23, 2011|By Cristy Lytal, Special to the Los Angeles Times

Before "American Idol" female wardrobe stylist Soyon An helped Lil Rounds discover her inner diva in a curve-hugging cat suit and Allison Iraheta sparkle across the stage in a pair of crystal-studded ankle boots, she was designing ordinary blue jeans.

"The first job that I got was to design as a private label for a denim company, so I designed jeans for the downtown market that they sold to stores like Forever 21, Arden B., BCBG, Bebe, all of those stores," said An, who was introduced to the world of fashion by an art tutor while she was a student at Hoover High School in Glendale.

She learned the essentials of her craft — including color theory, patternmaking, draping and sketching — at Otis College of Art and Design and the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising. It wasn't until she started as an assistant stylist for photo shoots and red carpets, though, that she began to really map out the direction for her career.

Before long, she was offered an opportunity to assist the costume designer on Season 2 of Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance," which led to more opportunities with the regular seasons and tours of that show as well as Fox's "American Idol."

As the female wardrobe stylist and tour stylist for multiple seasons of "American Idol," An is responsible for creating unique images for the contestants, using shoes, hats, jewelry, clothes and more.

"With any of the artists that I work with, what I like to really teach them is that eventually they'll become trendsetters," said An. "'Idol' set a tone for boots and booties, and 'Idol' set a tone for leather jackets, hats and layering of jewelry. The Idols actually do play a really important role in current fashion, and current fashion plays a very important role in what the Idols are wearing, so it goes hand in hand."

You are what you wear: "On 'American Idol,' their personalities definitely play a big role in it," An said. "I try to do my homework and watch the audition process to get a sense of who [the contestants] are before I actually meet them in person. I come up with some ideas that would be great for them, and they tell me where they're coming from, what their fashion sense is, what their fashion background is, and I help them come up with an image."

Camera shy: "There's a handful that come in a little timid but open to the opportunity that's in front of them," An said. "Siobhan Magnus is one of them, and Crystal Bowersox, Allison Iraheta, Lil Rounds. Jordin Sparks is another one. Sometimes they're afraid of color, or they're not very aware of what their body types are, or they don't know how beautiful they are. It's building their confidence in the outfits and teaching them why it works and why things don't work. I've seen some major changes from the first time that I meet them to when they're in finale going into tour and how they really define themselves as people and as artists."

Speed shopping: An has a scant two hours a week to make each contestant look like a rock star. "What I'll do is I'll pre-shop, giving them guidance or a direction, shepherding them to the image and the fashions that would work," she said. "I'll have a rack or two of stuff that they can look through for 15 to 30 minutes and try stuff on. Then for an hour and a half — we also have to include drive time — I try to take them to specific stores after we figure out what they want to do. I go on Melrose quite a bit. On Sunset, there's a store called LIVE! On Sunset. And then at the Beverly Center, we'll go to Bebe or Arden B. or Aldo, Steve Madden, Charles David, Macy's."

Custom fit: "As a stylist, I admire and love the fashion out there, but it's not made for some of the bodies that come through the 'American Idol' door," said An. "So I'll have to customize and tailor it to their bodies. And then I'll also build and make them things that are not out there. This past season for Crystal Bowersox, for her Janis Joplin performance, I made pants for her. They're custom-built for her body and for her style. And then another one that we did was for Siobhan. She wore this one-shoulder, off-the-rack dress from Bebe, but the artwork on it was a custom airbrush work that we did for her. And they are allowed to keep most of everything that's being put on as long as it's not a borrowed or a rented item."

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