For a wardrobe stylist, working on music videos is a sort of boot camp training before getting into commercials and film. In music, the clothing or costumes are meant to be particularly impactful and memorable. Often, the director or record label has a different idea about how the artist should look—different from the artist’s vision, that is—and as the wardrobe stylist it’s your job to be the mediator. Sometimes you have to push the artists out of their comfort zones, while still making them feel confident enough to give their best performance. Musicians are full of insecurities, anxieties, phobias and sobriety challenges that may need to be addressed with tact and discretion. “Do my ankles look too skinny?” “I don’t like to be touched!” “Can I smoke in here?” Artists can be, um, sensitive–so you must proceed with caution.
These days music video budgets are a fraction of budgets past—and the schedules are tight. Prep time before a shoot is usually a few days at best. When you get the call to work on a music video, you need to be prepared for anything. And even with budgets smaller, expectations aren’t. Producers expect top designer fashions, outlandish costumes, or racks of choices for practically pennies. You need to get crafty. (Chromeo’s “Rage!” was my first music video. There was no budget for wardrobe, but Chromeo is a great band and I was very excited about it.) And there will always, always be last minute changes. For Moby’s “Perfect Life” video (with Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne), the incredibly eclectic wardrobe–including Mariachi suits, a zippered gimp mask and choir robes–demanded a stylist be ready for anything. (I was–as you can see below.) Being able to switch modes is critical, too. Daniel Merriweather’s “Change” had a completely different feel from the sun-soaked, circus-like Moby shoot. “Change” was shot when I was six months pregnant–it was winter in New York and absolutely freezing. Daniel and Wale had to perform on the back of a flatbed truck as it drove around my neighborhood in Brooklyn. I look at it today and think you know, we got it right. And what a song.
— Nicole Olson is a fashion/wardrobe stylist based in Los Angeles. After a stint at RCA Records as a talent scout, she became a stylist for music videos and commercials working with clients like Columbia Records, Universal Music, Warner Brothers, and Nickelodeon, among others.