The art of making other people look good

Leah Van Loon is accustomed to working with high-profile clients and renowned designers but it wasn’t always Marni and Marc Jacobs for the Calgary stylist. Back in the early ’90s the fashion-focused entrepreneur describes herself as a punk rock “riot grrrl” who formed the city’s first all-female punk band Squat lending her talents as bass player.

Although she never lost her rebel spark Van Loon retired the bass later that decade starting on her path to become one of Calgary’s premier stylists. “I’ve been at it now for almost 20 years. I think there were definitely other people that were doing [styling] before me but there wasn’t a name for it. Well there was a name but it wasn’t called ‘stylist’ it would have been a costume designer wardrobe etc…” says Van Loon. “It wasn’t a term that anybody used. If I had said ‘stylist’ [back then] people would have thought hair.”

Van Loon educated herself at Holt Renfrew in the display department where she got to experiment with some of the world’s premier brands and learned about “Capital F fashion” as she puts it. Over the years she has styled everything from fashion spreads in magazines like Chatelaine to print campaigns for massive brands like Sony.

Van Loon sees her role in advertising and editorial as helping to bring a story to life. “I have to imagine in what way I’d like to use [particular fashions]… how it’s contributing to the message of the story that I’m creating” she says. “When I’m looking at styling there are a lot of different types… so say a fashion shoot. I am thinking about what the lighting is going to be like the backdrop and giving the photographer what I think he (or she) wants. Some photographers are very into shape others are into texture….”

Then there’s the personal styling/shopping side of her work. She describes her client list as a “big gamut” from celebrities like Jann Arden and Paul Brandt to the average person who is stuck in a rut.

“Some people see it as a luxury which I do agree with… but part of what I do as a personal shopper is not only go through your closet and figure out what it is you want to achieve but I find a lot of people don’t know how to shop constructively. I tend to teach people as I work with them. I want them to be able to go out and feel confident that they know what they’re after and they know what looks good on them.”

For those of us a few paycheques away from working with a personal stylist Van Loon offers one important piece of advice. “I’m of the mind that you should invest in quality classic things. Take care of them and they should last you for years and years and years. Buying two to three key pieces each season is better than buying say 20 ‘trend’ pieces that are going to fall apart. They’re just not going to last.”