An interview with independent stylist Jess Mori of Toronto, Canada. Read about her career and journey, along with some awesome tips she has for stylists!
Related: Why Stylists Are Important
1. Can you please introduce yourself, share some background, links to your social/web, and share more about where you live/work?
2. What led to you pursuing a new path with styling and creative direction?
After high school, I studied creative writing, fashion, and design. I wasn’t very gifted in the sewing department, but I could always draw. I worked as a freelance fashion illustrator for a while then wound up in a design program that had an advertising and marketing component. It was there that I took a bit of a detour and found myself interning at an ad agency. I realized I had a second passion in writing and built a career working on TV commercials, print ads, and brand campaigns.
As time went on though, I felt something was missing and wanted to get back into fashion.
After almost 10 years, I quit the ad industry and switched gears starting from the very bottom. I became an intern again, this time working for top stylists, and on my days off, I worked on building my own portfolio. Interning turned into assisting, and eventually my experience allowed me to secure my own jobs.
3. Starting out, how did you get clients and leads?
I would just look up artists, brands, photographers, and directors I liked and find a way in. Sometimes that was a mutual contact, finding out who their manager was, or reaching out to them directly.
I remember seeing Karena Evans’ work on Instagram and I loved it. When I saw she was nominated for her first BET Award in 2018, I slid in her DM’s and asked if she had a stylist. Sometimes DM’s work, but it’s a case by case.
4. What were the first projects you worked on as a stylist?
The first big gig as an intern was working with Vogue Australia, under Christine Centenera. Chris Hemsworth and Cate Blanchette were the cover stars. My most memorable job was interning for Mel Ottenberg when he was styling Rihanna for the Grammys and the Fenty lingerie launch. My first big paid job was styling a campaign for Converse, shot by Maya Fuhr.
What is the most recent project you’ve worked on as a stylist?
Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of music video styling and creative direction for artists. The last music video I did involved styling ten dancers for the legendary Buju Banton.
5. Who are some people you really want to work with next?
I would love to do more editorial work and one day work with photographers like Lelanie Foster, Renell Medrano, Zoey Grossman, and Micaiah Carter to name a few…
6. How is it different styling for a music video vs. a red carpet event vs. a magazine/photo shoot?
Many music video budgets are getting smaller, but the vision stays big so you have to be scrappy and smart with how you use the money.
When it comes to red carpet, designers and PR agencies are more eager for your client to wear their pieces so it’s less about budgeting and more about having a vision for your client and securing the right looks.
Editorial shoots have some of the same elements as red carpet, in that you’re again requesting from designers and ideally you have a strong vision for the vibe of the shoot and the kinds of looks you want to create.
7. What is your #1 tip for a new stylist?
I have two.
- Most stylists work their way up by learning from and working under accomplished stylists. Take those opportunities seriously. Work hard, don’t burn bridges, and don’t do it for a photo-op.
- The second thing is – a lot of this job is lifting and carrying things. So only do it if you really love it.
8. What are your favorite brands and clothing styles?
For me, this is always changing. But I’d say Jacquemus, Craig Green, Alexander Wang, and Prada. In terms of newer brands, I really like Mowalola and I recently discovered a Parsons grad named Zille Huma that I love.
9. Where do you get inspiration from?
Many times from the past…I love looking back at the 70s, 90s, and early 2000s. Not just fashion images, but photographs and film from that time. I like to people watch and see how fashion is interpreted on the streets whenever I travel to a different city.
Music helps a lot too. If I’m ever in a creative slump, I’ll just put on some good music and let that vibe inspire me.
10. What do you think about fashion and how it relates to music in the hip hop world? Do you have any thoughts on how it’s changed and become more important in the last 15 years?
Fashion and music will always go hand-in-hand. What you wear has to make sense with what you’re saying and the attitude you’re conveying. Missy Elliott is a perfect example of the visual matching the sound. June Ambrose created that iconic look for Supa Dupa Fly and it completely embodied the attitude of the track. She did the same for Puffy and Mase bringing more flash and glam to the world of hip hop.
Hip hop artists are front row at fashion week and often the first ones to wear the collections so they have more power and access than fashion houses were allowing for 15 years ago. Social media definitely helped in levelling the playing field and creating more room and inspiration for up and coming designers from all backgrounds – which is important and necessary.
11. Which project are you most proud of? Why?
I was recently nominated for a CAFTCAD award for my work on a music video for UK R&B artist, Taliwhoah featuring Nigerian artist M.I Abaga. The video was directed by the brilliant Kat Webber. I’m proud of that project because I was initially scared by it.
I wasn’t sure I could pull off the vision that was in my head within the timeframe/budget, and I wanted to really use African and Afro-Carribbean designers vs. pulling stuff from the mall. In the end, it all worked out and between the direction, cinematography, dancers, makeup, and art department – everything aligned.
12. What was the biggest struggle you faced in your career so far? Can you take us through the hardships you overcame and lessons you learned that you think will benefit others?
Jumping off from a totally different industry was intimidating. And the fashion world can seem exclusive and cliquey. I had to find ways in through networking and interning. When you’re starting out, you have to do whatever it takes to build a portfolio of work and find like-minded people to create with. I drained my savings to travel, take courses, work for free, buy clothing and equipment, etc. In the end, you’re your own business. So it does take a good amount of faith and investment in yourself.
13. Anything else you’d like to share? This is a good spot to shout out friends and fam, talk about your brands, bring up a fun fact about yourself that most people don’t know, etc. Thanks again Jess!
In 2020, I’m making a bigger commitment to highlighting Asian culture and beauty in my work. As a Japanese-Korean Canadian, I feel under-represented in fashion, beauty, Hollywood, and pop culture in general. As an artist, I think it’s my responsibility to help fill that gap a little.
I recently did a shoot inspired by some of my favourite editorials featuring models like Liu Wen, Fei Fei Sun, and Devon Aoki and I got a ton of responses from other Asian friends and contacts, so I know it’s much needed and appreciated.