By Celine Griscom
Jessica has been a girl-crush of mine since we worked together on side by side sets for Marshalls at Robert Tardio Studio. I was immediately struck by her fun personality, her rock-n-roll style, her overwhelming positivity, and joie de vivre. She blew me away with her beautiful pin-ups, and she was happy to show me her techniques. The job was very much a team-player family environment, and she fit right in, happy to help in any and all ways. She has so much energy and passion that goes into all that she does (and she does a lot!), from once having craft beer business to selling t-shirts she had designed to raise money for charity. I can’t wait to see what she does next!!
What made you decide to teach e-commerce fashion styling at FIT?
I became a stylist before e-commerce was a thing and before digital capture had killed the time between shots waiting for polaroid and film processing. There was time to play, to learn from watching other stylists and to invent and practice new techniques on the job.
E-commerce has become one of the main marketing avenues of the fashion industry and continues to evolve as social media becomes the new marketplace for consumers, but today’s e-comm set is a high output machine with no time for learning or teaching. Stylists must know what they’re doing from the moment they arrive on set. Basic techniques for pin up, laydown, table-top, etcetera are teachable skills that take lots of practice. But how to learn these skills if not on set?
So I pitched a basic skills workshop to FIT and they went for it. Thus began “SXS 250 Off Figure Fashion Styling For E-Commerce And Digital Applications”, which is now part of FIT’s core curriculum for their stylist certificate program. I get a kick out of teaching because it makes me break down techniques that I came up with instinctively; I have talented and dedicated students who make me a better teacher and give me fresh ideas. And I have a growing team of enthusiastic assistants that I can hire on set and recommend to the coop.
How does art play into your work?
When I started styling I worked with some of the best advertising photographers in New York. I became a stylist while photo-assisting Colin Cooke, food photographer par excellence. I went on to work with Matthiew Klein, Bruce Wolf, and Michel Tcherevkoff among others. The perfection of artistry and professionalism on those shoots was thrilling.
Then I had kids and opted for lower stress jobs so I could be present for my family, and when digital photography arrived e-commerce soon followed. Now I work on all sorts of jobs, some more artistic than others, but no matter the kind of styling involved I always approach it as a form of art. I even think of pin-up and laydown fashion as soft sculpture. And the collaboration with the photographer and creative team brings another level of artistry and teamwork into the picture.
I love playing with objects so the act of playing itself inspires me. I’m a fan of free association and wordplay and I figure if an image is interesting to me it will be to others also…so I try to create image series that are playful, imaginative and, I hope, a little bit clever.
The Barbie series came from the Aussie grill expression “throw some meat on the Bar-B”, which makes me think of a Barbie doll in the iconic Marilyn pose on red silk, except on red meat – flank steak to be precise. I shared the idea with Colin (Cooke) and now anything that can be cooked on the grill (and made into a dress) becomes an excuse to get together and play with food and Barbie dolls.
The phizbot idea was first inspired by my mid-century orange juicer: while squeezing OJ one morning, I saw the brow and nose structure of a face in the shape of the juicer. I arranged the squeezed orange rinds to form a mouth and placed two juice glasses below the brow for eyes. I took a shot and sent it to Robert Tardio and Colin Cooke as a concept for an ongoing series of faces. Phizbots are very entertaining - they all have names and personalities and it becomes sort of an addiction finding physiological puzzle pieces to create new faces.
Phizbot sculptures and select prints will be on exhibit at Fifth Hammer Brewery in Long island City in November 2018, so come see them… with beer goggles on ;)
You are such a good team player – are there any other organizations you are involved with that you are passionate about?
I am a good team player - I think every good stylist is! I enjoy working as part of a creative, efficient, problem solving team. But I miss the opportunity to put my energy to use in ways that are more meaningful than selling stuff. So I volunteer for causes I believe in. I look for opportunities to give back in small ways when I can. I’m on the volunteer roster for Gilda’s Club and I find occasional short term projects on Catchafire.org (a wonderful project based volunteer matchmaking site).
I got the bug for volunteering when I went to to volunteer in Sri Lanka after the Tsunami. It was hard, hot, dirty and absolutely heartbreaking work. Talk about high stakes teamwork and problem solving! I’m very proud to have initiated an art therapy program for traumatized children, and the resulting art – which was extraordinarily moving - continued to raise funds for Tsunami relief for months after I left. I loved volunteering and realized that the collaborative, problem solving skills that I practice every day on set can be put to good use in that kind of situation. I decided then and there to travel the world as a volunteer as soon as I can afford to retire.
I’m a long way from retirement, but I’d like to start taking 1-2 month long volunteer jobs while I’m strong and healthy and have the energy to make a difference. I’d like to think that my best clients would feel okay about my taking time to volunteer and would still hire me when I come back.
That may be a tall order but I’m putting it out there…
You are always so sunny and joyful on set, how do you keep the love alive for this job after 25+ years in the business?
I’m a restless person by nature and I could never have cut it at a desk job so I consider myself very fortunate to have found a job that allows me to work in short term, high output, project oriented bursts. It’s a job that gives me autonomy and the chance to be creative and resourceful and to work with a diverse cast of talented people (many of whom have become fast friends). It also gives me the freedom to take breaks for family and for personal projects.
What’s not to love?