By Jessica Agulló
Mary Arch and I are contemporaries and we have both been prop stylists for more than 20 years. It’s weird but not altogether surprising to find out that we have been crossing paths for decades; literally passing one another through the doors of prop houses, accounts and studios. I have more than a few vivid, frustrating memories of visiting prop houses to find that the perfect prop that I wanted for a job was already tagged for ARCH. So it’s strange to have met her only recently through the stylist coop (thanks Celine!) …it almost feels as though we’ve been stalking each other all these years…only now to become fast friends and mutual admirers.
Mary looks and acts exactly how you would imagine a stylist should look and act (whatever that means) – casually elegant, dressed all in black, skinny jeans, oversized shirt, interesting jewelry, well worn Prada boots, and her long blonde hair carelessly mussed. She arrives at my place in a flurry of upbeat, frenetic energy, casting a sweeping gaze around and taking in every detail of my apartment…so lets get started.
What is the first memory you have that made you aware of still life styling as a career, and what made you want to become one?
First I did not know it was a career, I fell into it in a way but then I was hooked. I started in fashion, but then I realized I loved the set and prop department. In looking back I must thank my mom. She was training me as a prop stylist before either of us knew it. Being the youngest of 5 children my mom was very thrifty and we went to garage sales, thrift stores and antique stores. We would buy old furniture and change it - changing the knobs, the upholstery, repainting, you name it. That’s where I started a lot of my collections some of which I still have.
What inspires your own sense of style?
High end/ low end and good quality pieces are key. I especially love accessories: jewelry is my first love, then bags and shoes. Labels do not define my style, in fact I would rather have a great piece that atracks someone’s eye and they have to ask about it. I just love finding that one piece that makes your heart skip a beat, its movable, wearable art.
You’ve raised your now teenage kids working as a freelance stylist. What do they think about Mom’s job?
When they used to come to set with me they would think I had a really cool job, and even an easy job. They think all I do is play with cool things, paint, set up and talk to my friends and eat free catering. Cool job Mom!
The beauty of being a freelancer is that you can spend time with your kids when you need to, and you can work around their schedules. The hard part is it is always changing, good for a Gemini.
Do they ask you for style guidance and tips?
My daughter will ask me and I will tell her and she will do the opposite. She’s 16. But she’s hitting my accessories. She likes my jewelry and now we have the same shoe size. She says I wear too much black and would love to do my makeup but I rarely wear it. She now she wears black, is a thriftier and gives style advice to her friends. The apple did not fall far.
My son, he’s 19, has his own style and thinks all black is boring, hence he loves color and he has a wicked T-shirt collection. I now hit his stuff.
If you were not a stylist what sort of work would you be attracted to?
That’s the million dollar question. I’d love to be a jeweler, who knows maybe someday I will. I also love animals and children. I had a great childhood so I would like to help those who are less fortunate and our planet. She needs our love and support, definitely doing more for her is in my future.
Tell me about your property in PA and the role it has played and continues to play in your life.
It’s my happy place, I’m blessed. It is a 100 year old farmhouse which we have had for 17 years, I literally fell in love at first sight. I saw its potential and it has been and will continue to be a work in progress, but a happy creative work in progress. The baby trees are now huge, there is now a beautiful man made 2 acre pond, and a few gardens. Nature is a magical healer and a grounding force and releases a lot of creative energy. Much needed when being a stylist, mom and living in Manhattan plus my friends love coming and shooting there, we have had a few fun ones. It has soul and energy, and I’m grateful.