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How I Got Here: Country Road’s senior stylist on learning to love curveballs

WORDS BY CAIT EMMA BURKE

“Fashion is a daunting arena but when you get down to the nitty-gritty, it’s just a piece of clothing that someone has to cover their back with.”

Have you ever stalked someone on LinkedIn and wondered how on earth they managed to land that wildly impressive job? While the internet and social media might have us believe that our ideal job is a mere pipe dream, the individuals who have these jobs were, believe it or not, in the same position once, fantasising over someone else’s seemingly unattainable job.

But behind the awe-inspiring titles and the fancy work events lies a heck of a lot of hard work. So what lessons have been learnt and what skills have proved invaluable in getting them from daydreaming about success to actually being at the top of their industry?


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Welcome to How I Got Here, where we talk to women who are killing it in their respective fields about how they landed their awe-inspiring jobs, exploring the peaks and pits, the failures and the wins, and most importantly the knowledge, advice and practical tips they’ve gleaned along the way.

This week Paris Johnson, Senior Stylist at Country Road, takes us through her rollercoaster career path from uni to today. Having tried her hand at everything under the sun and spent some time working freelance, she’s now in charge of all campaign and eCommerce shoots for the national brand.

She’s bursting with tips on how to navigate the fashion industry, like networking during downward dog, balancing creativity with meticulous organisation, and being the most enthusiastic ‘yes man’ possible.

What do you do and what’s your official job title? 

I am the Senior Stylist for Country Road. I style monthly campaign photoshoots for the brand alongside all eStore photography. I have a team of three and we fulfil all shoots for Country Road while working with our Creative Department.

Take us back to when you were first starting out. Did you study to get into your chosen field, or did you start out with an internship/entry-level role and climb the ladder? Tell us the story.

The short version of how I grew to love fashion was drawing Barbie in crazy outfits with my best friend after school with our Derwent pencils. This then intensified when my dad worked for a major magazine house. I used to sit in his office after school and he had every (and I mean EVERY) magazine that had been released that week, and I would photocopy every picture I liked then scrapbook them into a booklet.

I studied Product Development & Merchandising at RMIT (which is now called Fashion Business, I believe). It is a well-rounded course that leaves you as a trained buyer. I believe being exposed to the business and analytical side of fashion has benefitted me in a commercial sense. I never thought I would end up a stylist. I really did fall into it. I wanted to be a fashion editor for a magazine.

After I graduated, I was doing pilates and speaking to the woman next to me who worked in PR. She was holding a ‘Women in Fashion’ seminar with The Age and told me I should go along. Little did I know how fortuitous that night would be! This is where I met stylist Kate Gaskin. I followed up that night with emails to Kate offering my services (I had no idea what I had to offer, if I’m frank) and after a few more emails she needed an assistant.

That began the four-year journey of being Kate Gaskin’s assistant. There were many fashion weeks, plus a lot of returns, taping shoes and captioning outfits. She has an incredible eye, an effervescent take on fashion and the best demeanour to learn under. Under her guidance, I grew the confidence to start doing my own shoots, including eCommerce. It’s here assisting that I began my love affair with Country Road. There aren’t too many businesses big enough to warrant a head stylist, so from the start Country Road was the ‘dream job’.

Freelance turned to eCommerce – for a long period exclusively for Just Group. I then landed the role of stylist manager at Cotton On, managing the styling and shoots for all nine brands. This landscape taught me incredible lessons in efficiency, but also diversity in the skills you can gain by giving everything a go. Every week we would have 1500 products come through the studio that needed to be shot, styled, uploaded and coded.

University was a really handy tool for my current role. The freelance lifestyle suited me for a time as I am very structured, so managing my calendar and salary was almost enjoyable. But it wasn’t sustainable for where I wanted to be. Moving into commercial fashion has broadened the resources that are available to me, but also deepened my interest in the entire product journey.

I now work with the art director in bringing to life the monthly campaigns across our brand, with the help of a fabulous team who all specialise in different areas.

What challenges/hurdles have you faced getting to where you are now? Can you tell us about one in particular?

The biggest challenge I think was letting go of the ‘fashion’ dream. Approximately .0001 per cent of people are able to make a living working in the exact fashion role they want and have it actually be everything they wanted. I fast-forwarded my trajectory and found the freelance lifestyle wasn’t right for me. Sure, I was experiencing fabulously frivolous fashion shoots as well as fabulously overpaid advertising shoots, but it wasn’t sustainable. The moment you realise there are other ‘less glamourous’ roles in fashion that will challenge you creatively, keep you consistently employed and pay your bills, you’ll know which path to choose. Being ‘secure’ sounds so mature and boring, but the joy of constantly being able to shoot with other creatives all over Australia, on one consistent brand message, is such a pleasure. I am now able to consume myself with Country Road’s journey and what we are trying to say about an iconic Australian brand.

What do you want people to know about your industry/your role?

That it’s grittier than you think. I wish I wore fancy clothes and went to more parties, but, frankly, I’m usually wearing sneakers and on the ground adjusting a hem or creating a shoot document. But, I count my lucky stars I get to rock up to work every day and work with other creatives who adore their job. It’s such a comforting thing; being surrounded by people who love what you love and open your eyes to new and exciting ideas.

What’s the best part about your role? 

Being the conduit between designers and consumers. Converting the designers’ pieces and visions into a shoppable, aspirational outfit is extremely gratifying. Fashion is a daunting arena but when you get down to the nitty-gritty, it’s just a piece of clothing that someone has to cover their back with. Making it a fun experience and giving people the confidence to try new things is the best thing about my job. There is a real craft to dressing for your body and helping people navigate their way. The other best thing is dreaming up new ways to outfit, sell and inspire people with my team. We spend hours referencing and researching trends and shoots and then debrief among one another as to its appropriateness for the upcoming shoot. Two minds are better than one.

What would surprise people about your role?

Most days you feel like a glorified courier?! The amount of samples/suitcases/boxes one has to cart is out of this world. I don’t travel anywhere with less than four suitcases, and I am not an ‘options’ gal. My assistant Sarah and I have become Tetris grandmasters by packing a car and wheeling four suitcases to the airport terminal at once. (The secret is in spanky suitcases with four wheels and a crossbody handbag.) Another surprising aspect of my role is the process we take to reaching final outfits. I teach my girls this game “Where are they going?”. Essentially if you can’t match the outfit to a persona or event, then something is off with it. For example, of an all-white outfit: “Her name is Trish and she owns a brown Labrador and only drinks white liquor and resides in Sorrento.”

What skills have served you well in your industry?

Creatives are generally not known for their organisation or realistic thinking, so I’ve found being a ‘yes’ person – while in the background configuring how to get 50 outfits to the middle of Alice Springs in the middle of a heatwave, all steamed perfectly – to be a very valuable point of difference.

As I mentioned before, I am also not an ‘options’ stylist. Extreme organisation (think checklists, highlighted A3 calendars, luggage swing tags and itemised shot docs) means shoots are streamlined, more assets are captured and you are in control to flex if required. I was a PA to a celebrity chef (one of my favourite jobs ever), and organising her life over 18 different dishes being prepped for a cookbook photoshoot is enough to have anyone up to scratch.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to be in a role like yours one day?

As you work with freelancers and models every day, having a very easy-going nature is crucial. It is a really tough industry to break into, so a shit attitude won’t get you far. People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. My parents had that Maya Angelou quote on the fridge and I watch them both, still, live up to that mantra.  I try to do the same every day.

What about a practical tip?

Go with the curveballs. When you are starting out, there is no job too small or too random. The more exposure you get to different jobs, the more likely you will figure out what you do and don’t like quicker. I worked in a wellness centre (learnt interpersonal skills), a VM installation job (learnt manual and creative labour), PA to a chef (learnt how to juggle deadlines and life, and how to make bibimbap), location scouted (learnt to take photos of interiors and also how to suit property to a client’s shoot needs), and the list goes on.

@parisojay

Read the rest of the How I Got Here series here.

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