Life & Culture

My job is styling the stars

Has Rachel Gold got the dream job, picking clothes for celebrities? Well, she tells Joy Sable, it can be harder than it looks


It sounds like the dream job. Visiting top hotels, stately homes and race tracks, handling designer clothes and rubbing shoulders with celebrities… what’s not to like? The truth is, a stylist’s life may sound enviable, but there is a lot of hard work involved, plus a certain amount of gritting one’s teeth when a celebrity throws a hissy fit.

With years of experience as a stylist, Rachel Gold knows it is not all glitz and glamour. She fell into the job almost by accident. “When I was 19 I went to New York to follow this great big dream of being a singer. I met some people who had a record company and they saw me flinging myself around on stage in outfits I used to make,” she recalls. Impressed by her handiwork, she was asked to dress some of their other singers.

Gold also created outfits for Luv, a girl band marketed as Holland’s answer to Bananarama. She sang with the group for a while before returning to the UK to take on personal styling clients. “This was really before stylists were the thing. Originally you had dressers for television and film and they were older ladies who were seamstresses. With the creation of the so-called ‘celebrity’ you then got people doing styling and colour courses and calling themselves stylists. I started looking after the wardrobes of wealthy people who had a couple of homes. I would sort out their wardrobes here, go to the South of France or wherever else they had a home, sort out their wardrobes there and then change them over seasonally.”

She became rich women’s ultimate accessory, even if they did not readily admit it. “At the time, to be trawling around New Bond Street with your stylist was an absolute luxury. They would say to their friends, ‘I’m here with Mrs Gold, my friend, we’re just doing a bit of shopping.’ They would never say, ‘This is my stylist’”.

Gold says the styling industry has now completely changed. “When you go online now, you can order something and it will say at the very bottom [of the page] what to style it with. So the question is how secure you actually feel following that advice. You can order it, try it on and see if you think it looks good, or you can have a stylist come round and help you sort your whole look. I don’t think everyone needs a stylist, particularly celebrities, as they get gifted so much stuff that they never have one particular style.” Over the years, she has helped style many household names for magazine photo shoots or other occasions. Some she recalls more fondly than others. “I love Vanessa Feltz. I know she is Marmite, but I just love her because she knows her own mind. She’s smart, she’s clever, she’s funny, she’s out there. If you say to her, look, here’s some real glitz, sparkly stuff, she’ll wear it.”

Gold is also a fan of television chef James Martin. “I did James Martin’s last two cookbook front covers. He did a massive show with Jools Holland a couple of years ago, and I styled him for that, which was great fun. He’s very nice — same thing with Gordon Ramsay. Everyone says, ‘Oh Gordon Ramsay!’ and they are all frightened and running for the hills. Look, he is a bit loud, but a very respectful, nice chap.”

“What a handful,” is how she describes Janet Street-Porter. “Bless her. She’s from another era. She’s a very smart woman, she’s a bit impatient and you don’t always hit it off with people.” Tactfully she explains that her job means seeing familiar faces when they are not always at their best. “They might be promoting something and as much as they want to promote it, they don’t necessarily want to do it. They are walking into a studio with no make up on, they’ve got to get there at some silly time in the morning, they are meeting someone that they’ve never met before, they’ve got a rail of clothes that they may or may not like and sometimes you’ve got a clash of personalities, so it doesn’t always work.”

She is more enthusiastic about motor racing legend Lewis Hamilton and describes his photo shoot for Puma, the sportswear brand, as “fantastic and memorable. I found him absolutely delightful, really friendly — not a joker, quite serious but a sweet person, very kind to everyone, even the people making teas and coffees, none of this diva behaviour.”

Gold also dressed Caroline Flack at the start of the troubled celebrity’s career. “It was for a magazine shoot and we shot her on a hotel rooftop. This was before all the fame. I dressed her in some beautiful Alexander McQueen. I didn’t know her well. I found her very quiet and very calm.”

On of her most memorable shoots was with Jo Whiley and Jeremy Vine to celebrate 50 years of Radio 2. “It was supposed to be a subtle nod to the swinging 60s and I managed to find a fabulous snazzy shirt for Jeremy which was covered with little pictures of Heinz and other iconic brands of the time, plus an amazing mini dress for Jo which was absolutely perfect for her. We loved the dress so much that Jo actually wore it again when hosting Party in the Park!

“They were both in great spirits and Jeremy delighted us all with his flamboyant and hilarious dance moves. So paired with the magnificent backdrop and authentic record player it was a super fun day.”

Gold has had to cope with her fair share of diva meltdowns during her career. “Sometimes what happens is that you’ll be in a middle of a tussle with the agent and the celebrity about what they want to wear and not want to wear. There’s a lot of late night panicking. What is really common is people lying about their sizes. It’s a miscommunication sometimes: the agent will have got the size the person was maybe two months ago and then the stylist has been given all the wrong sizes. But when you have experience, you know by looking at them whether they fluctuate in weight. So if they say they are a size ten, you take an eight, and 12 —you might even need to take a 14.”

It can still go wrong. She remains tight-lipped about the name of the client for whom she had to cut a dress all down the back and then stitch it so it looked like it was still hanging on. “That’s what I call a disaster,” she laughs.

During lockdown Gold has — together with stylist Isobel Kershaw — launched Style Myself With Confidence, a service aimed at giving clients practical advice on how to change their look for different occasions.

Because of Covid, these short fashion masterclasses are currently online only. “With these little tutorials you just go online and purchase it and you can follow it at your leisure. We’re hoping to do live events — before lockdown, that was the plan.”

For anyone considering styling as a career choice, she has a word of warning. “I think that the day of the stylist is coming to an end. Magazines are really suffering; a lot have merged into each other. The work is actually drying up in that area.

“I know I sound like I’m talking myself out of a job. I have my finger on the pulse, I know a lot of stylists, I go on a lot of shoots and I see the way things are going.”

She does not worry about her own future in the field as she is well established. “The magazines that are still functioning will always want a capable pair of hands and they know what they’re going to get, particularly when they are dealing with celebrities. But I think the way forward is very much Instagram, YouTube, and showing people how to do it.”

This is where she believes Style Myself With Confidence can help, with its bite-size fashion advice.

She says the most common mistakes people make are buying items in a sale, simply because something looks like a bargain. It will often remain unworn in the back of the wardrobe. “I think people have too much stuff actually. They only end up wearing 20 per cent of their wardrobe, if that. You’ve got to be quite brutal with yourself. Maybe just hiring a stylist to go through your wardrobe to set you up, I think that’s quite a good thing to do.

“When one is a little bit more mature, what we do without realising is we are buying exactly the same thing as we had years ago and we are not learning how to style it together to make it on trend. I would say try to discover what your body shape is, because body shape is the most important thing when you are styling yourself.

“Try not to always wear black, because it is not flattering for most people. People always think a little black dress is going to look stylish and sophisticated but that is a very old-fashioned thought. Black is very ageing when you wear it near the face, so leave it open at the neckline or put on a brightly coloured scarf or accessory just to add a bit of excitement.”

Gold says the best part of her job is seeing how her advice can work wonders, whether or not you are famous.

“It’s helping people discover what their own style is and what suits them, and see people really become confident with what they are wearing.”


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