Calgary Fashion Stylist Vanessa Smith answers the phone in a breathless flourish. “Hi, hi, sorry, it was a crazy day at work. It’s the life of doing photography and styling at the same time. Everything that could go wrong today did. It’s all in one system, so if something goes awry, everything else does.”
Vanessa is one of Calgary’s foremost stylists. She’s done fashion shows with Zeina Esmail, has become a member and regular collaborator at Mas Studios and styles for brands like Mark’s and Sport Chek.
Styling jobs for Mark’s, Sport Chek, or anything that has an e-commerce aspect, Vanessa explains, almost always involves ghost styling. Ghost styling isn’t a new concept in the fashion world, but it works pretty perfectly around the pandemic safety regulations that are still in place. By utilizing a styling program from Sweden, Vanessa can style pieces and looks on static mannequins in front of a green screen and then superimpose the models into the shoot afterwards. And that isn’t even the most challenging part!
Ghost styling isn’t a new concept in the fashion world, but it works pretty perfectly around the pandemic safety regulations that are still in place.
“When I’m styling Mark’s looks especially, the big concern there is that it has to look like it’s moving. Depending on the piece, that can get very technical. The mannequins are certain sizes, but that doesn’t mean that the clothing pieces I get are those sizes. So on top of making it look like it’s in a real setting, I often need to take an XL and make it look like a Medium or a Small. There’s always a problem that needs solving in my day. At least one!”’
When I’m styling Mark’s looks especially, the big concern there is that it has to look like it’s moving. Depending on the piece, that can get very technical.
The Calgary Fashion Stylist’s ability to get a shoot done no matter the issue is probably why Zeina Esmail, award-winning Fashion Director and Stylist, asks for Vanessa personally when she comes to Calgary for fashion shows.
“We get such amazing things when she comes to town. The best models, the best clothes…we got this incredible dusty rose strapless Dior gown that was in their Marrakech show. My work ethic is a bit intense on those days, especially, and she knows she can rely on me to make sure everything is completely perfect. We met through Mode Models as I’d styled a few covers for them. I’ve built up my reputation with her since day one, and it’s paid off because she knows I’ll do my absolute best in any show.”
Calgary, Alberta might not bring grand visions of couture to mind at first, but Vanessa has made a name for herself as the go-to editorial-focused stylist there under her company name, Priceless Vices. She’s hired for her keen eye and innovative use of various pieces, bringing a high-fashion flair to any brand she styles.
A confessed Diana Vreeland addict, Vanessa knew she had found her place when she started Blanche Macdonald’s Global Fashion Marketing program and walked into [Fashion Program Director] Peggy Morrison’s Fashion Awareness class. “I felt, just, life in Peggy’s class. The way she talks and describes things makes you feel like you’re there—like you got to see it and experience it.”
I felt, just, life in Peggy’s class. The way she talks and describes things makes you feel like you’re there.
Vanessa’s calling to Blanche Macdonald was an answer to a call that started even before she was born. “I’d always been interested in fashion, and so had my mom. She’d gone to fashion school too, but our family is very traditional, and when she didn’t pursue her career in fashion upon returning back to Alberta, I was discouraged from pursuing mine. So I went the practical route and worked in jobs that paid or were functional, but I couldn’t do it. I finally thought one day, ‘I would infinitely rather be providing something appreciated or that provides escape for people, than working to pay the bills. Be it t-shirts, photos, just something, anything to make people smile.’ I asked the universe for a sign of what I should do, and it came.
“I’m obsessed with Alexander McQueen and was reading about him online one day, and one thing led to another, and suddenly, I’m on the Blanche Macdonald webpage. I signed up and went within six months. Boy, oh boy, was it the best thing I ever did. And then some! [Fashion Program Director] Donna Baldock will love to hear this, she always said she still uses everything she learned in the program and we would too, and she’s so right. I use absolutely everything nearly every day. Even the smallest things I don’t actually remember learning. It’s all there.”
Vanessa decided to move to Calgary. By her own standards, she had one more year to make a name for herself as a Calgary Fashion Stylist, and she was determined that Calgary was going to be the place to do that.
“I hit the ground running in Calgary. I’m a huge introvert, and the amount of networking I made myself do is absolutely mindblowing. I have connected with more industry people than some of the locals in the industry. I did a year of free work for tear sheets, so I was always reaching out to my network with new things, new work, more examples of things I could do and reasons to hire me.”
I’m a huge introvert, and the amount of networking I made myself do is absolutely mindblowing.
All of her networking paid off. Vanessa ended up meeting two close friends, Eluvier Acosta and Juan Castillo who own Mas Studios, where she’s been able to become a member and regularly style her shoots and for other shoots that happen there, too.
“Literally every time I shoot at Mas Studios is a pinch-me moment. The team there is what keeps me doing Fashion. I feel like we create such magic together. My relationship with them has done so much for me professionally and personally. I’m going there tomorrow, and I feel just as excited about it as the first day I went. I’m just so thankful to find people who ‘get’ what I’m pouring my heart and soul into.”
That goes for the Calgary Fashion Stylist’s interns and assistants as well. Over the years, Vanessa has needed an extra pair or two of hands-on shoots, and there’s only one place from which she trusts to source people.
“I know how awesome the program is, and I know that the hungry students stand out. I didn’t have someone to take me in and show me the ropes, so I like to offer that to students who really want it. There is an initial hump to get over after graduation, so if I can help someone get over that and into their career, I’m going to. The first people I want on my team are Blanche grads. I have a high expectation of myself thanks to Blanche, so I know other grads will have that too.”
And what advice does she give anyone lucky enough to be part of a shoot with her?
“One is to find your community. Meet absolutely everyone. Don’t cherry-pick people or jobs. And the second thing I tell them is to never look at anything the way it looks. How can you make this piece something else entirely? Is the lining cool? What does it look like upside down? Take nothing at face value and make everything what you need it to be.”
Never look at anything the way it looks. How can you make this piece something else entirely? What does it look like upside down? Take nothing at face value and make everything what you need it to be.
It’s a philosophy by which Vanessa continues to live. She’s always open to whatever new challenge her fashion journey may present. Before COVID hit, she had set her sights on a move to Berlin and taking Priceless Vices abroad. With the state of things at the moment, an international move like that isn’t necessarily an option. But she’s not worried. She knows what is meant for her will come at just the right time. “The Global Fashion Marketing program made me confident in all of my abilities. I crave the business and technical side of Fashion, like buying, even while I’m currently working in and excelling at Fashion’s more creative aspect. I’m open to any opportunity that comes to me, and thanks to Blanche Macdonald, I feel like I can take them when they come because I’ve got such a solid foundation across the board.”