It’s been nearly ten years since freelance stylist Candice Ho Lem picked up her life and moved from Calgary to Vancouver. Knowing that her best shot at a career in the fashion industry laid in a bigger, more dynamic fashion scene, she set off for the Fashion Marketing classrooms of Blanche Macdonald. Since graduation, Candice has worked as a buyer for classic Vancouver boutique One of a Few, as a stylist for Aritzia, and has recently branched out to become a freelance stylist which has landed her on the roster of Richard’s International Model Management. Her stunning work has already been featured in Sicky, Teeth, Contributor, Latest, and Flanelle. Candice has created a name for herself as a prolific stylist, quickly rising through the global fashion ranks! Candice aims to bring a sense of ease to every look she puts together but never forgetting her ultimate rule: “Fashion should be fun.” She’s with an agency, has a part-time life in New York’s fashion scene, and had work featured in multiple publications—this freelance stylist has the ultimate fashion-centred life and luckily for us, she was happy to dish on it all!
First, can you tell us a bit about your styling and fashion aesthetic?
I find myself to be more of a minimalist, and I strive for my work to have a sense of ease. But within that, I love exploring each item and finding new ways to wear it. And that can be with a lot of different ways from what it’s paired with to how it’s done up.
Taking the Fashion Marketing program gave my career direction and showed me where I thought I would be able to fit in.
Tell us about working in New York! What have you been up to there?
NYC is so great. I really love the pace of it and find it really inspiring. There’s always something new happening and it’s a whole new adventure every day. It really opened my mind to the world of fashion on a more global scale.
I have been assisting for Unconditional Magazine, which has been such a dream. Its a magazine created by women, for women, and is truly one of my favourite publications out there—I feel so lucky to be able to be a part of it! Working for a magazine in NYC has been such a whirlwind and the experience has been so valuable. Being able to have access to beautiful clothing from every designer you can think has really opened my eyes to how amazing this job really can be.
Everything I learn there is applied to every job that I do, and it drives me to push myself further. I work mostly with the photographer Alexandra Nataf and stylist Ilona Hamer from the magazine, who are both incredibly talented. They have taught me so much and inspire me every day. Most importantly they have shown me what fearless, independent and creative women look like in today’s industry.
Being able to have access to beautiful clothing from every designer you can think has really opened my eyes to how amazing this job really can be.
You were Aritzia’s stylist for two and a half years. How did you land that coveted role!
I was getting more into styling from my first job at the boutique One of a Few and really enjoying it. One of my friends was a photographer in Aritzia’s studio and she recommended me. It was a one-week tryout job that turned into a full-time position. I worked in the studio in Aritzia’s head office where we shot everything from e-commerce, to social, to any other marketing campaigns we had coming up!
What would a typical day or week look like for you at Aritzia?
We were constantly shooting, sometimes a whole five days a week! The majority would be on set, with models, photographers, and all kinds of directors. If you weren’t on set, you were in the sample library styling for upcoming shoots. Between the big marketing shoots and the different social shoots, you were multitasking like crazy working on different products. There are also meetings between the stylists and the designers to make sure their vision for the product comes through in the shoots. We’d also go over how to approach the upcoming season and what we should be anticipating. On our downtime it was all about researching. Looking at runway shows and upcoming trends is so important to understand and prepare for what’s coming in next from the fashion world. Other than that, we also did the purchasing of footwear and jewelry for each brand’s shoots. It was a fun job.
You were recently signed onto the renowned Richards International Models Management roster as a stylist. How did it come about?
I’m super excited to be on Richards roster that just recently expanded to represent stylists. It’s been an amazing way to get connected with photographers, models, and hair and makeup artists in the city. It’s important to have an agent if you want to do styling full time. They provide you with jobs that you might not be able to get on your own. They actually reached out to me when they decided to expand into representing artists. I first got on their radar when I did a shoot using one of their talents.
Any portfolio tips to share for those interested in becoming an agency-represented artist?
Richards was particularly interested in the fact that my portfolio included both creative and commercial work. As much fun as doing creatives are, commercial work is a huge part of the job. It’s important to work on both when building your portfolio.
As much fun as doing creatives are, commercial work is a huge part of the job. It’s important to work on both when building your portfolio.
Tell us about your first position at One of A Few where you scored a retail buying position right out of the Fashion Marketing program!
Oh gosh, that was one of my favourite stores in the city and when I got the job, I was so excited to start. Getting into buying there was actually a fairly natural progression for me. I was eager to do absolutely anything having to do with the store. The owner saw how dedicated I was and involved in everything that I could be and so she really believed in me having my own voice in the store. Other than my teachers at Blanche Macdonald, she was definitely a major mentor for me; I learned so much from her.
That’s so great. Do you feel like the Fashion Marketing program helped prepare you for the intensity of a buyer’s position?
Oh, 100%. When I got the Buying position, I felt I already had a pretty good handle on the responsibilities of a Buyer because the course teaches you the numbers and the budgeting side of it all which is HUGE. Another course that was incredibly helpful was Textiles. The wash and wear of certain garments are so important when you’re purchasing for a store. Fashion Awareness was another big one because being able to properly converse with designers and other professionals at tradeshows is so important, it’s a mark of professionalism to be able to use and understand the appropriate terms for everything.
I would definitely consider Fashion Program Director Peggy one of my first mentors. She blew me away with her knowledge of fashion. She still inspires me to this day.
Sounds like your time in the program was very well-spent and helpful to get your career started. Was it everything you expected it to be?
It was actually so much more than I expected. There was such a variety of classes that allowed you to learn the whole scope of the industry. I would definitely consider Fashion Program Director Peggy one of my first mentors. She blew me away with her knowledge of fashion. She still inspires me to this day.
I came into the program not having any idea of the path I wanted to take but taking the program gave my career direction and showed me where I thought I would be able to fit in.
Was working in the Fashion industry always where you saw yourself? And how did you land on Styling in particular?
I’ve wanted to be in Fashion since I can remember. It’s something I truly love. It’s always been a way for me to express my point of view and connect with others. But being from a smaller town, Styling was never something I thought was ever a possibility. I first discovered Buying and Styling in the Fashion Marketing program and by the end, I thought, “I could see myself doing either of these for a career.”
How did it feel to see your first magazine styling story in Sicky?
It was super exciting, but I’m always really critical of my work. Sometimes I pick it apart, often more than I should, but it’s always something that I take to the next shoot. For me, it’s about evolution and always learning and growing.
What’s the first thing you do when you get a styling job?
I figure out who is shooting it, who the model is, and get a sense of the style this is going to be photographed in. I try to see how the model has been shown and how I want to show her in this story. From there, I create a mood board. Clients will sometimes have a description of a mood board but if it’s a creative shoot, I just go with what I envision. Then I meet with the photographer and the rest of the team to make sure they’re on the same page.
Most importantly, you have to work harder than everyone else. I really can’t stress that enough! People recognize hard work and it’ll take you much farther.
What would your advice be to an aspiring freelance stylist?
To be positive and really foster the relationships you make. It’s also really important to have your own style and point of view. You’re constantly working with different clients and you’re hired to create their vision but it’s so important to do it with your own sense of self. Keeping on top of the names, trends, and changes in the fashion world is important too. You’ve got to be able to evolve with it. Most importantly, you have to work harder than everyone else. I really can’t stress that enough! People recognize hard work and it’ll take you much farther.