Behind the Scenes: An Interview with Stylist Filipe Phitzgerard

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Behind the Scenes: An Interview with Stylist Filipe Phitzgerard

A friend in London introduced me to Filipe this past February, outside Omer Asim’s Autumn/Winter 2016 presentation during London Fashion Week, and I was immediately impressed; he’s talented, insightful and fun to be around. And he’s an excellent reminder of what lies at the heart of the fashion industry.

Photographer, writer, stylist and editor-in-chief of the online-exclusive F Word Magazine, Filipe Phitzgerard can do quite a lot from his base in London, but he’ll be the first person to tell you he can’t do everything. And in an industry that requires its worker’s to be multi-talented, his daily requirements far exceed the usual: mornings devoted to running a successful site with his close-knit team, and afternoons for photography, commissions and side projects.

Though I have since become friends with Filipe, his work reminds me of how people like him, the talented core of the community, are often overlooked in search of celebrity influencers, Red Carpet stylists, the street-style photographers and the elite editors they capture. People like him, the editors, photographers and stylists whose works go uncelebrated and often unrecognized in magazines and campaigns, are truly the unsung heroes of fashion.

During a recent chat with the Burbank, California native, we talked about life with multiple roles, finding inspiration on the go and where to discover the works of more talented photographers and stylists worth following.

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Paste: Filipe, you’re a fashion editor, writer, photographer and stylist. Is there anything you can’t do?

Filipe Phitzgerard: [Laughs.] I can’t sing. I mean, as a creative person I can do many different things but so can you or anyone out there. [Laughs.]

Paste: But seriously, a native of Burbank, California, a graduate from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City and now editor-in-chief at F Word Magazine in London. You’ve certainly come a long way. How did you get your start?

Filipe: Well, I think I was very fortunate to go places and do things the way I did. I’m not gonna lie, the ride wasn’t always smooth but I think that is a huge part of the journey. I was initially going to follow my parents’ dream and become a businessman; I started an International Relations course in college but dropped out at an early stage because it wasn’t me. There was a lot of pressure in my family to become a successful businessman, just like my father, however it wasn’t me at all. After dropping out, I moved to NYC to do what I wanted, even if at that point my parents weren’t too keen on it. You know, change is never easy, especially when you’re young and not sure what you’re going to face. I started my fashion design course at FIT and that’s when it all began. I met wonderful—and challenging—people along the way and eventually started working at an agency that dealt with fashion brands. They produced image content and advertising so not really anything to do with design. I had a great boss who taught me a lot and put me on the right direction and, well, the rest is history. [Laughs.]

Paste: In the years since, you’ve contributed to several publications, including Nylon, Tank Magazine, KALTBLUT Magazine and Dust Magazine. What has been your proudest moment to date?

Filipe: I have had many proud moments, and some not so proud [Laughs], but I think the proudest one is when I decided to start F Word. To date it still feels exciting and promising and I love the challenges that have come with it.

Paste: What’s something you’re hoping to do in the future?

Filipe: I really want to make F Word big and successful enough that young creatives will come to us and find a platform to not only showcase their work but also share experiences and learn from guys who have a lot to teach. I really want to have an old warehouse with loads of cool offices where these people are gonna come to work there.

Paste: As a photographer and stylist, I’m sure you keep quite busy with new projects. How do you typically approach a new commission?

Filipe: Well, it really depends. I don’t think I have a specific way, but I always look for those projects that give me freedom to create within the concept. It’s nice when you have to create something for someone and they give you the freedom to do it your way.

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Paste: Where do you find inspiration for your shoots?

Filipe: Literally everywhere. [Laughs.] I could be on the train going somewhere and then I see someone doing something and it clicks. My brain works in such a weird way that I can see the whole composition in my head – the mood, the models, the poses, the clothes. Everything comes together in a rather frenetic way and I have to sit down later on to organize the ideas.

Paste: How would you describe your particular style?

Filipe: As a photographer I am very moody. A lot of people have described my work like that and I really think that’s right. I haven’t produced many “happy” stories so far because the moody and rather sad aesthetics just happen. As a stylist (and I am still not sure I can even call myself that), it is all about experimenting. I really want to go even crazier with the styles and clothes. Like, there are so many different and intense images in my mind right now. I really want to break the rules. [Laughs.]

Paste: Since you’re also balancing work as an editor of an online magazine, what’s a typical day look like for you?

Filipe: Oh wow. That’s a good one. [Laughs.] They’re usually hectic, starting early and often ending with a pint of beer or a Brooklyn (my favorite lager).

Paste: How do you balance all of these different roles?

Filipe: I try to divide my day and stick to the plan. Mornings are usually given to F Word matters. I go through emails and meetings as well as talking to my team. They are incredible because I can trust them entirely, and that gives me time to focus on the other projects I have on the table. I think without them I would never be able to juggle all the work. Afternoons? I tend to spend working on the side projects, like commissions and shoots. I have to say I’m not always able to stick to the plan as, you know, shit happens. [Laughs.]

Paste: In this industry in particular, it’s not rare to see people, like you, who juggle several titles and roles at the same time. Why do you think that is? Is it a requirement of the job, or is it necessary in order to pay the bills? [Laughs.]

Filipe: [Laughs.] Well, I think it is a bit of both. The industry nowadays is way more competitive than seven years ago when I started. I see how younger guys are constantly struggling to keep their feet on the ground while letting their minds go further creatively, so they have to do a lot of different jobs until they have their big break. On the other hand, I think being able to do more than just one or two different jobs is an awesome way to grow. Look at Karl Lagerfeld, he is an example of someone—old school—who has managed to take more than just one role at the same time, and be successful.

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Paste: How would you describe the role of stylist in the fashion community?

Filipe: They are trendsetters. They have the power to create or destroy a trend. I think people don’t give them enough credit because of the whole social media thing and the Kardashian culture. Unfortunately the masses tend to follow the wrong kind of people. But I don’t wanna get political here. [Laughs.]

Paste: Stylists—and photographers as well—are really the unsung heroes of fashion, don’t you think?

Filipe: Oh yeah. They are super talented people with a lot to offer and not always recognized, as they should.

Paste: Yeah, I’ve often felt stylists and photographers aren’t given the credit and recognition they deserve, especially with their level of importance in the industry.

Filipe: Yes. I totally agree. I think a lot of people forget that those amazing images you see in magazines and campaigns were actually created by photographers and stylists who have put a lot of thought and energy into it. I don’t think most people realize how much work goes into it—that can be frustrating at times.

Paste: How do you think Instagram (and the numerous image-sharing apps like it) have changed the way in which today’s stylists and photographers interact with their audience and the industry at large?

Felipe: I think the easiest way to answer that is by saying that social media has become the new portfolio. I have heard photographer and stylist friends saying that they had companies contacting them for commissions and one of the top five questions asked was how many followers they had on Instagram. Social media has become a necessary thing to connect to others in the same industry as well as outside. I believe there is a positive and a negative side to it, as does everything in life, but I think we are living in a time where creatives rely too much on it. I like how it was back in the day when you had to carry folders with your portfolio whenever you were going to meet a new client. There was the whole excitement of opening it and going through with them, page by page. It was something very personal and rather intimate. Today the process starts and ends even before you’ve met them face-to-face.

Paste: Because of that, do you think the stylists and photographers of today are more likely to become a household name than those of the past?

Filipe: Somehow yes. I think it has become much easier today because of how fast things travel online. One picture on your Instagram can either make or break you.

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Paste: Could you tell us, in a few words, what makes a “good” stylist?

Filipe: [Laughs.] It’s very subjective I have to say. From my point of view (and what I look for when I am working with a stylist) it is uniqueness and boldness. I like stylists who think outside the box and break the current trends. Doing what everybody else is doing is too boring. Don’t you think?

Paste: I definitely agree! It’s boring, and worse, redundant. What about a photographer?

Filipe: Ah, with photographers it is all about “the eye.” [Laughs.] Photographers who can capture beauty, vulnerability and essence from their subjects are surely the ones to watch.

Paste: Are there any stylists and photographers who have caught your attention lately?

Filipe: Oh yeah, I have always been obsessed with Brent Lloyd. He is an amazing photographer and a super cool guy. But recently I’ve been into Patrick Donovan’s work. He is a photographer from Brooklyn who creates stunning images—very moody and rather sexy. My favorite stylist at the moment is definitely Paul Sinclaire. He is awesome.

Paste: Now, you studied fashion design when you were at school, if I’m correct. How would you say that has influenced your work?

Filipe: Yes, I did. I think it helped me understand the garments in a different way. There are loads of small things I do, especially when I am planning a shoot, that I remember doing when I was in college. I believe whatever we learn along the way is part of our life luggage and every now and then we take them out and put it to use. Apart from trigonometry. I’ve never used that in my life. [Laughs.]

Paste: Yeah, I’m with you there! Have you ever thought about adding “designer” to your list of titles? Ever considered starting a label of your own?

Filipe: [Laughs.] I believe that to add that to my resume I’d have to be actually designing, which I am not. I haven’t touched a sewing machine in years. [Laughs.] But there are so many different things I want to do. A label would be great. I do have loads of ideas for one, but I prefer to focus on the photography and F Word at the moment. Who knows? Maybe in the future I’ll join forces with another creative and start a label.

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Paste: Do you have any designers you currently like working with most?

Filipe: In London, I would definitely say Alex Mullins, Chin Men’s and Daniel Fletcher. A lot of my work is Men’s since I tend to work with menswear designers a lot more than women’s; I do love Rejina Pyo and Phoebe English though. In New York, Pyer Moss and Public School are my favorites.

Paste: For our readers who are looking to get more familiar with stylists, photographers and their works, are there any publications or websites you would suggest to them?

Filipe: Hmm, oh gosh. There are so many! I think it really depends on the type of aesthetic you are looking for, but my favorite publications at the moment are Sicky Magazine, Coeval, Client and Teeth. They are very experimental and have strong aesthetics. I have way too many that I follow and like, but those are the first that come to mind.

Paste: Finally, what do you love most about your career so far?

Filipe: Oh, the people I’ve met, for sure. I have made many friends and I’m always meeting new people who have a lot of talent and uniqueness to add to my life. And I hope I can do the same for them.

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Brent Taalur Ramsey is an American fashion journalist based in Paris, where he spends his free time cycling around the City of Light and adding to his collection of books and tea. Follow him on Instagram or at BrentTaalur.com.