It's been said that the man makes the clothes, not the clothes that make the man, but local stylist Chiara Solloa thinks that's only half the story.
"You can be anybody if you're wearing the right clothes," Solloa says. "It makes you feel a certain way, and that's what I love about it."
For more than 20 years, she's helped set the right look on models, actors, and musicians for everything from spreads to music videos. She was recently recognized as a top player in the field by fashion author Luanne McLean in her book Contemporary Fashion Stylists, she's about to launch a new style blog, and she recently gave birth to her first child.
All pretty impressive stuff, but for Solloa, it's just part of the program. Being a professional stylist is way deeper than just shopping for and picking out great clothes. You've got to be your own accountant and manager. You've got increasing pressures to manage social media accounts and balance an online presence as well as your budget. Plus, you've got total clothing choice for hair and make-up, even little details like lighting.
By now, Solloa is a highly-sought after professional, having worked BMW to Bacardi, Lupe Fiasco to Robin Thicke and Jennifer Lopez, just to name a few. But success doesn't come overnight.
Born and raised in South Beach, her whole family was involved in the fashion industry in one way or another. Her grandmother was a couture designer, always making her Barbie's custom looks. Her uncles were master tailors, and her mother was a clothing buyer. Her first styling job came when she dressed her school's stage presentation of Cinderella.
She didn't immediately jump into that world, instead studying painting throughout grade school. When it was time for college, she applied that skill toward being a make-up artist, because all she knew was she didn't want to be a barista making chump change. That line of worked proved frustrating before too long.
"When I'd receive the editorials and I flipped through these pages, I'd be so disappointed sometimes I'd be like 'I can't put this in my book,'" she says. "The color is off. It just doesn't look right with the dress It's not accessorized properly. At that time, I was only handling the face and the hair and that made me want to have a little more creative control."
When she was 19, she made the leap. She approached photographers and asked that next time, why don't they just let her put some looks together and see if she couldn't fill the role of on-set stylist. They gave her a shot, and it worked out, but that doesn't mean it came easy.
For years, she learned things the hard way; how to properly handle and alter borrowed items so you don't end up owing hundreds of dollars, how to correctly liaison between client and director so you get the right lighting without telling the model she looks terrible, how to manage your finances so you're not dead-broke in the off season and can finally move out of your parent's house in your mid-20s.
"There's a lot to it," Solloa says, "You're almost dedicated to that artist. Wherever they go, you go. Whatever they do, at whatever time they need you, you have to be available, and you're always, constantly working."
It took Solloa years of trial and error to get all that under her belt, and as a self-taught professional, many of those lessons came the hard way.
"You're not going to learn everything overnight. It's going to take some time," she says. "If you could find a mentor so you could learn by watching somebody else, that would be phenomenal. I didn't have that opportunity, and I made a lot of mistakes."
Not that she's complaining. All the hard work and wrong turns led her to living her dream.
"I think that there was not another option for me," she says. "I remember growing up as a kid and saying 'I want to get paid to be me. Is that so difficult?'"
Actually, Solloa thinks that hardship is unavoidable, to a degree. She's very encouraging of young people getting into the business, as long as they are ready for the road ahead.
"I'm very positive, I always tell my interns my assistants anything is possible, you could be whatever you want to be, but I like to let them know the insight of what I do," she says. "Sometimes I get girls that really think they want to be a stylist, but when they realize the schlepping that goes into it (they think again). You've kind of got to be the fly on the wall sometimes. When you're with a client you can't say certain things you have to listen and be quiet."
While the world of fashion seems glamorous all around, styling is not the business of being a star but creating them. That's why Solloa was so shocked and just as nervous as she was grateful when McLean contacted her about being included in Contemporary Fashion Stylists. The weirdest part was turning the camera on herself and getting a taste of her own medicine.
"I'm a behind-the-scenes person, so this was me styling myself and setting up an auto-timer in my building's lounge," she says of her included headshot. "I just think it's harder to style myself, because I know things about my body that I might not like."
It wasn't all awkward pictures. It's hard to get a judgement of yourself from within the crazy professional world, and it wasn't until she was reached by a stranger that she took stalk of her accomplishments and really let it all sink in.
"It made me think about what I've done and go into my work," she says. "I felt like 'oh my god, I just knocked something off my bucket list. I'm in a book!'"
Bucket list accomplishment achieved or not, the job is never over. With all her 20 plus years of experience, Solloa is a student. Increasingly, the business is moving online, and the feeling of behind behind the scenes is quickly becoming a thing of the past.
"I started looking at people like Rachel Zoe and I like what she's accomplished," Salloa says. "She's become a brand and she actually gives people direction and knowledge about fashion and tips and also she's really embraced the whole online thing. That's the future."
Hey, if anyone can do it, it's Solloa.
"I see bloggers now that don't know anything about fashion," she says. "They really don't have experience as a stylist, but yet they have an immense following because they blog about fashion."
Juggling career and motherhood is no easy task for anyone, but Solloa still finds time to push her horizons. Toward these new goals, she's paired with long-time friend and associate Jasmine Sais Burgess, a model in the business with just as many years below her belt as Solloa, to create the site saisandsolloa.tumblr.com.
"She wears the clothes, and I style. Together, I think we're going to be able to offer people a space where they're going to see unique pieces," she says. "We're not catering our clothes that we choose to be on the site just for small people. We really want to tap every demographic, because there are things that everybody - different shapes, sizes, ages - wants to wear, and they might now know or be afraid. We want to expose them to that."
And that's not all. A voraciously productive self-made woman such as Solloa never slows down, and she one day hopes to design her own line of fashionable children's clothes, obviously inspired by the lack of quality options when dressing her son.
"Old Navy has some great stuff that's affordable and then Zara," she says. "Those two are pretty cool, so I want to do something in the middle there, and then also inspired by the time I've spent in Japan. In Japan kids' clothes are wicked. It's so dope, like mini hip, cool kids."
Solloa will always push herself, because sharing fashion with the masses and making people feel good in their own skin is not just her job, it's her true passion.
"Fashion to me is art. It's like a live sculpture," she says, and just like any artist, how successful you are depends on how much you put yourself out there, take risks, and take control. "Experiment and work with people, network. Get out there and introduce yourself as a stylist. Say you want to be a stylist and you're looking to style or you're interested in fashion and network and get with models and up and coming photographers, and just make it happen."
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But above all, Solloa wants people to stop thinking they have to leave the beautiful place that made her who she is. After all, without Miami, she can't be sure where she'd be.
"Miami is not just a resort vacation destination," she says. "We have mad talented people here, and I hate it when people think that in order to be a successful stylist -- or anything -- that you have to be out of New York or LA. No, we stand on our own, and you know what? Miami's got big things happening and popping. We're going to be the cutting edge newest city. I mean, have you seen downtown? You can't even be any prouder."