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.
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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."