To a casual observer, it often feels as though designers and photographers get the lion’s share of the credit for a killer runway show or an iconic fashion image. But as those in the know (and anyone who’s seen The September Issue) can attest, equal credit should go to the stylists behind fashion’s most memorable moments, whether it’s a Dior couture extravaganza, a Tim Walker editorial, a Marc Jacobs ad campaign, a Tom Scott look book or a pregnant Demi Moore immortalized on the cover of Vanity Fair. In every case, the look you see was shaped by a stylist - even if the subject in question was naked save for some strategically placed diamonds.
Hence "The Style Story," a new column on TFI designed to showcase the incredibly talented, creative and hard working stylists who make our fashion dreams a reality.
First up: Keegan Singh. Known for his sleek, sexy, rock-n'-roll aesthetic - and jet-black, cockscomb 'do - Keegan does editorial work for Vogue, Teen Vogue, Love, Dossier Journal, Purple, Interview and The Last Magazine; advertising assignments for Target, Rock & Republic and Visa; videos for SHOWstudio and Visionaire; and he styles the runway shows of up-and-comers like Jen Kao, working with some of the best models, designers and photographers in the industry.
Simultaneously laid back and funny as a fuck, Keegan hails from rural Northern California, the son of a rice farmer father and artist mother. He moved to New York at 17 and got his start as a model, later working as a publicist at KCD before becoming one of the most sought after stylists in the industry. Of course, it didn't hurt that he cut his teeth assisting Lori Goldstein, Tabitha Simmons, Katie Grand and Camilla Nickerson.
"I've worked with some amazing people," Keegan, 32, told The Fashion Informer's Lauren David Peden when we caught up with him at the minimalist Chelsea apartment that he shares with Eddie Borgo, his jewelry designer boyfriend, which the couple has painted all white (including the huge standing mirror and TV), like a Martin Margiela boutique.
On the day we met, Keegan was scheduled to pull clothes from Lost Art for upcoming shoots featuring Lauren Santo Domingo (for Borgo's spring 2010 poster campaign) and model Natasha Vojnovic (for issue four of The Last Magazine, the cool, beautifully designed fashion/art/culture broadsheet helmed by his pals Magnus Berger and Tenzin Wild).
But first, he gave us a peek at the inspiration boards in his office, which featured a photo of Edie Sedgwick c. 1966 by Nat Finkelstein, a shot of Brancusi's studio, a spiky Tom Binns bangle, iconic images of David Bowie, Penelope Tree, Richard Hell, Kurt Cobain and Siouxsie Sioux, a 3-D paper ribcage, and an Egon Schiele self-portrait. Clearly, "skin and bones" is not merely a euphemism in Keegan's world, it's the Platonic ideal.
"Last season I put up actual pictures from the shows and stuff like that, but this season I decided to be inspired by what I always like," confided Keegan, who is famous for his pared-down sensibility as a stylist and his pared-down personal wardrobe (which consists of skintight black Trash & Vaudeville jeans and well-worn punk rock tees paired with carefully selected pieces from Rick Owens, Stubbs & Wootton and Balenciaga). "So I'm sticking to my guns and we'll see how that works." Between drags on his ever-present Marlboro Light, the stick-thin stylist walked us through his spring 2010 idea books, three-ring binders containing notes for savage-, cape-, and art studio-themed stories.
"It's good to have visual imagery to help illustrate what I'm talking about when I speak to a photographer or someone like [Interview Creative Director] Karl Templer, otherwise I sound kind of crazy," he said with a laugh while flipping past a shot of a girl in a Mark Fast skirt and another with a sheer curtain draped over her head to eerie, ghostlike effect. "I want to show that I bring ideas to the table - and I get really excited about this kind of stuff."
He was also excited about the Karen Walker look book shoot he was doing the following month ("the theme is sun gods so Eddie helped me make these wood headdresses that I'm going to spray paint gold") and a Teen Vogue shoot in which he'd be styling a "real girl" as they're known in the biz. "It's a snapshot of some teen who won a contest. She's 17 and she's so excited. I love working with teens; I get along really well with them."
What was the biggest misconception about being a stylist?
"Honestly, it's a schlep job, and you really, really have to love it, otherwise most people would say you're insane," he replied. "Yeah, there are times where I'm looking pretty at a party getting my picture taken. But there are more times where I look like a train wreck and I'm packing up a box to go back to Europe myself with no assistants, filling out FedEx forms, and I haven't eaten anything all day. So it's not that glamorous sometimes, it's hard work. But if it wasn't it'd be kind of boring. I think you have to work hard, otherwise what's the fucking point?"
On the way to Lost Art, we discussed the biggest difference between styling for an established magazine like Teen Vogue and an indie publication. "Working with Teen Vogue is a little more formulaic. I'm not shooting anybody in a stark black dress or some crazy punk rock outfit; it's a little bit more mainstream," he said. "And on some level it has to be aspirational; it's not Looks for Less. The most creative things I've done have been for The Last Magazine or Visionaire. Anywhere I'm kind of let free to do my own thing is always exciting to me."
That's not to say it always works out exactly as planned. "In the beginning of my career I made a ton of mistakes," Keegan admitted. "And there's time's where I'll do a shoot and it's totally my idea and I don't have to pull any credits but the model doesn't look right or something, and it's just kind of like...fuuuck. You know, it happens. But that's ok. Cause if you don't take those chances; if you don't do those shoots, then you never learn as a stylist and you don't grow as one, either."
At Lost Art, he pulled several alligator jackets and skinny lace-up leather pants for "the LSD" (aka, Lauren Santo Domingo), flipping through the racks with a practiced efficiency. As we strolled back to his office, we asked Keegan what it was he liked about being a stylist.
"I love being part of making an iconic image," he replied without hesitation. "I really want to make cool images that will look really good today and five years from today. And I love doing market work, looking at other people's stuff, feeling the clothes, talking to designers..."
He took a drag on his cigarette and pondered a poster for Pedro Almodovar's Broken Embraces as we waited for the light to change on 23rd Street. "I just love being part of a super creative team - and I get to make stuff and I can have people make stuff for me. Like, The Last Magazine shoot we did with the Rodarte pieces, I wanted to make it look special and thought, 'how am I gonna make these clothes look different?' So I put silver tape all around the boot straps, and I put a ribcage on Abbey Lee. We did all this stuff and it worked - it looked cool!"
You will, however, see a black rubber kimono and black rubber sheets, at least judging by The Last Magazine shoot we attended at Milk Studios a few weeks later, in which Keegan was styling a nearly naked Natasha V, who was slated to be painted by artist Nicolas Pol and shot by photographer Tom Allen.
"Keegan's been involved [in The Last Magazine] from the very beginning when we started to talk about the idea," Tenzin told us while everyone milled about getting ready. "We actually did our very first shoot with him - that black-and-white story with Martin Lidell - and he's worked on every issue so far. It's fun because he understands what we want and it's an interesting collaboration. And some ideas, like this one, just happen by chance. We go out and we see a band or an art exhibit and think, 'wow that's cool, let's do something.' So that's kind of how we roll."
Keegan gave some instructions to his assistants, George Verger and Genevieve Espangman, then walked us through the racks of sexy little nothings from Kiki De Montparnasse and Agent Provocateur with pieces from Jen Kao, Tom Ford, Phillip Lim, Victor Glemaud, Tim Hamilton, Martin Margiela and Acne thrown into the mix alongside a Lost Art alligator skin jacket that hadn't been used on the LSD/Eddie Borgo shoot and the aforementioned rubber items, which Keegan had custom made for this story by Tableaux Vivants Design, a brand new latex-done-luxe label from Sonia Agostino and Nicole Jordan. For jewelry, he'd opted for the heavy metal designs of Eddie Borgo, Gregg Wolf, Delfina Delletrez and Cara Croninger.
"Keegan's work is a mixture of different things and different cultures," enthused Natasha V while perusing the rails of latex-n'-lingerie. "It's unique, rock 'n roll and modern, with a touch of Goth. Very cool and sexy - and it's always something you haven't seen. Like before, people would use rubber for sex games, but he's going to make it into a piece of fashion and now people will look at it in a new way."
George ran out to fetch a Rodarte look Keegan had requested ("number 16") while makeup artist Osvaldo Salvateirra sang his colleague's praises. "What does Keegan bring to a shoot? He brings personality and his Northern California vision of chic," said Osvaldo. "Keegan's just fun. You know, there's a lot of stylists that you don't want to spend all day with, but Keegan, you do."
Keegan, for his part, was genuinely happy to once again be working with his friends on a purely creative endeavor. "I pretty much get to do what I want - it's total freedom - and we all get to work together," he said with glee as Magnus and Tenzin huddled over a computer screen in Milk's second floor lounge while waiting for the photographer's assistants to finish setting up. "We had lunch after Fashion Week and decided to do something art-based and really out there, so it's exciting when it all actually coalesces."
And with that, he leapt up to greet a late arrival ("Hey Daniel! What's up, sugar daddy?") then disappeared back into the studio, a blur of black-and-white stripes and good, Cali-chic vibes.
The Last Magazine spring issue will hit stands in March. In the meantime, here's a look at some of Keegan's past work.