Sissy Sainte-Marie is an LA-based stylist and part of the indie LA-design scene that include Shaina Mote, Jesse Kamm, Raquel Allegra, Baserange, Objects Without Meaning – that are taking over with their interesting, fashion forward designs in wearable fabric. On my radar for awhile, Sainte-Marie has an eclectic portfolio that is a product of a willingness to learn in this industry. Having switched over to full time stylist just three years ago, she got where she is in a short time by saying yes and a lot of hard work. Incredibly valuable qualities in fashion. Her work has been featured in Dossier, SOMA, Lucky, and The Dreslyn.
How did you get into styling? How many years have you been a stylist?
I assisted a stylist about 15 years ago. I was super small-town and insecure and not equipped to work freelance. I took a safer route and taught elementary school for 10 years. It was the most soul-crushing work I’ve ever done. I felt like a caged animal. I married the most amazing man who insisted I quit teaching and nurture my creative side. We made some music together and that eventually led me back to styling.
Has your career trajectory changed as the role of stylist has evolved in the past few years?
I’ve only been a stylist for 3 years, so it’s hard to say.
You have a range of experience from Kylie Jenner in Miss Vogue to Soma Magazine – how does the styling process vary between commercial and indie editorials?
When I first started styling, I had to do test shoots to build a portfolio. Most of the early work I did was with my husband, photographer Eddie Chacon. We started (photography & styling) at the same time. We would shoot guerilla-style in LA destinations like the zoo and Chinatown and always have to be super sneaky and often got kicked out of places. It was a hilarious adventure. At that time I was sourcing and selling vintage and pulled from my own shop for shoots, and Goodwill. One time I made a head piece with a filing contraption from Office Max. I would go to DSW and get 3 seasons old diffusion brands shoes. Lots of buy and returns at mall shops. Anyway, I just spun it in my own way and Eddie would pitch the stories to magazines we liked. Surprisingly, magazines like Dossier, Oyster and SOMA posted the stories as online editorials, so right away we were getting published by decent publications. After a couple years of trail by fire, I had an opportunity to assist huge stylist Panos Yiapanis on a shoot with Mert & Marcus. I knew I had so much to learn, so at age 39 I humbly volunteered to be 4th assistant on an Armani campaign. And a few months later I assisted Fran Burns for a week on 5 shoots she did for Vogue UK in LA. From that, Fran recommended me for the Kylie Jenner shoot when Miss Vogue need a stylist for her in LA.
The process is very very different. I paid so many dues begging local designers to loan me their samples for indie magazines, and bugging NY showrooms to send me stuff, I’m still paying off shipping charges on my VISA, but I’m so grateful to everyone who ever gave me the time of day. Now, if I style a celebrity for a big magazine, I just have to make my selections and boxes and trunks of the latest, most beautiful collections are delivered to my door and then picked up by a courier the day after the shoot. It’s a different set of pressures, but I love both.
Your portfolio is one of the strongest and most interesting I’ve seen for awhile – do you have a preference on types of jobs? Lookbooks vs editorials vs personal appearances?
Thank you for saying that. I love doing lookbooks and editorials. Getting to work for The Dreslyn in 2014 was ideal. Having all these great labels at my fingertips and working with the in-house photographer at the time, Emman Montalvan really helped round out my portfolio. The owner, Brook, was super generous about giving us free creative control and that’s always nice to gel creatively so much with a client that they trust your vision and abilities.
Are a lot of your clients friends?
They usually become friends. I came to styling as a total outsider. I didn’t have any friends in fashion 3 years ago. The other day Shaina Mote, referred to me as the mother hen of the LA lady designers. Ha ha ha, I do love being supportive and helpful
Being based in LA – what is the best part of this designer culture for you?
The common thread with the LA designers I like is that they make clothes that feel good to wear. All year round. Just because we live in a tourist destination, we don’t have to dress like tourists. Designers like Jesse Kamm for example make these canvas and cotton staples with a fashion-forward silhouette and a laid-back intelligence that you can wear anytime, anywhere. I don’t like precious clothes. I need to bend and schlepp, perspire and eat bbq and throw stuff in the wash. But I can’t bear to dress conventionally casual.
Favorite project to date?
Every new project is my favorite project.
Many stylists are teaming up with brands and launching collaborations or launching their own brands – do you have any interest in this?
It is literally all I think about. I’m thinking a lot about Woody Allen’s interiors lately and how I want to make a collection based on that movie. I want to wear all those colors.
Who would be your dream brand collaborator?
I don’t know….hmmmm…I think it would be a riot to breathe new life into an old American sportswear or ready-to-wear line like Esprit, Liz Claiborne, Perry Ellis, Geoffrey Beene, but do it as a capsule or pop-up with Opening Ceremony.
At the moment, who are your go-to designers for work? For personal?
For work I like to wear Desiree Klein and Baserange. For personal I wear Shaina Mote, OWM, Kieley Kimmel, Sydney Brown shoes.
You have an amazing name – so regal sounding- is it your real name?
My sister named me Sissy when she was a baby so that was my nickname. I was teaching elementary school when I started performing in a band and I wanted an alias. I chose Sainte-Marie because I liked Buffy Sainte-Marie’s style at the time. Teaching was not my calling but being Sissy Sainte-Marie was, and by the time I was styling, the name had taken over.