It’s no surprise that the fashion industry is changing, the traditional 9-to-5 job is a thing of the past and becoming your own boss is a thing of the future! Introducing Rachel Wirkus, celebrity stylist and fashion consultant. Rachel was ahead of the curve when it came to living the freelance life, in fact, she’s never gone on a traditional interview or even had a 9-to-5 job. Ever since she was young, Rachel has been organizing her friends wardrobes and styling them for special occasions, so it only makes sense that she’s now the stylist to Victoria’s Secret angels including Devon Windsor and Candice Swanepoel, just to name a few. Rachel also runs her own closet organization business, which has a pretty impressive clientele; does Kate Bosworth, Rosie Huntington Whiteley, or Julianne Moore ring a bell? And did we mention, Rachel just launched her own swimwear line made for real women? Yes, she really does it all! Read below as Rachel brings us into her world and shares her tips and tricks for Making it in Manhattan.
Growing up, did you always have an interest in the fashion industry?
I have always loved fashion. Ever since I was a young girl, I knew that I wanted to be involved in some way in the industry. My stepdad and his family owned a sportswear brand growing up, so I had the opportunity to observe the inner workings of this fascinating world.
After graduating college, what inspired you to for-go the traditional 9-to-5 route and pursue the freelance life?
It sort of just happened. I never had a 9-to-5 job and I don't think I ever will. With that being said, being a freelancer means that one is flexible to make their own hours, but you are never really off the clock, you need to be constantly on call.
What was your first styling job out of college and how did it impact your career?
It was not my first styling job out of college, but it is one that I will never forget. I was assisting on an ELLE cover shoot with Kate Bosworth. We were set up in a motor home, since the shoot took place in the middle of the desert. It was scalding hot, but the people, the clothes and the pictures were incredible, a true feast for the senses. I knew then that I was in the right place. I love what I do!
What was the biggest rookie mistake you made when just starting out?
Not sure that it is a “rookie” mistake, because I repeat it to this day! I like to have an excessive amount of options on projects, so I often end up pulling five times the amount of pieces we actually need! It is not until we actually start hauling the stuff that I realize I went overkill. Once. More.
What did you wear to your first interview?
I have to say that I have never been on what most people would consider an “interview”, at least not a typical one. The closest to it would be when I met the first stylist I worked for. I dressed in a casual – yet stylish –outfit, with a couple of striking accessories.
Industry secret: stylists dress very comfortably on the job, as the work can be very physical. The important thing is making others look good, not looking prim and proper 24/7 yourself!
Who have been your biggest mentors in the industry and what is the best advice they have ever given you?
My two past bosses, Tara Swennen and Cher Coulter are two people that have definitely impacted my life and my career now and I will be forever grateful for the experience I acquired by their side. Their advice and trust in me was priceless.
Elizabeth Saltzman is another woman who I became friends with through styling. She is such an inspiring woman; she truly cares about lifting other people up and helping them grow. I feel like you don't come across many people like this these days. I want to be more like her!
What has been your proudest moment in your styling career thus far?
This is a hard one! I would have to say, the day I launched Formes, my swimwear line was my proudest! Seeing all my hard work pay off and giving women confidence in how they look on the beach provides me with a great sense of satisfaction.
Though I am sure no two jobs are the same, could you tell us what goes into styling a celebrity for a major red carpet event?
You’re completely right that no two jobs are the same, but the preparation process of getting a client ready for a red carpet event is: it starts with figuring out the look that he or she would like to achieve for that particular event. Then we proceed with pulling the pieces for the fitting. At the fitting we pick the look and accessorize. A tailor is there to fit the look. On the day of the red carpet it's hair and make up time, then they get dressed in the look and the final touches are added, before they step out onto the red carpet!
Aside from styling, you recently launched your swim line Forms, how would you say your career as a stylist impacted your line?
Being a stylist, you get to touch and see a lot of clothing. You really get to experience first hand what's out there and what is needed. You also get to work with a lot of different body types. This allows you to see how things fit and what can be changed to fit them better. This gave me great insight to my line. InStyle recently picked us as Best Support Bikini, which proved to me that all that hands-on experience to find the best fit for women of all shapes and sizes paid off.
What aspects of your past do you feel helped you become a successful businesswoman?
My family always had an incredible work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit, which gave me the confidence to start off my own businesses. I have always believed that if you have innovative ideas and work hard you will always ultimately find success.
As someone who really does it all, where do you hope to see yourself five to ten years down the road?
I hope to grow the team working with me and further diversify the styling services that we provide, both in scope and geography. We currently style in New York, all of the West Coast and London, but I believe that there is a need for good styling in less obvious places.
I also hope that I will be able to manage my work in a way to allow me for a balanced family life, which is very important to me.
What advice would you give to aspiring stylists hoping to make it in the industry?
Never give up! It's a very tough and competitive industry, especially now with the domination of social media. There is a lot of noise around you, but remember that keeping your focus and working hard will inevitably see you through. Whenever hurdles seem overwhelming, remember what they say: it is always darkest before dawn!
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