Ok, so one day I find myself surfing photographers and photography sites and come across this really beautiful fashion portfolio and follow a bunch of links until I discover by accident because I wasn’t looking for it the agent’s address of the photo stylist who handled the shoot and quickly got in touch. I don’t know anyone who makes a living as a photo stylist and thought it might be interesting to find out what makes a person tick who sets up shots and coordinates the parties to it, when all the pictures I ever take are on the run and there’s no one around to make sure the makeup is just right, there aren’t any wrinkles in the blouse, no hair blowing the wrong way, no scuffed shoes, no … well, you get the picture. That’s how we happened to get in touch with Sarah Ellison Lewis, the New Yorker from Anderson, a small town in Texas near Houston, who works with some of the top photographers in the business, and whose client roster includes Helm Handmade Boots, Nizoni Handbags, Intermix, Barney’s, Pepsi, Target ….
It’s Sarah’s job to make sure that after you’ve read enough magazines and seen enough advertising and fashion shots to make your eyes tear up, her photos are not the ones that turn the spigot on. Think about it. What’s it take to make everyone look good, from the fashion designer to the model to the photographer and set designer? Well, imagine pulling a Blanc de Bouscat out of a pill box hat.
Lewis’ target market for her services are “as a key consultant, styling, producing and art-directing fashion and accessory editorial and commercial stories and campaigns with exciting teams.” Sounds like standard resumé fare, but in this case backed up with a track record of accomplishments from the Music business to Fashion to Television and Film. Is this a sales pitch? Maybe. But seeing is believing, so have a look.
Q&A with Sarah E. Lewis:
Q: Do you have formal training?
SEL: No, all self-taught and experience. I do have a journalism degree, which has helped me immensely to manage magazine wells.
Q: When did you move to NY?
Q: How old were you when you started?
Russ Harrington Photo
Q: What got you into styling?
SEL: It’s all I ever dreamed of doing. My mom is this amazing creative, always collecting weird, beautiful, dramatic things. I remember she put me in pantaloons for church. And her hats were so huge, completely out of the ordinary for our little Texas town in 1980. She instilled this incredible sense of connection with clothing and accessories in me. I started collecting VOGUE around age 6, and was pasting pictures of Linda Evangelista on my walls. I remembered these little credits on-page like “sittings editor.” I just couldn’t believe someone got to dress the models up. It was my greatest dream for myself, and still is.
Q: Who was/is your mentor/person you most look up to?
SEL: My father was my greatest personal influence. He’s sort of this cross between John Wayne and Clark Kent. He is this incredible self-made Texas rancher. His virtues, value system, and sense of family make up my every fiber. I was raised getting up with the sun, taking care of animals. To this day, my work ethic influences my ability to do a great job, and that’s because he demanded it from me. He’s the guy who insists upon opening doors for women, he’s always picking up tabs, seeing what’s important, and striving to be generous. He’s the greatest person I’ve ever known. There’s nothing I treasure more about myself, than my roots.
Marcia Gay Harden, Thaddeus Harden Photo
Q: What was your big break?
SEL: I styled Marcia Gay Harden for a feature story, and we fell for each other. A year later I was following her to Portugal, dressing her onstage with Morgan Freeman. She’s probably the most remarkable, strongest, larger-than-life woman I have ever known. She’s truly a movie star, in life, with her family, and with her heart. We are great friends, though she’s incredibly busy and has a big, growing family
Q: What is your favorite style/era of hair/makeup/clothes?
SEL: Absolutely a cross between the Victorian era / turn of the century, and the roaring 20’s and 30’s, swing era. When patina and grandiose details were a daily way of life. That to me was when time stopped. I always twist it a little to have a little macabre touch. The darkness and swaying shadowy time of the Victorian women I still can’t believe happened one hundred years ago.
Q: How would you describe your personal/professional aesthetic?
SEL: Everyone has an equation for getting dressed, whether they know it or not. Mine is what I call a reverse triangle – dramatic sleeves and silhouettes weighted on the top, usually a very slim leg, a very odd tall shoe. Some would say it’s modern 40’s. For me its simply comfortable. I wear more black than I am proud of. But I surprisingly don’t keep a lot of clothes or stuff in my life. I like very select, pristine pieces. I am completely obsessed with being an editor. I can’t even have an extra glass in my cupboard that I don’t adore or need.
Intermix, Photo by Trevor Owsley
Q: What are your biggest strengths?
SEL: Strengths – well, I am very strong. I simply can endure a lot. I can communicate well. I am haunted by my skillset – by colors and textures. I think this is a strength. And I think I am very thoughtful and compassionate, almost to a fault. I put others first and sometimes forget about what “fair” means, in a lot of relationships. I overdo it for the people I work for a care about. Typical Scorpio.
Q: Why do you love what you do?
SEL: There’s nothing more wonderful than making a person feel amazing, and having them come to life, via the editorial concepts we can create with garments and accessories. These mediums are an incredible tool to enrich life. They are truly an art form, and I am elated I am an artist in this medium.
Q: What five words best describe you?
SEL: Passionate, Intense, Dramatic, Transparent, Fearless.
Q: What/who inspires you?
SEL: My favorite revolutionaries are people who are communicative, kind, visionaries. They strive to be aware of those around them, to have a strong moral fiber, and they love what they do. Johnny Depp, and Tim Burton. Anything they do. Grace Coddington, Artists including Marlene Dumas and Julie Speed. The photographs of Paolo Raversi and Ellen von Unwerth. Designers like Rick Owens, Miuccia Prada, anything by Givency and Gianfranco Ferre.
Angela Kohler, copyright Allison Moorer
Q: Where do you live now?
SEL: The West Village, and I keep an amazing little pied a terre in Austin, Texas, where I catch my breath, and connect with God and family.
SEL: I am plenty to handle in this lifetime, so far. My immediate family in Texas includes my brother and sister and their five babies, and my Godchild, Ellison.
Q: And in your spare time?
SEL: I also take pictures, very simple black and white photography. And I work in the darkroom a lot, printing my own images, just for me.
Q: How would you put it all together?
SEL: Stylists physically choose, gather and put clothing on models, actors and celebrities. We are truly market editors – we wade through tons of product everyday and match our clients’ needs with what’s in the market.
Jeffrey Westbrook Photo
By Sarah Ellison Lewis, Stylist-turned-shoe-guru
Built in 1914 during the Mediterranean Revival, Hotel Havana has historic-building status, and boy does it know it. The design radiates old-world elegance, with interiors featuring exposed brick, hardwood floors, chandeliers, blue and pink-tinted glass doors and the kind of vintage furnishings you’d expect in a Hemingway novel.
And by the way, I’ve got a thing for Ernest Hemingway. An iconic world traveler, I love that in the Thirties he lived on and off in a Cuban hotel. Hoping to channel his salty wanderlust, I arrive wide-eyed at Hotel Havana. Strolling through the doors, I imagine I am such a writer, wearing a fedora and long linen caftan, with a long, brown hand-rolled cigarette dancing off the corner of my mouth. If only I could park myself and my manual typewriter at Ocho – the mostly maritime-blue lounge that’s edged with a garage door – lean over on its Riverwalk-parallel bar, and contemplate local life.
Or I could just take a seat on one of the low, mismatched couches and wait for my people. Just as I’m tucking into the night’s special of pan-Latin salmon risotto with chorizo a few friends surprise me. After a few stellar, lovingly concocted margaritas (each adorned with large luscious disk of lime), we shuffle down to the decadent basement bar, which was a dusty cigar lounge until owner Liz Lambert sauced it up with specialty Cuban coffee and handmade chocolates.
With the bravado of a world-respected author, I befriend bartender Hector, who takes care of us, darting from the tiny main bar to our long nook table, spoiling us with drinks and desserts. Lucky for us, the Ocho menu can be a true nightcap in the sultry basement. Though I am channeling a swarthy man more than a sweets-loving girl on this trip, the fried churros with lemon curd and a little mug of café con leche could make any gal giggle. No wonder this classic speakeasy-style watering hole is a favourite Riverwalk haunt. Bathed in candlelight, the vintage leather armchairs and sofas can’t help but encourage close conversation and clandestine whispers.
An original dark-wood staircase, lined with a regal red runner, leads up to Havana’s ravishingly retro bedrooms. Glowing from tequila, I shimmy up the wide, pine floors (sourced from Bastrop, a town east of Austin), which creak under my boots. In my room, I am surrounded by easy decor – timeless, simple, heavy in scale and weight, including a large brass bed with crisp white linens. I have to remind myself I am not on a Cuban art history tour, painting a portrait of Che Guevara in a class, taking a break to enjoy an icy TopoChico.
Soothing pastel soft furnishings do little to stop me from sleeping like a cartoon character. Solo for this stay, the arrival of breakfast is as good a wake-up call as any. The kitchen nails the scramble – that magic that happens when the eggs welcome in the butter like an old friend. And they are folded, not chopped. Though my beans arrive cold, they pack plenty of flavour. (I’ve eaten beans out of a can on many adventures, so this surprise is one to fortify my adventurous spirit, not thwart it.)
Simple pleasures delight me most… unless they are accessories. My costume for the day is especially festive, and I layer on a hand-beaded collar from Tibet the size of a salad plate. It’s a perfectly easy and grand way to celebrate the ethnic and rustic details of San Antonio, are this stylist’s sentiments.
Plans for this Texan weekend are simple – it’s a getaway with like-minded folks, just 75 miles from home in Austin. The hotel clerk recommends a cool place to shop for furniture, so I dart to the West Hildebrand Avenue’s vintage trove and find a great set of distressed club chairs for a steal. Craving comfort lunch and a good bit of charm, I set off for the old Liberty Bar, then remember that its owners vacated their crooked house setting. Instead I choose Josephine Street Café (where I have what may be one of the best chicken sandwiches of my life), and post-shopping victory chow-down, I retreat to my room for a siesta.
My quiet Havana quarters are a great place to practice meditation. Wooden shutters closed, I sit quietly, reflecting on the lucky ones who came before me in this little 27-room world. Did they, too, channel Papa Hemingway? More likely, they ended up smitten with Liz Lambert. Her refreshing approach to hospitality sets new Texan standards for a warm heart and keen mind.
Packing up, I realise I’ve neglected to inspect the retro minibar. Is that a knitted monkey staring out at me from the snacks? Will he mind if I take the spicy nuts? And there’s also a beautiful postcard to swipe. My stay at this Riverwalk retreat may not have had me pen my own epic novel, but I have enjoyed experiencing a chapter of modern history laced with discovery. And that’s definitely worth writing home about.
FAVORITE THINGS: SARAH ELLISON LEWISCREATIVE CONTENT STRATEGIST, MATERIAL.COMBY KRISTIN BUTLER | PHOTOS BY JESSICA PAGES 4
Published: July 1, 2016
Style maven Sarah Ellison Lewis wears many hats, and even more shoes. A self-described “Tex-pat” since 2003, the Anderson, Texas, native splits her time between Austin and New York City, where she serves all kinds of clientele with her expertise in styling, art direction, photography, digital media content and more. Lewis has worked with notable brands including Vogue Japan, Victoria’s Secret, Barneys New York, Conde Nast Digital Studios, HBO and Sony Records. One of the original innovators of mobile retail in the capital city, she began selling designer, high-fashion and vintage shoes out of a 1968 Airstream trailer, dubbed Bootleg Airstream, in 2012, and the following year she expanded with Bootleg Market, an online global shoe re-commerce company. (The Airstream is now closed indefinitely, while the online market is temporarily shelved to undergo a redesign.) In her new role at material.com, an Austin-based, free e-commerce platform for budding and aspiring business owners, Lewis is helping others build their online shops and curate content through the site’s branding templates that offer seamless checkout experiences. “I’m so about empowering individuals to live their dreams via our digital revolution,” she says. Here are a few of her favorite things.
Laurence Dacade patchwork denim Merli boots
This boot is so rare; there may be only a few dozen pairs in the world. I carried the designer in my store before she was all the rage. She’s Parisian and designed for Chanel before breaking out on her own.
All of this dealer’s pieces he commissions and has made. He knows the artisans and travels back and forth from Marrakech to New York City.
Turkish patchwork pillowcases
They are the same wholesalers to ABC Carpet & Home in New York City. No, I won’t reveal who they are! I found them on a treasure hunt.
Staub black cast iron skillet with brass hardware braising
It’s Julia Child meets Kent Rollins.
Axel Vervoordt design books
He’s brilliant, with an incredible eye for desaturation and textures and scale.
I bought it when I first moved to New York City, and I wore it to my meetings at Vogue. I won’t ever get rid of it.
Tom Ford Champaca Absolute parfum
It’s musky gardenia, which is my favorite scent in any form.
This is a Tiffany leaf that my mother gave me that her best friend gave her. The cross I got at Notre Dame in Paris. And these are my grandmother’s blue lapis beads that she would collect one at a time.