The Stylist Almanac: Saniyyah Bilal
By Sola Onitiri
The Stylist Almanac is an on going series where we interview fashion insiders about how they started their careers and what people may not know about their profession.
Meet Saniyyah Bilal. She is a celebrity stylist and costume designer based out of Los Angeles, California. She is also the fabulous founder in chief of Curio Styling Consultants, a styling company founded in February 2012 which helps clients not only dare to be unique but also own it. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Fashion Industry Management and a MBA in Apparel Business Studies from Philadelphia University. In addition to her work as a stylist, Saniyyah is also a community activist and teacher. She served as the fashion styling teacher for the non-profit youth organization SCH CAPA as well as an Alimah Scout troop leader at her local Muslim Girl Scout Group. Saniyyah has worked with celebrities like superstar athlete Mo'ne Davis, video and Insta baddie Amber Rose and events like New York Fashion Week and The Academy Awards. We asked Saniyyah a few must-read questions about what makes good style and why being a stylist isn't as glamorous as it looks on Instagram.
How did you get your start as a stylist?
I always hand painted, sewn or reconstructed garments as a child. After college I really took it seriously. I started out as a wardrobe stylist in February 2011. I literally just started styling with clothing from my closet and from vintage stores. I asked a model friend to be my muse, a make-up artist helped me connect with a photographer and we started shooting photoshoots. From there I grew to learn more fashion industry standards and people in the industry such as pulling from designers and showrooms, knowing models, make-up artists, photographers, hair stylists etc - to help me do my job more professionally. Later I invested in myself after people kept asking where my portfolio was I didn't have one. I wasn't being taken seriously so I started uploading photos to Tumblr (not the best platform) but at that time it allowed me to have a portfolio link on my business cards. Eventually I built my own website. It is so important to invest in yourself and have work to back up what you're saying.
Tell us a little bit about your process?
The process all starts from an idea or inspiration. Whether it is a creative idea from me or the client. Once the creative idea is streamlined I can begin to source designers to pull the clothing from which in that process I get a better idea of what hair and make-up look will work for the outfits. During this pulling session, I have to be mindful of the creative idea/concept, sizing coloring, budget (if shopping and not pulling), any specific style needs for the client. Depending on the project some of the above listed items matter more. For example, when I am styling actors on film the color and print selections are far more important than for an editorial. This part of the process can get very technical and not as creative because it is more about building the looks based on knowing camera settings, lighting, actor blocking and the characters personal style which is not always trendy.
"It is so important to invest in yourself and have work to back up what you're saying."
Once the clothing selection is complete, accessories and shoes are always selected. For quality control, you inspect the items at the showroom to ensure if there are any stains, small damages that's made aware of before leaving. On the pull sheet all pulled items are listed with their prices (if someone wants to buy it or if it gets badly damaged making it non returnable). The fitting session happens (which you may have to shop/pull again for better looks, accessories, shoes or different sizes), while shooting you have to be mindful of the upkeep of the clothing to return to the showrooms or designers in great condition. So there are secrets that stylists have, to successfully do that. Such as taping the bottom of the shoes to prevent from damage or putting in temporary hems if the bottoms are too long. Shhhh, don't tell anyone.
What’s the least glamorous part about being a stylist?
The least glamorous part of styling is pretty much everything (laughs). Carrying heavy garment bags, breaking down rolling racks, steaming (I try to get interns to do but I actually like it), working very long hours on set, helping adults get dressed (laughs) and RETURNS (which I definitely dislike doing).
What’s the most rewarding part about being a stylist?
Professionally, the most rewarding part of being a stylist is seeing the glow up on clients when they love their outfits, it fits perfectly and seeing an idea come to life. It's like when they hit the gold button on America'a Got Talent and a ton of gold confetti falls down on you - that kind of rewarding. Personally, getting free clothing from designers and being able to wear comfortable clothing to work.
Who would you love to style if given the opportunity?
Oh I would love to style SZA, Sevyn Streeter, Rihanna or Yuna.
Saniyyah's fashion philosophies
2. Buy staple pieces, so you can revamp your wardrobe without having to go shopping every season.
3. People don't have to understand your style just respect it
4. Be timeless with your style not always trendy. I promise that is more impactful and memorable.
5. On set, I always tell models the more awkward you feel the better you look on camera.
6. Dress like you want to make a fashion statement otherwise you will be seen and caught off your game. The odds of someone seeing you when you aren't "dressed" on a daily is always higher.
7. We are all impacted by the fashion industry whether we admit it or not.
8. We judge people and get judged by how we all look. In the first few moments of seeing someone you establish an idea of who they are, where they came from, what they do or where they are going by how they look. We may not even realize it. I call it style-cology 365: the psychological and sociological study of fashion on everyday people.
9. It is very important for ladies to have the proper undergarments on when wearing certain outfits such as cutout tops, fitted dresses or white. Ask if you aren't sure.