Leah Van Loon began her career in the film and television industry and is now one of Calgary’s leading stylists in both fashion and advertising. She has composed a diverse portfolio of work that features clients, such as Holt Renfrew, Air Canada and Disney. Her work has been featured in magazines from Dubai to Australia and she is sought after as an image consultant to celebrity clients and production companies.
Leah works primarily with fashion editorials and print advertising, as well as styling and producing the occasional fashion show. She recently inspired Calgary designer Haithem El Kaadiki to create a womenswear line for Spring 2013, which she also styled. Check out Leah’s website at leahvanloon.com to view her creatively stunning editorials.
We love Leah’s passion for the business of fashion and for leading the way for other stylish Calgarians. Leah shared her thoughts on fashion, art and lifestyle with Vancity Buzz’s own Garth W. Jackson.
What are the common misconceptions people have about your work as a stylist?
“Everyone thinks being a stylist is super glamorous, but it is really 90 per cent hauling stuff.”
How long have you worked in the fashion industry?
It has been about 20 years in the fashion industry and, as any freelance worker knows, it has its ups and downs but I have had a lot of great opportunities and really love my work. Calgary is a challenging place to work in fashion, but the people here make it worthwhile.
When you are collaborating with hair and beauty stylists, what is important for you in that relationship?
It’s important to me that everyone be an expert in what makes a good photo. Things look different on camera and when you are trying to create an editorial you need people who understand extremes and aren’t afraid to experiment. You need real artists and I am really lucky to have worked with some amazingly talented people.
What advice can you give aspiring stylists/fashion writers, who want to break into this niche market?
Don’t try, just do. I found my way here through many different avenues and types of experiences, all of which shaped me. There isn’t any one road to success.
What accessories are you into currently?
SHOES! I finally got to put my winter boots away so it is a little like Christmas rediscovering all my shoes again. I am looking at some custom boots from Modern Vice for the fall. Summer just got here and I am planning for fall!
What trends do you love at the moment?
I don’t know if I love it exactly, but I am interested in the (not so) new grunge trend. I am excited to try to use it in a high fashion way. I never got to in the 90’s when I was living it.
What current or all time trends do you dislike the most?
I think there can be value in almost any trend, you just have to find the most relevant way to do it. Things that are too accessible get boring really quickly, when everyone starts to look the same. You have to find a way to do it where you seem original.
Are you into vintage clothes?
I love vintage clothes, but have narrowed my collecting down to accessories. My favourite piece right now is actually a ring from Hopea20.com It is a giant bevel cut quartz in a gold claw setting by Finnish designer Elis Kauppi circa 1965.
Have you been to NYC or Toronto fashion week?
I got to style the Lauren Bagliore show a couple of years ago at Toronto Fashion week and it was really a great experience. The backstage was really calm and they were very professional. I actually got to see Denis Gagnon’s show (with Marek Matweijczuk) which was a total treat. I am used to never getting to see the show! I am hoping to attend it again this year as well as NYFW.
Do you have a your own signature look?
I do have a distinct look with my glasses and the lipstick. I have gotten to a point where I know what looks good on me so I don’t fuck around. However, I love to try new things. They don’t always look good at first, but I believe it is just a matter of getting used to something new. That’s why people get stuck in a rut (Anna Wintour).
If we could look into your closet what would we see?
Almost no black! Tons of prints and colors, but I have been actively working some neutrals back into it.
What do you think the next big trend in ladies fashion will be?
Recent issues with sweat shops in Bangladesh and China make me think the trend will be toward ethically produced goods. People will pay more to know their goods aren’t made by people who are being mistreated and abused.
Do you follow international trends, Japanese, Korean or European?
It’s interesting that you mention so many Asian markets as that does seem to be the direction things are heading. I still think the collections from Europe dominate and are doing the most to move fashion forward, however they are setting their sights on selling to the Asian markets so influences from countries like China may grow.
How does music influence fashion ?
Musicians are now models and are featured in fashion editorial, e.g. Lana Del Rey and Florence Welch. Musicians seem to be courted much more by luxury brands now than in the past (Sonic Youth and Marc Jacobs excluded).
Where do you get some of your inspiration from?
I love seeing what other stylists are doing in magazines and I get a lot of inspiration from them. I also love modern art and nothing is more inspiring to me than a gallery or a museum. It can feed my imagination for years.
How do you feel about social media’s influence on fashion today?
I feel like the Blogger phenomenon has really made fashion more accessible to people. Fashion is a much broader sort of place than it used to be and there are a lot of different facets of it being explored.
What channels of social media do you use and which are the most effective for you?
I mostly use Instgram as I am highly visual. I have Twitter, a Facebook page, a Tumblr account and I just started using Vine which is seven second videos. Sort of the video version of Instagram. It’s really fun. Each of them connect me to different groups of people, which I enjoy. Follow Leah on Facebook.
Are you contacted for work through social media, do you find work that way?
I actually got a job designing a film from MySpace if you can believe it! I do think social media has helped with my exposure, but, in general, my work comes through word of mouth which is sort of what social media is.
Where do you usually shop for your own clothes?
I shop everywhere, but mostly Gravity Pope and Holt’s. I am very excited to see what will be coming from Nordstrom and I finally got to check out Simon’s in Edmonton a couple of weeks ago. I don’t really buy fast fashion as I like my clothes to last me for a long time. Investment dressing!
Who is your favourite designer in Canada and outside of Canada?
I am really impressed with Alberta designers these days. I went to the Mecedes-Benz startup here and Malorie Urbanovitch is really doing some amazing things. Kaadiki just started doing womenswear and his take on it is really refreshing and focused.
Do you read any fashion books? Deluxe by Dana Thomas or The End of Fashion by Teri Agins?
I loved Deluxe and have actually given my copy away to someone to read and pass along. I also enjoy biographies of designers, specifically the autobiography of Christian Dior, Dior by Dior. It’s a wonderful glimpse into the workings of fashion in the early part of the 20th century.
Did you always want to be in fashion?
I have always wanted to be in fashion, whether it was modelling or designing. I just didn’t know that ‘stylist’ would become an actual job. I have recently developed a passion for gems and minerals and would love to do more in that field in the future.
Written by Garth W. Jackson for Vancity Buzz. Connect with Garth on Twitter @Gjaxluxe.
PHOTO CREDIT: photo one by Jason Stang, photo two by Leah Van Loon, photo three by Chris Sattlegger, photo four by Colin Way, photo five and six from Haithem El Kaadiki Facebook page.