It’s the job girls and gays would kill for. But it’s so not what you think — speaking from firsthand experience of quietly (and not-so-quietly) observing from behind the scenes. The glitz and glamour you get envious of in social media, the celebrity #OOTDs, the high-concept editorials, the glossy commercials on TV — it’s all veritable eye candy; a case study in hyperrealism versus simplicity. As with most “glamorous” industries, however, it’s a road to perdition — a hundred-foot journey from runway to reality.
Today, I intern for top celebrity stylist Liz Uy who has since established her multi-platform brand StyLIZed Studio by Liz Uy after 11 years of hustlin’ in the fashion industry. Today, I get to know the woman behind the sartorial awakening of some of Manila’s top celebrities — from Anne Curtis to recent debutante Julia Barretto. Today, I peek into her daily grind — a whole-day TVC shoot with none other than Sarah G. Today, I dub myself her bitch, ready and willing. I am in for a friggin’ treat.
Upon a text confirmation from Danae, one of her assistants, I meet her team at their headquarters in Ortigas where the pullouts were being kept. 8 a.m. was the call. At 8:03, I arrived. Fired! I lamented to myself. I have to admit, I was pretty anxious. For the past few months, I’ve been wearing pretty much the same thing in my own daily grind — a jacket (which now had holes in it), a pair of gray slacks that get washed once a week, and Nikes (comfort over style, always). That day, I chose style, contrary to what Danae had texted. “Style,” I reasoned, was the root word of “stylized.” On this day, I donned my intern’s best — a dark blue tee, a black crepe jacket (c’est chic), dark Zara slacks, and a pair of Lanvin shoes that I hadn’t used to date. I was dressed to the nines, which proved to be my undoing. “You should never be more dressed than the client or celebrity, especially during shoots,” Liz jested later on during the day. Fired again!
After an exchange of pleasantries, Danae, Dennysse (my fellow intern), and I moved to transport the stuff to Liz’s van. I got panicky for some reason, and the clothing rack collapsed on my hands. “I’m sorry!” I stuttered, scrambling — a sweat bead forming. Liz’s other gal told me, “Naku! Kakayanin mo kaya yung shoot mamaya?” Bruised ego aside, I held my ground, “Oo. Kaya ko yan!” I boarded Liz’s artista van to the shoot. “So what’s she like as a boss?” I asked her team. They replied, as loyal henchmen do, with sparkling superlatives. Good answer! I thought. We arrived at the theater and unloaded the outfits into Sarah G’s dressing room.
Learning No. 1: Steaming clothes can be quite therapeutic.
Maybe it’s the whole output-based labor thing, where deep thought isn’t prerequisite, only meticulous care. It’s kind of like washing dishes actually. Also, it’s nice to get out of my head sometimes, not think and “just do.” (Just doing it, I seriously miss my Nike’s right now).
Learning No. 2: Sarah G. is incredibly humble.
She walks into the dressing room looking the opposite of a star, singing Ed Sheeran. “Good morning po!” she busts out, sitting on makeup artist Gela Laurel’s makeup station. I think to myself, “Was this the girl in The Voice and ASAP, the girl pandering to John Lloyd’s every whim in A Very Special Love? She sure didn’t look it!” Totes not the same story three hours later after her glam-over, especially when she takes to the stage in her pormada best. I suppose every gal has their inner Sasha Fierce. “Total transformation!” I marveled to Liz, Gela, and hair stylist Brent Sales while watching the shoot from behind the TV screen.
Learning No. 3: Styling, like any profession, is a balancing act between giving clients what they want and insisting upon one’s authority.
Liz arrives in time to sanitize an outfit snafu. One of the options proved a bit risqué for the artist and client. Suggestions were brought to the table and eventually the team reached a happy compromise. As with all art, creation hinges on dialogue. In fact, it’s a handshake, a conversation — testament to why Liz is atop her game. Eleven years in the industry, having started as an EA for Preview, she hustled like her assistants did. She did her thing. And she probably kept a judicious distance from the artists once upon a time, the same way I did. This is called the “proximity dance,” a.k.a. knowing one’s place, a skill I have yet to master. Both Danae and I kept within a certain proximity to Sarah G out of respect. Where she ate, we moved. Where she stood, we circumvented. I was tempted to chat her up but I thought to myself, “I’m an intern!”
Learning No. 4: When shooting a TVC, the proof of the pudding is in the waiting.
I would say TVCs are about 80 percent waiting and 20 percent doing — kind of like lining up in Disneyland for two hours, only to experience a two-minute ride. It’s in the waiting that one’s mettle is put to the limit. And so we talked. We talked about everything from God, sexuality, the Bench billboards, to celebrities who’ve lost their bearings. It’s in the waiting that I learned about this thing called “celebrity styling.” Always you have to have a great deal of preparedness: to have everything you need at any given moment. The styling kit, which includes nylon, bobby pins, a steamer, scissors, options, and the right attitude.
Danae recalls interns from projects’ past whose hearts didn’t seem to be in the right places. Either they were on their phones half the time or too dressed or in over their heads to even function. Others even arrived to a shoot late (sacré bleu!) with myriad excuses. Liz shares that the younger generation of quote-unquote stylists these days often feel entitled; she prefers hard workers like Danae who are anti-“it” and are ready to get down and dirty. There’s this idea that stylists are glorified yayas. I get that somehow, given the kind of attention to detail and psychic care you have to give the artist and client. Celebrity styling is not for the faint of heart.
And I suppose that’s the get of it, isn’t it? Everything you see is nothing like you see. A 30-second TVC shot in 14 hours (that’s not the worst, apparently; other shoots go on for days), an unassuming girl who blooms into the celebrity we all know and love, a BTS Instagram post that in no way justifies the kind of work that went into it. And at the end of the day, wits warped, bodies tired, and the waiting quotient exasperated to a T, you go back, willing and able, because you can say to yourself, “I had a hand in that.” As for me, I’ll probably return to my life in the theater — also grueling on its own. But if I do get to see that Sarah G TVC in the future, or any TVC for that matter, I’ll think to myself, “I wonder how long it took for them to shoot that?” And also, “That blazer of Sarah G’s? Ha ha! I steamed that!”