c.2013 New York Times News Service

c.2013 New York Times News Service

A Versace campaign inspired by “Valley of the Dolls”; a W shoot featuring a model in falsies and padded underpants; a fun house pictorial resembling the fallout from an explosion in a sample room. These are some highlights of the 35-year career of Lori Goldstein, perhaps the most influential fashion stylist whose name you’ve never heard.

Stylists, of course, are fashion’s not-so-secret weapon. The past decade has seen the rise of them as cult figures and influencers. Think Carine Roitfeld or Katie Grand. But for real insight into the mysterious process that goes into transforming a studio filled with shoeboxes and garment racks into artistry, you will have to buy “Lori Goldstein: Style Is Instinct’’ (Harper Design, $80), a new monograph of Goldstein’s decades-long exploration of style. This week, Goldstein sat down in her studio in New York to discuss her career. Below is an edited and condensed interview.


I always knew two things: I knew I loved clothes, and I knew I was leaving Ohio. I don’t plan things and never have. I had a boyfriend after high school — I didn’t really even like him — who said, “Do you want to go with me to LA?” So I went. I wandered into Fred Segal and instantly I knew this was where I wanted to be.


Fred Segal brought me to New York on a buying trip and took me to Fiorucci. I said to myself, I’ll be working here in six months. It’s corny, but as soon as I saw that skyline I was home.

At Fiorucci, I met Joey Arias and Klaus Nomi and suddenly, instead of being a freak in Ohio, I was among my people. Pat Field was the den mother of the downtown scene. We lived day to day and with the Mudd Club at night.

There was no career blueprint. I didn’t really know what a stylist was. But I put together a “test’’ book, a kind of portfolio, and took it to Terry Melville at Macy’s and literally the next day I was shooting with Albert Watson.


It’s an instinct. It’s having this conviction that your vision is correct.


Stylists back then were the lowest-paid people on a shoot. I made $350 a day.

By now, I’ve been in the business 35 years and I still love it. I don’t go out anymore. I don’t go to the shows. I’m done with the fakeness, people constantly judging other people, me judging other people. It’s not like you won’t get the information without the shows. You get it in magazines. You get it from talking to people. You can see the trends coming. I do a lot of shopping. I’m a woman and I shop.


I met [the photographer] Steven Meisel and he told Polly Mellen at Allure, “You have to meet this girl,’’ and suddenly I have this job at Allure and we’re going to the Paris shows and shooting everything.

In those days there were no mandatory advertiser credits. We just shot what we loved. We were shooting Helmut Lang and Ann Demeulemeester and John Galliano, and it was just a divine circus and it was everything and it was heaven. Then fashion became a big business. It got ugly.


People work a lot from references, and I’m the exact opposite. I hate references. As a stylist, I like to start from zero and gather all my favorite things. I would never go into a room the day before a shoot and put together an outfit. That safety factor is a fear factor and it’s bad for fashion.



Right now, I’m shooting a big magazine job with Mario Testino. Mario Testino was my roommate a long time ago. The shoot is Thanksgiving. I’ll be honest, there have been periods when I’ve said to myself, “I hate this, why am I doing this?” But then a job comes along and I get excited and suddenly I have to have 300 hats. I have to have 500 belts. I have to have every shoe. I’m obsessive. I have 40 trays of jewelry and 10 guards standing around. The guards love me. I tease them. I say, “What if I swallow one of these diamonds?’’


After every shoot, if I have a new assistant, I look them in the eye after they’ve seen the craziness and the hard work and the 20 trunks of clothes and the garment racks, and I say, “Do you still want to be a stylist?” Fashion looks so glamorous from the outside. But I tell people I’ve been around the world and all I saw was basements.



Gianni Versace had died. Donatella called me and asked if I could work with her. This idea came up of Steven Meisel shooting a campaign based on “Valley of the Dolls,’’ a book I’ve been obsessed with my whole life. Donatella liked the idea, and we went to LA and found this ’60s house in Trousdale Estates, and so there we were with [the makeup artist] Pat McGrath and [the models] Amber Valletta and Georgina Grenville portraying that level of beauty and privilege and control to the point where they stepped across the edge.

Campaigns do more than showcase clothes. They tell a story of the brand. And as we shot that campaign, I suddenly thought, “This is the moment of everything I had hoped for and wished to get from a career. It’s happening.”



We did a shot with [the model] Hannelore Knuts where we took her out in the San Fernando Valley and had her walking along like this sad, lonely woman. For a lot of people, it might be too weird, but it was a W shoot and, for fashion people, it was sick but the best sick.

There was another moment when we were shooting for W and Freja Beha was the model and the clothes were ... advertiser clothes. What could we do? This idea pops into my head, “Maybe she should have big breasts.” So we go out and get the bra and we get the boobs and then we also got a fake padded butt. We pushed it to the edge. It was very out there, where you feel like, “What’s my mother going to think?’’



I hate the word. And I hate the celebrity world. But back when Annie Leibovitz did the American Express campaign, it was the first time anyone had used artists, writers, musicians. Ann Magnuson, an old Mudd Club friend, was going to be photographed by Annie for Vanity Fair and she called me for help. And that was it.

Annie and I shot for the next decade, everyone from Ray Charles to Sammy Davis Jr. to Wilt Chamberlain. I’m not sure who was the most amazing. But I mean, there you are in Ella Fitzgerald’s apartment and she’s playing you a record of Etta James.