fashion assistants
Many of the visuals produced for commercial projects and magazines including this one would not have been possible without freelance styling assistants like (from left) Jamie Lee, Misato Katoh,Yuan Kun and Shannahlette Jenn Lim, who styled themselves here in their own clothes and accessories – no assistant needed.

What they do

Where would any photoshoot be if not for the diligent assistants like the four freelancers opposite, who help in so many ways to make things happen? For one, a typical day-to-day routine is hard to pin down as different shoots have different to-do lists; the hours – usually long and unpredictable.

Among the common tasks that each has to deal with: running around town – sometimes multiple times a day – to fetch fashion loans from various brands and stores; unpacking of said items on set; steaming and polishing them up so that they look picture perfect; organising them for the stylist; and dressing the model/ celebrity/newsmaker in the pieces as instructed. And when it’s finally a wrap, putting everything back into place, including making sure that all loans are packed and get returned safely.

Clothes and accessories aren’t the only things that they have to source for though. Check props (Katoh was once tasked to find a salangai, an anklet usually worn during classical Indian dances) and locations (watch out for security guards who might chase one out, warns Lee). For anyone who thinks that working in fashion is glamorous, this will be one of the harshest reality checks with one more often than not being taken for granted as a scrub.

The upside, all four agree though, is that the experience exposes one to various sides and people in the industry. Katoh – who regularly assists the Japan-trained stylist Josiah Chua – for example has met her Harajuku idols on set and even got the chance to design a costume for the singer Joanna Dong.

It’s also the best kind of education for anyone interested in being a stylist. Says Lim: “You get to work with and pick up skills from not just one, but a few stylists and this enables you to broaden your perspective… The tasks at each job might be similar, but you take home different knowledge because each shoot and crew is different.” (PS. All four also agree that the depiction of industry assistants in popular culture is anything but true, though sometimes the devil does wear Prada.)

Their advice for those looking to break into the industry

Work for someone you admire, and work hard and conscientiously no matter the task – the accumulated experience will come in handy in the long run, says Lim. Oh and be prepared for plenty of heavy lifting so if you don’t work out, you better start, quips Lee.

Hair Zoel Tee, using Kevin Murphy Makeup Alison Tay, using Nars

This article first appeared in the May 2020 Behind The Scenes Edition of FEMALE.