Stylist Profile: Johanna Lowe, Food + Prop Stylist and Owner of Parchment Studio and Parchment House
How did you start doing food and prop styling?
I was a photographer in London, moved to the US in 2000 and began to realize I liked the styling aspects of photography more than I liked the technical, lighting part of the process. Through luck and some balls in those first few years I managed to find work styling where I was supported enough to train and learn on the job. I also found I was a much better stylist than I was a photographer!
How did you begin Parchment Studio and House?
Parchment Studio just sort of evolved. I have this fantastic space and soon realized how much people loved being and working here. The aesthetic of it really appeals to most people and so I nurtured that aspect and relied on word of mouth to talk me up. Looking back I also realize how much I wanted to work from home as much a possible…I love my slipper commute!
Parchment House, again that was kind of a happen-chance, although in the back of my mind I do admit I had been thinking about ways to support myself as I get older. I basically stumbled upon the house, fell instantly in love with it and then naively walked into the most massive rehab project, which could not have been done without the invaluable support of certain people. As I worked on the house the idea of making it a creative retreat just kind of grew along with the shaping of the space.
What inspires your work?
My parents and the memories I have of them and their particular characteristics: my father with his more formal approach to problem solving and his desire for elegant solutions; my mother with her rebellious, irreverent approach to life and her artlessly beautiful way of eclectically bringing objects together.
Historical and contemporary fashion and fine art is a constant inspiration. Female photographers and artists include: Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Lillian Bassman, Cindy Sheman, Corinne Day, Jenny Saville, and Celeste Barber is a current joy in my life.
Food is an ongoing inspiration but in a more detached way than as something simply to eat. I’m inspired to think about concepts when faced with food that revolts me and food that is objectively more beautiful than it is tasty.
How did you find your style/aesthetic?
I don’t believe it’s something you find, I think it’s something that you are and is basically inextricable.
What brought you to Chicago?
A desire for change, a plane, a man, a long story.
If you weren’t here, where would you be?
If you weren’t doing styling, what would you be doing?
What are you trying to learn right now?
How to be kind to everybody everyday. How to build a bridge across the river at Parchment House.
What are you most proud of?
Surviving through struggle.
How do you take time for yourself?
Sitting by my river at Parchment House, going to estate sales and antique malls, dinner with friends.
Why do you think it’s important for creative women to come together and collaborate?
I’m not really an exclusionist in so far as I believe in all people coming together to collaborate on a creative level.
I know there are groups that benefit from being women only, and in fact I am part of one (Forth) and get enormous satisfaction from my meetings and get togethers with them, but I wouldn’t wish to say that it’s important for me to come together only with women.
What is your advice for someone who wants a job like yours?
Be humble yet tenacious. Work really hard and be really kind. Think not of yourself but of the job at hand.
What is one thing that surprised you in your path?
How mean people can be for no good reason. How so much can get done when everyone works together.
Favorite female creatives?
All of them/us.
Top three items of clothing/accessories?
Victorian paisley shawl. My red Tsubo shoes for signing mortgage documents. Citizens For Humanity jeans.
Shower and coffee with 10 minutes to spare.
Favorite travel destination?
Somewhere I haven’t been.
Business/first class air travel.