Stylist Profile: Danielle Von Keller - Chicago
Hi Danielle! Tell us a little bit about yourself. What is your background that led you to create?
I was born and raised in Atlanta, and I lived there for the majority of my life. I moved up here [Chicago] for high school. I went to Roycemore, which is a great academic school, but it definitely taught me the difference between resources in different communities. When I left [Atlanta], I was in 9th grade with a 4.0 GPA and I competed in countywide school competitions as one of the top 10 smartest kids. But when I got to Roycemore, they were like you are supposed to know this, this, and this, things I had never even heard of. My first two years of school here, I had a tutor for every class, before and after school because I was so far behind. But I ended up graduating early, shout out to the tutors who were very patient with me.
During my senior year, I was able to take classes at Northwestern, because they have a partnership with Roycemore which was included in my scholarship. I went from Northwestern to University of Chicago, and thought let me do this pre-med thing because my mom is a doctor and she did it with kids, so I can do it. Long story short, I could not do it. It was a balance between being really smart and academically inclined and searching for creativity. There’s no room for being creative when you’re dealing with medicine and somebody’s life.
I left University of Chicago, and now I’m at Columbia studying fashion business. When thinking about art schools, Columbia is very good at teaching you as a freelancer how to market and sell yourself, compared to The Art Institute who’s fashion program is more about 'what is a dress'. It’s hard to think about art school here because The Art Institute is great at teaching you how to be an artist and Columbia is more about selling your art. If they could merge the two together, it would be wonderful and worth the money.
How did you become a wardrobe stylist?
I became a wardrobe stylist through my friend Jay, who’s a photographer. I met him through Instagram. He had a stylist cancel on him and he reached out to ask if I could come by, but I told him that I wasn’t a stylist. He said “just dress her how you dress,” and I did it and really liked it. We just started bouncing creative ideas off of each other and picking models, and I was pulling clothes to build a portfolio out of.
Were you always interested in fashion?
I’ve always been into personal style, helping friends and family, but I think I realized how much of an interest I had in fashion when I backpacked through Europe. When I dropped out of University of Chicago, I took a six month period to travel. I bought a one way ticket to Switzerland and that was my plan. On that trip, I started in Switzerland and went to Barcelona, Madrid, Rome, Florence, and Munich. It was amazing because I had never been out of the country before and I don’t speak any other languages. It was very nice to see a massive amount of women dressed so eloquently. I learned a lot about shapes and fabrics. I feel like the European woman is sexy in her own way. Too much in the States we equate being sexy to being naked, but they don’t have to be the same.
I was buying fabric and shipping it home to sew something. I started wearing a lot of the pieces that I made and loved them. Then I called my mom and told her that I was going to go to art school, and she was like, "I know, I was letting you figure it out." I didn’t want to go to school for design because I like sewing for fun, rather that necessity. With fashion business, I could use a lot of the credits I had accumulated over the years.
I try to travel more. I think people forget how closely fashion and culture are related. It’s a way of saying what you want to say without speaking. The majority of the time, I style women, but have been thinking lately about wanting to style men.
What is the styling process? Is it more difficult or exciting to style outside of your personal style?
That is fun for me. I wouldn’t say I’m a very feminine dresser, but when a brand has decided on a mood board or idea for the shoot that is completely different from my personal style, I find it fun because it’s a different creative expression and way of storytelling. As a stylist, I can take my personal aesthetic completely out of the equation because that’s not what was agreed upon for a certain creative direction. That’s actually the easiest part for me, surprisingly.
How did you start booking jobs?
While I was building my portfolio, I was talking to everybody I possibly could. I’ve always had the same website, but I’ve seen it grow. When I first got my business cards and started telling people that I was a stylist, I literally had 5 pictures up on my site, but they were great pictures. I just started talking to everybody from models to makeup artists, telling them that I was a wardrobe stylist and if they were ever on set and heard people looking for a stylist that I would love a recommendation. That’s how I built my portfolio. I used to email 5 or 6 people a day just saying “Hey, I’m a stylist. If you ever need one, here’s a link to my portfolio. If you want to grab coffee and bounce ideas off of each other, let’s do this.”
It’s different in Chicago compared to New York or LA. It’s more of an e-commerce market here in the city compared to the more magazine market in New York, which has more editorial options. That’s one of the challenging things of being here in Chicago, but I’m learning. Of course, when you’re trying to sell yourself as a brand to other people, you want to make sure that you have some editorial pieces in your portfolio and some lifestyle pieces because that’s the market I live in.
What makes you passionate about the work that you do?
I like the idea of a woman being whoever she wants to be and standing in that truth. That’s one of the most beautiful things in this world. Society has a bad habit of telling women to dress a certain way to be seen as a polite woman. Who put that out there? It’s all about not listening to what somebody else told you that you need to wear. It’s about picking what you like, what you feel good about, and what you feel confident in. That’s one of the most beautiful things ever. I love when I see people wearing something completely crazy down their street, but that’s their truth. That’s powerful in its own because it’s very hard to stand in your truth against judgement. That’s my passion. I just like strong women.
What challenges do you face in the work that you do?
There are a million challenges.
- Chicago, as a city in the Midwest, is a very blogger centralized area. At certain times, certain brands, come to the conclusion that being a fashion blogger with amazing personal style makes them a wardrobe stylist, and that is not the case. Those are very different lanes. A big issue that I continue to face is that I can have great personal style on the internet and I can have great portfolio work, and people still equate that to being a blogger. I’m not a blogger. I talk about my truth from my experience in the fashion industry. I find it a balancing act, because we do live in a social media driven society, so people want to see your work, your personal style, what events you’re going to, your personality, etc. As a stylist, you’re a brand, so you have to sell everything that equates to that. Walking that line of being a personal brand and not a blogger is a struggle. It’s a constant struggle and an uphill battle. I have brands reach out to me all the time to send me product to put in my Instagram, but that’s not my technique.
- It’s always a struggle being a minority in any industry. I don’t care what city you live in or that it’s 2018. It’s very hard. People assume that as a woman of color, I can only style certain things, and that’s always a combative thing. In any industry, it’s a battle, and sadly that’s the world we live in.
- Getting paid here in Chicago, compared to New York, is difficult. New York has laws for freelancers to get paid on a timely basis. People forget that as a freelancer, we don’t get paid every two weeks. It can be 120 days after a job and you’re still wondering where your money is. Just pay me. I worked for it.
- Being in an e-commerce market is a battle because it makes you have to be more creative about how you’re going to make money. I’ve been in fashion now for about three years, so I’m still new and learning, but I’ve taken on personal styling clients. Personal styling is completely different from wardrobe styling. Personal styling is very personal and intimate. I like to work with certain clients, I just don’t take any client because I’m about to be in your house going through your clothes. I also work with a lot of smaller boutiques shooting their product for their websites. It’s fun, but it’s different. It’s all about the hustle. In this city, you need it.
- I find here pulling clothes is not as common as New York, so you have to teach them [stores] what a pull request is and then go through the pull request, so it’s teaching your audience and consumer, which creates slightly more work. It’s interesting because this isn’t the market where they [stores] are seeing stylists all the time.
What resources have been helpful for you in your work?
Do your research. I had all of these great ideas, but I didn’t come from a fashion background. On sets you have to know designers, you need to know that Dior in the 70s did this and know how that connects with what you are trying to portray. Magazines are your best friend. Subscribe to all of them and rip out the pages you find inspiring.
I also have a mentor. His name is Patrick, he’s a Ford artist, and he’s very inspiring because he’s been doing it [styling] for so long. He has different techniques than me. He has a different eye when it comes to stitching, the way fabric lays on a woman’s body, the way he steams clothes. I love being on set with him. I help out with his blog and we bounce ideas off of each other, so it’s cool to be next to someone with so much knowledge. What I look for compared to what he looks for is completely different. I’ve always had different mentors at different points in my life, but this is my first time having a mentor in fashion. When pre-spring collections were coming in at Saks, we went in to see what was trending and how it connected to runway shows, and that was a very inspiring thing because I never thought to do that.
I love working with other up and coming artists. At school, if I meet another photographer that has some crazy idea, I say let’s do it. Before your “establish” yourself, you’re more willing to test those lines of if an idea will work or not. I love being around other people who are passionate about their dreams and what they want.
At The Glossary, we believe in women working together and helping one another. Why do you think it is important for women to support each other?
It’s important for everything - for our future, for the way other people continue to view women, for the next generation. Of course there are always going to be those people out there that want to see you win, but they only want to see you win after they win. Kindness is free, it costs you nothing to help somebody out. If I know something that can help you, and it took me two years to learn it, I’m going to tell you because if it’s going to save you two years, I wish somebody would have told me. It’s just good karma and it’s so necessary.
As women, for one, we get paid less than men, so the least we can do is support each other. It’s enough money economically for us all to win and reach our goals. We can all reach our goals more quickly and efficiently if we just support each other through it. That’s it. It costs you nothing to be a decent human being. People get so wrapped up in themselves succeeding that they don’t realize that it’s so much better to succeed as a community then it is to succeed as an individual.
It’s powerful. It’s so much better to uplift everybody at once. If one person makes it to the top, that one person saying the same thing we’re all saying, doesn’t speak as much volume as all of us reaching to the top and all saying the same thing. The issues we have as women could change if we could all get on the same platform and say the same thing. We’re going to get there.
What creative women do you find inspiring?
My all time favorite, who graduated from Columbia and she’s my girl crush, is Aleali May. She’s just everything. She’s just her and she doesn’t care. My friend Rach is dope. Sheila Rashid is a designer in Chicago and I just love her. Most people know her because she made Chance’s overalls, but she’s so down to earth and dope in real life. She did this Nike workshop with students to teach them how to sew. I like women who hype each other up on Instagram.
What are you trying to learn right now?
I am that weird person that researches one thing like 150 times. I’m learning everything right now so that I can open up a store, but it has been so much research. I’m trying to find a balance by being an active member of my family and running a business. In the mess of that, I’m trying to make sure that I take a day to take care of myself. My grandmother would always tell me that you can’t pour from an empty cup, and that’s the realest life advice that anyone has ever given me. As women, we have a bad habit of constantly wanting to help our mom and our man and our friends, but there are only 24 hours in a day and I need to sleep 8 of them. I’m trying to take better care of myself, even with little things. Eddie V’s has happy hour and I love lamb chops, so I’ll do a face mask in my living room and then at 4:00 I’ll take myself to happy hour by myself and have a pomegranate moscow mule. I just sit there and read a book and it’s one of the most refreshing things.
What are some of your favorite place in Chicago?
I don’t get out as much as I should. I like happy hour at Eddie V’s. I like places where I can just sit there and nobody will talk to me. I like going to Low Res Studio’s co-working days. It’s great networking if you want to talk, but if you don’t want to talk, you don’t have to talk. I also go to Spoke and Bird a lot, it’s a bakehouse in Pilsen. The owner is usually in there, and I just sit there and have a cup of tea.