Stylist with the key to Lady Gaga's wardrobe

Nicola Formichetti's British Fashion Awards triumph is a belated nod to the industry's unsung heroes

Among the roster of models, designers and famous faces celebrated at the British Fashion Awards this week was one name that people beyond the industry may not have heard.

The stylist Nicola Formichetti, 33, who received the Isabella Blow award for Fashion Creator, usually works behind the camera, but it's his job to make you take notice of what's going on in front of it. "I was so happy to be nominated," he said after he won the award on Tuesday. "I really wasn't expecting to win."

It's a sentiment that many a more disingenuous winner might espouse at an awards ceremony, but Formichetti's surprise – and indeed, his win – is evidence of a rising tide of recognition in the fashion industry for those whose intuition and visual flair manage to keep it fresh.

Working on magazines such as Dazed & Confused and Vogue Japan, as well as styling the singer Lady Gaga, Formichetti's visionary talents and fashion eye have become an international phenomenon. It was he who put the outré style icon in her gigantic pompadour at this year's Brit awards; he who convinced her to wear a phone on her head; and he who dresses her in her now standard-issue uniform of S&M bondage gear for many of her music videos.

Formichetti, who was born in Japan to an Italian father and a Japanese mother, has also worked as a consultant for fashion brands, including Prada, D&G, Missoni, Adidas, Nike, Uniqlo and MAC.

"Stylists are facilitators," says the fashion commentator Caryn Franklin. "They channel energy, they pick up on trends way before they happen on the catwalk. They're the key people in the industry who have something to say."

And they're coming more and more to the fore, as Formichetti's award proves. Last year's recipient of the same award was Grace Coddington, creative director of American Vogue, whose body of work and shoots for the magazine comprise some of the most elegant and inspirational fashion imagery of the late 20th century.

But stylists have been helping designers and creating magazines' personae for decades. The term was coined in the 1920s, when department stores began hiring individuals on the merit of their sartorial flair to try to link the disparate elements of the modern wardrobe into something more accessible and, importantly, commercial.

"The post of 'stylist' has been created in some of the better American stores," reported the Daily Express in 1928. "The duties consist of informing the bag department of the trends in the shoe department, and the glove department what is happening in the costume department."

The role has come a long way, with stylists now indispensable both on the high street, where they help customers with personal shopping advice, and at high-end labels, where they consult with designers to create a suitable feeling or mood for their seasonal catwalk show. Stylists such as Formichetti and Coddington, as well as the editor of LOVE magazine, Katie Grand, French Vogue's editor, Carine Roitfeld, and the senior fashion editor at US Harper's Bazaar, Melanie Ward, work alongside designers as consultants.

"In the Nineties, as fashion became more democratised, stylists began using streetwear to up the ante," says Caryn Franklin. "They made very high-end ideas available to the mass market, in a combination of visual marketing and just knowing the right elements. People like Simon Foxton [who styled Levi's campaigns in the Nineties] gave denim a sense of personality."

Personality is key, of course, with latter-day stylists making their mark by dressing celebrities. Rachel Zoe became a high-profile name after dressing starlets including Nicole Ritchie and Mischa Barton in the mid-Noughties; her signature look – a size-zero frame accessorised with boho curls, enormous sunglasses and a maxi-dress – became so widely imitated that her fans became known as "The Zoebots". Zoe herself has in the past year made the leap to designing her own range of clothing, as has Melanie Ward. Nicola Formichetti, meanwhile, was in September appointed as creative director at the French label Thierry Mugler.

Where stylists have more usually worked alongside designers, they are now emulating them. One of fashion's most influential names, Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons, began her career as a stylist, and turned to designing when she found that she couldn't express herself fully through extant fashions. They may not have the technical expertise but they have the vision.

"A good stylist is worth their weight in gold," Ms Franklin continues. "You can put yourself in their hands and know that they are highly visually sophisticated and literate."

Behind the scenes, behind the styles

Grace Coddington

The creative director of American Vogue shot to fame after the documentary The September Issue showed a behind-the-scenes glimpse of her daily travails as one of the fashion industry's most influential stylists. Her shoots range from elegant and romantic to modern and avant-garde, and are characterised by a minute attention to detail.

Melanie Ward

Ward's urban-grunge style embodied the zeitgeist of the mid-Nineties, when she worked with the designer Helmut Lang to develop a sleek, minimal modern aesthetic. A senior fashion editor at US Harper's Bazaar, she is one of the first stylists to have dictated a mood not only in high-end fashion but also on the high street.

Rachel Zoe

Celebrity stylist Rachel Zoe caused a stir in the mid-Noughties with her extreme "skinny and sunglasses" trademark look, favoured by the likes of LA starlets Nicole Richie and Mischa Barton. She became a celeb in her own right, and has since starred in the reality TV show The Rachel Zoe Project and launched her own line of clothing last June.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

    £28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

    £16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

    Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

    £16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

    Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

    £17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

    Day In a Page

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before