From Reaching for the Stars, to Styling Them
Nicole Chavez seems to be a Cinderella story of fashion styling. One day she was in college, studying photography, the next; she was befriending and dressing Rachel Bilson for the hit tv show, The OC.. The 32-year-old Mexican beauty seemed to have this career mapped out for her by the cosmos. She made the right connections, worked incredibly hard and kept reaching until she found her passion in fashion. She went from costuming to styling in a matter of years and clearly made the right decision. Many people think styling is an easy job. There are few who know how to place the right bag with the right dress and create buzz from that one choice. Nicole has always been able to make some of your favorite A-listers reign supreme in the kingdom of fashion, while still making the look at-home achievable. What’s most important to a woman who spends her days making other people look good? Nicole let ULM in on her personal mantra. Put together the pieces that say exactly what you want to say about yourself and just being yourself.
I know that you’d started your styling with the hit television series, The OC, but before you landed that, you were…?
I started working with a designer. In working with her, I met a family friend that introduced me to one of their colleagues at Disney. From there, I got an interview with a costume designer. I landed the job as a production assistant in the wardrobe department of Big Trouble.
Was styling your first choice as a career?
I graduated from Cal Poly, where I studied Photography and I moved back home after that. I knew I didn’t want to do that for a living. I loved photography, but really got into because of my love for fashion. I wanted to do fashion photography. After being in the program, I realized that I enjoyed styling, from all my shoots and casting models—it was a natural progression for me.
Who was your first celebrity client?
Rachel Bilson. She was the one that had me thinking outside of the box. She was always really supportive and we became friends on set and I was her set costumer. We hung out daily and both had a love for fashion, so we started working together. I started helping her on the side—parties, red carpet events.
Who’s been your biggest client thus far?
Now, I work with Rachel Bilson, Kristen Bell, Jamie King and Melinda Clarke. After them, it gets kind of fuzzy because everyone came at once. I worked with Brittany Snow, Amy Smart, Katherine Heigl, Scarlett Johanssen, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Ashlee and Jessica Simpson, Hillary Duff and Miley Syrus. My main girls now are Rachel, Kristen, Katherine, Scarlett, Brittany and the Simpson girls. I am always doing them.
What’s your fashion philosophy?
It’s really all about confidence and feeling good about yourself and what you’re wearing. If you have that—no matter what you’re wearing—you’re going to feel fantastic. That’s the number one thing. If you’re going to go there, you’ve got to own it.
What are your major fashion do’s and don’t’s?
I’m a big fan of building a neutral closet that fits well. Not having a ton of clothes, but really good basics—jeans, blazer, cocktail dress. Spend money on the fit, something you can put on and know it will look great and have fun with and keep up with trends with accessories. i.e. tights, hosiery and shoes. Also use your accessories to introduce color into your outfit. Undergarments are underrated. Undergarments can change your wardrobe and your body. No matter what size you are, don’t be afraid of body smoothers.
Always be careful that your outfits don’t wear you. I’m an advocate of less is more. Don’t try to throw all the bells and whistles in at one time. Pick one that you love and play off of that. Pick one element to overdo and one to underdo. If you’re all dressed up, make sure your hair is softer. Don’t be over-styled. I’m not so good with fashion don’t’s because I feel like once you say something is a don’t, it becomes the next big thing. Get to know your closet. Try clothes on and find different ways of wearing things.
How much of your styling reflects your Latino roots?
I think that my Latin background helps me with flair and dramatics. I have these amazingly beautiful, talented women that I get to dress like Barbie dolls. In my own sense of style, I love to see the figure. I don’t like oversized things. I like seeing the body, the shape—the hourglass silhouette. I like drama, feathers, fringe. I grew up upper middle class and my parents have always worked and instilled a strong work ethic in me. I have been working since I was 15. I love to work and take a lot of pride in my work. I feel blessed that I get to do what I love and can survive on it.
What current trend should we look out for?
Lace is huge for the fall. Plaids and tweeds, the country look is in. Gladiator booties are strong shoes. I see the glamorized hippie-chic look happening. Big hair, which I love! I have naturally big curly hair and I am finally in style. Tea length dresses are also in. We’re getting into different silhouettes and that’s exciting. Bell shaped jackets and coats are in for fall as well.
Do you have any favorite designers that you like to work with or use for your clients?
In general, I love working with Brian Reyes. He’s become a dear friend and is such a talent. We do a lot of projects together. Zac Posen is getting better and better. I love Jenni Kayne. She does chic, elegant California styles. I obviously love Chanel and I’m a big fan of Yves St. Laurent, Marni and Prada. I like things that are a little bit quirky and sophisiticated. I love things that are fashion forward with a sense of humor.
How much of your own personal style goes into your styling?
I love fashion and am always looking at things. It’s just a part of who I am. Sometimes, I wake up and think this is what it’s going to be. Each job and girl that I do is always completely different. This comes from working in film—being character based. First, it’s them—their bodies, vibe. Then it becomes, what are they going to? With these two things in mind, I will look through collections and request specific looks for them. Usually with the fittings, I will get a vision for all the accessories, makeup, etc. It comes alive at the fitting.
Do you have a signature piece or look that says Nicole Chavez?
I have looks that I remember because they were defining looks for the girls or for me. One that really sticks in my head was when Rachel wore a Brian Reyes grey dress with a red belt and she looked so beautiful that night. I loved everything about it. It’s still one of my favorite looks. When Katherine Hiegl won the Emmy, which was a really special Zac Posen look. I remember being really emotional about it and watching it with my parents. When Kristen wore the blue and white Jenni Kayne, I was so in awe of her. When I want to wear what they’re wearing, that’s how I know I did a good job.
Do you style men as well?
I have styled some men, but I believe the demand for styling men isn’t as high. Styling men is about creating relationships with designers. Men don’t get the same publicity as women do, as far as their clothes.
What advice would you give aspiring stylists?
Nothing is impossible. I had no connections and knew no one. Interning and assisting is a great way to start, learn and make contacts. Just get out there and keep trying to meet people. I was lucky because I had someone I could call and request for [Rachel]. Know that in the beginning, I worked for basically nothing. I left a great paying job for my dream and vision. Nothing is free. If you keep on the path of working hard, believe in yourself and the power of God, anything is possible. If you want to be something in life, get out there and start doing it.
What does the future hold for Nicole Chavez?
I really want to keep doing what I’m doing because I love it. The world and career of a stylist has evolved in the last few years and the opportunities are endless for us, with branding, collaborating and other directions you can go. For me, I am focusing on styling and taking care of my ladies and enjoying that process. I love the world of editorial, so I hope to continue to work with magazines, doing columns. I want to be able to help people with fashion.