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The Role of the Stylist in Hypermodern Image-making

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Jennifer Anyan and Philip Clarke


There has been a heightened awareness of the role of the stylist in contemporary fashion image-making in recent years. This paper will aim to define fashion styling as an intellectual pursuit, in historic, theoretical and practical terms.

This collaborative paper will attempt to explore the role of the stylist within a creative team (on a fashion editorial shoot for example) and within the wider fashion industry. The stylist, whether commissioned to gather clothing or accessories for a shoot or as a creative director, could be seen to have more in common with the fine artist than designer or craftsman, in terms of the process undertaken when producing work. The stylist works with existing ingredients; sourcing, collecting and combining predesigned objects (ready mades), participating in the conception and creation of a photographed scene that is designed to convey meaning. Aligning the practice of styling alongside that of the artist, particularly that of artist/social scientist trickster, protagonist and social commentator.

Raniere, talking about fine art photography in more general terms, describes the photographic image as “a legible testimony of a history written on faces or objects’ (Raniere, 2007). Stylists work with materials clothing or accessories, furniture and location to construct a scenario which communicates a message or theme. Barnard states fashion and clothing “may be considered, at least potentially, undecidable’ (Barnard, 1996, p145). The fashion stylist decides, by giving clothing context; stylists literally tether meaning to fashion for the reader/viewer/consumer.

Discussing contemporary society beyond postmodernism, Gilles Lipovetsky describes a state of “hypermodernity’, where the principles of modernity are taken to the extreme (Lipovetsky, 2005). Nicholas Bourriard’s “Altermodern’ exhibition at the Tate Modern in 2009 also attempted to define art and design practice beyond postmodernism. This paper will further discuss how cultural shifts and technological factors could affect the stylist’s role and their contribution to fashion image-making in these “hypermodern times’.

In The Fashion System (Barthes, 1960) Roland Barthes chose to discuss the processes involved in the representation of fashion in 1960s women’s magazines. The structured fashion system he refers to, discussed in semiotic terms, followed a prescribed format, was modernist and self-referential. The postmodern magazine reader expected bricolage, the assemblage of an image using diverse themes and messages, irony, parody and pastiche. What does the hypermodern magazine reader (online or print format) expect to see and how is the stylist involved in the process?

The paper will position the (relatively new in comparison to that of artist and designer) role of stylist as a practitioner whose process operates in the interstice between the established “artist’ and “designer’ while simultaneously offering a new creative position. The paper will also consider why the role of the stylist has become more prominent and been given more recognition in recent years, taking into account the impact of technology and new media and the resultant, increasingly democratised, journalistic environment.


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This Work, The Role of the Stylist in Hypermodern Image-making, by zbeck is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported license.