Celebrity stylist V.Smith (Vincent Smith) is no stranger to the world of music. His work has helped some of our favorite musicians pull off some seriously iconic moments.
We sat down with the LA-based HBCU-alum and talked red carpets, the art of style, and what’s next on his agenda.
Celebrity styling is an elusive and tough industry to break into. How’d you get your start?
V.Smith: I started styling professionally in 2015 by doing small editorials for local magazines in Atlanta and a few commercial shoots. And then in 2016, I moved to New York and interned under Krisana Sotelo for a short period. I then met Kollin Carter, and I started chasing him and harassing him letting him know I wanted to assist him. He let me intern a few times and then he hired me as his assistant, and I’ve been in the game ever since. By 2019, I was no longer an assistant and began styling on my own.
So let’s talk about the role of the stylist. If we’re talking about in simple terms, beyond curating a look, how is it that you would describe what you do? What’s your approach?
V.Smith: I think my approach is just creating an entire image, and not just putting clothes on someone’s back. Making sure that the outfit or the looks that we’re working with or [are] creating together reflect who they are as a person. Making sure that we’re telling a story and not just putting on something because it’s cute.
My process with that is just tons of research. Tons of research. Tons of getting comfortable with that client, whoever that client might be. Learning them, because you know style is so personal to the individual. And I feel like to be a great stylist you must in some way, shape, or form connected with the individual so you can portray them properly when you do create. Really my job is to just elevate your true essence.
Let’s talk about how we know stylists’ names now! Historically we didn’t really get to know stylists much. It was years before we knew that Misa Hylton was the reason we were wearing combat boots and baseball jerseys like Jodeci and Mary J., or why we couldn’t wait to see what Lil’ Kim was wearing next. But now, stylists like yourself are getting more recognition and gaining large followings of their own. Why is that? What’s made that possible?
V.Smith: It’s so funny that you ask me that because honestly, my whole switch to becoming a stylist was because I didn’t want to be in any limelight. I’m not complaining about having my name be at the forefront of some of the projects because, at the end of the day, the stylist is an artist, right? Just like Basquiat and everyone else. You know their names, but you know their art. And that’s kinda what I want for me as a stylist. I want you to know my work, but right after that, you’re able to say “Oh, that’s Vincent Smith. That’s V. Smith.”
And that’s nice because I am working hard. I am doing days, weeks, months of research and days of sourcing. It takes a lot to get one look off, and I don’t mind the recognition of all of that hard work, however, that’s not something that I walk in. I’m not looking for that. That’s not the reason I became a stylist. So it’s interesting to see how that has changed. I think it’s worth it.
And I’m happy that Misa Hylton is now getting her flowers. People understand she was the one behind so many iconic looks. Honestly, as a stylist, I’m still learning a lot of things that she did and influenced. It’s amazing for me because for me it’s kinda like, for lack of a better term, connecting with my ancestors in a way.
It’s kinda like wow! This person came before me and was able to do that. And it just makes me feel more powerful when I’m doing my job or when I’m out in these streets competing with you know, my counterparts.
Let’s talk about the different types of stylists. There’s a product and model stylist, but then there’s a celebrity stylist. Then there’s a celebrity stylist whose niche is musicians. Would it be accurate to say that’s you? Or how would you describe your clientele?
V.Smith: I wouldn’t box myself in at all. I have a very large background when it comes to styling as far as commercial work, editorial work, mannequin, and product placement. All of that has been on my resume and is in my books. But I think I got thrown into that world when I started assisting with Kollin because that’s the world that he was in. I was immersed fully into that because we were working with Cardi B on her come-up!
The two years I was with Kollin and Cardi, were like a normal five, six years for someone else because she was just doing so much. She was everywhere. There was not a day when she didn’t have something. I think the years when I was working with Kollin I probably had maybe a total of five days— maybe six days off.
Yeah, you were moving. You were working!
V.Smith: Yeah, so with all of that, I got to meet so many people and network and use my resources. So now obviously, I am immersed in the world of celebrity because that was what I was around. That was part of my come-up. However, I wouldn’t tie myself down to just musicians.
I’m open to working with actresses, I’m open to working with models. I actually would love to have a model and actress or actor client. I would love to have a few commercial clients – like I wouldn’t mind styling campaigns for H&M, Zara, or Coca-Cola or anything like that.
Tell us what’s unique about styling for musicians and music videos.
V.Smith: So for me, working with musicians pays off in many ways because like I said, I have all this background in different things. When I initially got the inspiration to become a stylist and I started exercising that, my thing was that I wanted to do editorial. I wanted to work in magazines. I wanted to create covers and campaigns. And I feel like, with musicians, you get that. I get the best of both worlds. A music video is like a walking, moving editorial.
Working with musicians, period, is just so much fun because they have their persona and you have to help create this iconic look or this iconic moment with them and feed into who they are as a musician.
It’s probably not fair to ask about a favorite look or concept— but we’d like to know. What project of yours has been most memorable for you?
V.Smith: That is so hard! I can give you two examples. So in the assistant capacity, my most memorable moment would be walking the Met Gala Red Carpet with Kollin and Cardi in 2019. It was so surreal because one, not many stylists go on carpet. And for me as an assistant stylist to be on the carpet? That in itself was just such a major moment and I don’t believe many assistants have been able to do that. …To be with our client, and be with my key stylist [on the red carpet] and just to feel that energy was just amazing. It was magical.
As a key stylist, one of my most memorable projects was something I recently did this previous December working with a pop artist. Her name is Faouzia and we’ve been rocking with each other for a while now. And I’m so thankful to her for the opportunity to style for her music video, “Puppet.” And I absolutely loved working with her.
She’s so smart, She knows what she wants. I love the song, and beyond that, she’s open to so many different styles and looks that we were really able to play and do new silhouettes and do things that I know other people wouldn’t necessarily allow me to do. So she allowed me to do it and I was extremely happy about that.
What’s one of the projects that you’ve worked on that she felt stretched you a lot?
V.Smith: When I styled Normani for Rolling Stone, that was a project that stretched me because I wasn’t living in L.A. then. I was still in New York. I actually flew into LA because I was dressing Kash Doll for Grammys weekend. And I was literally in my Uber on my way to the airport and I got a call from my agent and she said “Hey, have you left L.A. yet?” I said “No, but I”m in my Uber. She said “Do you think you can stay for a few more days? Normani needs a stylist for Rolling Stone.” I was like “Oh, okay.” She’s like “Yeah, it’s the cover.” I was like “Oh, definitely I can do it.” And that was just a few months after resigning from my assistant position with Kollin Carter so that was such a major moment.
Shout out to Kollin because Normani was his client and he kind of set it up in a way where I was able to get that opportunity. That was such a blessing because not many people look out for their team or people that they’ve worked with like that.
That was a stretch because the shoot was the very next day! And when I got the call, it was 1:35 p.m. I remember exactly. And yes, I literally had to turn around from the airport, drop my bag off at a hotel that I had to book in the car, get back in the streets, and call my assistants up because they thought we were done working.
Everybody went about their day. I had to call them up and tell them we had to get back in the streets and pull looks for Normani for the cover the next day. And we pulled it off. It turned out good. We had plenty of options for her, plenty of looks. And we rocked it out. We got to style the cover.
What are your thoughts on how an artist’s look can impact their career?
V.Smith: I think it’s extremely important. I feel like as humans we are very [big on] what “we see first” and everything else after. And if an artist is singing about one thing, but their look and essence is portraying something else, it’s not believable. So having that look that coincides with your music, that coincides with who you are, the personality – that matters to the highest degree because if not, how are you selling us this art? So having that special look and having someone on your team that understands that look and continues to elevate that look is extremely, extremely important.
Give us a quick rundown of what your day might look like when you’re working with clients.
V.Smith: The process of that is to first sit down with the client. Try to figure out what they want, how they want to look, and figuring out what direction they want to go in. After I get those notes from them, I step in and challenge those notes. [I’ll] say “What about this? How would you feel about these poses? These silhouettes? Why don’t we tell this story?” And it becomes a collaborative project at that point, right?
I’m leading a discussion with them and making them think about things that they normally wouldn’t think about. I should be leading the conversation and always challenging my client to elevate.
Then beyond that, me and my team go into research. We start looking at brands and looking through runway looks and looking through Vogue or any other fashion resource we can get our hands on to see what we can find that matches what me and my client discussed. Then we move on to emails and communicating with the [fashion] houses. You do the shipping and you get in and then you do the fittings and tailoring and make sure that they are pleased with what they’re wearing. And it goes from all of that to the red carpet.
Any projects we should be on the lookout for? What do you have coming up?
V.Smith: You know, I have a few things coming up. I recently styled a few clients at Coachella, and there’s a big red carpet for my client that’s right around the corner. So I’m currently prepping for all of those things.