When a person walks in a room, their outfit tells a story before their mouth even opens – whether it’s purposeful or not. Not allowing just any narrative to be shared, wardrobe stylist Cerise Zhane’ takes control of fashion to curate a unique story that tells her past, present, and future.
Raised in Stone Mountain, Georgia, Cerise’s evolution into womanhood was deeply entangled with the influence of fashion. Now living in Brooklyn, New York, she is using her lifelong romance with fashion to magnify the life tales of others.
From breaking school dress codes in middle school to now owning the streets of New York, we caught up with Cerise to learn the root of her fashion obsession and how she knew she’d pursue it as a career.
What is your history with fashion? How has it been impactful on your life?
Fashion has marked the passage of my youth and defined my coming into womanhood. As an artist, clothing holds the narrative of my journey to self-discovery. As a stylist, it is a vessel through which I can more accurately convey who I am and what I have to say, and amplify the voices of others who have something to say through their clothing.
Did you study fashion in school? If yes, where and how did your program impact you? If no, how did you arrive at fashion and how (if so) does your degree intertwine with your love for fashion?
I received my Bachelor of Arts Degree in Economics at Spelman College. With respect to my college major, as a freelance wardrobe stylist, I am aware that fashion is a constantly growing industry, which requires not only innovation, flair, and a special eye for style, but great business savvy.
Fashion is a tough industry to penetrate. How did you begin your career in fashion?
I began my career in fashion by networking with other college students with similar interests. Because I had no prior experience or knowledge on being a wardrobe stylist, I utilized the resources around me to create my own content. This meant working with local photographers and models, who were also college students, and pulling most of the looks from my own wardrobe. After my junior year in college, I finally decided to invest in my craft by attending a summer course at FIT (Fashion Institute Of Technology). The course provided me with the basic knowledge needed to start my professional career as a stylist. Several photoshoots and let-downs later, I submitted my portfolio to every modeling agency in Atlanta until I booked my first paid gig as a wardrobe stylist.
What was a pivotal moment in your life where you realized you had to pursue your fashion dreams?
My mom tells me that I made up my mind to be a designer when I was 3. I fell in love with fashion as I began to notice what the characters on children’s television shows wore. Though I didn’t formally start my pursuits in fashion until I was in college, the first time I’d used fashion as a tool was back in middle school. Against my mom’s wishes (and the school’s dress code) I wore Chuck Taylors with my tulle bubble dress to the 8th-grade prom. The conflict that arose from this helped me to clearly see how fashion expresses deeply held beliefs about one’s identity.
Where do you look for inspiration for styling?
Aside from looking on Instagram, Pinterest, and through fashion publications, I find so much of my inspiration in everyday people. I love to see a person who is very in tune with their personal style. One of my favorite things to do is people watch. I often challenge myself to list the character traits someone might have based off of their wardrobe alone. It gives me a little gleam as to who they are, and inspires me to tell stories of the human experience through my work!
What are some secrets about fashion business that may not be general knowledge to the public?
Fashion, like any other art form, is subjective! It will always pay off more to stay true to your personal style than to follow the latest trends.
Explain your creative process.
Moodboards, Moodboards, and Moodboards! Every project I have completed has started with a moodboard. It helps me visualize my ideas by bringing together themes, colors, and well… moods! Even when I’m not working on a particular project I still create moodboards. It keeps the inspiration flowing for constant creation!
In order to be a successful stylist, what are some skills you must master?
Being detail-oriented and well prepared are the two most important skills a stylist can have. I have cost myself a lot of potentially great shots by not paying close enough detail to the clothing. The camera picks up everything! On the contrary, I saved the day many times simply by having a well-stocked styling kit—extra clips, pins, tape, and even pants!
What is the hustle of a wardrobe stylist?
Reaching out to colleagues and companies you want to work with! Oftentimes, your dream job won’t come to you, you will have to come to it! Closed mouths don’t get fed, so never be afraid to send an email over to a photographer or modeling agency you want to work with. Also, strategically budgeting to invest in your craft at every turn! You have to spend money to make money! This may mean doing free shoots with similarly inspired creators and models, especially when you’re trying to build your portfolio!
Are there any affirmations or books you feed your spirit to remain focused?
I actually read a daily devotional book every morning before getting out of bed. It’s called “Until Today” by Iyanla Vanzant. The book has a message for each day that challenges me to meditate, reflect, and face my weaknesses. It gets deep!!
Any tips for someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
Believe in yourself and don’t second guess your initial thoughts! Your initial thoughts are God sent, and that’s where the magic lays. Also, when you’re in a groove, continue to work until you exhaust every thought! And lastly, study your craft! It’s the only way to truly improve.