As I’ve written before, the business of celebrity styling is entirely unregulated, proliferating a culture of favor-trading that results in some fairly shady business dealings. Stylists primarily get paid three ways: by the talent, by the studio, or by the brand. The problem right now is that no one really wants to pay them—at least not enough to cover the high-margin and low-justifiability expenses associated with putting together just one look.
It’s a strange time for the styling industry. The competition between streamers like Netflix and traditional studios such as Paramount have created more jobs than ever for stylists through the sheer volume of shows being released (pre-writers’ strike, anyway). There’s also been an exponential increase in requests for “glam”—hair, makeup and styling—from both on-screen talent and behind-the-scenes executives looking for an assist with public appearances. These days, everyone is their own personal brand. But as demand has gone up, so has supply. Fifteen years after Rachel Zoe made the career viable to millions of starstruck teenagers in the aughts, there are enough people calling themselves “celebrity stylists” to fill multiple representation agencies.
Yes, yes, styling can be a highly lucrative business, with a handful of top players on retainer for $200,000 per brand, and generating $5 million to $10 million annually. The reality for most stylists, though, is far less glamorous: studios are offering $500 a look, and sometimes even less, according to a person I talked to who runs a talent agency. Often, the entire budget presented for “glam” might be $1,000 per event, meaning that hair, makeup and styling have to split that three ways: $333 a piece. And that’s not including a manicure… or the costs associated with putting together a look. And according to one agent, it’s hard to convince these studios that a stylist needs more budget than a hair or makeup artist, even though the work requires extra hands (tailors, assistants) and includes logistics costs (Uber, Fedex, etcetera).