Interview with Fashion Stylist and Social Media Strategist Irina Chernyak in AFI Magazine

Tell us a bit about your background? (e.g. where were you born and raised. What education did you have? Have you always wanted to work in fashion?)

I was born in Moscow, Russia, where I spent the biggest part of my life, except the fact that the last 15 years there my work in different magazines had me traveling all around the world! I am now settled in New York City, where I have lived the last four years.

I graduated from Moscow State University with a degree in History of Art and it was there, when I attended some lectures, even before I started my University studies, when I realized that I would one day be working in fashion. My university thesis was about fashion during the romanticism period at the beginning of the 19th century.Can you take us through your career?

I started off by writing, my first article about fashion was in 1995 for one of the first independent newspapers in Russia covering this topic. Then, in 1998 I produced my first fashion photo shoot, while trying to get a position as fashion assistant at Cosmopolitan magazine. They must have liked my work as they hired me, and spent 7 years there until I was promoted to fashion director. Then, this led to the opportunity to launch an entirely new magazine Cosmopolitan Shopping, and spent the following 4 years as the Editor in Chief for that project. In 2008 I became the editor-in-chief of Collezioni magazine – an incredibly interesting project since, in addition to the women’s issues, we also produced separate ones for men, brides, kids, haute couture and jewelry.

Where you do live and work now? Why New York?

In 2013 I moved to New York City and founded my own agency Style in Details, which is engaged in fashion shooting for different publications and fashion clients; although the biggest part of our work lately is in Social Media Marketing!

Why did I choose New York City? Actually I think sometimes cities choose you! It started when I first visited there, in one quick moment I clearly remember telling myself “one day I will live in this city!" After that, I had no doubts and worked towards making this goal happen.

What was your dream when you started your career? Do you think you have reached it now?

It seems to me that I managed to achieve all the things that I could only dream about. If someone asks if I could have changed my last professional associations to something even more cool... I would answer that I had the opportunities to do so, but I made a conscious choice. I must say that I did like the freedom that I had in all the projects that I was involved with. I can not say that I ever dreamed to become and editor-in-chief, I have just kept moving forward to take on new challenges and always gave it my best. At some point I was even against accepting a higher position, since I thought it would take away the ability to continue to explore creativity, but at some point it became clear that I could no longer refuse becoming the editor-in-chief, so I accepted the role.

What exactly does your job entail?  

I'm a stylist and I take photographs. I'm a Social Media strategist and grow my clients' social media accounts to a whole new levels of followings and engagement with their online audiences. I do find that my past various experiences help me to bridge the gap between these two worlds and types of activities.

What is the best part of your job?

I love doing photo shoots - there undoubtedly is an amazing feeling when a hectic but great process comes to an end. You prepare, make the mood board, have long conversation with the fashion houses and showrooms to negotiate their support, choose and collect the outfits, mix and match things together, execute the fashion shoot itself, often in very difficult weather and locations conditions. This is not an easy job. But the result always evokes a sense of euphoria and delight.

Working in Social Media, you never get to this feeling, when something you have worked hard for comes to its natural end. You always feel that you need to achieve more and get to a next step, which becomes endless. But in the process you do connect with people from all over the world: they communicate, they support each other, they admire the beauty of the world. And when you feel these connections, even in conversations with total strangers that you will never meet in person - this is on its own also a great pleasure.

What is the secret to becoming a successful stylist?

Many people think that the secret is in self-presentation and personal style. In fact, in my opinion - success, first of all, is in being very hungry for lots of knowledge: the history of fashion, photography, cinema, painting, street styles, understanding a lot of magazines and books. Now there is even more to learn about. New trends from independent creators that you find on Instagram. Without this knowledge and understanding, you cannot come to develop a style that will be liked by thousands of people, and that will make them want to follow you from one creation to the next. This requires its own set of knowledge and skills.

Can you take us through your thought process in creating an outfit “style”?  Is it the colors, shape, texture?  What runs through your head in this creative process?   

For me, clothes are like texts that other people will read like a books. The text have to be understandable and there should be no errors in it. How to describe the error? Well, for example, if a person writes a phrase but every word is taken from another language, what results will not be clear, and most likely also not beautiful.

When I teach fashion students or my styling assistants, I of course, explain these principles in more technical details! As people have reached out to me to learn about my techniques I decided to formalize this process and have organized fashion tours to New York along with lectures. I love to share my knowledge with people who fall in love with fashion and this has been a popular and fun way to make that happen.

How do you prepare yourself for an upcoming photo shoot?

Do you mean if I meditate or not? Usually does not help, so I do spend extra time to make very clear mood boards! The fact is that people interpret words very differently but everyone understand well if we speak by the language of images so this process helps break down communication barriers that words alone can create when trying to describe creative concepts.

As a fashion stylist, what would you take in your styling kit to a photo shoot?

I always thought that it’s very important think, where everyone has very own choice of things, according to their personal experience and specific needs. I even wrote a blog about this on my website Unfortunately it’s in Russian, because most of my students at the time were Russian speaking, but you gave me a good idea so I will soon translate it in English. Anyway everyone should check it out, because even just pictures are very informative, then there is always the less-than-perfect Google translate if wanted!  

What was your most memorable experience on a photo shoot?

During 18 years of photo shoots there have been a lot cases that I could put to the “memorable” category. The time we were in the mountains in Kazakhstan, on a glacier, at an altitude of 2500 meters with no connection with the mountain guides, under the snow, when a helicopter could not come after us because of the storm. We did not even know in which direction to return and how we could leave a lot suitcases full of expensive designers clothes there.

I also remember a trick I did when we shot the cover of a wedding issue. The model was very cold and she looked at the photographer with hatred in her eyes. I had to figure out how to change the situation. So I also took off all of my warm clothes, and was left in a silk dress to be in the same condition as the model. My example was followed by the photographer, his assistant. And soon everyone laughed at this unusual striptease. And after that we were able to get the look we wanted!

How do you keep up with the changing trends in fashion?

I have over 17 years of formulated fashion trends in Russia for the large audience of my magazines. Every season I watched all the designer's collections worldwide and informed the readers about the trends emerging, sometimes this would mean looking at 200 trends per season! But now it’s not the part of my routine anymore. City streets have become my research lab - the streets in NYC is where I’m looking for trends, because to me they are much more interesting than runways. Ordinary people are the real inspiration for fashion now days, and this is also a factor of what we are seeing with social media and fashion influencers in it.

What trends are you loving right now?

I live in New York and constantly discover new facets of it styles. That's right, in the plural. Those who know this city definitely understand that it's not about one style, it's about numerous of those, because each area has its own style. In Brooklyn, on Bedford avenue, in Upper East Side, in Harlem and in Midtown they are very different.

Tell us a bit about fashion forecasting? What do you predict for this coming summer 2017?

I've always been very passionate about fashion forecasting, but I do not do it professionally. But some time ago I interviewed one of the greatest forecasters, Li Edelkoort. She told me that the most important global trend is that people will be united in groups, tribes and clusters again. And I'm pleased to see that this is coming true. How does this apply to fashion? It's simple. Creativity of new designers is now on the rise. I really like to make fashion stories with absolutely new names and admire the new creativity. But it is difficult for upcoming designers to resist powerful brands, which often immediately begin to copy them. Only integrating: in fashion incubators, collective stores, etc. young designers gain their voice and strength.

How do trends actually start? Does social media have a role?

Trends begin at the level of fashion forecasting, since in this way brands receive information. But do not forget that there are analyzed not only fashion shows, but also what happens on the streets, in the youth environment, in Social Media. It is not so difficult for a professional to understand what needs to be done to get into the trend, or even to start a new one. Using effective Instagram mechanisms, you can turn simple things into a mega trend.

How do you think the fashion industry has evolved since you started?

Haha, do you expect me to review the past 22 years? A lot of things have changed. It was a time when fashion produced less trends, and then again much more. Designers were deprived of the rights by their fashion houses, designers were just regular employees. During this time, many brands disappeared, and new ones emerged. Previously, fashion editors were dressed only in black when attending fashion shows, now their outfits are more vivid than ever. Then suddenly digital photography came on the scene and changed everything. To continue with the change we now have Instagram and other social networks to be the channels where people go to find out about fashion and new trends. Magazines have left their Olympic pedestal. Many of them closed down. What an incredible thing it has been to witness everything unfold like this in front of my eyes.How important are Fashion Weeks for you?

I used to visit Fashion shows in New York, Milan, Paris, Moscow, Berlin, Madrid. This is a very complicated, albeit fascinating, part of the work. I get to go to the shows not only for the sake of the show itself. I used to watch what happens before the show, how the audience is dressed, who sat where, who came to the show, what smells, what music, what light, what scenery, how the models moved. All this in itself develops into trends.

But when there are now bloggers on the front row who do not look at the show, but endlessly doing selfies, it all makes little sense, doesn’t it?

Many say social media is very important. Just how important is it in this industry and for you as a stylist?

Social Media is of critical importance for fashion brands today. I began to seriously engage in my own instagram presence as @irina_chernyak, and soon realized that it is not important how many followers you have, but what engagement rate you get from your true fans. Having come across the right formula, I now get engagement rates of more than 20% when the industry average is less than 3%. I have since launched a social media boutique agency on instagram @styleindetailsnyc which helps fashion brands and other individuals get the same type of result

Do you have any tips for our readers on making the most out of social media for their career / brand etc?

I believe that they are your personal media, an excuse to be heard and the opportunity to listen carefully to others and engage with them. Therefore, professional advice is to try to really enjoy the tremendous opportunities that they give, never buy fake followers, and hire social media professionals only, who together with you want to make the world more beautiful and better place.

What do you do in your free time?  

I started painting and learning Italian, trying to sew unusual things, making boho style jewelries, experimenting as a florist, growing succulents, and decorating my villa in Italy.From you extensive experience and successes in this industry, what words of wisdom could you give to aspiring stylists new to the industry?

Never stop learning, do not be afraid to doubt, because doubts allow you to do better than you were yesterday.