In the world of fashion, Zoe Lem does it all. Whether it’s styling the stars for the red carpet and participants on the UK version of â€œWhat Not to Wear, or flying off to the Middle East to work with the English language version of the Al-Jazeera news network, she’s been there, done that, and with a certain je ne sais quoi. Lem trained as a designer before deciding to focus on styling, and now her work can be seen on A-list celebs, magazine covers, music videos, and a myriad of other places.
So, the favourite question to ask stylists and designers: who would you consider to be your biggest influences?
That really is a difficult one to give a one word answer, I am very inspired by vintage clothing and the 20’s through to 50’s there was such beautiful style. If it’s who rather than what, then there is no one person. But my mother was really so into clothing growing up, even now her favorite shop is Topshop and she has a very funky style. I was brought up on charity shops, markets and finding great bargains in unusual places, a long while before it was cool to go for second hand chic!
If you could meet any style icon, past or present, who would it be?I think once again it would be a figure from the past as they really took such amazing pride and time with their style and groomingâ€¦so probably Marilyn Monroe. She was so sexy and feminine with it. So many designers return to the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s for influence in their designs and the originals are always the best.
Of course, there are many differences between American English and the Queen’s Englishâ€”what is your favorite fashion-related word that is â€œlost in translation?
Well one that isn’t directly fashion related but needed to be used is ‘fanny’ as over here it obviously means bottom but on a job in America a model referred to something to do with her fanny and I was rather shocked due to the context of the conversation. Also on another job the model asked the hairdresser to give her a ‘bang’ well over here that does not mean fringe! He thought his luck had come in.
What do you think is the absolute worst trend at the moment?
Most defiantly Ugg boots! They are the ugliest things I’ve ever seen along with Crocs! Ugg boots have become so popular through celebs and wags wearing them but they make the ankles look fat and are just so hideous I don’t get them at all. Also the pencil jeans thing has and is still such an unfortunate mistake for so many men and women who squeeze into them with legs and a bum that really should stick to wide leg trousers. They do not make you look thinner they show everything off. Just because a trend is out there does not mean you need to indulge. Stick to styles that suit your body shape.
Name five women that we should keep an eye on, whether they are trendsetters, risk-takers or simply impeccably dressed?
An obvious one is Kate Moss – though I am not in awe of her style but she certainly has had a huge impact on British style and has become an icon for many young women.
Peaches Geldof – She has become a young influential character as a DJ, journalist and young it girl and mixes street style with high end fashion.
Alexa Chung – She is a presenter on T4 in the UK and again a young face that has once again created an edgy twist on street style.
Lily Allen – She became famous for wearing trainers (sneakers) with an evening dress. A lady who has her own style and attitude to boot.
Agyness Deyn- She has become another model icon closely watched for her own quirky style and cropped hair.
Daisy Lowe – Another model with an individual style, she is photographed a lot on and off jobs. As Pearl Lowes daughter she already had an in to the â€œit world.
If there was one article of clothing that you think every woman should own, what would it be?
A pair of magic knickers they help women of all shapes and sizes look amazing Spanx go all the way up to the bra so no rolls anywhere. Also an amazing statement necklace can change the silhouette underneath. Trends change but a great necklace is for life!
What are the advantages of being a stylist as opposed to a designer? Having been trained as a clothing designer, do you think that you will ever go back to creating pieces of your own (or collaborating with an established brand, a la Rachel Zoe?)
The reason that I eventually went for styling rather than continuing with making clothing was the scope to create a look from the many resources out there. I love mixing vintage, designer and high street together to create something unique. For me on a job when I am given a brief it is about creating the right look to fulfil a brief rather than getting caught up in where it is from and cutting out labels if necessary! Of course having studied fashion and learnt how to make and create clothing will always be with me and I think to understand how clothing is made and how it works with the body actually has made me the stylist I am. But I always have ideas for clothing so would love to collaborate or do something in the future, it is a natural development and something I have always known I would do. Many of my friends that I studied with have stuck with the design side but I think to be able to do both would be a great combination.
What is your â€œmost coveted item of this season (for you and for your clients)?
For me it will always be the jewelry, I love picking it up on my travels. I bought some great jewelry in Rome and Morocco and on recent tripsâ€¦also at a flea market in Blackpool! I keep my eyes peeled for interesting accessories I can use on jobs. Jewelry must go with your outfit too and the colours’ must complement each other. But don’t be afraid of a bold piece if using tones of your clothingâ€¦it will blend rather than stand out like a sore thumb!
Many of us fashion aficionados are operating on a budget. What do you recommend as investment pieces (or splurging on), and what should you buy on a budget?
I think that with the influx of so much budget fashion stores it is not always necessary to buy insanely expensive clothing, instead spend your money on great accessories as they can transform and personalize an outfit. It isn’t so embarrassing if you have the same black dress on as someone else especially if you’ve styled yours up with a great necklace or earrings. Also if you keep your eyes open for interesting pieces and mix and match rather than going for an outfit as styled up by the store you will find yourself in an embarrassing situation with someone in the same outfit, it is lazy! If you have a bigger bust then defiantly spend money on a great bra as it will totally change the shape of your body and outfit plus there are all of the health benefits.
Investing in the right pair of boots is an area that I would also focus on as everyone’s legs are so differentâ€¦ find a good fit on the calf so that they are flattering. Don’t be afraid to spend a little if you find the perfect pair.
Out of all of your styling jobs, whether it be set, clothing, magazine shoot, etc, which do you find the most rewarding? The most challenging?
It is certainly very rewarding when working with real women when you have a chance to give them knowledge and to really make a difference. I always say that fashion/clothing will never save lives but it can certainly make you feel better and that can really change some peoples lives by giving them confidence. I have had letters from people afterwards thanking and saying how I’ve changed their lives, so that feels great.
It obviously feels good when you have dressed a celeb and they get good reviews in the press they are all in fear of having a cross against their pic. I did one particular job which felt quite an amazing achievement, it was a video for Robbie Williams with over a hundred people all with completely different characters, 8 assistants and a zillion props but all went to plan and looked great. It is all in the organizing and planning, what ever the job. If things are well planned then nothing really should go wrong on the job. From experience, I always plan for every eventuality,
And finally, since you must be one of the busiest women in the industry, how do you manage to stay sane?
My husband is not in the fashion industry at all, he is in politics and journalism so I think that having that break from the mindset of a creative is important. He is very understanding and listens to me sounding off about various jobs but I am also interested in his work and problems too so it ensures we keep a balance. With work being so crazy and busy you need some sanity and my husband certainly brings that, he is very level headed and intelligent and he ensures I maintain a sane mind.