Stylists in the local scene are, as Sunny puts it “an odd batch of people who work behind the scenes and are sometimes never seen.” There is still confusion as to the work of a stylist, he explains, with some still asking what exactly they do and trying to understand that their job is really to dress people. The reality is not so simply described and the long hours do make the job real, despite the present confusion. Sunny explains that it is a difficult job and the perception that it is glamorous has somewhat tainted the seriousness of it all. He further adds “people don’t realize that it is work and it gets quite exhausting because you always have to be switched on.”
On set, you will find Sunny doing all manner of jobs such as tying peoples shoe laces, brushing peoples shoes, ironing clothes, from brushing their hair to oiling their hands and feet. “You are in charge of how someone looks before they go onto the stage, set or red carpet so you have to think of everything including hair and make-up,” he adds. Quashing further the glamorous perception, Sunny also tells us that on set, you will find him wearing sweat pants, shirt and boots and the reason being the long hours, the 3am pick up times, and shoots that last up to 6 days continuously.
He recalls one of his styling jobs for a highly –acclaimed American Sci-Fi Television Series called Sense 8 that was partially shot in Nairobi. “This was my longest shoot. We shot for about three weeks and prepped for a month. I pretty much worked on it from end June to the end of September.” Adding further to their work of creating looks, a fashion stylist is also the creative director who is tasked to come up with the concept. “You find the model, you find the location, put together the looks, on set you sometimes direct the shoot, the make-up and hair and even post-production.” [Watch In Vogue: The Editor’s Eye to see what this entails]
Sunny Dolat has worked with the NEST Collective for three years as Programs Coordinator handling the fashion program and coordinating with Chico Leco. Sunny was also behind the award winning fashion film, To Catch a Dream, which as he recalls, isn’t like anything he has worked on before. “I did creative direction which was really hectic and involving. Unlike the series Chico Leco Presents, their was a script first and then we had to find everything needed to fit into the script,” he explains. As a result, he further adds, the designers needed to create pieces specifically to fit the script, which involved numerous discussions with the designers. All in all, he states, the project took 6 months to complete.
When he got into styling, Sunny recalls being one out of 5. Right now, he has seen a surge in the industry with more and more people getting into styling. At the moment, his styling work includes Sauti Sol, which he took over from Annabel Onyango. “They are such fun to work with and they take risks,” he says. He further noted how recently, Sauti Sol received heavy backlash as a result of their outfits during Coke Studio with most criticizing the looks as not masculine. “If you looked at the comments, it was quite a backlash. It is a very different aesthetic than what people are used to seeing. People struggle with reacting to something different so they fight it instead,” Sunny observes.
Sunny believes that we have been brainwashed into what the idea of masculinity is, being heavily influenced by the West. He explains that to be a man, people expect you to wear pants, which are not too tight as if there is a guide on how to be a man. “We forget so quickly that we have nomads amongst us who wear wraps, skirts, chocker necklaces and jewelry such as the Masaai and they are stull masculine,” Sunny explains. The previous event where Sauti Sol got backlash for what they wore, Sunny recounts, was during the Korogo festival when they wore Niku Singh jewelry for their performance. “Kenyans were not having it. They said its not manly, its too big forgetting the Samburu, the Pokots, the Masaai and the Turkana who all wear jewelry and layers of it,” he argues. For Sunny, he finds its quite odd that people would fight these things forgetting where we have come from demonstrating further how the Dinka simply wore a beaded corset and women wrapped themselves without much else covered.
This ties into the perception of Kenyan fashion and African fashion on a larger scale. Sunny expounds on the existing unspoken formula as to what exactly constitutes these things. He notes that for something to be qualified as African fashion and Kenyan fashion consequently, it must have Ankara, print, beadwork, the earthy colors, tribal geometric prints that in his words cumulate to “AFRICAAHH!” People struggle with designers such as Katungulu Mwenda whose aesthetic does not fit into this box and looks such as Sauti Sol’s, which disrupt the understanding and perception of Kenyan fashion. “These things really throw people off, the shapes and silhouettes are not what people expect and so it is fought by the West and Africans who struggle with it,” he concludes.
For those coming into the industry to be fashion stylists, Sunny would state first that they must understand it is a real job, hard work, with long hours and deadlines. However, Sunny would motivate them to just do it even though there will be disappointments and success, fun events and terribly long shoots. For Sunny, he recalls how he had to work for free for a couple of years because no one knew who he was or his work. “It has taken me a while to be able to quote a rate and stick with it. In the beginning, I couldn’t even ask for 5000 ksh since I had no portofilio to speak of. I had to justify my rates to a lot of people,” he adds.
Do what you love, get the experience, take it seriously and fight for it whilst staying true to who you are and expressing yourself in your work, Sunny’s parting shot.
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Find out more and follow Sunny Dolat: @Beudreux on Twitter.
If you missed Part I, read here.