“Being a fashion stylist was never a calling I grew up with. It just kind of happened organically.” Annabel Onyango is an independent fashion stylist based in Kenya and has been doing it for 7 years. Her definition of a fashion stylist is, broadly stated, dealing with putting clothes on people. For her, styling is about dressing artists/personalities for media purposes, dressing people for commercial advertising, curating a store and being on the panel of fashion experts on Fashion Watch. Annabel is also a style influencer whilst pushing the #MadeinKenya agenda promoting home-grown designs to consumers.
“How I dress today is different to how I dressed 6 months ago or how I will dress 6 months from now.”
So how did this organic evolution in fashion styling begin for Annabel? As a writer, having studied MA in English, her first real job was as Editor for a lifestyle magazine published by Capital FM. Annabel was able to springboard from there into being poached by East Africa Magazines to be a fashion editor for three lifestyle brands; namely True Love, Drum and Adam. When the parent company folded in South Africa, Annabel persisted in styling on a freelance basis. “After A LOT of hard work and sheer passion for what I do, it just snowballed from there,” she explains.
That evolution was easy simply because working in lifestyle magazines and freelance fashion styling overlap in function and stem from the same conversation; fashion and style. Being a fashion stylist, Annabel tells us, is like an artist painting a canvas. “ The person or model is the blank canvas on which you can overlay your artistry. Stylists have a natural sense about shape, colour, texture, much like an artist,” she explains.
Annabel’s artistry can easily be relayed back to her own personal sense of style. Annabel’s style is dictated in large part by international trends. “How I dress today is different to how I dressed 6 months ago or how I will dress 6 months from now,” she says. Annabel follows what the important brands are doing on the international scene and adapts accordingly. Right now, she is into monochrome (all black, all white, all nude…) as well as bespoke African print. When it comes to her clients, she always wants them to be relevant in the greater fashion sphere so her recommendations are always on what is on trend at the moment. Annabel is also launching quite soon her fashion store in Garden City Mall, named Republi.ke that is heavily driven by current trends.
Check out the Sauti Sol video for Sura Yako styled by Annabel Onyango: [a musical intermission]
Annabel enjoys working with musicians. “I like adapting my style to suit their style or whatever project they are working on,” she tells us. Her experience working with Sauti Sol has been the most consistent and most rewarding, she explains. As a result of their symbiotic relationship that works well, she understands their aesthetic and they trust her vision. She does not do personal styling anymore, however, she will conduct a consultation to understand a client’s styling needs as well as budget then make suggestions regarding the direction they should take.
“I hope clothes excite them as much as it does me.”
Being a fashion stylist for Annabel is now her bread and butter. Annabel is an independent fashion stylist permitting her the freedom and luxury of choosing her own project as she deems fit. “Beyond that, who knows where passion comes from?” she remarks. Like any job worth doing, she further explains, there are many tough days but passion is ultimately what keeps one going back for more. What is more rewarding for her is seeing a happy client and being part of a successful project. “I like to see people being inspired by either what I wear or how I dressed someone else. I like bending people’s minds to the possibilities or influencing them to being a consumer in a certain way,” she explains. Ultimately, the tangible results are what a real stylist will always aspire to, she points out.
Her personal brand is focused on Kenya and finding solutions as to how international trends can be translated into the local market. “The older I get, the more I realize that the home country is the most important,” she reflects. She further adds that she is “proud to be in this country and to be working and thriving here. I hope my work reflects this cultural bias.” In Kenya, there are plenty of talented and creative fashion stylists, she says. As they are all friends, they support one another the best they can. In the international scene, Annabel’s wardrobe and styling choices are inspired by a fashion blogger with a similar style called Micah Gianelli based out of Sydney.
“The older I get, the more I realize that the home country is the most important.”
On the topic of bloggers, Annabel does acknowledge that there is some degree of overlapping between stylists and bloggers as they both deal in the “currency of style.” She however believes that to be really successful at either one, you have to choose. “Earlier in my career, I kept a blog to promote my fledging brand; once the styling took off, blogging was no longer necessary,” she states. She further adds that people underestimate the amount of effort and time required to be a good blogger.
There are some who may not understand what being a fashion stylist means and the work involved, however, for Annabel, she wants people to see that her styling comes from a place of genuine experience and knowledge. She also hopes that people trust the process and the advice. “I hope clothes excite them as much as it does me. I mean, at the end of the day, wearing cool clothes and having a great image won’t change major global events, but it does change individual lives and careers for the better,” she tells us.
In part II, we delve in Annabel’s experience with Kenyan fashion and her views on this industry.
In the interim, take a look at her previous work below.
*Images courtesy and copyrighted to ©AnnabelOnyango