On the airy third floor of one of Broughton Street's trendiest boutiques, a small crew has gathered for a photo shoot.
It's a scene out every fashionista's dream: Photographer Cedric Smith adjusts a reflector in the soft sunlight filtering through the tall windows. Model Ki-Anna Drayton rests with feline grace until she senses the camera pointed at her, then strikes an effortlessly elegant pose. Professional stylists Lynn Serulla and Liz Best survey the effect, adjusting a piece of jewelry there, an errant thread there.
"The dress is amazing. Look at the sleeves," enjoins Serulla, holding out Drayton's willowy arm.
All present admire the designer's dolman drape. Best holds up an earring to the model's cheekbone, then another.
"I think a clean look is better, yes?" she murmurs.
Serulla and Best confer briefly and agree on no earrings. Smith snaps away.
To those who get dressed in the morning by choosing from the least-dirty items in their laundry pile, the amount of attention paid to small sartorial details may seem excessive. But those who know their skinnys from their boot cuts appreciate how even the tiniest choices affect how they present themselves to the world. A simple scarf can turn a plain t-shirt into a comment-worthy outfit; conversely, an ill-fitting sweater can ruin a first impression.
The distinctions are important enough that the fashion, celebrity and magazine industries have given rise to the role of professional stylists: Those discerning tastemakers who create an enchanting alchemy out of clothing, accessories, hair and make-up to add up to a particular artistic vision.
Serulla and Best know a little something about smoky eye shadow and pondering over the right pair of gladiator sandals. Both highly-immersed in global trends and locally celebrated for their own personal flair, the women have teamed up to style (yes, it's a verb) the multiple runway shows for Savannah's Fashion Night this Thursday, Sept. 5.
Pulling blouses, bangles and other items from SFN's dozens of official retailers, the stylists are also working with over 35 models from Halo Models and Talent Group, Rise Model Management and Tucker MarCom Model Talent Division. Dollface By Jules and 40 Volume will handle make-up and hair, respectively.
It adds up to an impressive amount of possible permutations: The stylists must come up with over 30 different looks for each of the four shows.
Though being surrounded by fabulous clothes and beautiful people sounds like a pretty cushy gig, Serulla reminds that someone has to source all that clothing and jewelry and carry it to where it needs to be.
"Basically, stylists are glamorous shleppers," laughs Serulla, who has spent time in Los Angeles and New York assisting on photography shoots and music videos, including Lenny Kravitz's "Stand." She put in a costume design stint with Warner Bros. and once served as actor Topher Grace's bowtie handler.
Also an accomplished painter (look for her new work at November's First Friday Art March,) the Michigan native grew up creating window displays for shops in her hometown of Grand Rapids. A graduate of the Kendall College of Art and Design, she landed in Savannah "for love" and prefers to work out of the Hostess City rather than the more cutthroat environments of larger fashion nexuses.
"People are so nice here," she says. "Plus, they like to wear colors."
Serulla describes her own style as "neo-femme" and cites history and nature as inspirations in her fine art as well as fashion concepts.
"I'm a very intuitive type of stylist," she muses. "I'll see a color in a field somewhere, and then it's like 'I'm really obsessed with this particular tone of purple right now.'"
Along with the items specific to a particular gig, Serulla always travels with a massive tote filled with essentials to the professional stylist's tool kit: A lint roller. Boob tape. Clothespins. Altoids.
She and Best agree that a tape measure is another vital item to making the job go seamlessly.
"Also, a travel steamer," avows Best, shaking her own enormous bag.
Though her C.V. isn't quite as full as Serulla's, SCAD student Best comes to SVN with high recommendations from some of Savannah's most avid style watchers. Her blog, liz-best.com, spikes every time she posts, and she's been featured multiple times on New York Times fashion slideshows.
Hailing from Tampa, FL, she adopted from an early age the Yves Saint Laurent adage that "dressing is a way of life." She admits to staying up to the second on fashion trends, but aims to make style something that's accessible. In other words, none of us need hold ourselves up to the red carpet fashions of actors and models in our everyday lives.
"The reason why celebrities all look so good is that they all have stylists. They also all have tailors," she points out sagely.
Upstairs above Broughton Street, Smith is finished taking photos and begins taking down his lights. Serulla and Best begin to pack up the jumble of jackets, shoes and accessories considered for their final collaborative look.
"See, isn't this glamorous?" grins Serulla, adding that much of styling means "keeping cool and being organized."
Though breezy photography shoots styled by professionals are hardly de rigeur for most fashionistas, SFN's stylists say any of us can turn an artistic eye on our own real world closets.
"Every morning, you get up and style yourself, whether you're conscious of it or not," considers Best.
"Being a stylist means having confidence in your own tastes."