Tatiana Wise is the San Diego-born, Los Angeles-based stylist and creative director who’s spent the past several years carving out her presence within the industry. In styling brands such as AKILA and Youthforia, as well as notable celebrities and musicians like Amaal, Makayla London, Lourdiz, and Anabel Englund among others, she’s established herself as a creative in her own right.
After graduating from San Francisco State University with a BS in fashion merchandising, Wise landed a number of projects as a freelance stylist and visual merchandiser that span prop styling, photoshoot practices, and on-figure styling. Now, she’s at the helm of working with some of today’s notable fashion labels and Gen-Z’s favorite content creators. Recently, Tatiana styled Thuy, Amber Riley, and River Gallo for Croc’s collaboration with Clueless and Zappos. Elsewhere, she primed her skills by working with artists like CHLO, Laci Mercedes, and Aubrey Harris this year.
“I’ve been doing this for almost 6 years and I’m still not where I want to be within my career. But, with that being said, you must celebrate all your successes, big or small. I used to be so hard on myself and I honestly still am,” she tells us. “But when I finally started celebrating myself and giving myself my own flowers, more success came. Believing you are destined for greatness will only allow greatness to come your way.”
Below, we chat with Tatiana Wise about discovering her love for fashion, tips for emerging stylists, working with the likes of brands like Crocs and My Mum Made It, and more. Read on for our conversation.
Let’s go back a little bit to your early life. Can you tell me where you grew up and how your upbringing informed or influenced how you see the world?
I’m a California girl through and through! I was born and raised in San Diego, CA, and stayed there until about 17 years old. I was blessed with amazing parents who had an open mind about most things when it came to raising me and our family values. I won’t sit here and say that I had the most amazing childhood but I was blessed with a beautiful home, in a nice neighborhood with parents who loved me. I definitely think growing up in my hometown shaped a lot of what I am today and the person I was when I moved away from home. I grew up around a lot of money, but our family was middle class in comparison to the upper-class residents around me. Being half black, in a predominantly Latinx and Filipino area, I definitely changed my appearance and the way I acted to fit in with those around me. From frying my natural hair, to how I dressed, to how I talked, to how I acted, I honestly never felt connected to the black side of myself. It was hard because when I look back, there were so many microaggressions and racist things that I experienced but never really knew what it all meant until I moved away. I made a lot of mistakes growing up, that affected my relationships, my reputation, and my mental health but I think without it, I wouldn’t be who I am today and wouldn’t have the drive and determination to get what I want in life. I’m thankful for it all. At 17, I decided to move away to San Francisco, where I truly found myself, my chosen family, and eventually my love for styling. That move really felt like the true start of a life that I’ve now come to love and appreciate more than ever before.
How did you first discover your love for fashion and why did you decide it’s something you wanted to focus on as a career?
Ironically, I was a dancer for most of my life. I started dancing when I was 3 years old and actually went to college for it. Throughout those years, I always had a fixation for fashion, especially because my mom was always a fashionista growing up. I applied to fashion retail jobs, I’d thrift and up-cycle clothes to sell to other girls at my school and I had every single Teen Vogue Magazine from 2006-2011 stapled to my wall for daily inspiration. It’s safe to say I didn’t realize my true passion until I quit dance my junior year of college and had a momentary break from pursuing what I wanted to do in life. I then switched to the fashion major at San Francisco State University where I then crossed paths with someone who essentially changed my life and guided me through to realizing styling was what I wanted to do. My friend, Barbara Rios, a photographer now based in New York, randomly asked for help with styling, in a tweet in 2015. Being that she lived with my significant other at the time, I thought, “Why the hell not?” We collaborated on a photo shoot with our friend Nykole and when I tell you I fell in love, I legitimately have never felt such a fire for something before, not even dance.
From then on, I made the decision to figure out exactly what I needed to do to become the next big stylist. From hours of researching online, purchasing my kit with little to no money, to collaborating with other creatives in the Bay Area, I made it my mission to make fashion styling my career. When I would see my looks on the models I worked with, I brought me so much joy, I actually didn’t know how to handle it. All I
wanted to do was style for the next shoot, create the next concept and get those final images. It was a feeling I couldn’t let go of and still have, over 5 years later.
Through seeing all of your editorial work, you really blend different colors, textures, and fabrics really well. How would you describe your styling process?
My process definitely depends on the project and can easily change from job to job. I have always said that I think I’m more successful when given an idea, concept, or mood board and then putting my own “styledbytati” twist on it. I think people hire me because I’m not afraid to layer, mix prints and colors and step out of the box in comparison to day-to-day styling, which is really common in LA. I take a client’s idea and decide whether I know smaller designers who have clothes that would work or a showroom that would provide what I need. From there, I chose pieces that stand out the most and still fall in line with the given concept. Somehow when looking at a piece, an unexpected way to style it comes to my head and then I try and execute it in real life. When I send options to my clients, sometimes I think they think I’m crazy for what I put together but I think that’s where the joy and excitement comes from. The fact that we get to play dress up for work is such a blessing, regardless of the hard work that goes into being a stylist.
Congratulations on recently styling Thuy, RILEY, and River Gallo for Zappos x Crocs’ Clueless campaign. What was it like styling that campaign and furthermore, how does it feel to be recognized by brands on that level?
Thank you so much! I still scream thinking about the fact that I was a stylist on that shoot. Anyone who has ever worked with me probably knows my love for Crocs and that they’re basically my set shoe. So, when Kamp Grizzly, a creative agency, reached out I screamed so loud that I’m sure the surrounding units in my apartment building heard me. It was definitely one of the more larger productions that I’d been a part of and it was a dream to receive that email. As time went on within the planning process, I then realized I’d be working with friends and people who I’ve been a fan of for a while now! Truly, one of the best feelings is being on set with people you know and love, killing the game alongside you. To be recognized by a brand and company that not only is of that scale but one of my personal favorite was confirmation that I am on the right path and I’m exactly where I need to be in life. Although I believe in my talent and who I am as a creative, I’m sure plenty of other creatives can agree that we’re our biggest critic and it’s easy to fall into a mindset of not being good enough or the constant drive to be the best. I think it’s important to talk about that side of being creative, especially working in such a saturated industry. So when I was hired for that job, it was one of those affirmations that just motivate you to keep going and to push down those negative thoughts. I’ll never forget that project, I’m just so proud of what I’ve become.
Last year, you worked extensively with Amaal for her Milly EP, who we spoke with some months ago. Can you tell us how you two initially met and what that experience was like?
Wow, I truly have nothing but good things to say about Amaal. We were introduced by a friend of mine, Juliana Carpino, who runs Middle Child Studios. She ran production on the photo shoot and music video that I was hired to styled Amaal. Some of my friends were also brought on to the project, so it was one of those things that just keep you in love with the job. Amaal was an angel and I loved that she trusted me with her vision, and I genuinely feel like everyone on that project knocked it out of the park. I made some amazing new connections during that short timeframe before Amaal left the states and I’ll forever be thankful for her. I was going through a hard time within my personal life when our first couple of projects came about so working on that project really helped with my mental health and my confidence. I think it was a huge turning point in my journey of loving myself.
Elsewhere, you worked with e-commerce fashion label My Mum Made It—how does the creative process of working with a brand such as so differ from some of your more close-knit works with individuals and musicians?
E-commerce styling and editorial/personal styling are very very different beasts. Although one should always pay attention to detail, I think e-commerce work tends to be more tedious than other types of styling. When it comes to e-commerce the main goal is to ensure the customer knows exactly what they’re buying and know how it will look on the body. With musicians and other individuals, you have more room to play around with creativity, while e-commerce is super straightforward and clean-cut. When I first started styling I actually despised e-commerce, which is why I moved to LA because I wanted more fashion than just doing shoots for a paycheck. After moving to LA, I actually have really grown to love e-commerce because I’ve realized how important it is to a brand and to their customers. I appreciate having a variety of styling jobs because I never get bored with what I do!
Working in the fashion industry, there are often many unglamorous realities that come with being a stylist. Have you felt that it’s been hard to have your voice heard as a woman of color?
As amazing as the fashion industry is, it definitely has its downfalls, like any other industry. The beauty of fashion is it allows people to express themselves and to truly dive deep into who an individual is. On the other hand, there’s still so much work that the industry can do to improve, even with the strides it’s made.
Being a stylist is HARD. It’s hard on the body, it’s hard on your car (which is a must when being a stylist), it’s not always the most financially stable option and it can be daunting. In such a saturated industry, it can feel difficult to set yourself apart from the group, especially living in a place like Los Angeles. Yes, you’re styling clients to fit their vision, but at the end of the day, those outfits are a stylist’s version of a piece of art so it’s scary to put yourself out there with the chances of being rejected. I will say, as a woman of color, I’ve been blessed to work mostly with POCs in recent years of my career, so I don’t ever fully feel left out or that I can’t be myself. I think companies have definitely made it a point to be more inclusive, not just with their models but who they hire for their projects as well. I do think that there is a bunch of performative diversity, especially after the burst of the BLM movement in 2020, but I do see a ton of my fellow POC creatives, including myself, getting the recognition they deserve and I hope that will only continue as time goes on.
The part of the industry that we’re in has some fixation with youth. Do you think that young voices are essential for the fashion industry to exist, or do you think that we put too much pressure on creatives to “make it” at a young age?
That’s a very good question. I think that this fixation has definitely made its way throughout numerous industries, not just fashion. Do I believe that the youth have the voices we need to be paying attention to? Yes. Do I think that the pressure of “making it” has grown? Yes. I also think that there’s this new drive to “make it”, but on people’s own terms. For example, I personally don’t fully believe in obtaining a college degree to then fight for jobs that are so hard to get due to a lack of diversity or resources. I don’t believe there is a right or wrong way to succeed. I think the youth is changing the dynamic of breaking those boundaries that older generations stood by and creating their own paths which is a great example for future generations to come.
With that being said, what advice or styling tips could you share with emerging stylists who are maybe looking to breakthrough or need guidance on navigating the space?
I know this might sound cliche, but DO NOT EVER GIVE UP. I’ve been doing this for almost 6 years and I’m still not where I want to be within my career. But, with that being said, you must celebrate all your successes, big or small. I used to be so hard on myself and I honestly still am. But when I finally started celebrating myself and giving myself my own flowers, more success came. Believing you are destined for greatness will only allow greatness to come your way. Once I let go over negative thoughts and things going on in my life, my career blew up in the best way.
Last but most certainly not least, TAKE BREAKS. I’m still learning this for myself but it is imperative to take mental health breaks. This job can be so demanding and learning when to say “no” is crucial in being able to be the best stylist you can be. If you’re exhausted your work will show that and you’ll start to resent what you used to love. I went so hard at the end of 2021 so I could avoid dealing with some personal problems and while it was super fruitful for my career, I was dead tired and unable to care for myself like I should. Knowing when you need a break is the best thing you can do for yourself because there will always be other jobs and other people reaching out. Loving and respecting yourself is crucial.
The past few years have been an upward incline for you not only as a stylist but individual as well. What are you most excited about in 2022?
I’ve already done so much in 2022 that I didn’t think would come my way at this point in my career. I’m excited to see myself grow, to live my life like I wasn’t able to before, to enjoy my new apartment in all its glory, and to really continue my journey of loving life and loving myself. I’ve truly never been happier than this moment right now and I can’t wait to see what the universe will continue to send my way. Thank you so much for allowing me to express my love for what I do and I hope this helps aspiring stylists to follow their dreams.