Bridie Adams interviews celebrity stylist Marian Kwei (formerly Kihogo) about her lifestyle and career.
Marian Kwei (formerly Kihogo) is a celebrity personal stylist, creative consultant and magazine editor. When Marian reached out to Lavande on Twitter, we couldn't resist picking up the phone to chat to her about what it's like to work with some of the biggest names in the fashion industry and to have such a successful career in styling and magazine journalism.
Lavande: How has COVID affected you and your line of work?
Marian Kwei: Since 12th April when everything opened up, it has been manic. My life has always been incredibly busy. When we had the lockdown and events weren't happening, and we had the virtual red carpets (all the awards and events), things were a lot quieter. All of a sudden I had no personalities to style on a daily basis, so it was quiet, but in terms of my fashion magazine, it was still busy because I was obviously still writing articles, still interviewing, still profiling people, but everything was done virtually. The difference now that I'm meeting people in person is that brands are loaning out samples again. It's been very busy. 12th April opened things up again. I still kind of had work going on but it's become back to normal, and back to normal for me is crazy, on the go, multitasking.
L: When were you first interested in styling?
M: From about ten years old, I was obsessed with magazines. I think what drew me to magazines was that they were beautiful - it was the imagery and how beautifully they'd been shot, but I was also drawn to them because I'd noticed that I liked clothes. I was interested in clothing and beauty. I knew I was obsessed with magazines, then I knew I loved clothing, then I knew I liked that whole world. I didn't really know what styling was. All I knew was I loved to get clothing, and I knew I loved very good quality things, because my mum would take me shopping, say, for school shoes and she'd say, "Pick a pair of shoes," and without a doubt, it would end up being the most expensive thing in the shop. I was going by the look of it and it turned out that maybe I had an eye for quality. To this day, whenever I like something, I know it's probably going to be very expensive. I'm always drawn to things that are very beautifully made.
An Instagram post by Marian, showing a photograph from her 'Scarf Series'.
L: What was the first magazine you edited?
M: The first mainstream magazine that I became the editor of was called Dirrty Glam. Dirrty Glam was a digital, high-fashion, French magazine that was the coolest magazine at that time, the edgiest, the one with street cred, the one for cool kids. We were featuring young stars on the cover, people like Paris Hilton, Sienna Miller, Jude Law.
I had just started working as a fashion writer and then they promoted me to editor, then they made me UK editor. I liked it so much because it was so edgy. I was intrigued by the fact that they had all the cool people at the time, all of the hippest people that were known for personal style on the cover and people's publicists would call us, email us, scrambling to try and get their stars on the cover. I was doing that from about 2002 to about 2004. Celebrities like Sienna Miller, people of her type in that sort of era, were being featured on the cover and I would style them. It was a fabulous magazine. We were having so many interesting people on the covers, some of the biggest stars of that time.
L: You mentioned Paris Hilton - what was she like to work with?
M: I've worked with her once or twice. She was very pleasant, very polite, very in demand. She actually was the first influencer, the very first person to make money from just being famous, so she paved the way for things like reality TV.
L: Do you have any idea of roughly how many celebrities you have styled?
M: That's a lot. It's been twenty years. I've worked with the best in the world of fashion: leading designers, celebrities, models. Styling Tolula Adeyemi was crazy because it opened up my world to very very high fashion. I mention her because she is one of the many people I've styled, one of the most interesting people I've collaborated with.
An instagram post by Tolula Adeyemi showing her Oscar Night look, styled by Marian.
L: There's a lot on social media about wearing whatever you want, regardless of your body shape. How do you feel about that?
M: That's an interesting question to me. As a personal stylist, I can do image consulting, and that is part of my job, and the reason why I do take into account what people like or don't like, are comfortable with or are not comfortable with, is this: there is no point putting someone in a dress that is short when they're not comfortable with their legs. It comes across when they're photographed, even if they do look better than they think they do. They don't come across as very comfortable in what they're wearing. When I style people I want them to feel comfortable because there's so many pressures being on the runway - photographers are shooting from varied angles. I'm also realistic that people are human and they have personalities, they have hang-ups and they have a story. As I work with people, I tend to push them. I knew someone who did not like certain things about her body. She did not like her arms so she did not like wearing strapless dresses. She always preferred a sleeve. She was beautiful - there was nothing wrong with her arms, nothing wrong with her shoulders, but she had picked up that hang-up somewhere along the line. She had scars but they were very light scars. They were not visible to the eye but she was still not comfortable. I would work around her issues because there was no getting her to wear what she didn't want to wear. She thought the scars would be seen, and she had a phobia about it, so I said to her, "Okay, that's fine. How about you wear something where you're still wearing a sleeve but it's a mesh sleeve?" People should be comfortable and people should also dress without anything holding them back.
L: How important is sustainability to you when you're styling?
M: It's been difficult because when I first started styling, it wasn't talked about a lot. Those who were talking about it were considered to be hippies and out-there and everyone thought that if you were into sustainability you had to be a vegan. Everyone had an image associated with it. From the very beginning of my styling career, I think sustainability's been a very big thing for me. I've always had issues with the waste of clothing. People go out and they do all of this shopping for no reason and they know full well they're going to throw half of it away. They don't even bother to take it to a charity shop, sell it or give it away. They just put it in the bin. I've always had an issue with fashion garment waste. I try to work around that as much as possible by repurposing. I get sent a lot of things - designers send me free clothing because they want to see the clothing on my celebrities or in my magazine. I make sure I repurpose things so maybe a skirt ends up being used as a dress or maybe we cut up the fabric and have someone make something else out of it. I try to use as much vintage as possible. Some people have vintage designer collections so I rent from them because I think that's a great way of being sustainable. I'm always trying to find ways of reusing things.
L: How important is social media to you and, being a print magazine fanatic, do you think social media is now becoming more important or more valuable for fashion or do you think that magazines still have that top spot?
M: That's a very good question. It's been debated by a lot of people for a long time. Social media, for me, is everything. As I mentioned, the innovative Dirrty Glam was online, almost like in blog format (so it was ahead of its time before blogging became huge). I like to create a conversation. I like to engage, so I like social media because when you go on someone's page, right there and then you can start a conversation with them and they come back and respond. Social media's powerful because it does something which magazines lost, which is create conversation. Social media is very important and it's not going to go anywhere, ever. It's just going to get bigger, better, stronger, and that's why platforms like TikTok and new things keep opening up. I remember when I was starting out, Tumblr was very popular. MySpace was good for musicians. Facebook started a bit later on. The long and short of it is social media is very powerful. Social media is very important when it comes to the world of fashion, music, beauty, entertainment, because it has an immediacy that maybe print magazines don't have. You don't have any way you can really converse with them. You have to look for them online, and then send them a message. Back in the day, people would write to magazines. I don't think anyone does that now. That's why everyone who's online has done very well since the beginning of the 2000s because online has an immediacy that print magazines do not have. I don't think print magazines, for those who truly love magazines and fashion, will not fully go away.
L: What is your favourite fashion or beauty trend, or favourite designer piece, so far from this year?
M: That's a good question. I would say I think my favourite designer piece and collection is Schiaparelli Spring Summer 2021.
Schiaparelli is an Italian brand. It is a dream meets old couture meets everything photography, art, design. I love it because it's very architectural. It reminds me of the old masters, when fashion wasn't as accessible and we didn't have ready-to-wear lines and everything was couture house. It's beautiful, aspirational, innovative, otherworldly. It felt like it was from another planet. It felt quite eccentric and of course very surrealist. All of that came together and I love it. Each time it's photographed I'm never let down.