Images by Chuck Noble
She’s worked in the music industry touring with U2, went to drama school to train as an actress but ultimately chose fashion styling as her career. This month we chat with Susan Bender, our Miss April Preen Line girl.
You started out studying PR, Marketing and Buying at University – how did you originally get into styling?
After graduating I realised I no longer wanted to be a buyer (in my opinion it was more like being an accountant) so I began working in the music industry for a few years, touring with the band U2. After the tour I realised I wanted to do something more creative and expressive so I sent myself off to drama school (I’d always wanted to be an actress but was dissuaded at very young age). After graduating I began working as an actress and an old friend from drama school asked me to help out as a stylist on a couture shoot in Paris. The stylist happened to be Charlotte Stockdale – I fell in love with everything about her and the job. I was thrown in at the deep end, organising with the designer’s PR’s which looks we wanted and dressing the models in the exquisite creations. From that moment on I knew this was what I wanted to do.
As a freelance stylist and creative consultant, working with the likes of Preen by Thornton Bregazzi, Issa and D&G – how do you balance the creativity of styling on set and the business side of consulting?
I’m super organised to the point of being obsessive compulsive and a bit of a control freak, ask my assistant. I plan everything, various options and outcomes to the nth degree. I think studying the business side of fashion really helped to lay the foundations and give me a better perspective too. Styling is the fun easy part.
Who, if anyone influences your style choices the most?
I’m mostly influenced by the imagery/styles from the 30’s, 40’s and classical portraiture. I have a photographic memory for visual things and voraciously store the nuances in my head of characters I see every day out and about and on my travels. I was recently at an event in the National Portrait gallery and discovered the Tudor Gallery which holds the most incredible portraits from that time, I spent most of the evening taking photographs and dissecting every portrait subjects style, clothes, jewellery and shoes. If I’d have to mention somebody I would say Carine Roitfeld, her style is of a rebellious, provocative secretary. Rei Kawakubo and Iris Apfel for their individuality, talent and uncompromising personal style.
Do you find you channel your creativity into those you style or how you style yourself?
My creativity and emotions are channelled into how I style others and myself. I like to create complete characters (I think that comes from my drama school training). When I was a child, I loved watching old B/W Hollywood movies and going to the theatre, ultimately I love to people watch.
What has been your favourite editorial shoot/catwalk show to work on?
I would definitely say the time I went to Tokyo to shoot 3 stories for Grazia, the culture and energy of the city is phenomenal, there is nowhere like it. I’m obsessed with anything Japanese and went totally bonkers in Hello Kitty land. I hardly sleep during the 10 days I was there and ate Unagi every single day, I was in heaven.
Every catwalk show I work on is a thrilling experience, I love the energy and build up before a show starts. The only drawback is I can only watch the show from behind the scenes on a monitor it’s such a shame I cannot be in 2 places at once. Most memorable ones are working on Fashion Rocks, I got to meet so many incredible artists Beyonce, Whitney Houston, Bjork, Grace Jones (who actually growled at me, hahahaha), and practically every major artist and designer. I loved working on shows with Justin and Thea from Preen by Thornton Bregazzi, their perspective is always unique and inspiring.
What do you like most about Preen Line?
I love the prints, the unique shapes and cuts. The modern aesthetic and femininity, whenever I wear a piece from Preen Line someone always makes a comment about how good it looks.
What projects are you currently working on?
I working on my bespoke leather and suede collection called B which I’ve just started. I have a list of private clients that I style regularly and a couple of collaborations in the pipeline.
Do you follow trends? If so, what’s your favourite trend at the moment?
Not really, fashion usually goes around in a 10 year cycle and having worked in this industry for over 15yrs your style becomes less influenced by trends. If a current trend appeals to me I can usually dig something out from my vast wardrobe/archive of clothing/accessories. I suppose the trends that I really follow are with shoes I have an ever growing collection of over 600 pairs.
How do you think creativity & style has changed over the past decade?
One element that has changed is the commercialisation of cross gender/gender free clothing, the lines are more blurred between women’s and menswear. The rise of social media has opened up the world of style and creativity to give every individual a voice and wipe away the elitism found in both industries.
What top three songs are on your current playlist?
Seasons (HHA Remix) by Nova Fronteira featuring AdaSoul
But You Caint Use My Phone (mixtape) by Erykah Badu
Dancer (HHA mix) by K Alexi
Check out the beautiful Susan on Instagram @kitty_su