Atlas sat down with fashion stylist Jess Mederos in her home/studio/testament to perfect home décor. Surrounded by plants, patterns, and pups, Jess talks her career’s development, diversity in the industry and advice for up-and-coming stylists. Photographed by Louise Palmberg.
Based in New York, Jess has lived between Long Island and Florida for much of her life. She has been styling for about four years, after previously working as an attorney at ESPN. Before and throughout law school, however, she had also worked as a makeup artist. “I’m not sure I ever wanted to be a lawyer,” she recalls. “My parents had the American dream. My dad is an immigrant from Cuba and my mom grew up in Greenpoint and Bushwick on welfare–– for them it was a really big deal for me to have a higher education.”
But being an attorney wasn’t part of her dream. “I stayed in that job for 2 years and wasn’t having any sort of fulfillment, so I quit and and I started styling as much as I could.” It mostly entailed trying to assist other stylists, and working on commercial shoots as a PA and getting assigned to the stylists. “I got really lucky that I had savings so I could work for free, so I started styling or assisting and trying to get photographers to want to work with me. I cold emailed a hundred photographers–– nobody wanted to work with me, which I understand. I had no portfolio, I had nothing, but I had standards.”
Alongside a constant hustle to build her styling book, she continued to be a makeup artist just to meet people on set. “[I would] tell them I’m doing makeup now, but I want to do styling. Over the course of a year or so while really plugging away at it, I really started building my book and convincing people that I knew what I was doing… I have a good sense of style, but I was winging it.”
Jess defines her aesthetic as ‘extravagant minimalism’. “My artistic personality is almost the complete antithesis of my actual personality,” citing her styling as bright and colorful while her personal style is typically black and white. “I love color and layering. I like things to look sleek and structure, but busy in a cohesive way.” She is inspired by nature and plants, as “plants are ever-changing. In terms of art, I like things that constantly change.” Meanwhile, in real life, she is more avoidant of change. “It’s kind of funny… maybe all of the things that I’m not confident enough as myself in my life to do, I feel really confident doing in my art.”
When it comes to the fashion industry, we asked what Jess might like to see more of. “I’d like to see more real bodies in fashion; not that models [don’t have] real bodies because they are just as real, but there needs to be a lot more diversity in terms of bodies. I agree that clothes look absolutely gorgeous on a 5’10” girl who is a size 0, because they’re a mannequin. They’re beautiful, but they’re not the only women that are beautiful.”
She reveals that she sometimes struggles with conflicting thoughts. “It’s hard that I’m perpetuating this ideal that I’m not always 100% comfortable with–– I want the clothes to look as beautiful as possible, but I also want all women to feel like they deserve to wear whatever they want, and that it’s not just reserved for super thin people, or for white people, or for cis people, or whatever. Clothes are universal, there shouldn’t be just one particular type of person that can wear whatever they want.” In summary–– inclusivity is key. “[I want] more body diversity, more race diversity, less cultural appropriation.”
Putting marginalized people in the spotlight is important to Jess. “Instead of teaching people that we should love ourselves, we teach them that unless you ascribe to this ideal, you’re worthless. To me, that’s hideous. I don’t think that it’s appropriate because everybody has worth, and everybody should feel like they have worth. If society, people, whomever is constantly telling you that you’re not enough, you’re never going to feel like you’re enough.” She describes herself as an ‘average sized person’, a term fitting given the fact that although the industry deems her ‘plus size’, she is below the average for women in the US. “The average woman in this country is a size 14 to 16, and fashion is completely geared to size 0 through 4. That needs to change.”
When it comes to the technical, we took a peek in her styling kit. It included the absolute styling necessities, including A-clamps, a sewing kit, topstick, bandaids–– and a curve ball. “I always keep nail polish remover. So many models show up with nail polish on, and if there’s no nail tech on set and you can’t get it off… I always have [it].” Another favorite? “Socks. I have a thing for socks. I have a giant plastic bin just for socks. I will bring a whole bag of just socks to set.”
Finally, Jess shares her advice for up-and-coming stylists. “Be okay with working for free, especially in the beginning. Try to put together a team of people that you like working with to create photos, so you can build your book. Without a strong book, you can’t book any work. Stay on top of fashion magazines; find out what you like. Just keep trying to plug away at it and don’t ever expect it to be easy. This job is super hard. People think that styling is just going on set and dressing, [but] there is so much work that goes into this. Carrying, lugging, begging and borrowing. Just be aware that it’s really hard but it can be really rewarding.” Lastly, she concludes, “stay true to your aesthetic, and don’t let people tell you what you should and shouldn’t be doing in your work.”
You can keep up with Jess on Instagram @jess_mederos.