The Cool Friend We All Want: A Fashion Stylist Shares Her Secrets

The Cool Friend We All Want: A Fashion Stylist Shares Her Secrets

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Julia Brenner
Nov 30, 2016
(Image credit: Julia Brenner)

Personal and fashion stylist Elim Chu is the cool, nice friend you hope to have because not only is she smart and hip and has amazing style—she will happily share her knowledge and secrets to help everyone around her look and feel great. She's genuine and warm and approaches styling with the belief that everyone can build a simple and beautiful less-is-more wardrobe.

The day I met Elim, she and her husband Riley had just returned from a trip to the Okanagan Valley wine region of British Columbia and she shared wonderful stories of cooking freshly caught fish, eating ripe end-of-summer produce, and drinking local wines. She must have noticed the look of wonder on my face, and immediately shared detailed information on their trip, generously passing along knowledge so that perhaps one day I may also have a similar experience. That is the sort of generosity that Elim brings to her work as a stylist, a genuine desire to help her clients look and feel good in their clothes—whether it's styling for a single photoshoot, dressing them for an event, or overhauling their wardrobe.

After working for years in the corporate fashion world for Lululemon, Elim took a bold move and decided to build her own business as a personal and fashion stylist. She splits her days between working from her home office and working on-set or meeting with clients. When I asked her how she knew it was the right time to venture out on her own, she told me that she and her husband Riley realized there would never be a "right" time to take a professional risk, and that she had to face her fear of the unknown and do it anyway. When I asked her how she liked working as a freelance stylist, without hesitation she said, "Oh, I love it!" Sometimes the scariest decisions turn out to be the best ones of all.

Elim prepping for a photoshoot
(Image credit: Alexa Mazzarello)

Elim Chu

What's your job?

I'm a freelance fashion and personal stylist based in Vancouver.

A Typical Workday as a Fashion Stylist


PRE-SHOOT

Gather most important tools: Hand-held steamer, lint roller, double-sided tape, baby wipes (these are great for spot cleaning and getting rid of static!), and bulldog clips to hold clothing in place or customize fit.

Get ready. I like to look put together but also comfortable. Styling on a photo shoot can require long hours of standing and being mobile. My clothes have to move with me.

Pack everything up into big suitcases. They're easier to haul around and depending on the location, it gives me a clean area to prep my gear.

ON SET

Meet the team and organize our plan for the day.

Once the shoot starts, I'm usually a step behind the photographer so I can look at the clothes and talent over their shoulders. This ensures that I'm adjusting accordingly. I check in with the team throughout the day to make sure we're getting the shots we need for the project. I also like to check in with the talent and make sure they are comfortable and feeling good in the clothes. I find that when they're feeling good, it comes through in the photos.

POST-SHOOT

When we wrap, I pack up my stuff and head home. If I've borrowed clothes for the shoot, they will need to be returned. I replenish my styling kit and follow up with the photo shoot team if any final thoughts or notes regarding styling needs to be communicated.

(Image credit: Julia Brenner)

As a stylist, how do you approach buying and storing your own clothes?

Part of my shift towards fewer but better things manifested itself when we moved into this apartment. I had to downsize from four closets in a detached home to sharing one closet and some drawers with my husband. With space at a premium, I am constantly having to acknowledge the usefulness, versatility and value of an item. This has helped me refine my wardrobe to where it's almost seasonless and storage is less of a headache. It also informs the decision making process for keeping or buying only what I need and love. The result is an ease to getting dressed and feeling good in my clothes.

When I began freelancing and started sharing this philosophy with my clients, I was surprised to learn how many people wanted these filters for themselves. The biggest learning so far: I've seen how clothing, not trends, can have the ability to make someone feel good. Only you know what that feels like. So tune in and choose accordingly.

Since choosing to be more mindful of keeping and buying clothes that I only feel my best in, I am learning to question other aspects like ethical and sustainable manufacturing. The answers can often keep me up at night. As a fashion stylist, I work in an industry that is one of the largest polluters in the world (second to oil I've read). I want to be the change and do my best to inform myself, my clients and the next generation to shift how and why we shop.

(Image credit: Elim Chu)

Do you have a favorite piece of apparel?

Christian Louboutin Pigalles purchased in 2012. I wanted a pair of classic black pumps and researched brands, designs, saved up. It was the beginning of my shift towards being a more conscious consumer. My personal style and thoughts about "luxury" items have changed since then, but what hasn't is feeling feminine, sexy and powerful whenever I wear them.

What brought you to Vancouver?

My family moved to Vancouver from Regina, Saskatchewan when I was 2 years old. Why I still choose to live in Vancouver: the accessibility to nature and its melting pot of people and cuisine.

How long have you lived in your apartment?

3 years

How did you find it?

A friend forwarded me the listing via Craigslist. There were no pictures but she said, "Sometimes the best ones don't come with pictures." I'm glad we listened to her.

(Image credit: Julia Brenner)

What do you like most about your living situation?

The light—we're north facing so it's bright without being harsh. And also the partly-open concept layout. For 500 sq. ft, it feels quite spacious.

What do you wish you could change about it?

We rent, so in a truly wishful scenario, we would own a loft in a concrete building. We enjoy entertaining and are always weary of sound traveling to our neighbours.

(Image credit: Julia Brenner)
Elim and her husband, Riley.
(Image credit: Elim Chu)

What's a typical night at home like?

Make dinner, surf Netflix for a movie and cozy up on the couch. Alternatively, if the weather's nice, we'll head out for a walk.

Any favorite meal you like to make at home?

My favorite meal to make at home is brunch or Momofuku's Bo Ssam recipe. I love gathering up our family and friends to eat together.

Cafe Orso in Vancouver
(Image credit: VanCity Buzz)

What are some of your favorite local spots to eat & drink in Vancouver?

Some of our favorite restaurants are Tacofino, Guu Izakaya, Les Faux Bourgeois, and Bob Likes Thai Food. For coffee, we love Cafe Orso and Matchstick. For treats, we go to Lucky's Doughnuts and Earnest Ice Cream. For beer it's 33 Acres Brewing.

What music is on at home these days?

Coming Home by Leon Bridges, the whole damn album, his voice melts the day away.

Follow Elim on Instagram for gorgeous pics and great styling tips.

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