Claire Low May 22, 2012
English stylist Gok Wan in Sydney last week. Photo: James Brickwood
There’s something magnetic about Gok Wan: British stylist, television idol, out-and-proud gay, the kind of man who can say ‘‘bangers’’ a lot and mean not sausages but breasts, and have his raving followers say it right along with him.
In his book, Through Thick and Thin, one image is particularly indelible: a younger, emaciated Gok, wretched with self-loathing and stuffed full of laxatives, flushing a pizza down a toilet, piece by piece. From these depths, he has emerged a healthy and compelling man with what seems like boundless self-confidence. It’s this self-confidence he tries to pass on to the women he styles.
Gok is coming to Canberra yet again. He’ll be at Westfield Woden on Friday from 6pm to 7pm doing a show during which he’ll sketch a new look to suit audience members’ assets. The shopping centre’s stylists will then bring the look to life.
Gok has answered our questions with his trademark verve.
Canberra Times: You’re taking more drastic measures this time than when you last visited Canberra – you’re taking scissors to fabric to teach women about body shape.
Gok Wan: It’s based on a segment I did a long time ago called Skinny in Seconds. I cut up clothes on women’s bodies to show that wearing too much fabric will put dress sizes on them. It’s not to create an outfit they can go out and wear.
CT: So you’re not a fan of the kaftan or anything big, wafty or tentlike?
GW: There is nothing wrong with that at all. I quite like that. But the women I style sometimes say, ‘‘All I wear is big baggy clothes to cover up my body.’’
CT: You won’t slice up anyone’s Versace?
GW: It won’t happen, I promise you.
CT: How did you go from self-loathing to supremely confident?
GW: All the stuff I went through when I was younger: searching for identity, body dysmorphia and everything else, in a strange way, all those experiences have given me the confidence now. From every single one of them I’ve learned so much about myself and the kind of person I want to be, the kind of person I already am. I think it’s about realising there’s only so much change you can achieve in your life really. You can’t stop being the person you are, so why try and change so much. I thought for a very long time I had to be a very different person when in fact I didn’t. All the stuff I hated about myself, when I was younger, is stuff that has made me appreciate who I am now as an adult.
CT: Can you dish any dirt from working with designers or models?
GW: No, never. It’s something I’ve never done in my career. A lot of people wanted to see my celebrity portfolio, they wanted me to tell stories about when there’s been dramas and stuff on set. Of course it has happened, but I never ever told those stories. I don’t think it’s fair on those people.
CT: You know a lot about styling women. What are your tips on how women can style our style-averse men: maybe try a grainy cleanser, put on smart brogues, or choose a fashion item on the basis of anything other than cheapness?
GW: It’s about introducing them to that world very softly. They need to realise that having a grooming regime or investing in their clothing isn’t going to make them effeminate or gay. We all have skin and skin needs to be treated, it needs to be looked after. It’s baby steps, it’s starting with their shaving for instance, you know getting them some nice shaving product from a brand when they might consider using a cleanser, a toner or a moisturiser after their shave. Maybe lay some fashion magazines around with a few men’s outfits without them really realising. Use subliminal messages. It will probably look after itself after that.
CT: You love women and women love you. You’ve ended up with this great two-way relationship with the people you style. How did you achieve this?
I’m really honest, down-to-earth and grounded. I do have a genuine need to help people. I’ve always been like that. I’m not patronising. Hopefully I’m not a bitch. I also have knowledge of the fashion industry. There’s a stereotype that we’re anorexic bitches who run around fashion magazines and hate everyone else. It’s not like that - we’re all real people, we all love the craft we’ve got. Hopefully I’vee formed a bridge between the fashion industry and the real person and given it a slightly more accessible language. I do enjoy the end result - when a woman stands in front of me and feels so much better about herself. There’s a real sense of gratification in that.
CT: Some stylists highlight a woman’s flaws so that they can be ‘‘fixed’’. The nice thing about you is how truly lovely you are about people’s perceived flaws. You don’t tear people down, you build them up.
GW: Like any industry whether it’s accountancy, law or medicine, there will be the more arrogant ones. That’s probably the case in the fashion industry, but I don’t know many of those people. I’ve come across some in my career, but not very many at all. As a stylist you are essentially a carer. You are looking after somebody, whether they’re in need of re-branding themselves with clothes, or looking after their confidence. You have to be a certain person to stay in that job for a long time. That’s been my understanding of the industry. Maybe I’ve been incredibly lucky, maybe I’m naive. I haven’t met too many bitches.
CT: Who do you want to be when you grow up - do you have aspirations of being a Rachel Zoe or a Patricia Field?
GW: Not really. Rachel Zoe became famous when I was an adult, equally with Patricia Field. When you’re young, those aspirations of you being someone are from your teenage years when you’re developing and want to work out what you want to do for your career. I suppose Rachel and Patricia are very big in the US and I made a name for myself in the UK so in a weird way, I feel we’re almost comrades in what we do. The people I look up to are from a different realm. My dad is an inspiration, so is my mum. I look up to people like Nelson Mandela. I look up to people who want to make a difference.
CT: How does one build a career as a stylist from the ground up?
GW: It’s a hugely saturated industry now. Everyone knows what a stylist is. If you want the job, if you want to make it in the industry, work experience is really important. Try to work with as many different people as possible. Don’t burn bridges, you never know who you’re going to need again. Find your own self-confidence. Work really hard.
CT: What do you think is the most common style mistake you see women make?
GW: Dressing for trend beyond body shape. Regardless of your age, you need to dress to suit your body and if a trend doesn’t suit you, don’t do it.
CT: What are your top three online stores?
GW: Net-a-porter, Asos and Shopstyle, which isn’t a store but is a reference library.
CT: What’s your ultimate bargain find?
GW: A leather jacket which cost me GBP2.50, which is about $4 from a charity store in the UK.
CT: Your ultimate splurge?
GW: My car. It’s a Porche Panamera.
CT: And your three wardrobe must-haves for every woman?
GW: A trench coat, the perfect-fitting pair of jeans and a very good single-breasted single-button blazer.