You Can Now Attend Classes to Become a Stylist

School of Style - H 2016
Courtesy of School of Style

It's called the School of Style, one of the only training grounds pumping out tomorrow's next big stylists.

The School of Style’s Luke Storey, CEO and founder, and Lauren Messiah, COO and co-founder, not only serve as the resident head masters of the styling world’s only fashion school exclusively for stylists, but they are also the secret weapons of the industry’s power stylists, churning out the next generation of skilled interns, assistants and future stylists.

Veteran stylist-turned-life stylist Storey — backed by a nearly two-decades long career in the business, working largely with big name musical acts like Marilyn Manson and Diplo after seguing from a career in a band — founded SOS in November 2008. Earlier that year, the high school dropout cemented his love for the quickie educations provided by boot camps, spiritual seminars and weekend retreats.

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"I’m a fan of the crash course way of learning because I don’t like the time commitment," Storey says. "When budgets started to shrink in the music business, I found myself in a position where I didn’t have enough money to hire assistants so I posted ads for interns online. I got so many replies in one day, and I realized how many people out there were really hungry for information and opportunity but would never find a way in."

Storey married the boot camp concept with his knowledge and skills from the styling world to create SOS, a school that continues to exist in its own category. "You can go to fashion school and learn about the history of Chanel, which is great, but it’s not that helpful when you’re trying to gain a foothold in the industry as a newcomer. The skills a key stylist is looking for are practical ones like understanding how to traffic samples, on-set etiquette, how tape down receipts and how costume houses work," he explains. "Having trained assistants, I knew what was crucial to teach them, and what I knew was missing was practical business-related skills."

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Lauren Messiah found Storey’s school in August 2009, signing up to get the career skills she missed while getting a degree from Virginia Commonwealth University’s fashion design and merchandising department. After graduation, she worked in retail and as an executive assistant at AOL but grew bored. The clothes-obsessed Messiah found that her passion for fashion was "an itch that still wasn’t being scratched," so when she discovered SOS on Craigslist, she paid $280 and signed up. "Luke’s class really showed me how the industry works and how to get into it," praises Messiah. "But I thought that this guy had no clue that he had a real business with what he was offering. So I emailed him [and] offered to work for free. He hired me as an intern and I faked a breakdown so I could sneak out of my day job and work on turning it into something real."

And that’s exactly what they’ve done.

SOS is now a full-scale educational training ground backed by its flagship offering — the Stylist Certification Program, a nine-day, time-intensive course that goes for nearly $5,000. Other courses include the Messiah-taught Personal Stylist Certification Program, and a one-day Introduction to Styling course. Most classes are held in Los Angeles with satellite courses in New York, though over the years they’ve taken their styling show on the road with classes in cities including Chicago, Miami, Dallas, San Francisco, Atlanta and Washington D.C.

PENCIL PARTY: "We are so different and have polar opposite personalities," Storey says about business partner Messiah. "I love teaching and public speaking and Lauren really likes being behind the scenes. I’m creative and spontaneous and she’s calculated and strategic." (Photo by Christopher Beyer)

Storey and Messiah are both excited about new online offerings, which debuted in December and have opened up their business to fashion enthusiasts across the globe. Since 2008, more than 3,000 students have graduated from SOS with 1,000 currently listed on an active mailing roster of grads currently working in fashion. (Storey adds that though 90 percent of those who enroll are female and around 24 years old, SOS has hosted teens all the way to students in their 50s.)

But about the cost.

If $5,000 seems steep, Storey and Messiah both counter that the investment pays off rather quickly. Following graduation, students are enrolled in The Style Society, an alumni club that connects them with daily job opportunities in the styling business. "We hand them a career once they complete training," Storey explains. "We are training the students to be the next generation of interns and assistants because that’s how you become a stylist. You may have to assist for a good five years before your career really takes off, but we prepare them for that reality so when they get those jobs, they know what to do and that allows them to gain much more leverage in the industry."

After all, Storey says, "You’re not going to be Rachel Zoe tomorrow." Adds Messiah, "No one cares if you can put a cute outfit together when you’re just starting out."

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But what power stylists are looking for are hands and heads that have been trained in the basics of the business and the politics of the industry, says veteran power stylist Ilaria Urbinati, who has hired many SOS grads. Other top stylists who have pulled from the pool of talent include Joseph Cassell, Monica Rose, Jessica Paster, Tara Swennen, Johnny Wujek, Brad Goreski and Micaela Erlanger among others. (Many stylists appear as guest-lecturers during the nine-day course.)

"Most other potential assistants we interview come in with this sense that red carpet styling is gonna be all glamour and shopping and hanging out with celebrities, but at School of Style, Luke Storey — a stylist himself who gets the way it really is — teaches that notion right out of them. His kids come in ready to actually work hard and do a whole lot of schlepping, which is what being an assistant or intern for a stylist actually requires," Urbinati explains. "It takes a long ass time to get to the glamorous side of the job. And even then, that's such a minor aspect of the job. These kids tend to come in understanding that so they're better prepared for the gig and they're smarter about the business side of it."

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School of Style graduate Tanya Ortega definitely felt more confident in her abilities after finishing her studies. She enrolled while working as a visual merchandiser at Forever21 and was first struck by the locations of the classes, at legit locales like Milk Studios in Los Angeles. "The places the classes take place are always so nice and makes you feel good. You meet other girls like you, share experiences, make connections," she explains.

And when she was finished? "I knew how to steam, merchandise clothes, vocabulary you use during set, what to wear, the different forms to use, what works with bodies, etc.," Ortega says. "After graduating, they give you resources and contacts to people that would be hard to reach on your own. That was the biggest thing. I'm very grateful and happy I did this because it helped me get my foot in the door. Two years later, I'm here now living in New York City and assisting very big stylists and editors. I've done fashion week and really gotten into the industry."

That's exactly the School of Style's design from day one.