Resourcefulness is a highly-regarded attribute — a signature of those with innate hustle or a problem-solving nature. It usually takes an obstacle of some kind to elicit such cleverness, and those instances are character-building. With them comes the confidence to know you can execute under dire circumstances, as does a surging sense of accomplishment, even joy, post-challenge. For stylist Sarah Slutsky and actor Hannah Van Der Westhuysen, a remote, transatlantic fashion photoshoot was the resourceful outcome of the challenge that was the coronavirus pandemic. Though both talents had just met, their shared optimism, ambition, and zeal for fashion led to a swift connection, resulting in a series of photos that toe the line of joyous and hauntingly beautiful.
For an inside scoop as to how the duo made remote magic happen, TZR spoke with Slutsky and Van Der Westhuysen, who currently stars in the trending Netflix show Fate: The Winx Saga. Keep reading to learn about their shared experience, and take in the whimsical photos lensed by photographer Rae Farrow.
What was it like working together for the first time under unprecedented circumstances, and how did you both approach the virtual styling process?
Hannah Van Der Westhuysen: At first, I was somewhat disappointed that we wouldn’t be having the in-person press tour I anticipated until I realized it opened up a whole host of new options when it came to stylists. Since location was no longer an inhibiting factor, I was Googling all my fashion icons around the globe. My friend and fellow actress Ella Hunt, whose Miu Miu-cladden Instagram was a regular search of mine, lived in New York. When I realized that thanks to Covid, I could now work with her stylist, the brilliant Sarah Slutsky, I was beyond excited.
Having never worked together, Sarah intuitively took on my natural style and elevated it. She asked me about the brands I admired, fellow actor’s looks that inspired me, and what cuts and shapes suited my body and made me feel confident and powerful. I worried that I’d either get comfort or style, but Sarah gave me both.
“I worried that I’d either get comfort or style, but Sarah gave me both.”
I, like lots of women in my industry, have had a host of terrible experiences with fittings. From people suggesting that certain brands I love were ‘not made for me’ to unsolicited opinions about my body, I was hyper-aware of avoiding another experience like this when doing my first ever press junket. I view fashion as another creative outlet, same as my writing or photography. I don’t think it should be exclusive, and anyone with true talent should be able to design for more than one body type. The same goes for styling, and Sarah was the perfect example: She’s wildly talented and was able to dress my specific body, inspired by my specific style.
Sarah Slutsky: This past year has certainly presented a host of new challenges requiring creativity to get the job done. Hannah’s positive ‘can-do’ attitude was so incredible, really instrumental in creating her looks in this new climate.
Lockdowns and shipping restrictions all needed to be thought through. Together, Hannah and I knew that if we were communicative and super clear about direction and inspiration from the get-go, we could make amazing things happen. We relied heavily on Zoom and FaceTime (sometimes both at once) as well as Pinterest. We were continuously updating Google documents with styling notes and photo direction to capture all these special moments.
What was the creative process like, and how did you choose of-the-moment looks that met Hannah’s press needs at the same time?
SS: Usually, press for a show includes in-person appearances on talk shows, round tables with media, a host of editorials with different looks for magazines, and a big premiere. These appearances are opportunities to celebrate the hard work that went into production — it’s felt like a loss not to have the opportunity to have a bit of fun celebrating the accomplishments. Creating these shoots to live alongside the Zoom felt like a new opportunity to find joy and play. For Hannah in particular, we leaned into her character’s fashion senses and played with the Winx world meeting the real world. Stella enjoys dressing up; it’s a part of the character’s DNA. So, it was really fun to be able to translate that into Hannah’s personal style.
“Creating these shoots to live alongside the Zoom felt like a new opportunity to find joy and play.”
What was the process for ideating looks and pulling products? Did you have an overall aesthetic in mind?
HV: One of the first things I said during our initial meeting was ‘I finally get to change out of my pajamas. Please give me all the glamour.’ Stella, my character in Winx, is a fashion icon, and I wanted to make sure I did her justice during press.
Our initial Pinterest board combined colorful Versace looks that could have been straight out of the original cartoon [The Winx Club] with beautiful British designers like Stella McCartney and JW Anderson, alongside what for me is the pinnacle of silver screen glamour: Chanel.
SS: We made very specific requests for looks based on Hannah and my mutual loves. We really streamlined so that we could feel confident knowing anything coming would be worn. Sample trafficking means a lot of logistics and a lot of human contact, so Hannah and I had to be clear on what something would be used for before making efforts to coordinate the receiving and returning of each piece. We’re so, so grateful to all the brands that worked with us to make it all happen under these circumstances.
Tell us about finalizing looks and coordinating the beauty remotely. How did you ensure the clothing and accessories looked as close to perfect as possible from afar?
SS: This part was actually a blast. I can honestly say working with Hannah resulted in three new friends and a fabulous opportunity for me to collaborate again with a dear friend in London, Charlotte Hayward, who designed all Hannah’s glam.
Hannah is extraordinarily talented, so it should be no surprise her family is as well. None of this would have been possible without her cousins, Elle Farrow, who was my styling eyes on the ground helping with pinning and steaming, and Rae Farrow, who was our photographer. My full-time assistant and right hand, Gina Brase, really stepped up to the plate coordinating the logistics six time zones ahead.
HV: I am so incredibly lucky to come from a creative family. My cousins, who are more like sisters, work in fashion and photography. Elle, who works in buying at Selfridges, helped to assist Sarah from the first fitting. She served as an in-person second pair of eyes, making sure that Sarah’s beautiful looks remained on point whilst I traipsed around muddy fields (needless to say, I didn’t make her job easy).
My second cousin, Rae, is a film photographer. We’ve always wanted a reason to work together, and this was the perfect opportunity. She’s incredibly talented, and we had a lot of fun trying out all sorts of wacky ideas. Knowing me so well, we’d communicate by my favorite frames of reference: ‘Give me Marilyn in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ or ‘You’re Hannah pretending to be Harry Styles pretending to be Elton John.’
This, combined with the power of Pinterest, on which the utterly brilliant Charlotte Hayward created stunning hair and makeup design, along with Sarah pulling ‘modeling inspiration’ (which was much needed being the novice-poser I am), our team created an impressive collection of photos.
“It was such a breath of fresh air, getting creative, and being resourceful with what we had during a lockdown.”
It was such a breath of fresh air, getting creative, and being resourceful with what we had during a lockdown. The hardest part of this last year has been missing that; whether it’s sewing your own costume for an off-West-End sketch show or taking part in an acting class, I have desperately missed the collaboration and creative enterprising. So this was extremely special for me.
When it came to shooting, how was the process different? Can you share some behind-the-scenes details that someone would not know looking at the images?
HV: Since this was the most exciting thing to happen for 11 months, I took full advantage of the situation. Due to the time difference, our Zoom started at 8 pm, and we popped Prosecco at 8:05 pm. Each outfit was shown to Sarah, adjusted by Elle, and paraded around our flat to a chorus of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs.’
Even though it’s from home, this is still our life’s work and our passion — we are just finding new ways to do what we do.
When it came to taking the photos, due to lockdown, we had to get resourceful. That meant scouting locations in couture, changing in bushes whilst my mum held a towel around me, and flashing unwitting residents of South West London. We got lots of cheers from dog-walkers as well as a few photo-bombs from the pups themselves.
SS: Honestly, I am just so impressed that Hannah was able to pull it all off — a press junket day is already a full-time job; sometimes, there isn’t even time to snap a photo standing against a wall. Building in time for shoots with each look is an amazing testament to Hannah’s energy and desire to prioritize creativity. She’s a stylist’s dream — a client that wants to play with clothes, create images and celebrate fashion. It doesn’t get better than that.
What are your biggest takeaways from this experience? Why is it so important to you to keep creating, and do you think styling has changed forever?
HV: I went into this experience searching for a ‘glam team’ and came out with beautiful new friends — Sarah, Charlotte, Gina, Elle, and Rae. I’m counting down the days until we can all be in NYC, popping some Prosecco together. I do, however, realize this is both unique and temporary. Although I cannot wait to be back working in person, there are a few virtual elements I will be keeping.
Virtual styling for one: Choosing looks we liked and ruling out ones I would never consider before sending and collecting saved time and our carbon footprint. Also, doing it all online means continuing to work with Sarah, no matter where we are in the world — 21st-century technology at its finest.
I will also be forever happy to muck in; collecting and dropping parcels was all part of the fun. I am a do-er, so as long as I have the time, I’d love to keep the process as collaborative as it has been. However, I am very fortunate in knowing that if I don’t have the time, I have the most incredible team I trust implicitly to do it all for me.
The final thing I would like to keep is waist-up Zoom interviews. Don’t get me wrong; it was near impossible to get me out of the Versace looks. But it was nice to know that during the tenth hour of press interviews, I could sneakily swap my midi skirt for PJ bottoms.
“I know fashion isn’t perfect, but when it is at its best, it really can be magical.”
SS: It’s so hard to say. What I do know is that as a stylist, as with all artists and creators, we have to be flexible. We have to learn to adapt to a new situation. There’s always a solution. I am happy to do the job in any way I can. For me, styling isn’t just my livelihood. It’s my DNA.
I believe we have a responsibility to find ways to continue to style and create for two reasons. First, it’s important to protect and lift up the industry. Fashion employs countless individuals, and looking for solutions to work through difficult times is good for all. Secondly, fashion, when utilized correctly, is a powerful tool for communication. It can be a celebration; it can be an escape; it can be inspiring. I know fashion isn’t perfect, but when it is at its best, it really can be magical.