London-based fashion stylist Karine Jones has been inspiring and charming the fashion world with her project Aesthetic Candy.
We meet amidst the cacophony of Southbank centre setting itself up for a day of events. From our view, the Thames rages.
Karine grew up in a creative and lively atmosphere in West London. The seeds for the inspiration to become a fashion stylist were all there. Her mother made clothes, her father liked to draw, and her brothers and sisters, all much older than her, were passionate about late-1980s fashion.
Karine loved fashion from a very young age, and had a dream of becoming a fashion designer.
I remember my first top. I made a kimono-like top. I took some silk, got a glitter pen and started making some designs. My mum found it quite funny. I would have found it funny too, but I was too young.”
By secondary school, Karine developed the technical draft to be able to draw and design clothes. The inspiration and the ability both being there, Karine’s life at school was the perfect set up for her beginning a career in what she loved.
But life is never that simple.
Whilst at secondary school, Karine began to develop her personal style. Fashion was no longer just a dream, it was also an everyday reality. Having a good style meant hard work.
Most of us go through a time where you’re not that confident with your abilities. And for me it was a really big thing at that time. So I wanted to find a way of feeling confident about myself, so that if anyone teased me about anything I would know there was a reason to have faith in myself.”
“I wouldn’t want to leave the house unless I knew that I looked a certain way. That’s when I started to really think about how I put outfits together.”
Karine signed up for an art and design course and a photography course at Hammersmith West London College. Both of these courses allowed Karine to not only develop a cultural and historical awareness of different types of art but get a sense of the way in which fashion has engaged with them.
It was a big exploring stage for me. It opened up the world of creativity to me. It opened my mind and helped me start to see things differently. I realised where things have come from and what’s behind them. And that helped a lot to inspire my own creativity.”
The next step was to go to university and pursue the fashion design dream. But there were problems. Her portfolio was filled with art and design, not fashion. Karine went on a mission to add to the fashion section. She made an application to London College of Fashion, Mare Street.
Karine got in. But without A Levels, she could not sign up for fashion designing. Instead, the only degree she could do that related to fashion was one which focused on product design development for the fashion industries, and which incorporated more of the business and marketing sides of fashion.
I thought at the time it would help me because it involved different things. But that’s not what inspired me. The majority of the things, like marketing and business management, weren’t really my focus and I didn’t really enjoy it.”
Karine struggled with the course material because she didn’t enjoy it. She felt she was not putting all her attention into what she wanted.
The only area I really enjoyed was researching concepts, doing design developments, making the garments and doing my own photoshoots with them.”
In 2005, Karine went to New York to do an internship with Cynthia Rowley.
It wasn’t what I thought it would be. It included long hours, and they need you to do as much as you can, as quick as you can. It was demanding. That said, I enjoyed it – if I had to do it again I would. But I wasn’t ready—I wasn’t prepared for it.”
In New York, Karine learned about how fashion companies actually operate, from the conception of products to their distribution.
When I look back at it, I realise: I didn’t yet understand the concept of consistency, and I’d never really grasped the idea that if you truly want something you’ve got to work your butt off to do it. It’s not going to come easily. In my head it was: you do this, and then this should happen. But you have to keep on going.”
As it turned out, this mindset was a hindering Karine’s ability to make the most of her experience at first.
Although I’d gone there and was working for free, sometimes I felt they were taking liberties. Sometimes I’d feel like I was doing things begrudgingly. When I look back I felt like that held me back and be more open to trying things. I felt like people were taking advantage. And oftentimes, people are taking advantage—but you’re also going to be able to learn a lot from it.”
While in New York, Karine bumped into a fellow student from LCF who had been interning at Jill Stuart and Catherine Malandrino. Through her, Karine was able to score a couple of weeks helping out with both companies in the run-up to fashion week.
That was the first time I ever worked from the late afternoon until 2-3am. We were just doing last minute jobs like stitching up buttons. But at the same time, it created such a buzz. They did look after us and provided us with food and paid for our taxis home. It was nice to be part of that buzz. It was so great to be involved in the whole production of creating something big.”
“You’ve got the models rushing around, the photographers are there, and people are arriving. It’s dead exciting.”
When it came to fashion week itself, Karine got to experience a spectacle.
At one of the shows, Mary Jay Blige performed. Music being a big influence in Karine’s creative process, Blige’s performance of a song that Karine loved was a truly emotional experience.
But Karine had to come home.
Back in London, Karine had to finish off her degree and write about her experience having had a good introduction to the inside of the fashion industry.
While New York had taught Karine a lot about the fashion industry, it had also taught her a lot about herself. Realising she loved the everyday process of fashion as much as she enjoyed fashion design itself, she decided she wanted to be a fashion stylist.
In 2006, fashion styling wasn’t big. It existed, but fashion stylist roles weren’t glamourised and Karine’s tutors didn’t know the best way to advise her.
For her final project, Karine organised a professional photoshoot. Collaborating with a photographer and a hairstylist, Karine greatly enjoyed the process involved.
But after university, Karine didn’t know the best way to move forwards, not having industry role models.
I applied for jobs, but everyone kept telling me I needed a portfolio. I didn’t yet have the mindset of: do a photoshoot and create a portfolio. It hadn’t come to my mind yet. I got fed up of applying to jobs linked to fashion and not getting them. Or just finding things I wouldn’t get paid for.”
In the end, Karine settled for a job she thought was going to be temporary—in retail.
I thought it would be ok—I like shopping, I like clothes, I like working with people and helping them get dressed. But then I noticed within the first few days that it was so sales oriented. I didn’t enjoy the whole target process. I didn’t like people bugging me to make X amount of money. I was happy to serve customers, help them find outfits and feel good in outfits that they were wearing, but I hated the whole thing.
“By the time you get to the beginning of a new week, they come and check how many sales you’ve made. For me, that just kills the whole creative process.”
Karine was trying to focus on designing a collection and getting on in the fashion industry, but she couldn’t completely kick the stress of retail out of her head. Using some of her uni work, she did a show at Afro Hair and Beauty at Alexandra Palace. She sourced models through friends of friends, got a hairstylist to help out and a photographer to shoot her pictures. An excited, nervous and sleep-deprived Karine pulled off a successful show—but nothing came out of it. Despite its success, the show was followed by an anti-climax.
I started to feel like retail had killed my creativity. I started to feel really down about what I was doing. I was just working and not doing something I was passionate about. I thought I had no creativity left. ‘What am I going to do? How am I going to do this?”
Then in 2014, Karine’s friend came up with a golden idea.
“Why don’t you make a blog, Karine?”
—Although she had studied fashion marketing at university, Karine felt she was behind with the way in which marketing was beginning to develop online. Karine immediately shot the idea down.
Karine thought about everything she had learned since university, and how important it is to be confident and consistent. After overthinking it for long enough, she decided to go for it. And with a bit of help from her then partner, who created the website, and a graphic designer friend, who made the logo, Karine’s fashion styling blog, Aesthetic Candy, was born.
Whatever field you’re in, it’s so important to have a support network. Not only does it help you think outside your own box, it also encourages you. That’s what it did for me.”
Creative Londoners: How did you come up with the name, Aesthetic Candy?
Karine Jones: When I was designing, I went through a couple of different brand names. The first one was Mykay, which had a whole meaning behind it, the second one was Ipsaiti, I looked it up in the dictionary and can’t remember what it means. I had all these concepts and ideas behind them, but they never lasted. I was researching words that had something to do with creativity, beauty and art, and that was visual. Somehow it became Aesthetic Candy—it’s a mouthful, and sometimes I have to stop and think about it to spell it, but I’m glad I chose it. When I researched what “aesthetic” was about, it’s about the appreciation of art, beauty and creativity. And for me, I appreciate anything I find visually attractive. So when it comes to things like clothing, art, those are things that grab my attention. Fashion—as much as it can be commercial—there’s so much beauty in it. When a designer thinks about what they’re going to design, and the things they research to inspire their designs, I think that’s a really beautiful process, the process of coming up with something and then to see it come together in real life.
Creative Londoners: How did it start?
Karine Jones: Aesthetic Candy was originally about me putting stuff out there that I appreciate and want to share with other people. So it started off with me doing my own personal style photoshoots. And as cool as I am having a picture taken with someone, I get very tetchy when it comes to having a picture taken of just myself with no one else around me. I asked my friend if he could do the pictures for me. He said yeah. We met up and went to Stonebridge in north-west London to do the first photoshoot.
I went and bought my outfit from Zara. I had my Rubicon shoes. I put my outfit together. It was a leather outfit. I thought, ‘This is going to be wicked, it’s gonna be bad’. I got there, and I was terrified. Especially as I was outdoors, it was ice cold, and I wasn’t feeling well either that day. So we started shooting. And I knew the outfit looked good. I was a bit wary about my posing. I’m not really much of a… I mean… When I’m messing around, I can do the whole posing thing, but when it comes to being serious and doing something properly, I just look a bit odd. And I think he was good but I needed someone to direct me more.
So we did the shoot, I put it out there. It was mainly my friends at the time who saw it. But they really liked it and said it was really cool. Then I started researching a lot more fashion collections and sharing that on my social media.
So after I did that photoshoot, I started planning others. I made an Instagram and started posting my first photoshoot on there. I knew I needed to do more photoshoots, but wasn’t sure how I was going to go about it. I would overthink it every time and start procrastinating. Eventually I got the hang of it. I planned my photoshoots and would either use my own clothes or buy a new outfit.”
Naturally, Karine encountered some stopping and starting as her blog began. She was still at Reiss, an environment that was ever-pressing her to make more sales.
But Karine had started something she couldn’t give up. She contacted a photographer called Mode Hunter (Darrell Hunter) who agreed to work for her. The two got to work.
It was good working with him because he gives very good direction, which helped me with my poses. By that time, because I had done a few other shoots, it helped me to relax a bit more.”
Since then, Karine has collaborated with designers, models, make-up artists and photographers, and directed photoshoots all over London. She regularly attends trade shows and fashion weeks.
I love seeing new brands. As much as people all love Gucci, Prada, Valentina, all of those familiar brands, I think it’s still very important to showcase the brands that are emerging. There are a lot of creative people out there and they’ve all got something good to put out there. And I want to be part of the process of them building as a brand. Elena had just recently started. We kept in contact and she let me use her pieces for more shoots.”
Creative Londoners: What are the most important things you’ve learned in your career so far?
Karine Jones: I wish the word failure never existed, but my biggest failure was allowing my fear to hold me back from becoming a stylist and not believing in myself more. Sometimes I wonder what I’d be doing now if I started out earlier but I am so happy that I pushed past that fear and lack of confidence.
Also, work experience is very valuable even if you’re not getting paid. I’ve even ended up interning at small places and doing one-off jobs for free. But it’s always such a valuable experience. In the fashion industry, there’s a lot you have to do without getting paid first, before you actually start making money. It’s tough. But if you are really passionate about it, it doesn’t matter as much.
Creative Londoners: What do you want to see more of in the future of fashion?
Karine Jones: I’d like there to be more coverage of international fashion weeks. There are so many amazing designers who don’t get the exposure they need.
Creative Londoners: Who in the fashion styling world inspires you?
Karine Jones: There are so many people who I’m inspired by but it is always my photographer, Mode Hunter, who comes to mind when I am asked this question. I’m always inspired by the way he captures an individual outfit composition in natural environment, along with light and colour.
Photographs by Michael Wayne Plant, a London-based social documentary photographer.