Spotlight On: Timothy Snell
By Valli Herman
Timothy Snell has learned that some of the most influential women in fashion are rarely featured on the pages of glossy magazines. They’re more likely to show up on television screens, where viewers begin to relate to them like they would a best friend.
Snell has brought a special combination of glamour and reality to his work as the costume designer for “The Queen Latifah Show,” where he’s made the singer and actress a fashion icon.
Snell, a Las Vegas native, studied at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, until he discovered “regular school wasn’t for me.” He moved to Los Angeles to finish his education, studying design at Brooks College in Long Beach. He soon landed jobs designing private-label collections for Target, Walmart, Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s. After 10 years, he sought new horizons.
“I just felt like the career wasn’t speaking to me or doing everything I wanted to do,” Snell said. He began working in a furniture store where he met his fashion destiny. A customer told him that CODE, a fashion magazine for men of color, needed a fashion director. Snell got the job, which became a gateway to meeting and dressing boldface names.
Soon, he became a celebrity stylist and earned clients such as Queen Latifah, Whitney Houston, Angela Bassett, Tisha Campbell-Martin and many others. Snell also has lent his editorial styling talents to magazines including InStyle, Glamour, Vogue, More and Essence, and has amassed credits for more than 15 celebrity covers. Along the way, he has served as a brand consultant and ambassador for HSN’s Queen Latifah fashion collection and has collaborated with CoverGirl, Olay and Zales.
Last year, Snell joined the Costume Designers Guild when Queen Latifah offered him the chance to become a television costume designer.
“She said, ‘I know you’ve never done anything like this, but I want you to come work with me. You know my body type and not everybody understands a curvy girl’s body type,’” Snell said.
Snell met Queen Latifah (also known as Dana Elaine Owens) about a decade ago.
“A friend of mine was doing her styling work and I would tag along. She was an admirer of how I dressed my other clients, Angela Bassett and Whitney Houston. One day she said, ‘Would you consider working for me?’”
Now his days begin with a meeting about the show’s topics, activities and guests, with Snell assessing the star’s specific wardrobe needs. It can be challenging to find the ideal looks in the right sizes, so he works the phones, seeking sources for current looks in size 14 or 16.
“I do a lot of my shopping in New York. I find that in L.A., you don’t have the size options that you do in New York. L.A. moves more toward an ideal body,” he said. He’s not buying into that narrow attitude.
“I keep my mind open and creative. I look through all of the fashion magazines and I adapt things,” Snell said. “Everyone can wear trends, but you have to adapt it to suit your body.”
Creating a look to appeal to a mass audience requires an artful balance of high fashion and approachability that makes the star appear attractive but welcoming.
“Doing a talk show, you want to dress to inspire someone . . . especially curvy women,” Snell said. “This is accessible fashion for the everyday woman. When they see her sitting there, they think, I can wear that. Red carpet is different. It’s glamour and fantasy.”
He’s dressed Queen Latifah for both—often landing her on best dressed lists.
“I think Queen Latifah and I are such a good pair because the show gives me an opportunity to dress her in current and modern clothing,” Snell said. “Women want to know how she does it and where she gets it. And she has no apologies for being a size-16 woman. That is part of her brand.
“The market is so dismal and unforgiving for curvy women,” said Snell. “But people are beginning to catch on that the curvy market is a viable market that deserves attention.”
Unlike most television costume designers, Snell is neither unacknowledged nor unseen. The show’s star has called him a friend and fashion savior and frequently co-hosts wardrobe advice segments with him. The response has been very encouraging.
“In the first days of the show, the website crashed because so many viewers wanted to know about her clothes and me,” Snell said. Footage from his styling segments have become a popular feature on the air and online and will continue as the show continues its second season this year.
His experience from working as a mass-market fashion designer, to styling celebrities, editorial layouts and now, a television talk show host has been invaluable.
“I have had a career thus far where I have been able to work in so many different genres of clothing. It’s taught me an appreciation of every different type of fashion,” Snell said. His current position represents the culmination of many of his ideals and experiences.
“When I went to design school I said ‘I want to be a costume designer. I’m either going to do movies, theater or the mass market.’ I was a realist about fashion. I never was interested in being someone like Karl Lagerfeld or Miuccia Prada, but I thought I’d be an upscale, middle-America designer, making current, modern clothing for people on budgets,” Snell said. “And I always said I just kind of knew I would end up doing it with curvy women at some point.”
Snell is grateful that his work has been a positive force in the national conversation about body image, style and making more options available. That’s partly why he’s working on a collection of clothes for the plus-size woman and developing a website where he dispenses style advice for curvy women.
“It’s nice to work and do something you love and change ideals of how women should be looked at,” he said. “The curvy market has changed, but not as much as it needs. I’m working on that.”