By Valli Herman – January 2, 2014
Tanya Gill has a talent for making something good even better, whether it’s a couture gown, a low-budget wardrobe or even her own career.
One of Hollywood’s most powerful fashion gurus, Gill is known for styling Kate Winslet, Julie Christie, Dame Helen Mirren, Hilary Swank and Jane Krakowski for high-profile appearances, photo shoots and commercials. Gill coordinated Jane Fonda’s 2013 Oscar red carpet look that the Hollywood Reporter said “out-shined younger nominees such as Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence.”
Lately, the stylist and costume designer is becoming as well known for creating successful fashion makeover shows; One is on cable television, another online, and with her new representation from WME, others are in development.
She partnered with Florence Deprez-Wright to co-create and co-produce the fashion reality show, “Something Borrowed, Something New,” which debuted on TLC in February. In the half-hour series, experts take brides shopping for new gowns, but also show them how an heirloom gown can be refashioned.
“Then they have a showdown on stage where they decide if they want to wear their mother’s dress or the new dress,” says Gill. “There is a lot of attachment to a family heirloom. Many of the brides-to-be don’t realize how to transform something old into something modern and elegant by adding a corset or petticoats for volume or changing the fabric on the dress.”
Those kinds of precise nips and tucks have been her stock-in-trade, and a talent that she discovered could be applied to other platforms, namely on television and online.
“The concept really came from working with celebrities such as Kate Winslet on the red carpet and being sent these beautiful dresses from Paris and couture houses,” said Gill. “Some of them are made for the runway, and when you try them on, they are beautiful, but they don’t quite fit right or they don’t look quite perfect. They need to be adjusted for the different proportions of a client. And for an awards nominee, it is so important to get the look right. It has to be their dress, not a dress that is wearing them.”
Though Gill originally pitched the idea without the bridal angle, “Something Borrowed, Something New” is happily married to TLC. Hosted by designer Kelly Nishimoto and stylist Sam Saboura, the series has been renewed for a second season. The show concept was initially so well received that midway through the first season, the network upped the order from eight episodes to 12, then renewed for 20 new shows, which begin airing in early January. Shortly after, her website, iconhouse.com, will debut with content focused on fashion, style, the arts and video.
Gill leveraged her skills for an online makeover show that debuted in February. For MSN Style and Living, she and Deprez-Wright created “Closet Genius.” As executive producer, Gill also hosts the how-to show and in a few minutes, guides women through distinct wardrobe challenges such as “New Job, New Wardrobe,” “How to Dress Your Baby Bump” and “Plus Size Fashionista.” In each fast-moving episode, Gill coordinates a series of looks, incorporating items from her real-life subject’s closets.
“The best thing about your closet is that you can take your favorite keeper item and build an entire outfit around it,” says Gill on the show. She teaches a frequent traveler how to incorporate a leather vest and warm knit cap into on-trend looks, and helps a plus-size young woman understand the best silhouettes for her figure.
Gill makes the changes so effortlessly, that it’s hard to remember that few possess her keen eye for proportion, fabric and building a story or character, skills that are also essential for Costume Designers and Illustrators. Her stints styling in London and creating eye-grabbing looks for commercials and advertisements honed those aptitudes.
“I liked that I could create something new or pull really interesting things that I wouldn’t have the money or the time to create. I could use the best of my skills. I could also illustrate any concept that a director might have in his head. Then we could have it made or have it transformed,” she said.
The London-born stylist grew up in a creative household with an interior designer father and a mother who created costumes for the Royal Ballet. Her refined sensibility and a sense of street chic helped her earn admission to London’s Kingston University where she earned a B.A. in fashion and textile design. In her early career, Gill worked for noted fashion stylist and editor Elizabeth Djian and Jean Paul Gaultier. The experience got her in the door at the Z Agency, which helped launch her into magazine and video styling. When Z opened offices in the United States, she moved to New York and then Los Angeles.
She arrived in L.A. in the early ‘90s, at the moment when fashion magazines were beginning to feature celebrities on their covers in place of models. That’s when her celebrity styling career took hold as she realized that L.A. was the entertainment capital of the world.
“I was there at the perfect time,” she says. “Because I had worked for U.K. fashion magazines—The Face, Arena, Tatler and had experience creating an image for music artists for videos or cover art, I had a more global point of view. I had the credentials,” she said. Gill also had worked closely with celebrity photographer Wayne Stambler, who is now her husband, styling the covers of Elle, GQ and celebrity stories for Tatler. Her agent also landed Gill work with production companies where she styled many videos, eventually following the directors into commercial, film and TV projects. In addition, musicians such as Janet Jackson looked to Gill for their custom-designed stage costumes.
“A lot of the commercials I’ve done are like mini films,” she says, which has provided insight into the character-creating process that defines a Costume Designer. Gill acknowledges that a Costume Designer and a stylist have different skill sets, but they aren’t mutually exclusive. Her move into entertainment for TV and the digital space is, she says, “a natural progression,” and further evidence of the portability of styling and costume design skills.
“I’ve applied all my knowledge now to creating and producing shows about something I love, which is fashion and costume. And it’s something I’ve been doing for 25 years as a Costume Designer and stylist,” says Gill, who served as the commercial designer representative on the Costume Designers Guild executive board. As she takes her career to the next level, one thing remains constant—change. “I guess I’ve always transformed things,” she said, “whether it is clothing or actors.”