Two days ago Billboard released its list of 100 greatest girl group songs of all time. Coming in strong at No. 7 is Destiny’s Child’s iconic anthem Say My Name. The year was 1999 and Destiny's Child was starting to make serious moves (take a 4-minute break and relive this greatness).
On set for the song's video, stylist Negar Ali Kline was holding it down in the wardrobe department. Glossy lipstick was en vogue. There were still four members of the group to dress. And though she recalls it being her longest shoot ever, ("a record 26 hours!!") the styling maven says, "There’s nothing better than being in a wardrobe truck with my team and in the trenches together. In battle together."
As for Queen B? "Even at the very beginning, Beyoncé was just pure magic and such a force," she says. "I remember all the ladies were so gracious and down-to-earth Southern girls. The video shoots were epic, this was the height of the big budget video."
In the early 2000s that was the life of celebrity stylist Negar Ali Kline, who has styled everyone from Beyoncé to Tom Hanks to comedian Maya Rudolph and badass Jessica Lange. If it sounds like a dream career, it is, but Kline has put in years of hard work, building relationships with people across town, and navigating the styling space with smarts and class. The sought-after stylist says she "really paid her dues" in New York, developing her confidence and experience at Paper Mag. "At the time," she notes, "there were only a handful of stylists— celebrity styling wasn’t a thing."
When we meet up with Kline, she’s wearing her LA uniform: jeans, sweater, and a block heel. But she doesn’t carry any of kind of industry bravado. We're at Palace Costume, a beloved industry spot only open to pros. It is owned and operated by Melody Barnett, who opened her doors in 1960 as a vintage clothing retailer. Barnett was the first vintage retailer on Fairfax. Today, the 36,000-square-foot emporium houses over half a million different pieces, making it one of the largest vintage clothing collections in the entire country (and not open to the pub, sorry!) Also on the scene is Lee, the costume house's second employee. Kline has known him since her first pull.
Despite having come for twenty years, she’s like a kid in a candy store. "The first time I walked in here," she says, her eyes already moving toward the rows of racks on racks, "it was intimidating and overwhelming, but at the same time I knew this is what I was meant to do. I was 19, but it was very obvious." As we walk through the rooms and floors of goodies, Kline points out some of her favorites and for whom she's pulled. "The Western room, I've pulled for Beck." She casually mentions one of her first jobs assisting on an Elton John video. She's more enthralled by the clothes than the big names she's worked with. A stylish though-and-through.
The costume house is organized by decades and themes. There's a veritable polyester playground. “Wardrobe at That ‘70s Show has definitely pulled every single shirt here,” she jokes. There are rows of 1920s gowns and piano shawls, the likes of which you’d see mostly on extras she says, in period movies like The Hours. Being here with Kline is like walking down memory lane with her via articles of clothing, and is a testament to the longevity of her twenty year career.
Along her career the Los Angeles-based stylist and mom has weathered every storm. Part of her strategy has been mixing up the work. She’ll work on big agency jobs, styling big brand commercials, as well as editorial shoots and press tours.
"I think the biggest misconception is that its 'glamorous,' she shares. "The truth is that it is a tremendous amount of hard work- literally and metaphorically 'heavy lifting.' The process really requires left brain and right brain. It is creative, but there is also managing the budget, team and client expectations, and an insane amount of organization."
She continues, "I always find it hard to describe what I do because there’s a bit of range from advertising styling to red carpet to costume design on a film, and they each require a different philosophy and approach. There are many levels to it."
For Kline, her 360-degree approach to the biz keeps things from getting stale. "I feel very grateful that I have a range," she explains. "One day we’re shopping or pulling at Tom Ford and the next we’re at Kohl’s in Sun Valley for Lauren Conrad." Though some jobs are inevitably more glamorous than others, she maintains that she's much happier working like this. "I like to constantly be challenged, with styling there is always a new problem to be solved. With every project it’s different."
Like one of her most recent jobs styling yet another QUEEN, Jessica Lange, on the Feud press tour. "With editorial and music video, there are quite a lot of creative liberties one can assert. On a press tour, you are not dressing a 'character,'" she says, explaining the various nuances of her job. "It’s more about feeling authentic and comfortable in what they are wearing and cultivating a personal style."
With more corporate clients, Kline says those companies are hiring her to have a POV, even if that means gently pushing back against their comfort zone. "When I find myself in those situations, for instance, in a room with a creative director and the agency and they’re looking to me for an answer, I have to explain the 'why.' Why I believe your hero character should be in denim rather than a suit— that’s really the job of a stylist. Something as small as the hem of a shirt. The width of a tank top strap. There are so many thing that go on behind-the-scenes." Kline says that clients appreciate, and continue to hire you, when you have the knowledge to back up the 'why.'
Though she no longer works on music videos (BTW she's also done OG Snoop and Puffy videos NBD), explaining that "3am fittings are not conducive to morning drop-offs when you have a family," someone she'd still love to work with is Sofia Coppola. " I love the aesthetic of her films and I am very much drawn to working with female directors."
To check out more of Negar Ali's work, see her portfolio here.
Arianna Schioldager is Editor-in-Chief at Create & Cultivate. You can follow her @ariannawrotethis.