Last night’s CMT “Artists Of The Year” was the final awards show of the season, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to give you a little “behind the curtain” perspective from one of country music’s most successful stylists…and one who keeps a pretty low profile, Lee Moore. Lee currently styles Luke Bryan and Sam Hunt, to name a few. And has also styled a wide range of other artists from Lady Antebellum to Charlize Theron, and even JLO back when she was a new artist (shall we say when she WAS Jenny from the block?)
The stylist-artist relationship is an important but complicated one, because you have LITERALLY bared all in front of them, and it’s their job to make you look great. They know all your body issues, the things that make you insecure, and they take the brunt of the blame if an artist doesn’t look good on a red carpet. It’s a stylist’s job to help define your image from a stye perspective, and set you up to feel amazing when you walk out on stage or onto a red carpet.
Sometimes, I think about my stage clothes, as my armor. As an opening act, you’re in front of another artists’ fans, and sometimes the natives can be restless…at least until you win them over. So what you’re wearing on stage is your armor, the thing that makes you feel protected, and ready for your job. It’s intimidating, at times, to get up in front of thousands of people, but if you feel great about how you look, you can feel more at ease on stage. Obviously, that confidence needs to be rooted in a much deeper identity than just what you look like, or what you’re wearing, but it is a way for you to put on the “artist” part of your self, that maybe you don’t necessarily walk around with all of the time. There are elements of your personality that are more visible on stage than they are in normal life, and the right “style” helps you do that. So today I introduce you to the man behind two of the hottest acts in county music, and my own stylist…Lee Moore.
(Above is me and Lee at dinner the night before a photoshoot in Brooklyn.)
KB: When you’re getting ready for a photoshoot with an artist for the first time, what kinds of things are you thinking about when you’re prepping for that event or photoshoot?
LM: Personally, I’m thinking about the project. What are their goals for the project: who are they trying to reach? What are they trying to achieve? And what is their legend going to be? If it’s an album cover, what are people going to think about this artist 40 years from now when they see this album art.
KB: Can you talk about the importance of a style as part of a brand?
LM: However you sound. You want to look as good as your sound. You want your visual product to support your sound. To compliment your sound. And it all has to work for you physically, how you look, what you like, what you’re comfortable in…
I’ve worked with a lot of start-up artists. A lot of artists that have just been signed by labels and I usually just listen to the music, and talk to them a little bit. I look at whatever photos they’ve done before, and try to identify the type of person that they are. Not everybody wants to look “hot.” Not everybody wants to look “fashion.” Every artist has their own message they’re trying to convey.
KB: So you’re most well known for styling Luke [Bryan.] What’s your favorite look you’ve done on Luke ever. Maybe it’s a red carpet, or something dressy? Or a photoshoot?
LM: I know my favorite look we’ve done on Luke, and it’s not a red carpet. It was a Grammy nominations concert where we did Alexander McQueen’s holster shirt or harness shirt….And that shirt didn’t exist at the time with leather trim. So I took a shirt that we already had (cause we already knew we loved that shirt, and I modified it and I added leather where the pad was so we could have our own take on it. It was the perfect crossover of what Luke’s all about with hunting and outdoors, but also being really high fashion, artist.
KB: Ok, well I want to be able to post something on Luke from the red carpet, so now tell me your favorite red carpet moment for Luke [laughs.]
LM: I think the navy Tom Ford smoking jacket with the black shawl collar from CMA two years ago…
KB: So Sam [Hunt] is charting his own path a little bit as far as fashion goes, he’s not doing what country guys are doing. And he doesn’t sound like what country guys are doing. So how do you see your role in the Sam world?
LM: Sam knows what he’s doing. He knew what he was about before I ever came into the picture. So what I’m doing is taking Sam’s vision and Sam’s openness to street fashion and high fashion and just keeping the ideas going.
KB: Tell me about the Billboard cover…
LM: Billboard did this one issue with four covers with men from four different genres. And Sam was the Nashville artist…
KB: How did you pull for that?
[As an aside, this might be self-explanatory but a “pull” is what we call it when a stylist “pulls” or selects clothes from stores or rental agencies, or PR firms for a photoshoot or a red carpet, etc…]
LM: I pulled Sam in a fall way because I knew it was going to be a fall fashion story. And their editor was doing their own pull. And I understood from her that they were focusing on coats.
KB: (Interrupts!) YES! There was that beautiful camel coat…
LM: No, it was actually yellow, it was mustard yellow. But it read a little camel. Their (Billboard’s editors’) focus was gonna be on outerwear, and knits, and those are not fabrics that you associate with stage, with show…so I brought stuff that was more expressive of what Sam is like in show. And we just kinda mixed it all up and it was fun.
KB: Was there a favorite look from that shoot?
LM: The cover, that mustard. Because I never get to see a country artist in that kind of thing. It really suited him.
KB: It was beautiful.
LM: I thought the double breasted thing looked really cool on him. And I love it when I see a guy wearing a really unexpected, an unorthodox color that really he probably normally wouldn’t go and put on.
LM: But in that moment, somebody goes “here put this on,” and you’re like, “wow, this is really F-ing cool and; I look great.” And maybe back in your real life again you wouldn’t do it, but it that moment you’re feeling it, and it looks awesome, so it’s a picture.
KB: Let’s go to girl-land for a second. You have dressed a few ladies in country music, so what’s one of your favorite lady looks that you’ve ever done?
[Here we get interrupted by the outstanding(!!) bartender at 404 Kitchen and Lee orders a nip of John J. Bowman and I order a decaf coffee.)
LM: Well, I’ve loved all the looks we’ve done with you, I mean there was not one look that I didn’t like.
KB: Oh my photoshoot? Thank you. I guess, I was thinking more red carpet…someone more famous that me…
LM: Well, I really am known for doing men.
KB: I’m actually thinking about the fuchsia dress you did on Hillary [from Lady Antebellum] like a million years ago.
LM: Oh yeah, that was a great look. That was beautiful. But you know my favorite look that I ever did on her was an Emilio Pucci wrap dress with a gold buckle at the waist….It was such a simple dress, but everything about it worked and it was one of those outfits that makes you appreciate how beautiful she is. Cause I think when you have a bright color or you have a really stylized dress, you’re looking here, you’re looking there, you’re looking at the whole “thing.” But when you do something that is kind of sublimely simple and everything about it is impeccable, but it’s not flashy in any way, then it just becomes more about the person than the dress.
KB: What would be your advice to people that want to get into the styling business?
LM: Go away.
KB: Leave? (Laughs.)
LM: Get out! (Laughs.) Well, my advice would be get over it if you think this is “fun.” Because it’s a lot of work. And the last person in the world who should be under any illusion that it’s anything but [work] is you. Everyone else, so many people, have this idea that styling is this fluffy job, that’s just sort of shopping and hanging out. But it requires an incredible amount of attention to detail, closing circles, never leaving any detail unattended to. Whether that’s in your prep work, in meeting your clients’ expectations and needs. And getting everything taken care with regards to resources, and your finances, and planning for those months when you’re really really busy and have no time to attend to you life. As well as those months where you have no work at all and you make no money…..And you need to be able to pitch projects to representatives of big big corporations, and to hungry designers. Pitch to designers that want nothing to do with you, that have more press than they know what to do with, but you still need to convince them to get involved in your project.
KB: Can you talk a little bit about how country music plays into that? Because designers want actresses in their dress, and in their clothes. They don’t care as much about country music artists being in their clothes?
LM: They don’t. They don’t care about musicians in general, to be honest. You have to try to see from their perspective the difference between actresses and musicians. Actresses play someone else, so clothes for them are costumes. And when they are at a red carpet, they’re promoting someone else’s project. They are part of a much bigger campaign, that a studio has spent millions and millions of dollars to build up. So for them, to put their dress on that person at that moment is to jump in on an ongoing, very expensive public relations campaign. And they’re jumping in and getting the maximum payoff, for doing very very little.
KB: So it’s not just about actors being more famous? Or more likely to be a body size that fits the clothes, etc..Can you talk about that?
LM: It is body size thing, for sure. Because actors are tiny and samples are tiny. But they’re also too long [the dresses]…so you see a lot of puddling dresses on the carpet.
KB: Do you think there’s the perception that country is not fashionable?
LM: If you’re talking about what fashion houses think, or fashion PR when you’re tying to pull clothes for red carpets…their opinion is that country music doesn’t resonate globally. And when you’re talking about a global brand that has one copy of each dress in their entire sample collection and they have to share with all their different PR offices all over the world, they want to get the absolute maximum bang for their buck. So if they’re gonna choose a musician, it’s probably gonna be a pop musician that has a global presence.
KB: Change of subject! How would you describe the “look” that we do for me in my photoshoots or my red carpets (we haven’t done a lot). But for my fan, how you would you describe it?
LM: I think your look on red carpets—we haven’t done a ton— it has been high fashion, fun and sexy.
(Above is one of my favorite looks Lee did with me for CMAs in 2013….Dress is Roberto Cavalli. This is what the dressing rooms actually look like.)
KB: And I guess kind of our photoshoots too…
LM: Yeah, there’s some fun in it. And I think because you’re able to get away with a lot, because of your own kind of playful energy that you bring to photos and things. We can get a little kooky, a little sexy, we can go a little extreme in this way or that, but it always comes off really approachable, because you have an energy that’s just a fun energy. I think that everybody that sees you knows you’re having a good time.
KB: Thank you, Lee. That’s really nice. I am usually having a good time. Haha. But we do have to worry about approachability in our genre maybe more than a pop act does?
LM: You know, actually I think that varies from artist to artist. Because I think some artists benefit from not being approachable. I think you can name some artists, even in country music, that brand themselves in an aloof way, or a dangerous way, or a mysterious way. Those exist right now. We saw some of that last night at CMAs for sure. So that’s a type. But I think it all comes back to really truly inhabiting your personality, and who you really are, and what you and your music are about.
KB: So you’re backstage in a lot of intimidating situations, do you ever get stressed out.
LM: All the time, because you constantly think you’ve lost something. Your whole entire day of an awards show backstage is thinking that whatever it is you’re looking for…it’s not there. It’s in the next county somewhere. Like that dream where you are on the school bus and you forgot to wear pants? That’s your whole day.
KB: Do you ever get starstruck backstage?
LM: Yeah. It’s unpredictable. I never know when it’s going to happen.
The most starstruck I’ve ever been, though, was with Miss Piggy. She came to my dressing room. And I lost it. I ran away; I stood as far away as I could get and just watched. I just didn’t know how to behave around Miss Piggy. She’s in character all the time.
KB: What’s the best part of your job?
LM: That it’s not boring. Constantly working with great people, interesting, creative, crazy people. That’s the best thing about music. The people aren’t boring.
You can follow Lee on instagram at @leewmoorestyle.