As one of Australia’s most distinguished fashion editors and stylists, Nicole Bonython Hines has an established career in the Australian fashion landscape from her first position at Vogue, to styling Kylie Minogue in her formative years. Polished and perennially chic, Nicole talks her love of a great photograph, the serendipity of beautiful clothes and her most insightful career moments.
How long have you worked as a stylist for now? And how did you get your start in the industry?
I started in film production which in many ways logistically prepared me for styling. This was before I got a job as ‘merchandising editor’ for Vogue which was basically the cupboard job (ie. most unglamourous job/shit kicker in the fashion office) but I absolutely loved it. I stayed there for a few years before I was lured away with double salary to a ‘fringe’ magazine called Follow Me as fashion director. I was incredibly precocious – I think I was about 22 when I got that job but saw absolutely no reason why I couldn’t change the fashion world! I think it must of been the arrogance of youth but I just did whatever came into my head and no one ever said no so I was able to take huge risks with no consequences other than creatively failing from time to time but that was all part of the learning…it was amazing! I don’t think I could’ve done that in this era. It was the 80’s and the fashion world was in a state of change from the old ‘glamour’ guard to the experimental with people like Yohji Yamamoto, Gaultier and Commes des Garçons appearing where the YSL’s/Ungaro’s previously held court. Oh, and I’ve been doing this for 37 years…god I did’t realise it’s been that long!!!!
You’ve styled some of the world’s biggest celebrities – both for magazine covers but also for personal appearances. Who has been the most memorable and why?
I’m not sure that this was my grandest moment but it’s certainly the one that people seem to remember the most…when I worked on a special dress for Kylie to wear for the launch of The Delinquents in which she stared. She had been dating Michael Hutchence for a while and it was to be their first public outing together. A designer called Stephen Galloway worked on this with me ( I came up with the basic idea and he made it happen) and he was notorious for leaving things to the last minute. It was still with the beaders on the day it was required so that the final fitting was about an hour before we had to leave for the event. When she finally got to try on the dress, Stephen hadn’t taken into account that the beading would shrink up the dress so what was supposed to sit at mid thigh, ended up barely covering her bum. It was quite the moment for the fact that she appeared with Michael, the dress was so short (shorter than was fashionably acceptable at the time) and that we also made a last minute decision for her to wear a wig that the hair stylist happened to be carrying on the day. Kylie was open to ideas back then and went with all of it. Bravo for her as it is probably now an Australian moment in fashion history.
As well as being one of the industry’s hardest working stylists you’re also a mother of four, including twins. How did you manage the work/family juggle when the twins were young?
Actually I have 5 kids! There’s a 10 year gap between the first three and the twins so it wasn’t as chaotic as it could have been. The juggle was very tricky. Fashion hours are not family friendly with early starts for shoots, travel and often very long days. I had to have live in help when they were young to help with the mornings and long days. I’m pretty organised so that helps. I always figure that whatever you can do the night before will make the next morning easier.
Any advice you could share with working mums in a similar situation?
I’m going to be controversial here and I feel I can be as I stand on the plinth of experience of working throughout my children’s childhoods but here goes…. If you financially don’t have to work when your children are little, then don’t! Nobody wins – I think your kids need you and selfishly, you never get those baby years back – and the job never gets the best of you as your head will often be with your kids, or clouded with guilt for leaving them at childcare crying etc etc. If you do have to work, then I would recommend being as organised as possible so that when disaster strikes, and it will, you only need to take care of the stuff you hadn’t planned for which is infinitely easier than dealing with everything! And also, if you can do the minimum number of days possible or try and finish work earlier so that you can be with them at the end of the day. Sometimes I’d finish work and they’d all be asleep it was heartbreaking.
What are your styling kit essentials?
I’m pretty old school with my kit…I’ve always worn a bum bag (ha! fashionable these days!) – I always carry gaffa tape, masking tape, scissors, fine dressmaking pins I order from Germany, nappy pins, double sided tape, spare threads etc, a plethora of underwear and robes/slippers. This is my shooting essentials..for real people it would be very different – the rear of any image is all these these things which you certainly couldn’t do in real life!
What is one little-known styling trick you think all women should master?
Knots and bows. Bad knots and bows can cheapen a look. Same with visible underwear – unless it’s intentional. I also think that as much as we’d all love to dress in high end head to toe, it’s not realistic for everyone financially so I would say that it’s important to become good at picking the eyes of high street brands and mixing it with more aspirational pieces. A great shoe/bag/jacket can elevate the cheaper pieces and can really look great.
Your known for sketching looks whilst sitting front row at fashion week. Why do you illustrate like this and how does it help your creative process as a stylist?
When I first started working in fashion, that’s what everyone did. There were no digital images. If you took photos, you had to pay quite a lot for processing at a photo shop or wait 10 days to send it away via a chemist! It’s hilarious how different this is now.
So sketching was my way of recording what I saw. Once I’d done all the shows or showings, I would phone the designers and be able to describe in great detail, the style (including fabric/colour etc) so that they would then send through that piece for me to shoot. It’s also how my brain is now wired to remember things. Just taking photos doesn’t really ingrain it into my memory.
Who inspires you, sartorially?
Unoriginally it would probably be someone like Phoebe Philo. She always looks effortlessly stylish. I need to be able to move quickly (to get everything done in my busy days) so I can’t be doing heels or tight skirts. I need to look stylish, but also need to be comfortable and be able to move at speed.
This season, what key wardrobe pieces have you got your eye on?
What is the best career advice you’ve been given?
I don’t think anyone gave me advice..when I was young enough to probably take advice I was charging at top speed doing whatever it was that I was doing and making mistakes and breakthroughs along the way. I think I was perceived as ‘scary’ when I was younger so perhaps no one was game enough to advise me! In my defence, I don’t think I was so much scary as just very focused.
What advice would you give to aspiring stylists looking to replicate your career trajectory?
I’m not sure anyone should try and replicate my trajectory – it’s probably important to get a little more life balance than I was able to achieve. I was just so busy, I just kept doing without being that aware of anything else like where I going. I would however recommend the following and do so emphatically….work as hard as you can. You never know enough, you can never learn enough, but you can keep searching. As a junior, I would say, be humble, say yes to anything your senior asks of you and ask lots of questions. Don’t think you already know it because you couldn’t possibly. Always keep your eyes open – inspiration can come from everywhere. Always be collaborative.
You can find Nicole on Instagram @nbonython