Industry Interviews

Virginia Van Heythuysen Fashion director of The AFR

May 19, 2015

What is your position and title?

Fashion director at the The Australian Financial Review Magazine.

Describe your role 

Produce and style fashion pages for the The Australian Financial Review and Luxury Magazines as well as write a monthly ‘fashion inspired’ column.

What does a regular day involve in your role?

I’m not sure there’s such a thing as a regular day but… castings, showings, keeping in touch with fashion houses, researching concepts, searching and negotiating for locations, meeting with photographers oh yes and in between, you get to shoot!

What inspired you to begin your career in fashion?

My mother used to hand sew bridal gowns.  Her handwork was exquisite.  I grew up surrounded by fabric and endless reels of thread.

Was fashion always your intended career path?

I previously worked in television and advertising but I came to realise that I wanted to explore the world of fashion so it was back to school for me and I enrolled in a full time fashion diploma.

You have worked for The Australian Financial Review for over 17 years. What has been your career highlight?

For me the highlights have been those very rare moments when you create an unforgettable image.  It’s rather like an endless quest.

Who has influenced you most in your career?

I didn’t pursue fashion after I finished my Diploma – life and other circumstances got in the way.  However through a creative writing course I met Glenda Thompson who at that time was working as deputy editor of the AFR.  She used to come to my occasional dinner parties where I was always intent on creating a mood with fabric/lighting and anything else I could get my hands on.  She suggested I style the fashion for an issue of the mag.  I think this is what you would call a lucky break.

You were responsible for The AFR Magazine’s first ever fashion cover. How do you conceive the fashion pages of The Australian Financial Review?

It generally starts with the clothing – especially as my shoots are mostly narrative driven.  Themes and influences always come through each season be it the Wild West or the wild 70s.  I then spend hours or often days researching art, film and fashion to create a mood board.

How often do you style shoots abroad, and do you feel this is a necessary element in creating a narrative or telling a story?

I generally shoot in Sydney and occasionally out of town.  And yes to your question the right location in a fashion narrative is just as important as selecting the right crew, models and clothing.  I’m often inspired by overseas locations but I find the suggestion of an archway can evoke Paris or an old school diner could be LA.  It’s really about the elements that you choose to include and how you include them.

Who are your favourite Australian photographers to work with?

Let me see – there’s Harold David – we’ve collaborated for many years; Simon Upton who I’ve been working with quite a lot recently, Ben Sullivan and Christopher Morris.  Of course there’s many more but that’s a start!

Which Australian designers are on your radar?

I think the following are a given – Ellery, Dion Lee, Toni Maticevski and ofcourse Tome.  It’s been great to watch their creative journey over the years.  They are successful not only because of their talent but also because of hard work and persistence.

How has the industry changed since you first started?

Hmm – we shot on film and tested on Polaroid and I would hold onto the clothes after a shoot for a day or two – just in case of disasters.  I submitted my captions and copy by fax and there were no mobile phones to guide in lost couriers delivering last minute clothing. Oh yes and the general public had no idea what a stylist did.  Also the high-end market wasn’t deeply established.  A lot of the international brands hadn’t set up in the Australian market and the go to boutiques were Five Way Fusion and Robby Ingham.

Do you have any advice for young industry starters interested in styling?

Work hard and then harder and have the right attitude.  The days can be long but if you love what you’re doing you’ll be noticed.

What has been the most valuable lesson you have learned professionally?

You’re only as good as your last shoot – so keep on raising the bar.  After all its ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ so try not to bore the readers.

What is your style philosophy?

Keep it simple and invest in some well-crafted garments each season.  That way you can slowly build a wardrobe.

Tell me something we wouldn’t know about you.

18 months ago I woke up and the left hand side of my face was paralyzed.  I was diagnosed with Ramsay Hunt syndrome- similar to Bells Palsy.  Apparently a raft of things – stress, being rundown, and the usual, brings this on.  I was unable to close my left eye for 6 months and I found it hard to talk and to pronounce certain words.  As for smiling – impossible.  I suddenly understood how much I communicated through facial gestures.  I was terribly uncomfortable attending meetings as I looked a little strange and to be honest wished I could just put a paper bag over my head with the eyes cut out but I found that people in the publishing and fashion world were incredibly kind and supportive.

What is your next chapter?

My next chapter – I’m not sure.  I still love what I do.  The day I lose the passion will be the day I walk away.

You can find Virginia on Instagram @vvh_stylist 

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