Cosmo chats: Sophia Banks-Coloma

Sydney-born, LA-based stylist and designer Sophia Banks-Coloma has dressed the likes of Blake Lively, Kirstie Alley and more.

Sydney-born, LA-based stylist and designer Sophia Banks-Coloma has dressed the likes of Blake Lively, Kirstie Alley and more. We find out how she got her start in the industry, her top trends straight from the US and her favourite shopping spots. How did you get started?
While I was living in Australia, I interned with Apparel Group before getting a job as assistant childrenswear designer at Marcs. I was on holidays in the States and I fell in love with LA. I found out where all the showrooms were and knocked on doors until someone hired me. It was a lot of persistence – it took three months alone just to get a visa. Once that was set, I moved to LA and started designing.

How did you start making your celebrity contacts?

When I first arrived in LA, I was working at a company where Mena Suvari used to shop. Mena would call me up and I would bring the label’s clothes to her house – that was my first styling job. My boss’ husband also owned a magazine, so I started writing about new products and things I thought were cool. Eventually, I ended up buying into an LA store called Satine. In America at that time, it was the height of Juicy [Couture], C&C and Seven Jeans and Satine was one of the only places that had some really different things. We were one of the first stores in the US to stock Rodarte, Roland Mouret and Pierre Hardy.
When she was first starting out, Rachel Zoe used to come into Satine all the day. She had just signed Nicole Richie as her client and she would bring Nicole, Lindsay Lohan and Kristen Dunst into the store. By working with Rachel and those girls, they would always be photographed at the store which got us lots of media attention. Through Satine, I made a lot of relationships with stars like Pink and Gwen Stefani who would come in all the time. We eventually decided to do a shoe and clothing line and even designed shoes for an Italian company. I love the design and styling more than running a retail business, so I decided to launch my own label, Whitney Kroes. Blake Lively, Amy Adams and Rachel McAdams have all been snapped wearing my designs. You’ve also just finished working on your first film, Syrup. Can you tell us about that?
One of the producers of the movie knows I’m a fashion girl and were looking for a very edgy, cool, fashion look for the film. He introduced me to the director and by working on Syrup, I was able to work with labels like Dior, Chloe and Givenchy. We also used newer designers like Martin Grant and Christopher Kane to make it super-cool. I finished that a month ago – it comes out in March next year and stars Amber Heard, Brittany Snow, Kellan Lutz and Shiloh Fernandez.

Do you prefer celebrity styling, costume design or designing for your own label?

I like it all. I think to be a really great stylist, having a design background is important. I can look at something and know if it’s going to fit and how it’s going to fit. They also work together – sometimes you see very skinny girls who design for very skinny people; you see people who are a little curvy just design for curvy and they can get stuck in a rut. When you’re dressing from size 0s to size 12s, you need to really understand a collection. I also do a lot of collaborations – I just finished something with Anthropology and now I’m working with Pacific Sunwear. I like doing it all but I’ll only commit to one or two films a year and I’m already committed to a film in January next year.

Is working on film and costume design very different from styling?

Film is like fashion on caffeine – it’s a whole new level. It’s really great for styling because you learn to work under pressure – real pressure. As a stylist, I would get freaked out when, for example, I had three people to dress for the Emmy’s, as well as Kristin Chenoweth releasing an album – so I have to style 35 outfits for a 10-day launch. Before, I would have been overwhelmed by that. Now, when you do a movie, you have 50 people to dress in one day and they have to do so much more than just stand and pose on the red carpet. With a film, they have to be able to move and turn. On Syrup, we would have days where the directors decide they’re going to wet 50 people, blow wind and water on them, so people have to have their dresses taped down or else they’re going to fly over their head. I had Amber in Louboutins, and the Louboutins were so wet, her feet were floating and the shoes were just falling apart. And then they’ll take that scene approximately 80 times. So it’s definitely a whole new level of styling! But it’s a very fun process because you’re working with these amazing directors and writers. Do celebrities have a lot of input in their outfits?
They’re paying you for your expertise, so I’m usually the one who decides on the 10 dresses we get in the studio and then we decide on the final one together. I have clients who are pure actors and who couldn’t care less as long as there’s a dress and shoes for them. I also have clients who love fashion, who’ll say to me, ‘Did you see the latest Givenchy runway?’ and email me at 1am asking ‘Should I get this Céline bag or this one?’ It’s more collaborative with them. My number one rule is that they have to be comfortable in the outfit. Even if you think it’s cool, or even if it looks fantastic, if they don’t feel comfortable, once you put them on the red carpet, it will look bad. I think it’s bad for both parties if you push them into a dress and it ends up on the worst dressed list because they don’t work it.

What are your must-have wardrobe staples?

It’s always changing – but right now it’s the crop trouser, a silk shirt from Equipment, a fluorescent skinny belt, a Céline box bag, a crop sweater and the pointy-toe shoe. Coloured or plain, the pointy-toe shoe is making a comeback. I like pops of colours – we’ve seen the colour-blocking come through, but taking it one step further with prints.

What are your top trends for Australian summer?

The all-white look – add in a coloured top or coloured shoe. I saw great ones at Tony Bianco in citron green or yellow. Yellow is the new pink – ditch everything pink, yellow is going to be the big colour for the next two years. And yes, you can wear it as a blonde! You have to find tones and do your make-up to compliment the shade. Another key look for summer is the floral pencil skirt with a crop sweater. Ladylike bags are also coming in – just generally more elegant, structured looks.

Do you think Australian style is very different to American style?

Yes, I do. I think you guys are actually ahead of the trends generally. You’re more willing to take risks, you use more colour, and you get to experience style. In America – dare I say this – there are a lot of people who just follow – where here, people are willing to take risks, you have great innovators such as Josh Goot, Dion Lee, Sass & Bide and ksubi for their denim. I think Australians are really good at prints and dying effects. Who are some of your favourite Australian designers?
I need Dion Lee, Josh Goot, Manning Cartell. I love Camilla & Marc, I think they have some great pieces. I was really impressed with some of Willow’s dresses – remember, I’m looking for red-carpet dresses as well. What are you favourite stores?
Here – I love going to Scanlan & Theodore and Camilla & Marc. I have a daughter, so I’m obsessed with Seed. I bought everything, I’m not joking! Parlour X – I love that store, Belinda, Marni and all the Aussie designers. I went to Zimmermann and a bought swimmers, Kirrily Johnston, Zambesi.
In LA, Satine – obviously. I’m a sucker for Barneys – it really is amazing. Madison Los Angeles also has great stuff. There’s a great store called Confederacy but I’m obsessed with Net-A-Porter. I live for Net-A-Porter. Follow Sophia on Twitter for weekly style tips at @Sophiabanksc.