Interview with stylist Anna Berkeley on personal branding

by | Jun 30, 2021 | Getting Naked With | 0 comments

I have known wonderful Anna Berkeley for YEARS! We met when I was at Mamas and Papas and she was at Mother and Baby, where she was the fashion editor and stylist. Anna is body shape expert and stylist, ex-buyer for Selfridges and Prada and has been recommended by The Times and Telegraph.

In this interview, we chat about styling, the fashion industry, body shape, retail and the future.

Getting Naked With Interview with stylist Anna Berkeley

NakedPRGirl: You started out as a buyer?

Anna Berkeley: My first job was at Wallis as an allocator. An allocator is basically the lowest form of administrative assistant in the buying teams. It’s a really important job, but it’s really conventional. You send out all the stock, you do all the transfers, and you manage that whole system. So it’s really important and I was really bad at it.

Then I jumped to being a buying assistant for Faith footwear. It was huge. It was in Topshop, it was everywhere. Our buying office was almost like a cupboard surrounded by shoes and you’d have to edge in there and all these shoes were everywhere. I loved it. Then a job came up at Selfridges men’s wear. I was desperate to be anything at Selfridges, so I got an assistant buyer job in men’s wear, which I loved. Then a job came up in women’s wear. So I stayed there for seven years and it was the most amazing job. I just went up the steps. It was brilliant. So it’s about Fashion Weeks, travelling a lot, everything you would imagine, and the most inspirational people at the helm, Vittorio Radice was the CEO at that time and he was absolutely brilliant. It was really fun in my early/mid 20s, that whole time being in London and it couldn’t have been better.

NakedPRGirl: It sounds like an amazing time! Do you feel like that was pivotal to how you know about clothes?

Anna Berkeley: It really helps me to explain things to people, but also to understand about fabric and understand about cost. People need to understand why they’re paying a certain amount of money for something. I can break that down for them and that’s helpful for all of us. I’ve worked lots of different sides of it and I think that really helps me. I’ve got that 360 degree view within the fashion industry, but also clothing and how everything works in business.

I think that’s the grounding you need. I’m so glad I started right at the bottom. I did summer jobs at Topshop and various other retailers, just to get money in between university. Even just being on the ground there, and obviously when you’re working as a buyer, you quite often go on the shop floor and you’re often working the shop floor as well. That’s absolutely invaluable, so anyone wanting to get into fashion needs to have done that. Otherwise you can’t quite understand how it all works.

I think we’ve all got our little things that we don’t like or things want to hide. It’s just understanding and it’s women who want to look good, they want to feel comfortable and what’s wrong with that? That’s the bottom line.

NakedPRGirl: Did you do any training to get into your first jobs, or did you just kind of look out for them? What was your big break?

Anna Berkeley: As a typical 18 year old, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I think career services weren’t the best in that day and age. So I just thought I’m just going to do my favourite subjects and not worry about it, so I did history at Sheffield University. I loved it, and it was about year two that I thought I’d be a teacher or a lecturer or a researcher.

Then I did that Topshop job and I loved it. I went back and I remembered career services had some leaflets of different things in the fashion industry and I thought ‘buying? Someone gives you money to like spend for clothes to put in a shop that someone else is going to buy?’. So that’s what I wanted to do by third year. It was tough because, even then, you didn’t have that many vocational places in fashion and they asked why I hadn’t done a fashion degree. So it took a bit longer for me to get into it than it might have done.

NakedPRGirl: So how did you traverse from this amazing fashion buyer lifestyle into personal styling? Was that an easy sidestep for you?

Anna Berkeley: I got pregnant with my eldest, and I just thought that with the travelling, the fashion weeks, the writing orders in the middle of the night, that’s going to be tough for me.

Some people can do it brilliantly, and I just thought that’s not going to work for me. So I retrained when I was pregnant and just started really small, really slowly with friends of friends. It was all very organic and kind of grew over a long time.

At the same time, I was consulting for Margaret Howe, so I was working part time and the rest of the time, I was learning because styling takes a long time. I did a course at the London College of Fashion, which is a brilliant course that still runs. And after that, you need to try it out. You can’t just go ‘I’m a stylist now’ and it took a long time practising and working with people.

It started slowly, but gained momentum and I thought, okay, I can do this. I can make this into a business and a career, and I just loved it. It never ceases to make me smile to help someone to find those things that work for them and what looks good and brings them to life. It’s an honour to be asked to do that for someone. It’s brilliant, it’s the best career. Buying is very different, and I love that in a different way, but this is much more rewarding because you get that direct response rather than it being slightly more general, which is great, but this is different. It’s better.

I’m really stubborn and persistent, and I don’t give up. I think it’s like one of those situations where people think it’s happened overnight. It definitely did not happen overnight. It was years and years of slog.

NakedPRGirl: What kind of the key milestones did you have along the way?

Anna Berkeley: It was very organic, so it kind of just happened.

You start with friends and family and you don’t charge, then you start charging a really small amount per hour, you practise more and then when you start to feel more confident, you think ‘I can set my fees now ‘and this is what it’ll be for a while, and I did that.

Once it got to a tipping point where I had enough clients to go ‘okay, I need to choose between the consulting and the clients’. I thought this is my business and it’s my thing and I love it and I have to take the leap. So as soon as I decided that, I suddenly had more time to develop it, which I’m not very good at.

NakedPRGirl: A lot of a lot of these things are quite organic. Did you do a business plan?

Anna Berkeley: It’s much more in my head. It certainly wasn’t set down in stone.

I do a thing every Christmas, I read about it once in Red magazine years ago. You write yourself a letter about the following year, about what you want to do. it might be something like do 30 shopping trips with clients. It’s really fun opening it and going ‘I did do that!’. So I have a dream idea of what I want from the year, but it’s a bit random.

NakedPRGirl: When you get started with a new client, what is the process? How do you approach it? Are clients different because everybody is different?

Anna Berkeley: Each client’s slightly different. So we’ll have a chat first and they will approach me and say, ‘this is what I’m stuck on’, or ‘what do you suggest’? So we’ll work it out slightly differently for each client. But most people, we start with my body mapping, which is my USP. I look at shape really methodically in a forensic way at literally every part of the body. We look at all the different lengths and their relation to each other, with all the different widths, and their relation to each other, so shoulders to hip, legs to torso to neck length to arm length, and everything you can possibly look at, like face shape, ear position and everything. 

Pre-COVID, I would actually draw around people so that you’d have like a life size map of your shape, like a tailor’s dummy. It’s a proper fashion shape and then we just look at all the measurements and talk through why these things are important and how to balance, because everyone needs to balance something on their body. 

Most of us are a combination of shapes, so it’s really important to look at all the different proportions and how they work with each other.

There is a trick for every difficult part of the body that you don’t like and that we want to disguise a little bit. I give people a kind of blueprint of what they should wear what they should avoid, but I teach them why those things matter so a lot of people go ‘oh, I knew that didn’t really work but I like it, so I kept trying’. And that’s really common and if you just did this to it, then suddenly, it works. It can be tiny little things like rolling sleeves, or it can be a really big shift, like making sure you know to never wear a boat neck, for instance, because that really doesn’t work.

That’s usually the starting point. From there, you can jump to all the things that a normal personal stylist would do, whether that’s wardrobe editing, outfit building, personal shopping, all of those things.

NakedPRGirl: Are people quite surprised after you’ve done the measurements and you pull things out that they’ve never noticed or liked the thought of?

Anna Berkeley: Yeah, absolutely. The opposite also happens. As in, they’ll say ‘I’ve got really short legs’ and I’m like ‘they’re not short! I don’t know who told you they were short, but they’re definitely not.’ So when you’ve actually done those measurements, the measurements don’t lie. The objectivity of seeing it at scale helps because you’re not looking into the mirror, you’re just looking at that drawing.

I do tonal systems. I don’t like the whole kind of idea of the seasons because you’re not supposed to cross any of them over and that’s just not me. It’s too prescriptive. I just do a tonal one: you get a palette of loads of different things. Some people really can’t see which colours look good on them and which don’t.

I think that everyone has a season they find really straightforward and the opposite one is like a nightmare for them. It’s really common. So if someone can literally just cut through all of that and you can go straight into it, it makes a massive difference.

NakedPRGirl: How do you go about applying those rules as well to business clients?

Anna Berkeley: It really depends on the client, and where they’re at and what they’re doing.

With my corporate clients, one of the starting points is thinking about certain words, how do you want to be perceived, what do you need people to think about you when they first see you? It takes a split second, it’s not even three seconds or seven seconds…Someone has decided who you are so fast, So we come up with some key words that could be ‘approachable’, for instance, in which case you can think about colours like blues, which are really trustworthy. 

You can look at signature parts of your style as well, so maybe you’d want to say ‘I’m also a creative in this industry’, whatever that industry might be. And then you want to think about maybe a bit more colour or an interesting earring or an interesting scarf. For me, one of the things is massive jewellery. 

But whatever that thing might be, it could be a tiny thing, it could be red lipstick, it could be anything at all, but a couple of little things that own that become your signature.

Also we should bring something of ourselves, authenticity is so important, that I don’t think that you can learn—it’s there or it’s not. So, again, what are you going to bring from you from your actual base character, what are you going to bring and show to other people, whether it’s friendliness or approachability, and you need not to be too stiff in the way that you dress. It’s complicated and layered, but really important to get that right. You need to spend time on the wording first and then think about what that actually means to you and what that translates into in terms of clothing and accessories and everything you do.

NakedPRGirl: What do you think about if somebody is a small business and they’ve got branding already for their business, which probably will have taken into account their character already? Do you think that that’s the kind of thing you would consider in clothing as well?

Anna Berkeley: Yeah, because the colours that you’re choosing for the branding should be reflected somehow, but not in a really obvious way. But it could be just in accessories that you choose, they could have those colours in them. It just sends a message subliminally and it’s all cohesive to your brand and who you are. But getting that right in the first place is tricky.

NakedPRGirl: Do you think we should have fun on Instagram with this?

Anna Berkeley: Yeah, I definitely do. As you can see from my Instagram, it’s very authentic. I haven’t considered it so much in the way I did with the website, but I think the Instagram thing for me is just being a bit of a shop window. It’s all very random. Maybe I haven’t personally thought about that enough. And I think that if I was doing it again now, I would probably learn more about it. But as long as you’ve got an authentic, real voice going through there, hopefully it’s obvious to your followers and your potential clients.

NakedPRGirl: You mentioned before the effect of COVID, so the whole Zoom nightmare we’ve all had of only wearing loungewear most the time. What Zoom tips do you have?

Anna Berkeley: It’s all the things that everyone has said: the earrings thing is great as long as they’re not making lots of noise and distracting you. Something bright and fun and colourful is great.

A red lip is great, or massive collars, because that’s all you’ll see. Don’t overthink it, just do maybe one of those things, so it could be a collar, it could be a necklace, it could be earrings, could be a makeup-based thing. And that’s it, that’s all you need to do, it’s not rocket science. But a bit of colour goes a long way because I think if it’s too black, it doesn’t work terribly well on screens. Stripes aren’t great either, but a bit of print, a bit of colour, is always nice to see.

NakedPRGirl: How are we going to get from where we’ve been to being out in the world again?

Anna Berkeley: There’s loads of great relaxed tailoring that’s super comfy, a lot of bits that are elasticated, very loose and relaxed, and those sorts of fabrics are really great. A jacket you throw on, great knitwear pieces look quite smart. There’s a lot of those polo tops where you’ve got a couple of buttons and then a nice collar. They look great with sort of baggy white trousers. 

Definitely stay really comfortable because I think most people want that. We want to feel relaxed and comfortable and calm. It could be a knitted hoodie or something that’s just a little bit of a step smarter than your fleece. A dress is always great because as long as it’s not super fitted, you don’t have to worry about it. A great pair of shoes and you’re off.

NakedPRGirl: I want to talk to you about your Instagram because it is fantastic. Your IGTV is like you’re just talking to me.

Anna Berkeley: I thought that the biggest thing that clients struggle with is the details, and it is the things like tucking—how to do a tuck, most people overtuck, for instance. I just thought, actually, people need to see that and they need to see someone doing it. Otherwise, how are they ever going to get it?

I’m really just thinking about getting dressed and the nuts and bolts of that. I’ll just suddenly think, ‘oh, today I’m gonna talk about this collar that I’m trying’, it’s not thought through, so it’s very reactive, depending on what I’m up to and also time.

NakedPRGirl: And is Instagram the main way people find you these days, or is it still more word of mouth?

Anna Berkeley: It’s a real mix for me. There’s a lot of word of mouth, there’s press and old press, and then people check the Instagram rather than necessarily it being the place people find me, they tend to look at the website and Instagram. I think a lot of the time, people worry about seeing a stylist and they think they can be really mean to them because that has been a view of stylists over time, and hopefully there’s my Instagram and the randomness and the chatting to camera, which helps people to feel a bit more comfortable with calling me up or emailing me.

So that’s been great because I think fashion people, especially in the fashion industry, can seem scary and difficult and aloof and kind of intimidating and I don’t want people to feel like that at all because that’s not what it’s about. It’s not what I’m about.

It’s so nice, the whole direct messaging thing is brilliant. The amount of people I’ve met through that are really good friends and colleagues now. It removes some of the hierarchy, so you can just throw that out there because if they don’t respond, that’s fine, but what have you got to lose? They can only ignore you, and it’s not the end of the world.

NakedPRGirl: About the press you mentioned, you’ve obviously been in plenty of press, how did all that come about? Are you just amazing? Did you try and get in there, or was it just natural?

Anna Berkeley: I do think there’s an element of luck involved. You know, right place at the right time. When Anna Murphy first wrote about me back in 2018, I had to pitch some ideas to write for Stella magazine at the Telegraph when she was still there and I’d never met her, but I pitched to one of her colleagues, Kate Finnegan, and we became friendly and I did her wardrobe.

She’d mentioned me to Anna and just said, she does some really great stuff, why don’t you have a think about seeing her. We tried to do various things and it just hadn’t turned out. Then I did this body map with her and she wrote about it and, overnight, the emails just kept coming and I had a bit of a panic. It was quite wonderful but absolutely crazy. I was absolutely flabbergasted by the whole thing, I just couldn’t believe it. I can’t thank her enough, it was brilliant and a big break, so that made a really big difference and now I became known.

NakedPRGirl: So if somebody wants to get into styling, what would your top tip be? We’ve been through a whole year of lockdown, things are quite different from the way they were a couple years ago…

Anna Berkeley: I still really believe that starting at the bottom is the best way. So if you can, ideally get a job in retail, it doesn’t matter what it is, but just start somewhere, start at the bottom because if you don’t start there, you don’t understand how it works. So that would be the first thing: get your teeth stuck into it.

You have to talk to customers. I think one of the big things is honesty. So many people hate that idea of a shop assistant, saying, ‘oh, you look great in that’ because they just want you to buy it, but you actually don’t look great. If you’re honest with people, they will come back to you. 

Work really hard, keep at it, be really persistent and ask for help from people. Whenever people reach out to me, I’ll always give them time and help if I can and give some tips. So reach out to those people that you might know, or a friend of a friend of a friend, or they might have a contact, you never know where that might lead you. Instagram’s is a really easy way to approach people, but also ask for advice, ask for help, it’s so much better than it ever was before and so many people will respond because people generally love to help other people.

NakedPRGirl: What do you think the future looks like for retail and fashion?

Anna Berkeley: I am hopeful actually. It’s been brutal and obviously so many businesses have fallen in this time, but they probably did need to, and if they couldn’t survive this then something wasn’t right in the first place, it’s just accelerated things tenfold. So it has speeded up that process. 

I think we need to make sure that we make some of those things positive. One of the things is retail training, that whole idea of making sure that people know what they’re talking about and they’re doing it in the right positive way.

The sustainability thing, they need to be dealing with this. I was listening to Stella McCartney talk about this the other day, there’s so much work to do there, but until the government legislates on that, there’s no reason for brands to do what needs to be done. It’s easier for a new brand to start and have a good relationship on the sustainability level and start in the right place and start as they need to go on, it’s much harder for people that already have that whole infrastructure and have to change it. So it is difficult. There’s no two ways about it. But consumers are getting much more much bolder about asking the right questions, looking for the transparency.

I really hope that we can get back to almost a slower pace of things where people buy less, but buy a lot better, which I do. Where they look after things and we mend things and we keep things and we treasure things. I hate throwaway fast fashion. People are always going to want new clothes, I think it’s unrealistic to think that that’s not going to happen. I’m trying really hard to look into the background of things, and I’m consuming a lot less. The rental market’s amazing. I think that’s going to be brilliant for those one-off things, weddings and parties where you want to wear something to just rent something and have it for a few days.

The young generation are really pushing for the answers. Inclusivity is getting a little bit better with size ranges, I mean that needs looking at. You’ve got petite, who can’t buy anything without having to have it altered massively. And then you’ve got the curve end of the spectrum, who quite often just can’t find the right thing that they want in their size. It really shouldn’t be happening now. People shouldn’t be scrambling around and feeling like they’re not as important as a size 12. I just think that’s not right.

NakedPRGirl: What is next for you, then? What have you got coming up this year?

Anna Berkeley: I’ve built a separate part to my business which is called Think Shape, so that’s looking at two things: the first thing is retail training, so opening training up to brand teams or store staff to understand some of the key things about women’s shape and saying okay, they’re going to look good in these three things that show them what we’ve got. 

I’m also looking at a digital plan for my body mapping, so watch this space on that. And then I’m trying to help as many people as possible really to feel good and understand what shape is and work with it and accept their shape and embrace it, because that’s the key. That’s what we’ve got, and life is short, so you shouldn’t be worrying about your clothes. You should be enjoying being out and about with your friends and family and feeling good.

Follow Anna on Instagram here.

Watch the full interview here:

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