Alumni Spotlight: Kay Altamira
30 Jun by Joe Miller
You can check out more of Kay’s work on her website: www.kayaltamira.com
1. Tell us about yourself
I never know how to start answering this question. The discovery of oneself is a complex process meant to always leave you a bit unsatisfied – the journey is what keeps us hungry. You could say I’m a person who comes from a multicultural and bohemian background, who identifies as a woman but sometimes thinks like a man. My father was a half Luxembourguese, half Spanish Scientist, and my mother is still a half Mexican, half Lebanese Psychologist. I guess I have a little bit of everything in me.
Despite the challenges of my upbringing I try to see my daily actions as a poem yet to be written, inspiration comes from weird places. Pragmatically, I’ve been working hard since the age of fourteenth when my mother lost our home after my father passing and I’ve got rushed into adulthood. When I look back, it feels lonely. Even though, I managed to make some decisions, both good and bad, yet regardless of their nature, I owe to the fact that they were my own and I am proud of them. I finished university, went to Buenos Aires, studied Art Direction, worked in the Mexican Capital, travelled the world, found the love of my life… at some point, there I was, living in an Ashram, singing mantras and teaching yoga in Rishikesh under my yogi given name, all crazy. And now well, this is my London calling. I have never been afraid to get up and live my life on my own terms. It has been a long and thrilling adventure to get to this point and what comforts me the most is that everything feels like new again. Every journey to happiness and realisation is different and I am finally able to love and understand mine.
2. What inspired you to become a stylist?
Fashion was never really on my radar. In fact, I never cared for trends or read too many fashion magazines. I was too busy quitting jobs, studying and discovering my passions through bizarre hobbies. I think styling somewhat chose me…
As far as I can remember I loved dressing up as a little girl. I would put outfits together, play with my mum’s vintage clothes, rework my brother’s baggy jeans just for my mother to see (and my brother to kill me). Back then, I thought it was just called acting. One of the things I love the most about my life in London is how people celebrate your looks in random places. Complete strangers reach out to you just to tell they LOVE things you are wearing. At the beginning I thought it was very odd and people were trying to distract me to steal my wallet, but now I learnt that they actually mean it.
Then in Mexico, a cheery designer friend of mine (in Mexican is called ‘mana’ which translates as a female version of a ‘hand’), asked me to work with him and give him a ‘female hand’ while I was pursuing other dreams in D.F.
We did Fashion Weeks, Mercedes Fashion Weeks, some telly… but Styling is still not much of a career path in Mexico. So I moved on to other things and forgot about it. A couple of years later or so, I found myself in Seven Kings – London with my supporting partner, renting a living-room/bedroom in a Victorian Terrace with other 5 couples. After a careful 18 months plan of savings and hard work involving retail and bartending weekends, I was able to put the money together to make a smart educational move that would put me quickly on the map and overtime actually make a living out of this so we can both aspire for better things in this country.
3. Which course did you do with LCS and what impact did it have on your career as a stylist?
I went full-on and did the Advanced Course. I knew from the start I wanted to get as much information as possible about the local industry. By far, it was the best decision I made for myself, professionally. At the beginning, I tried so many other institutions and got rejected. I felt my education was somehow overlooked and my past experiences ‘too quirky’ for their academics. However, in LCS I found a warm and loving welcome and an open gate to the industry as well as the valuable contacts I needed to elevate my fashion career.
After all that, fancy or not, I have my little degree. The work has to come from you, but LCS offered me exactly what I needed in this business to start-up my career, including an interview which led to a 6 months internship at LOVE magazine, where I assisted my idol Katie Grand, and for that I will be eternally grateful.
4. Your editorial styling work has been published in numerous magazines. What is the key success ingredient when doing editorial styling?
Storytelling. I don’t really see fashion editorials as something that is just there to look pretty towards the light or the wind, clothes are just clothes until we give them purpose, an attitude, an emotion. A jacket can make you feel free, lavish, warm, secluded, crisp, badass… I think it is very important to be clear with the emotion you are trying to convey as an artist first, make your own mood boards, and at the same time be able to keep a good mixture of brands while being congruent with your palette and texture. You can’t compromise the original intent of a fashion spread (which is to sell clothes through fantasy), and loose the emotion or vice versa. It’s about finding balance and the pursuit of asymmetry. I may have OCD (I have my suspicions) and I am a little crazy when it comes to organising. I like to come to my shoots fully prep, tagged and with pictures taken, but I also allow myself some room for improvisation. Often, time is a factor you can’t fight back and you need to know how to throw things together on the spot. On the other hand, I think when it comes to dressing a celebrity for an editorial, the most important part is to research your artist well, be able to get their own personal style with few Instagram posts, communicate and make them feel pampered. And for me, my goal as their stylist for the shoot is to challenge them to try something a little bit different and make them see themselves in a new, fun light. It is very rewarding when they tell you they would have never picked something like that for themselves and that they love it. I think a lot of the times this is what makes this job so awesome.
5. What has been your most favourite project to work on so far?
My favourite project is always my last project. Regardless of the outcome, I knew I entered in the shoot with my all and I exited the shoot with my all as well. That is what matters, the work and passion I put in. Then I’m ready to move on to the next one and I never look back. It is important to keep pushing yourself and try new things instead of thinking what it could have been different or wasting your time in replicating attempts. I would say though, one of the most demanding yet satisfying things I ever embarked was to be able to become a Catwalk Stylist and Casting Director almost straight out of the program. So far I’ve done two seasons with hyperstreet queer brand DB Berdan and it has been one of the proudest moments I have experienced in my career so far. Next season we are aiming big and we have plans to take over NY and Strand.
6. In your work, would you say you have a signature style or do you always try to reinvent yourself?
I like to say that I rather be something ‘else’, than something forgotten, however I don’t use my signature style in any of my work unless it is related to the emotion I want to paint with my outfits for that particular story. To me the excitement comes in documenting a motive through fashion that could be completely unrelated to my own perception and surprise myself. There are many amazing stylists out there that are successful in dressing themselves differently and it is totally valid. Anyhow, my aim is to rediscover style and transcend gender, colour, age, cultural background… our dress is our history, our moment, our future, and I want to be there for it.
7. Do you think people judge you on your personal style or is it completely irrelevant when it comes to booking work?
I do not know. I don’t care. It is quite possible. I guess for every job you have to dress the part but it is important to stay true to yourself whatever that may be that day and find practical and personal things that make you feel stylish and special every morning in just 5 minutes. At the end of the day, this is a production job, not a beauty contest. I do like to put my Mexican stank on things a bit Teddy or Punk but I you can’t waste too much time looking in the mirror if you want to werk-werk-werk. Honestly, I have also very little understanding of this whole ‘selfie’ culture we live in or the apparent necessity we have to document our daily lattes for example. I enjoy my work the most when it’s a little private and I forget how many coffees I’ve taken.
8. What advice would you give to our current LCS students?
I would say that limitations are something we create ourselves to hide from the things that might seem scary or difficult and we often tend to justify in our current circumstances. However, we are absolutely capable to change our circumstances, there is absolutely nothing stopping us from living up to our ultimate potential. It is just a matter of tweaking our mindset and keep looking at the bigger picture when things fall apart. The same limitations that were created by us can be destroyed by us in order to make room for one of our biggest blessings: The gift of possibility. Make a plan and get in! Yes, be yourselves, but learn how to be the best and the most professional kinder version of yourselves.