You can tell Craig Stephenson loves what he does. When he talks about fashion, his eyes light up, his smile is wide and you can’t help but be distracted by all of his hand motions.
Stephenson is currently the assistant buyer, store manager and creative director for Jordanos, a men’s and women’s clothing boutique in the Stonecrest Shopping Center at Piper Glen. When not helping customers put together fantastic looks, he also does some wardrobe styling for various photographers. “I’m always juggling all these different things and doing special events on top of it. I feel schizophrenic sometimes,” he says.
Creative Loafing: Do you have any formal training in fashion or styling?
Craig Stephenson: My formal training is in fine arts. I went to Baltimore School for the Arts and I was trained classically. I was trained doing sculpting, doing photography, painting, drawing. Here with the fashion business, I’ve always had a passion for fashion. Ever since I was 12 I used to watch Style with Elsa Klensch on CNN. I used to love it and I’ll tell you a funny secret. We had this long living space at our house in Maryland, and when no one was around, I’d get up and do runway up and down the room. I absolutely loved fashion. I loved the supermodels of the 90s.
How did you get involved at Jordanos?
I was working across the way, where Marble Slab is now, there used to be an interior design store called the 8th Wonder. I noticed all this commotion over here and paper on the windows and everything so I pulled open the door and was like “Hey!” and introduced myself. Me and Karen [Mangeney, the owner] instantly hit it off. She was like “You’re fabulous; I wish you could come work for me.” Eventually I cut my hours down to part time and I worked at 8th Wonder in the morning, took a two-hour break, then worked here in the evenings. Then over time I just got more and more into the store and what I was doing here and kind of changed my creative direction from interior design and home design into fashion.
So what do you do exactly?
I do everything creatively, anything creative in the store, from the merchandising, to advertisement, to special events. Any sort of branding, I do that. I am also manager so I manage all of our employees, and I also go to all the trade shows with the owner and select all of the garments that you see in the store. It’s a lot of fun actually.
And you also do some things editorially, right?
Yes, I do wardrobe styling. What I do is work with photographers and pretty much outfit the models. I help create the look alongside the makeup artist and the hair stylist and with the photographer and of course the model, together. I say it takes a village to create a really beautiful look. When I started off, the first shoots that I did were awful. It was when I first started with Sotac magazine, which was an arts and culture publication that was published here in Charlotte for about four years. I was the fashion editor for the entire period that it was published and during that time I conceptualized most of the shoots alongside the editors of the publication and selected the photographers, selected the talent that I wanted to work with, selected the models, and then I did the wardrobe styling on top of it, so I had my hands full there.
Who are you working with right now?
Currently I have a shoot with Kevin Justice, who just relocated to Charlotte from Hawaii. He is a national photographer. He’s been featured in national publications. And Gabriel Everett who was a contestant on Make Me A Supermodel. He’s an international model, and he’s also a photographer, and also lives here in Charlotte. I’ve shot with Gabriel about three times and with Kevin once already, so they’re really the only two that I have planned, and then I’m hoping to take a little break in the summertime to relax and enjoy my summer.
Who do you prefer working with more, regular customers or models?
I actually prefer working with real, everyday people. You get a better response. They aren’t just wearing the clothes just for the aesthetics. It’s almost a personality-changing thing for them. I really think style is important in that sense. To identify who you are. It doesn’t define you, but it helps relay an emotion that you might feel or the way that you feel today. Maybe you’re feeling a little bit more funky that day so you dress appropriately. It’s all about self-expression and confidence boosting. I think clothes do make the man sometimes.
What about your own look? Where do you shop?
Lately I’ve been really inspired by the 1950s. I’m so over the 1980s stuff. A Mohawk is as bland as a buzzcut at this point. I’m really loving anything from the 1940s or '50s. I’m really inspired by the old Hollywood looks, and things are cleaning up, especially in men’s attire. I feel that we’re coming to the end of the real glitzy, over the top graphic clothing, so we’ve been introducing lines like Modern Amusement, Five Four Clothing, Bertigo, that are more of a clean, European asthetic.
For my own look, aside from getting free clothes from vendors and shopping at Jordanos, I also shop vintage. I love Hong Kong Vintage. I love looking for a bargain. I love mixing good quality with a great find. Vintage items are pretty much one of a kind.