Alexander Allen has styled the biggest and hottest in music, molding the images of entertainers from pop icon Beyonce to veteran songstress Toni Braxton to hip-hop diva Eve. “Streamlining and fine-tuning the looks of entertainers is my niche!” he says.
The Brooklyn, New York native, who prides himself as “The Transformer,” got his start working for media and fashion industry heavyweights including Marie Claire and DKNY, before stepping out on his own to found Transformers Inc., a full-service fashion styling company, in 2001. Throughout his career, he’s built up a resume full of talented red-carpet VIPs including Kimora Lee Simmons, Fantasia, Brandy, Eva Pigford, Monica, Sanaa Lathan, and Sean Combs.
As part of our continuing month-long coverage of the business of music for Black Music Month, BlackEnterprise.com talked with the award-winning style entrepreneur on how he got started, what it takes to remain indispensable in an industry constantly cutting budgets, and how balancing business acumen with passion is vital for longevity.
BlackEnterprise.com: How did you get started in fashion styling?
Allen: I got started by interning at Marie Claire after graduating from Morgan State University. While there, I interned for two of today’s major key players in fashion: Aliza Licht, who at the time, handled the accessories market at Marie Claire (who, today, is the senior vice president of global communications at Donna Karan International); and Mary Alice Stephenson, who, at the time, was the fashion director at Marie Claire (and is now a style expert and contributing fashion editor for Harper’s Bazaar). After my three-month stint at Marie Claire, Aliza brought me over to Donna Karan with her. I eventually became a public relations assistant at DKNY, before leaving the company in 2000 [to pursue fashion styling full time.]
When I graduated from college, I knew I wanted to work in the entertainment field, but I didn’t know in what capacity. After my time at Donna Karan and after only one day of interning for a major wardrobe stylist–working with recording artist Pink, who was virtually unknown at the time–I knew I found the perfect position for me. [It] combined my love of music, fashion, my favorite entertainers, great pay, being my own boss and time flexibility. After freelancing and receiving compensation for my work, it just made sense, business-wise, to create my own company.
I started the process with my accountant, Peter Pintek. He helped me then, and he’s still helping me to this day. If someone isn’t business-savvy, I strongly recommend that they surround themselves with people who are to make up for what they lack and/or haven’t quite developed yet.
With budgets dwindling in the music industry, has this had an effect on your business?
Dwindling budgets have affected my business. I don’t know of any stylists who haven’t been affected. Due to the over saturation of “celebrity fashion stylists,” the rates have gone down significantly, as new stylists basically will accept a job for free or very close to it, just for the title and the opportunity. Also, due to technology and the lack of album sales, the record companies have drastically reduced glam squad budgets.
I’ll never forget what my first agent told me: NEVER become friends with the client, for you’ll always be respected as a businessperson and not routinely asked, ‘Do me a favor, since we’re friends.’” Now, here is where my ambivalence kicks in: On the flip side, if you are friends with your clients, there are obvious added benefits. Currently, I’m working on not being so extreme in either direction. I’m going right down the middle. I maintain my relationships with my clients by being authentically me. When your work ethic and work speak for themselves, building new clientele is fairly easy.
You’ve done video shoots and editorial work, as well as television projects. What are 3 must haves for a professional stylist?
Business cards, portfolio, and online portfolio presence. These are must haves so that a client can contact you, see what type of work you have done and what you can do. A professional stylist may not always be able to take a meeting and/or send in their portfolio in a timely fashion, so having an online portfolio presence [ensures that] it will always be readily accessible to the client. Three skills that it takes to be a successful stylist in the entertainment industry today are passion, a unique vision, and [willingness to do the] hard work.
How do you determine your fees, and what’s the best way an up-and-comer can have success in doing so?
I determine my fees based off of my veteran status, A-list track record, A-list clientele, my time and what’s being asked of me. By now, we all know that time is money, and how much you value your time, should determine your pay.
What’s the best money advice you’ve ever received when it comes to doing business in the music industry and remaining profitable?
I’ve learned business lessons through trial and error. As an 11-year industry veteran, I get paid on my terms. I don’t wait 30/60/90 days to get paid. One of the many reasons why I love and admire Prince so much is because he changed the game as an artist, in terms of [fighting for ownership of] his masters, and [negotiation of] distribution deals. I have done the same with my business. Some are intimidated by those changes and some aren’t. The ones that are, are typically the ones that have wavering intentions on doing great business with you anyway. As an entrepreneur, I stand firm in my business practices, and if we’re going to do business together, it’s 50/50.