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How This Stylist Couple Shares an SF Studio in Perfect Harmony

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Photos by Aubrie Pick

Anne Kunisaki and Luke McKinley not only work together styling photo shoots and films in the Bay Area, but they also live together in a 450 square-foot studio apartment in San Francisco's Mission Dolores neighborhood. Luckily, Luke is a costume designer who also happens to be an extremely proficient shelf-builder, and Anne is a stylist who was willing to downsize her wardrobe and other accoutrements when she moved into Luke's space. The result is a warm home that feels much larger than it really is, and one without one iota of clutter. Read on for this ultra-cool couple's best styling, living, and relationship secrets to success.

How did you guys meet?
Anne: "On the job! A mutual friend got us in contact because Luke was interested in getting into the industry. He started assisting me, and well, the rest is history!"

How did you get into styling?
Anne: "After graduating FIDM I shuffled through random creative jobs, like arranging sets for furniture showrooms, jewelry merchandising, a bunch of temp-type jobs, but when I started a freelance window display gig, I think that gave me a little credibility for a friend to recommend me to assist. I busted my ass—blood sweat and tears, really, literally, blood sweat and tears assisting. I considered quitting a few times, but I stuck with it and here I am, seven years later!"

Who are some of your clients?
Anne: "I do mostly web catalogs for clients including Walmart, Party City, and Hartford York."

Do you find it's a major plus in San Francisco to have both prop and wardrobe styling skills?
Anne: "Yes there's a lot of crossover. Likely because of budgets, clients often ask: 'Hey can you do everything?' And you say: 'Yes, I can!' Being a smaller industry in this city, you have to be more versatile."

Any projects that you're working on right now that you're excited about?
Anne: "The holiday stuff coming up is a lot of fun and festive. I have a harvest shoot coming up."

Luke, how did you get started?
Luke: "I started reaching out to people and discovered a costume designer named Aggie Rodgers. She spent most of her career in the Bay Area but has worked on Hollywood movies since the '70s. She took me on and has been a great mentor. I worked on Fruitvale Station with her, which just came out. It did really great at Sundance so that was fun. You never know how a film is going to turn out, so that was really great for my second project. I just worked with her on another film as well."

And you're in school?
Luke: "Yes at Apparel Arts on 3rd Street in Dogpatch. A woman named Suzy Furrer is the owner and she's one of the instructors. She has a really great group of instructors who teach technical pattern making for fashion design—there are electives too but it's very specific in terms of sewing, construction and garment production."

Personal style time! How would you describe your personal style?
Anne: "A mix between masculine and feminine. I have to be able to run and play and work in whatever I'm wearing. I'm a pretty thrifty person when it comes to spending money on myself. It's a make it work kind of attitude, so it could become a little eclectic at times, but generally it has a masculine touch. Not too girly, silk and bows are much too delicate and dainty for me. I love leather jackets and stilettos, tight pants and shit kickers. I put on a dress for you today, which is pretty rare, I felt like the principal was coming and I should put on something pretty."

Your jewelry is amazing.
Anne: "Thank you! This one I made this in a metal arts class, these plain bands are Margiela rings someone found on the ground in Miami and gave to me. Others are gifts from friends. This I had since I was a little kid; I found it in the bottom of a box. My friend Annie got me this one when she went to Africa. I was just in Japan and brought this one back."

How long were you in Japan?
Anne: "Two weeks. It was such a great trip. We went to Tokyo, Kyoto and to the South to visit family. Luke didn't want to come back."

Luke how do you describe your personal style?
Luke: "Everything's pretty clean and minimal—no badges, no logos. If there's any branding on my jeans I'll take it off. Essentially I wear the same outfit all the time, what's important is the cut and fit and durability. I like denim a lot. I like it for its qualities—how long it can last and the abuse it can take. I'm pretty active doing a lot of different things. And I almost always wear boots."

Do you have favorite brands?
Luke: "For denim I like Iron Heart from Japan, Dry Bones from Japan, Gant Rugger for shirts. I think they do the best cuts for shirts—longer arms and slimmer cuts. Real McCoy's from Japan also. Red Wings from the U.S. Dunderdon from Sweden originally as well. Mr. Freedom in L.A. is also a favorite."

What attracts you to costume design?
Luke: "I like the idea of building a story and the psychology of a character, and creating something that's so subtle that you don't realize why everything looks so real."

Who are some costume or other designers you admire?
Luke: "Aggie Rodgers who I've been working with. She's really inspirational for a lot of reasons. She's a woman, and the movie industry is an old boys' club in some ways. Women in costume design are historically paid less, so she definitely stands up for women's rights in the costume department. She's a real egalitarian. Also Mark Bridges, the guy who did Boogie Nights, The Fighter, There Will Be Blood. These are all films in which the costumes are so important to the story. In The Fighter, it's this certain time in Boston and he just pulls it off so well with all the supporting characters and roles. There Will Be Blood, too, in terms of that Old West style. There's a lot of thought put in to the development of it."

How did you deal with combining all your stuff when Anne moved in?
Luke: "Being a stylist, she had a ton of stuff. We had to get rid of some, I got rid of a lot of my clothes, which I'm happy to do. She's big on going to Crossroads and selling and refreshing all her stuff. She'll do that like every month."

Anne: "For shoes and jackets I'll spend money, but for anything else, I will not. It's like the anti-stylist thing but I will not spend a ton of money on clothes. When I pull of course the numbers go pretty high but for myself, hell no."

Luke: "And for me I just have a few items that I know I can use all the time. So that cuts down on space. I've also learned that you can't always have updated new stuff so it's better to have stuff that lasts longer. For guys it's a lot easier."

Was it difficult for you to get rid of a lot of stuff when you moved in?
Anne: "It was very emotional!"

You seem to have created a really harmonious space though. Any tips for others moving into small spaces in this crazy SF market?
Anne: "Keep it clean and orderly. I like to tidy, he likes to scrub. It works. I can't buy a bunch of crap. Crap is fun, but it just becomes crap in tight quarters. Oh, and having the same schedule is pretty crucial. Respect, compromise, and all that. It's a relationship magnified! I think if you can live together in a studio apartment, you are probably solid."
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