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When Caroline Rooney wanted to start modeling as a teenager in Michigan ten years ago, her father made a deal with her: You can model, as long as you're learning something. So she learned. She soaked up tidbits about styling, makeup, and photography on set. She studied what the professionals around her were doing at any given moment. Her on-set education paid off.
After graduating from the University of Michigan, Caroline moved to New York, where she became a denim buyer at Bloomingdales. But after years of cross-country commutes to see her college sweetheart, she decided that it was time for a change. She knew she wanted to shift from the business side of fashion to focus on her creative strengths, so she moved to San Francisco and strike out on her own as a stylist.
To get started, Caroline leveraged the network she already had as a buyer. "I've been lucky enough to work with a lot of the same brands that I was buying. They've been wonderful about providing pieces and pulls for editorial. Also, I've had opportunities to shoot social media projects with them, and social is invaluable when you're first starting," she tells Racked.
Beyond those existing connections, she began meeting local editors at modeling gigs —she's still signed with an agency— and promoting herself as a stylist. That approach worked, and she started landing styling jobs with the Chronicle. After a serendipitous meeting with a neighbor, she even found herself teaching styling at Academy of Art University. Piece-by-piece, Caroline built freelance work into a career.
Now, Caroline is focused on the future— specifically, the near future of Fashion Week, when she'll return to New York to attend shows and take meetings. "Once you go freelance, it's such a different situation," she observes. "As a stylist, I'm seeing the collections with a different eye. I'm not looking to purchase for the consumer as often. I'm looking more specifically knowing the publications and brands that I work with. It's a different goal."
Packing for the trip is critical, and Caroline invited Racked to her Telegraph Hill home to see exactly how she prepares. Even though she'll need clothes, shoes, accessories, and outerwear for a week, Caroline's only packing one bag. "I definitely repeat," she admits. In that single suitcase, there will be just one pair of black heels, one pair of heeled boots, a pair of booties, and Sorells (for dealing with the snow) snuggly tucked in with her clothes and accessories. As she scurries between appointments, she'll have a pair of flats in her carryall, along with her stylist kit —scissors, Tide pen, lint roller, fashion tape, and spare black tights. Her days during Fashion Week start around 8am and conclude in the wee hours of the morning, so she has to be prepared for anything on the go.
While back east, Caroline will be visiting old colleagues from her buyer days at Bloomie's and connecting with new press contacts and brands that she'll work with on editorials. "Every day could be a little bit different. I'm not at the shows constantly everyday; most people aren't," she tells Racked. In order to transition from shows to meetings to industry events, Caroline is bringing versatile pieces —including denim, a dark dress, a mini, knits, and silk tanks— that she can dress up or down with accessories.
"I usually try and style the looks based on what shows I'm going to that day, or what meetings I have that day," she explains. "In terms of the looks, I try to style everything out so that you feel on brand for that designer, but you also have something that's just a touch off. The photographers really seem to love that when you're at the shows."
I try to style everything out so that you feel on brand for that designer, but you also have something that's just a touch off.—Caroline Rooney
Caroline is known for her expertise with denim, and is planning to mix distressed denim with more conservative pieces throughout the week. When it comes to Fashion Week planning, she starts with jeans, and layers from there. "I think outerwear is really important as well. You can make an outfit look completely different when you pair it with a denim jacket or a leather bomber or a car coat. I always carry scarves with me, so you can dress it up or make it more bohemian." Whatever she wears, it's rarely head-to-toe trend or high-end. "I just don't think it's functional or practical. For me, personally, I always think there needs to be a level of approachability in the styling."
In addition to approachability, Caroline will be championing Bay Area designers during her trip. Since moving to Northern California, she has immersed herself in the local fashion scene, and she's packing some of her favorite local brands —Svelte Metals, Sweet & Spark, J'Amy Tarr, and Freda Salvador— to show off at the shows. "I just think... it’s hard to start a new brand. It’s so hard to be new. I don’t know how much I can do, but within reason if I can wear those pieces and talk up those pieces during Fashion Week, that to me is so unique," she tells Racked. "It’s different from what everyone is seeing in New York, and it helps promote all these great, new brands and awesome female entrepreneurs."