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ANNA SANTANGELO

ANNA SANTANGELO

Words: Bianca Healey
Images: Bianca Healey

I first met Anna when she the came into the showroom of the fashion PR agency I was working at. She had on light blue Levis jeans and a ribbed cotton boob tube. No makeup. A lot of people come in and out of the doors of a fashion showroom; magazine girls in stompy heeled boots and flawless makeup, hairy fashion queers in Nikes and shorts. A British stylist in a pink crop top who threw samples to her entourage of giggling boys uniformed in short shorts and capes worthy of Leon Talley, and who later that night sent me a series of drunken texts mistakenly. Anna made me remember why I actually do care about fashion.

Something you notice very quickly when you are working in an industry where consideration of people’s outfits is not secondary to their actual job, but an integral part of it, is that it’s easy to spot a fake. I don’t mean labels. I suppose it’s true of any sphere where subjectivity comes into play (it’s all about perspective), but I think what I slowly came to realize about fashion people from that job is that it isn’t so much about having a look, or the right sneakers, or knowing exactly how to put clothes together so that it looks like you didn’t give it a second thought. It sounds, to borrow one of Anna’s expressions, ‘cheeseball’ to say, but it really is all about knowing exactly who you are.

Anna has 'it' in the sense that you can look at her styling work, listen to her speak, watch her move about a room and she seems absolutely sincere- there isn’t a hint of inauthenticity, nothing doesn’t ring truthfully.

Talking to Anna reminded me of a line from Lena Dunham’s book Not That Kind of Girl. ‘She is ambling along. She is looking for it.’ The story of herself that she told me was one of forthright self-belief and that youthful sense of possibility that is so easily lost. Not, of course, without pitfalls and moments of doubt, but one in which the central protagonist remained firmly and steadfastly herself. Her approach doesn’t separate life from career- a thread that seems to have run through several of my recent conversations, and it feels reminiscent of advice I have read in interviews with girls like Tavi Gevinson and Petra Collins- the once nascent and now culturally established movement of the amateur creative- of mastery developed through personal discovery rather than at the hands of the establishment. I love that Anna totally embodies that philosophy, and that she has done so well in her field by sticking to it.

I can’t help also thinking of Nora Ephron’s essay about The Fountainhead, in her 1970 collection of essays Wallflower at the Orgy. In it, she describes her own experience with the captivating, polemical novel. Though as an eighteen year-old she was entirely entranced with the book’s potent blend of romantic passion and strident individualism, she surmises: ‘while I still have a great affection for it and recommend it to anyone taking a plane trip, I am forced to conclude that it is better read when one is young enough to miss the point.’ Many people, I would suggest, find great value and are very moved by art that leaves others completely unfazed. I feel that this is the definition of ‘cult.’ And the reason for this reference is not to shrug off Anna’s reading of The Fountainhead, but to point out the value of literature that rouses us, and spurs us to live deliberately.  It’s such a wonderful argument in itself- for personal reading that speaks to lingering thoughts and unspoken desires- rather than constantly referencing the rhetoric within the grid.

‘it was just this really amazing story that just kind of wove all of these philosophies, in a non-cheeseball way about you know, doing things because you believe in them and not really caring about what other people think.’

AS: I used to read a lot of fiction when I was younger. I used to read a lot of history, I used to be really obsessed about history. I was really obsessed with war.

I mean, I grew up in California, I grew up in The States, I was really obsessed with Little House on the Prairie.

BH: Me too

AS: I don’t know, I guess it was that sense of how people lived in that time and how they survived.

BH: And wearing calico dresses.

AS: Yes! And I feel like we had the Oregon trail and I was like, ‘yes!’

Umm, and then I feel like I went through this phase where I wasn’t reading as much. It’s hard to make time. But, like, my boyfriend always reads and I’m like, ‘shit, ok, I should read something.’ He makes it seem so easy and he’s so busy.

I feel like I buy a lot more magazines now, and I’ll read those cover to cover. And those will be magazines that I choose to spend money on, that I definitely want to have and I won’t throw out. In terms of my favourite magazines to buy, I’ll buy POP, I’ll buy Purple, I’ll buy Gentlewoman because that always has a really beautiful tone. Another’s amazing as well.

I feel like I have to choose though, because you can get so caught up buying magazines and it’s so much money! To have as a regular habit. I’ve got to be, like “I can’t do this!’

I used to read Apartamento a lot, I like to read about people’s… I’m very voyeuristic about people’s interiors.

Recently, I’ve been more about buying art books. More photography like Walter Pfeiffer and Collier Schorr. I’ve been really interested in their practices, and the way that they work. I’ve bought a few Juergen Teller books.

B: Do you buy photography books and magazines because you use them in a serious way as research, or is it more for leisure?

AS: I think a little bit of both. I think that they’re all, in a way linked together, whether or not you’re directly going ‘I’m doing this for my job.’ More so out of a general interest and then that links back to what you’re thinking about at the time. Cause I know I’ll get really focused on one artist or one photographer, one stylist and be like ‘I’m really obsessed with what they’re doing right now and how they think about things or their mode of practice,’ and then I just want to be a part of that world. So you kind of buy into that when you buy a book of their work, or whatever. I’m very much about the space, and the things around me to be in a way that’s inspiring, quite calming.

BH: Who’s your stylist or artist at the moment? Do you go through phases?

AS: I kind of have people who I’ve always, always been obsessed with. And then there are people I’m rediscovering, or I’ve just recently been introduced to as well. Stylist-wise, I’ve always been really obsessed with Joe McKenna, who’s like a fashion icon from the ‘90s, a really eccentric guy from Scotland. If you think about any sort of old images from Vogue Italia or The Face, i-D- so many iconic images. Not sexy, quite minimal actually. Using amazing archival pieces. And just quite beautiful. He works for T Magazine in New York now, which is a style magazine in The New York Times. He’s an old fashion legend. He used to have his own magazine called Joe’s Magazine, and there were always two issues: it was just Joe’s Magazine 1 and Joe’s Magazine 2. He’s done some really cool stuff.

One book that has been quite poignant in the way that I’ve thought about the way that I work, and the way that I practice…have you read The Fountainhead before? It’s actually one of the books that I sat down, and like, was obsessed with reading. I feel like I’ve gotten in arguments with people about her before, because people are like ‘Ayn Rand, no way!’ Like people get really passionate about the reasons why they hate her.

I don’t know why, but I think that The Fountainhead in particular spoke to me. It’s a fictional take on Frank Lloyd Wright the architect. It was loosely based on a story about a fictional character that was meant to be Frank Lloyd Wright. And he was really amazing in that he was really progressive in his ideas of architecture and what he believed. People at the time, it was all about this decadence and indulgent way of creating architecture with things that had no kind of functionality. Kind of looking back to Grecian and Roman times. With like Corinthian columns and all the stuff that he though was just like so, not relevant. And he was doing all of this minimal, but totally functional stuff. At the time people just thought he was a heretic, people thought he was crazy. Um. And it was just this really amazing story that just kind of wove all of these philosophies, in a non-cheeseball way about you know, doing things because you believe in them and not really caring about what other people think.

It was just kind of this really powerful story. She calls them…She says there are people who are at the forefront, that are doing their own thing. Then there are people called “second-handers” who are doing things because they’re validated by other people’s you know, judgement and their thoughts are like ‘oh, is that good enough? Well someone said that that was good, so it must be good,’ you know?

BH: Like living within the grid?

AS: Yeah, more like not having your own real, true opinion, but having that validated by what other people say. And at the time, I had just started out styling, and that idea was really speaking to me. I’ve always remembered that book, and I can read it and be like, ok, cool and feel really strong and confident about what I’m doing. I think people take away really gnarly things away from it. I do feel like it can go to that extreme. And I don’t feel like I’m a super selfish person. But I think at times it is really important to have a sense of self and a sense of ego and be selfish for yourself. Because you know…

BH: Because no one else is going to champion you if you don’t champion yourself?

AS: Exactly. For that, it was a really amazing read. I’m glad I though of that!

BH: When you were starting out styling, was there a design book, or body of work that you would refer to, or did you try to find your own vision?

AS: I mean, I’ve always been one to love to look at things and be inspired. But I also think it’s very important to know the difference between being inspired, and referencing things too heavily. I’ve never been super aware of trends, or anything like that. Um, maybe looking at things in a much more reactionary way. I like taking something that’s not fashion-related and bringing that back in. I try not to get too stuck into things. It can be a bit of a trap to spend too much time looking at other people’s work.

BH: Did growing up in California affect how you approach your work?

AS: Well, you know, I didn’t come from a fashion background, but I do think that somehow everything filters through.

I studied at Sydney Uni and I did a science degree with a major in Anatomy. So like, I come from a very rational side. And I grew up in California, in a country town with like, one street going through the town. I grew up on a big property, with animals and it was like, ‘go outside, you’re not allowed to watch tv.’ I don’t know how that connects to how I work in fashion now. My dad’s a Marine Biologist, very serious, scientific guy. I know that affects the way that I style in the sense that I’m quite, I don’t know, I love scientific references, I Iove looking at stuff that’s much more disciplined.

BH: How did you go from science to fashion?

AS: I have no idea. It’s such a weird thing. I’ve had a lot of people ask me that. So like, I finished my science degree and was like ‘yep, cool, it’s going to take me a lot longer in school to actually do what I want’- I was going to do physiotherapy. And I was like ‘no I can’t do any more school, I’m going a bit insane,’ because I finished high school and went to uni straight away- I got really burnt out. And then I went away travelling for six months by myself and came back, and worked and had a boyfriend at the time who had worked in the fashion industry, and I don’t know if that sparked any ideas… but literally one day woke up and was…you know when you’re going through your formative years in your twenties? Some people do this, some people don’t. But I was sort of floundering and figuring out what I want to do. And I was like, ‘maybe, I want to do this, maybe I want to do that.’ And you, like, think about fifty million courses you want to apply for, and your parents are like, ‘yeah, yeah sure whatever, what are you doing now?’ And I was like, applying for marketing things… I was so out of my depth. And then, I don’t know why, a friend of mine, Zac Handley, who’s now with The Artist Group, we did our first shoot together, with my sister. We were working together at this restaurant at Palm Beach and we must have had similar thoughts or ideas.

It was someone’s backyard in Warriewood, and we got all our clothes and put them together and we did our first shoot. Then we kind of started making all these little projects happen. I don’t even know. Like I started emailing PRs, and they would have been like ‘who is this girl?’ I’d be like “how many pieces do you need for it to be published?” Just like really abstract type questions that didn’t even make sense because I didn’t even know how the process worked. I was like- I didn’t even understand what a PR was- ‘what do you mean you have to have clothing credits?’ I don’t know. I was so used to being like, I’ll just go to Vinnies and then I’ll pull clothes from my wardrobe- I didn’t really get the process. It as very much a trial and error process, you know, I was just learning as I went along.

BH: Being innocent can be helpful sometimes

AS: Yeah! It can be a good thing. Because I was going in so blind and so like ‘hey what’s going on? Teach me things!’ Um, I guess it maybe worked out. It’s been good and it’s been bad. I haven’t ever really had a mentor along the way, you know. No one that has really pointed me in the right direction. So it’s been very ‘figuring it out as I go,’ which has been really cool, but also really full on as well. I kind of always said to myself that as long as I feel that I’m still progressing, I would stick with it. And if I felt like ‘I don’t really know what I’m doing with this, ‘ I’d kind of put styling aside. But I feel like I’ve been really lucky with all the people that I’ve met, and kind of felt like I’ve always been making forward, progressive steps, so…I’ve stuck with it.

 

Anna’s List of Fashion Inspiration

Ayn Rand

The Fountainhead

Laura Ingalls Wilder

The Little House on the Prairie.

POP

Purple

The Gentlewoman

Another

Apartamento

Juergen Teller

You can follow Anna’s work at annasantangelo.com

JONATHAN KAPLAN

JONATHAN KAPLAN

AMELIA MARSHALL

AMELIA MARSHALL