Elin Svahn, with her blunt bangs and drapey, black ensembles, is a fixture among New York City's downtown fashion set. Svahn has worked alongside Karl Templer, veteran stylist and now the creative director at Interview magazine, for going on four years. Now, after a push from Templer himself, the Swede is branching out on her own, collaborating with fellow rising fashion names, such as photographers Sebastian Kim and Steven Pan. Svahn has, thus far, lent her skills to dressing some of the most sought-after celebrities, including Elle Fanning and, most recently, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen in this month's Interview, along with scoring jobs for Harper's Bazaar fashion editor Melanie Ward and designer Olivier Theyskens. We spoke with Svahn as she and Templer were prepping for Valentino's spring 2012 runway show about photo shoot inspirations, her love for Kristen McMenamy, and, if she had the chance, how she would outfit the Kardashian sisters.
How did your working relationship with Karl Templer begin?
About four years ago, I got recommended by a few people and he asked me to come to New York. So I flew over [from Sweden] just to try out and help on photo shoots. During that month, I worked with him for Italian Vogue and W. And then, he asked me to come back to work with him full-time.
Recently, you've started to branch out on your own styling gigs; how did you know you were "ready"?
Before Karl, I worked with another stylist for three years, so I've been assisting for a while. It was Karl who wanted me to start doing my own projects, asking me to style for the magazine [Interview]. Since then, I've continued to work with Karl and do my own assignments.
When you're a styling a shoot, what's the first thing you usually throw on a model?
That depends on the theme. I usually work from a reference or the feeling of the model I'm working with. Usually you build from a look and go from there. I always make sure to do looks with the model before, so on the day of the shoot I can focus on the hair, makeup, and the picture itself, and not focus too much about what you're going to do with the styling part.
Every stylist has a distinct P.O.V., how would you describe your aesthetic?
I'm very color-sensitive. I have a thing with color and shapes, and making sure they match visually.
Do you get a lot of free clothes from designers from styling gigs?
Not a ton. But you get some things for working on special projects. I have a really nice Valentino bag and Chanel boots that were gifts.
There are an incredible amount of aspiring stylists in New York, what would be your advice to all those hopefuls?
Look away from just looking at Style.com. Think about what you want to say with styling, what you're inspired by. Look at other things besides just clothing. Look at pictures, films, music, look at it all. Karl is amazing with this. He helped me a lot with finding different sources of references for shoots.
Do you ever mentally style someone when you're walking the streets?
No, not really. If anything, I can look at someone and think they have good style.
Let's say you had to style for the Kardashians, what would you dress them in?
When you work with celebrities, it's about making them look good with their body types. Being that they're curvier, I could see them in Yves Saint Laurent. Or something Alaïa would be amazing, as his clothes look great on women with curves. Lanvin, too, because it's very womanly and [he] embraces different shapes and bodies. I would like them to look classy, but also, I'd want them to try something new.
Do you think being out and about with the fashionable set helps or hinders ones career?
It definitely helps. Nowadays, you have to be out there a little bit more if you're not established already. But in the end, I hope it comes down to talent.
What's the craziest thing you've ever had to do while styling?
There are many. But, I'd say packing up clothes and thousands of dollars worth of jewelry in full-on rain with the tents over you falling apart.
Most memorable shoot?
I just helped Karl with Italian Vogue's September 2011 issue with Stella Tennant, and it's my favorite story ever. The pictures were incredible and had such an interesting mix of shots, including one of Tennant planking. Also, the August 2008 issue of Italian Vogue, where we shot on a lake by a cemetery was very special, too. I remember those images very well.
You've also modeled in front of Steven Meisel's lens, while assisting Templer with the styling. How exactly did that happen?
The first time was my first week working with Karl and he asked me if I wanted to do it. The second time, we made a lot of the clothes for the story and I think Steven wanted that to be portrayed.
How would you describe your personal style?
It's pretty black and easy, kind of effortless. I usually buy the commercial samples from collections. I don't like wearing too many pieces.
Where do you like to shop?
I love Balenciaga. I'm not a big department store fan; I prefer smaller boutiques.
Any trends you're ready to see retired?
Well, you should never say never.