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INTERVIEW: Stylist Nina Cheb-Terrab

INTERVIEW: Stylist Nina Cheb-Terrab | Faulkner

For our DIARIES debut, we invited editorial fashion stylist and long-time friend and collaborator Nina Cheb-Terrab (she/her) to our Gastown office — where we got the 411 on life as a stylist, cancel culture in fashion, and how to perfect the bleached brow.

Nina, 26, started styling a mere three years ago while finishing her graphic design degree at Emily Carr University. And now her most recent work includes Cole Sprouse’s cover story for Puss PussMagazine, the spring/summer 2021 campaign for Milan-based streetwear line GCDS, and an editorial for the bright, Brooklyn brand Marshall Columbia. In August, she was featured in Levi’s Off the Cuff blog as part of their Monthly Muse series.

Born in Brazil — of an Italian, Syrian, Brazilian, and Argentinean background — and raised in Vancouver, Nina’s other hats include being a tattoo artist, creating 3D renderings, illustrating, and making her own clothing. This past month, she started volunteer styling with Dress for Success, a non-profit providing professional attire to women who are looking for work or starting a new job.

What does it take to be a stylist?

It’s not about being like, ‘I know what’s cute!’ It’s so much more than that and it really depends on the project. You have to know how to negotiate, you have to have people skills, and you have to be able to work as a team. And if you’re doing something where you have more creative control, you have to be really aware of who you are styling.

Describe a quintessential part of your styling practice.

It’s really important to be mindful that when you are styling people, you are directly interacting with their bodies. And bodies are very personal! I try to check in with the person who I’m styling even before we’re on set and am like, ‘Hey is there anything I should know? Is there anything that is a huge no-no that you would never wear?’ I’ll do my best to ensure that the person I’m styling is comfortable because you’re going to get a better product at the end of the day if everyone is enjoying their time. If you’re trying to force someone to wear something that they’re not comfortable in, who is that really helping?

Who are some designers you are really drawn to right now?

I’m obsessed with independent designers, particularly ones coming out of London like OTTOLINGER, Charlotte Knowles, Leann Huang, and Benny Andallo. I love seeing people play and be daring with their clothing design because I want that to be part of my styling as well. I also really like [Vancouverite] Shirley Tang’s work. She runs the brand ORIENS.

Is there a responsibility that stylists have pulling pieces when a designer is cancelled? Or is it ultimately more about the garment?

I believe that stylists do have a responsibility. Or at least I hold myself to that guideline. That’s a big reason why I prefer to work with independent designers. It can be tricky because most luxury brands have had some sort of problematic behaviour — whether it’s in the recent past or far back. To be blunt, I’m not putting anyone in Dolce & Gabanna. Maybe instead of focusing on like, ‘Oh, what are the pros and cons of this piece?’ Well, why don’t you just focus on finding a piece that is only pros? There’s no end to the clothing.

How do you keep your closet organized and approachable?

It’s tricky because my partner and I have a shared closet, so it is slightly chaotic. We also share clothes too. It’s fun to have a rack outside of your closet where you just have your favourite favourite pieces. It makes it easier to get dressed as well because every time I look at my favourite pieces, I get excited about dressing up.

What advice do you have for any aspiring stylists?

It’s something that you have to really take initiative in. If you want to style, you have to go and style. Find a photographer; it can be a friend of yours — or you can be the photographer! Find a friend who you think has an interesting look and just start setting up little shoots. Or ask somebody if you can style for them, and don’t be afraid to use your own clothing.

The best thing you can do is put out something and just keep doing that until something comes back to you, and then you can work off of that. You can go to school for it as well, but at the end of the day — as it is with a lot of creative fields — what people really care about is if they like your work, not necessarily if you have a piece of paper to show for it.

Key items for a stylist’s kit?

You always want to have clips and/or safety pins. You’ve got to have them! But the biggest and most useful thing you can have is adaptability. If you get stuck because something has gone wrong, it’s not going to work out. You must be a good problem-solver.

You’ve maintained a signature bleached brow look for a couple of years now. How?

I have a strategy. First thing: you have to buy bleach for facial hair; there are ones that are for sensitive skin as well. Do not use hair bleach on your eyebrows! Then make sure that you coat your entire eyebrows. For really thick eyebrows like mine, brush it in and get every single hair. Because my eyebrows are also very dark, I keep it on for about 45 minutes. I’ll comb it off a little bit and see if they’re still a little orange, and if they are, keep it on for a little longer. It doesn’t burn for me, but that is not the case for everyone.

In order to keep your eyebrows from falling out of your face, I find that castor oil helps a lot — it’s antibacterial and promotes hair growth. Every night, just apply it directly on your brows. My eyebrows have stayed on for two years now.

Do you have any tips on trying to stay sustainable or green in fashion?

I almost exclusively shop second-hand. It’s important to focus on buying pieces that are quality and that also feels like an investment. I’m okay with spending a bit more money on something because I know that I’m going to care about it more and I know that I’m going to want to take care of it. There are a lot of resources for mending or changing garments that you have. It’s also a lot more enjoyable to have a smaller closet of pieces that you really care about and are really proud of, as opposed to a ton of clothing that you’re not really sure about and then you’re constantly switching in and out.

Do you have any favourite pieces from FAULKNER?

I have this really cool Comme des Garçons green knit sweater with a little gray trim on the sleeve. It’s very slouchy but very comfortable. The pieces I’ve gotten from FAULKNER have been consistently very timeless. You see that in the quality of the items and the shop’s ability to spot something interesting — not necessarily because of a logo but because of really great details that make each piece special.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.