As a creative director and stylist, Courtney Smith has her finger on the pulse of what’s cool these days and her gorgeously colourful wardrobe has gained her plenty of loyal fans over the years. Here she shares more about her day-to-day and why paying it forward is so important.
Did you always want to be a creative director and stylist?
No, I don’t think I even knew they were career possibilities. I wanted to be a fashion designer and that’s what I studied in college but it was one of the lecturers in the college pointed out that I should look into styling photoshoots because I used to always do photoshoots with my outfits once I had finished making them, so she said I always saw the finished product as the photo of the garment and not the garment.
In college, I studied… Fashion Design.
My most formative work experience was… I spent a week working with Quin & Donnelly fashion designers who, at the time, had their brand in A-Wear and Brown Thomas. They let me ‘design’ a jacket and I remember thinking this is where I want to be.
My first real job was… outside of summer and part-time jobs, my first real job was when I was 20 and I was manager and celebrity stylist in a store in London called Arrogant Cat where I had the opportunity to style some big UK celebrities.
The most invaluable thing I learned early on in my career was… to say yes to everything. I don’t live by that rule anymore, but I think when you are trying to create a name for yourself it’s important to put yourself out there, even when it scares you.
A common misconception about what I do is… a lot of people think I am a personal shopper as well as what I do, which is a completely different job and takes tons of patience. Other people think I just put pretty clothes on pretty people, but the reality is that it is weeks, sometimes months, of production – creating concept pitches for clients, pulling the entire shoot together such as booking the team, location, travel, catering etc., and that’s all before you even put a single item of clothing on a model.
My main responsibility in work is to… my job at the end of the day is to make sure the photoshoot created is what was envisioned, so as creative director, I’m the go-to person on set. And then obviously as a stylist, it’s to bring the vision to life through clothes and accessories.
Do you have a career mentor or someone you look up to/seek advice from?
Not specifically but in my earlier years, I turned to Aisling Farinella and Paula Hughes who both gave me really sound advice about breaking into the industry. I try and pay that forward when anyone approaches me for advice.
The biggest risk I have taken in my career so far is… I’ve turned down job offers to work in-house for brands which obviously comes with security and stability but I love working for myself and working with a variety of brands and clients definitely keeps it interesting.
I wake at… 5am.
The first thing I do every morning is… currently, make a cup of hot water, lemon and ginger. Then, I get all the babies’ stuff ready for the morning and, depending on the day, either work out or do some work at my computer to get ahead of the day.
My morning routine is… 5am wake up; hot water and lemon/ginger; whatever house chores need to be done like dishwasher/folding clothes; get the babies’ breakfast ready; workout or work on my computer; 7am get the babies up.
I can’t go to work without… my Head Plan journal. I am still old school and love to write all my meetings, jobs and appointments down.
I travel to work by… foot, to my home office.
On an average workday I… there is no such thing as an average workday in my world.
I start my working day at… currently with two young children, there is no set work time. I work on shoot productions and computer work during Bodhi’s naps during the day (and first thing in the morning) so on average I can get about six hours at the computer around that. The days I have shoots are different, but call times generally vary from 7am to 9am depending on the shoot location and the job.
The first thing I do at work is… every day is different.
The most useful business tool I use every day is… my Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra phone.
I save time by… writing lists and ticking off my jobs as they are completed. I think it helps get things done.
I rarely get through my working day without… chocolate!
The best part of my day is… waking up my babies.
The most challenging part of my day is… finding the time to squeeze everything in.
I know it’s been a good day if… I’m excited to tell my boyfriend what I’ve been doing.
I usually end my day at… no specific time as it varies from job to job and from day to day.
I switch off from work by… 5pm if I am at home working on the computer as that’s mayhem time before bed with babies.
Before I go to bed, I’ll… read a book, although I usually only get through about three pages before I’m fast asleep!
I often prepare for tomorrow by… writing myself notes or sending myself reminder emails so that I know what to prioritise when I wake up.
After a long work week, I destress by… having a glass of wine and some sushi at home on the couch.
The accomplishment I’m most proud of is… oh, that’s impossible to say! But I guess I am proud that I started my business aged 21 and 14 years later, here I am established in my industry and still waking up to do something I love every day.
If you want to get into my line of work, my advice is to… either shadow someone else in the same field OR put time into creating a varied portfolio of work so that you can step into the industry with work you can show potential clients. Experience is the most important thing.
Imagery via Courtney Smith, @courtneysmithstyle. This article was originally published in February 2022.