A Conversation with Deborah Afshani: Editorial Stylist

Deborah Afshani began her fashion career assisting iconic stylists Brana Wolf and Alex White for magazines such as Harper's Bazaar, Italian Vogue and W, as well as advertising clients such as Versace, Chanel, Armani and Oscar De La Renta.

Since embarking on a freelance styling career in 2007, Deborah has contributed to top tier magazines such as Italian and L'Uomo Vogue, Vanity Fair, China Vogue, Amica, The New York Times Magazine, W and V. For the past few years, she has also been Fashion Director of Bal Harbour Magazine. She enjoys working on fashion editorials as well as celebrity based projects.

Deborah has styled celebrities such as Meg Ryan, Emma Watson, Freida Pinto, Reese Witherspoon, Brad Pitt, Robert Pattinson and Robert Downey Jr.

She has collaborated with iconic photographers such as Norman Jean Roy, Ruven Afandor, Deborah Turbeville, Mark Seliger, Alexei Hay, James White, Walter Chin, Martin Schoeller and Pamela Hanson.

Her advertising clients include Emilio Pucci, MaxMara, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Avon and Target.

Deborah has acquired a multi-faceted grasp of fashion, which emphasizes an amalgam of vintage, street, couture and classic pieces to create a fresh, modern aesthetic while always maintaining a rich understated elegance.

Deborah shares her time between Los Angeles and New York.

Tell us the story behind your favorite wardrobe item

Deborah: My A.F. Vandevorst black boots. For years, I would go to the A.F. Vandevorst show in Paris and notice that everyone working at the design house wore the same black boots. Their proportion was perfect, round toed, a bit chunky yet chic, flat but with a tiny bit of an elevated heel, the leather around the calf was neither too tight nor too flared. Turns out they were based on a Russian military book from World War 1. They'd work day to night...with jeans as well as dresses...perfection! They were timeless and would look better worn in with wear. And I could run around in them endlessly! I had to have them but, of course, they were out of production at the moment I asked. I was determined though. I would call the designer's studio to hunt down stores that might have them...I called Antwerp, Amsterdam, Tokyo...there I was harassing multiple time zones obsessively! I finally found Williamsburg! Five minutes from where I lived! I still have them and love them.

What’s your most memorable ‘panic moment’?

Deborah: I was shooting an actress in Los Angeles for Italian Vogue a few years back. I had a ridiculous amount of clothes coming which were all amazingly stunning options - a good 10-15 trunks worth. It was around Thanksgiving so flights and cargo were full and my shipment didn't arrive when it was meant to because of that. I only had 5 dresses and jewels when she arrived, which had been sent separately (I remember that thankfully they were Lanvin and Balenciaga options I loved!). We only had the actress for a few hours. I was mortified, as I always love everything to be pristine and perfect (I'm a Virgo!). I remember being super panicked inside but not wanting to worry anyone so I just focused on what we did have...we did a fitting using the few pieces and amazing jewelry we had on hand. Thankfully, I had an amazing team of assistants and interns working with me...thanks trunks arrived when we were already shooting and as they were wheeled in, each one was opened and I just rummaged and grabbed my favorites that worked best. It ended up making for a very exciting and spontaneous shoot, she looked stunning and everyone had so much fun! And then I recently had a situation on a Vanity Fair shoot a few weeks ago....the actress didn't wear fur so we had fake fur options on hand. Turns out she wouldn't do fake fur either and she insisted on wearing something over her shoulders. I ended up making her a silk organza wrap out of fabric scraps I had in my kit! It looked elegant and amazing! Having a ridiculously overpacked kit is my security blanket.

How did you recover from it gracefully?

Deborah: I have definitely learned that somehow, things always work out in the end. In this line of work, you have no choice but to roll with the punches. Circumstances change incessantly...shoot dates shift, shipments get stuck in customs, it rains when you're supposed to shoot on location outside, a shoot direction changes the night before at 5PM etc. There is always a solution - you may have to improvise or be creative but that's the fun part too! Also, I try to remember that no one is dying...yes, I take my job super seriously and always endeavor to be professional, but this is not life or death....few things are I guess! It's always better to take a deep breath. Being stressed or anxious never helps anything! I might need to remind myself of this once in a's really true.

What is your favorite era for fashion?

Deborah: The Art Deco Period in the 1920s-30s. I have always loved that era...the fashion, furniture, art, literature...all of it. But to be honest, I find that almost every era inspires me in different ways. I love to study different periods and learn not only about the fashion but the reason for certain styles or trends. Often times, it has to do with how people lived. Right now, I am prepping a story that is inspired by the Italian Renaissance period so I'm researching that in detail. Delving into any era and developing an understanding and appreciation for its nuances is inspiring in itself.

What was your big break?

Deborah: I have Nicoletta Santoro, a brilliant and lovely stylist, to thank for what I consider my big break. I had met Nicoletta and assisted her a few times over the years at Harper's Bazaar and Italian Vogue - we got along very well. She is someone I admire very much, both professionally and personally. I am grateful for all of the talented stylists I worked with and learned from, but Nicoletta really is to thank for giving my my first big break. She called my on a July day and asked me if I could do her a 'favor' -- could I style 3 shoots with a young photographer she knew. I couldn't believe she considered this a favor and of course I said 'yes' happily. Those shoots ended up being for Italian, French and Spanish Vogue...and they led to my joining my first agency the following month and also to my being profiled in Italian Vogue as New York's new stylist to watch. I will forever be grateful to her.

Whose closet would you most like to raid?

Deborah: Oh, so many names come to mind - present and past! Bibi Lartigue, Simone de Beauvoir, Lee Miller, Martha Graham, Tilda Swinton, Phoebe Philo, Cecilia Dean, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Sofia Coppola...I would love to have bits from all of their closets and mix them up.

Who are your favorite designers?

Deborah: I am almost always in a dress and leather jacket when I'm working. My favorite go-to designers are Dries Van Noten, Marni, A Detacher, Rochas, Lanvin, Tom Ford, YSL, Zero Maria Cornejo and Suno for dresses. Rag & Bone, Isabel Marant, Prada, Band of Outsiders, Alexander Wang and Balenciaga for easy separates, denim and knits. Celine for bags and shoes.

Thanks Deb! You've had such an interesting career thus far! To learn more about Deborah Afshani you can view her EDITORIAL SHOOTS HERE and her CELEBRITY SHOOTS HERE