Looking out the window of his Notting Hill apartment, Zadrian Smith recalled the first time he met his now styling and business partner, Sarah Edmiston.
“It was a couple of days after George Floyd was killed,” he said. “I called together some industry people … to the park across the street from my flat, because I wanted to have a dialogue. Because as a Black man, and as a Southern Black man, I felt very removed from what had happened.”
What started in the park that day was a transparent talk about racism and social justice that generated the foundation for Smith and Edmiston’s styling business — one that they say is built on inclusivity, education and representation with the goal of shifting the historically exclusive narrative woven throughout the fashion industry.
In the almost two years since launch, they have a roster of clients that span the globe and includes A-list Oscar winners like Ariana DeBose, up-and-coming young actors Micheal Ward and Kosar Ali and royalty including Lady Amelia Windsor. This past awards season was a standout moment for the duo, with DeBose wearing statement-making ensembles from Valentino Haute Couture, Moschino and Versace on every major red carpet from Critics Choice to the Academy Awards. Last night, the duo dressed the best supporting actress Oscar winner for the Met Gala in a black sequin gown with gold embroidery by Moschino. They also styled actor Paul Mescal who was outfitted in a custom Valentino tuxedo and Cartier jewellery.
For this year’s Gala, themed “In America: An Anthology of Fashion,” Smith said they have figured out ways to be creative with the theme and refers to Jeremy Scott, the designer who they worked with to dress DeBose, as “someone who we connect with morals and values wise and who Ariana connects with morals and values wise,” adding that DeBose’s outfit is meant to be “a celebration of joy and love.”
With their styling business, Smith and Edmiston, who now employs a team of 13 people who work across London, Los Angeles and New York, prioritise revamping dusty elitist standards in fashion, pushing fashion houses to expand the roster of who they’ll dress, as much as leaving room for creativity and expression in each client’s look.
“I’d like to think we’re going through a time, especially after Covid, where people value their authentic selves a bit more,” said Edmiston. “A pandemic reminds you that life is short and that if you want to go bare-chested on that red carpet or wear pants or get the girls out, honey, you do it.”
Building the Business
The pair come from different backgrounds. Edmiston was born and raised in Ireland and cultivated a decade-plus-long career dressing high-profile, high-net-worth private shopping clients. Smith is from Savannah, Georgia and began his career in the fashion departments of both American and British Vogue and then worked as a freelance stylist for magazines including Glamour and Teen Vogue. It was during an editorial shoot that he met his first celebrity client, actress Naomi Scott, who he has worked with since 2017.
Edmiston and Smith married their backgrounds, bringing the private clientele and celebrity red carpet businesses under one umbrella, supporting each other across categories. The duo’s robust celebrity roster includes DeBose, Mescal and Scott as well as actors Taye Diggs, Phil Dunster, Kingsley Ben-Adir and Bukky Bakray, to name a few.
“We were both really fed up with fashion showing up as racist, ageist, sexist and perpetuating one idea of beauty for far too long,” said Edmiston. “We said, what if we partnered and we were two voices trying to resist and trying to do that new narrative?”
The partnership has also allowed their respective businesses to scale and create a larger platform for their message of inclusivity. Edmiston said that since joining forces, they have seen an 81 percent increase in revenue. She attributes this uptick to both the marketability of their partnership and also the ability to take on more jobs and clients, given that there are two of them.
She adds that they also leverage the purchasing power of their private clients to support minority designers as well as advise brands, public relations firms, retailers, award and scholarship giving bodies, and even members clubs behind the scenes on their diversity and inclusivity initiatives.
“Only call us if you’re ready for some brutal truths,” said Edmiston. “We’ve been able to connect brands with experts who go into companies and un-entrench then resolve some of the … bad activities going on. We don’t believe in cancel culture; we believe in discourse.”
What Sets Them Apart
For a styling business whose principals claim was “not started on styling,” Smith and Edmiston have created momentum both on the red carpet and off. Tu Tran, owner of Los Angeles-based VIP and celebrity dressing agency LIT, said that Smith and Edmiston are part of a new generation of stylists that includes Law Roach, Jason Bolden and the styling team Wayman and Micah, who have been able to shift the relationship between luxury houses and celebrities, introducing “clients like Ariana [DeBose] and Demi [Singleton], introducing them to luxury houses that maybe they wouldn’t have had access to before.” said Tran.
“I am an individual that does not see myself reflected in catwalk shows or high fashion advertisements. But that idea of not seeing yourself in those high fashion brands, Zadrian and Sarah don’t accept that,” said Bukray. “If I had said to them, imagine being able to wear … so and such. There is no imagine … there would be a fitting with that brand the following week.”
Off the sartorial whirlwind that saw star client DeBose at the centre through this past awards season and during this week’s Met Gala, Smith and Edmiston are looking toward expansion and growth both for their business and personal development, considering each job case-by-case to maintain the business’ financial health.
“We walk by faith, not by sight,” said Smith of the future. “We could do styling for the opening of a daycare, we approach every job with the same intensity.”
The stylists are actively taking on new clients and collaborations that support their ethos and insist that it’s less about what’s next, but what continues to prioritise the joy in their professional and personal lives, plus their mission of diversity and inclusivity.
Smith said that what started as listening circles of honest conversation has grown to be an open dialogue with brands about racism and inclusivity.
“A lot of brands and publicists are coming to us and asking, ‘what do you think?’” said Smith. “The listening circles have now become the activism.”