Interview with Stylist Yvonne Garcia: Vintage is Always Different
“Vintage really brings something special to a photo or set because it is always different.”
Yvonne, can you please shortly introduce yourself and tell us how did you get into styling & design, how you knew it was what you wanted to do? Hi there, my name is Yvonne Garcia, (Yvie for short), and I am an art director and set designer based in Albuquerque, NM, USA. I fell into set design sort of by accident then I stopped and thought about it. I have always had a knack for decorating and styling, and I always loved to style and dress in bright colors, anything and everything vintage and create mismatched, unique ensembles, ever since I was a little kid. At home, I always like hanging art, painting and finding the most gorgeous and ridiculous vintage pieces of furniture and setting them so that they work together. I spent so many years of working jobs that I was bored with and didn’t fit in at. The last “real” 9 to 5 job I had was with a very large mail order pharmacy. After almost 4 years at that job, I finally got fired and I was ecstatic! I grabbed my box of belongings, thanked the supervisor and skipped out of there. I had been operating a booth at an antique mall while still working the last year at that job. And a couple of months after being fired, I opened up my very own vintage shop. Getting my walking papers was the turning point for me. I was forced out of my comfort zone, which really wasn’t all that comfortable, and I felt like I was finally free to take the plunge and explore my entrepreneurial and creative endeavors. That was in 2012.
If you could explain your work to the world, how would you describe it? I get asked all the time, “What do you do?” I always reply, “I make photography sets and play in junk piles” – which means my work includes building and painting backdrops, location scouting, repurposing junk that I like the look of but maybe is too broken to repair, refinishing and restoring wood pieces, architectural salvage – especially rescuing vintage signs and fixtures from the many Route 66 demos around the American Southwest, set design and decorating, interior design, home and office staging, and I run my shop and design studio, 812 Retro, where I sell vintage awesomeness to the world.
What do you love most about your job? I think what I love most about my job is being able to rescue an otherwise forgotten antique piece and be able to find just the right person who wants it for their home or space. I think it’s really cool that these old pieces get to “live” again and that they’re enjoyed by a whole new generation now.
How would you describe your artistic vision/style? Why vintage in particular? I would describe my artistic style as eclectic/beautiful/vintage/trash. I really love vintage because it is unique. I appreciate the effort and craftsmanship involved in making such wonderful, long-lasting pieces. I enjoy the interesting materials and the colors and the textures. Vintage really brings something special to a photo or set because it is always different, not run-of-the-mill, big box pieces. I like my sets to have that old-school vibe and authentic vintage spirit.
Where did your love for fashion come from in general? What I love about fashion is that it is functional art. It is somebody’s lovely creation and vision that we can wear and personalize. I always loved playing dress-up as a kid because it made me feel happy and special. And I still feel the same way about fashion today – I get to wear art!
It seems like fashion is all about finding the right source of inspiration. Where do you get yours from? I get inspired by so many things… the color of my coffee and cream swirls, my cat’s fur, the clouds, shapes of old cars, the smells of certain foods, random people walking down the sidewalk – inspiration is everywhere. I try to snap a pic or make a note to myself to look back at later and think about how it made me feel, then I integrate it in to my work.
In your opinion, why it is important to have a stylist/set designer during a photo-session? In my opinion, I think it’s important to have a set designer and/or a stylist on a photoshoot because it helps to translate the creative vision of the client. The designer can bring that vision to tangible life. The photographer or client can tell me what they are wanting their concept to convey, what kind of look or vibe, then I can create that space for them.
Everyone loves a good deal, what are some of your favorite places to find budget buys? I’m glad you asked because I LOVE looking for a good deal! Some of my favorite places to look for a bargain are always thrift shops and yard sales. It is totally possible to find really cool, name brand items on a budget – I do it all the time. Thrift shops are a really good place to look because so many things are donated, and they have so much to sort through and get out to the sales floor. So, therefore you have a really good chance of scoring something fab and not having to spend a lot of money on it. I like shopping yard sales too – they take a little more time to drive around to, but I like the hunt. It’s fun to be surprised by what people are selling in their driveways, and the interactions with folks are priceless too.
What challenges do you usually face as a stylist when working with models or clients? Most of the time, the photoshoots, I’ve worked on go smoothly. But of course, there are sometimes a few challenges. The recent one that comes to mind – and one that has actually come up before – is the location. I spend a lot of time exploring old spaces and abandoned buildings – I have been doing this for years and years, so I don’t really think twice about it anymore. I really do not recommend simply wandering or trespassing into these kinds of buildings as they can be unsafe and they are private property, but oftentimes, they do have features that I find interesting and that I know, without a doubt, will be great in a photo, and I take the steps necessary to gain permission to use the space. And sometimes a model or other team members, just aren’t feeling it.. whether it be that they think the place is too dusty or just plain creepy. And I totally understand when they go sit in their cars. In the end, the result is always amazing.
What would be your dream shoot or collaboration? My dream shoot would be to document everyday living in small, deteriorating towns. Highways were made and so many of these small towns have dried up. My hope would be that the photos capture the spirit and vitality of those small town moments and possibly they would bring visitors and tourism their way. I think it is so important to support small, local businesses, and this would be a way to give back to them and to keep Americana alive.
Could you tell us about something completely extravagant you have had to do for your job? I would have to say, the most extravagant part of my job is when I get to be a personal shopper for a client. It is a great feeling to know someone has trusted me and my abilities with finding exactly what their home needs.
What do you consider as a ‘successful’ project? What is your goal from the beginning to the end of each set? To me, a successful project is one where I know I have given 150% dedication. My goal is always to make sure the client is happy with the set design, props or backdrop I have made for them. It is really important that what I make vibes with what they have envisioned. Also, I always want to be set up early and know everything is functioning properly. At the end of the project, if is everyone is happy, it’s a success.
Who is your number one fashion icon? Why? I would have to say Tyra Banks is my favorite fashion icon. I have been a die-hard fan of America’s Next Top Model since season one, so of course there’s that. But I think what I admire most about Ms. Banks is that she empowers all models – tall or short, male or female, thin or curvy – she teaches people that is okay to love themselves and the bodies we live in – own it and be proud. That is a healthy message to send to fans of the fashion industry.
Aside from being a stylist, are there any other artistic activities that you like to get involved in? Something else I do at my studio is that I host a little library for the neighborhood, Barelas, which is a very old Albuquerque neighborhood with so much character and rich in history. Well, our little library shelf had been stolen twice in the last year. So a lot of community members banded together, and as a whole, we created a library garden. It includes book shelves and plants and seating and best of all, the free books for people to take and enjoy. I just hosted a small event there where folks came by and decorated the new shelves and boxes and we all painted and made art together. It was so much fun!
In what ways have social media made an impact on your career and business? How important is social media to find new clients and spread the word? Social media has had a really big impact on my business in the way that it reaches such a broad span of people all over the world. It definitely helps with sharing my work with people who I may never have had the opportunity to interact with otherwise. I make a fair percentage of my sales from items I have posted for sale on Instagram and Facebook. And I love the idea that some adorable 1950’s salt and pepper shakers I found locally are now being loved and used in a kitchen halfway around the world.
Yvonne, what is the biggest lesson that you have learned since you started your company? I have learned countless lessons through growing with my business, but the biggest and most important lesson I have learned is to stay true to myself. I have learned I cannot please everybody and not everybody is going to like me, what I sell, what I do or what I create. But through it, I always remember why I started – because I love what I do, and I want to share that passion with the world.
What is the most important thing you want potential clients to know about you? Through it all, I really want potential clients to know that what I offer is genuine and made with heart. I always give all of my effort to produce only my best work each and every time. I strive to create the set or interior of their dreams with a side of vintage soul.
What is a typical day in the life of Yvonne Garcia? My typical day usually starts with my cats and dog waking me up at the crack of dawn because they are ready for their breakfast – they are the best kind of alarm clock for sure! Then I start with some yard work or pulling weeds, because I really LOVE pulling weeds and I like to think of it as exercise, ha! Then if I don’t have a set to work on, I usually head out and find some thrift shops to meander around or I go take photos of randomness that catches my eye. In between thrift shops or taking pics, there are several coffee stops. If I score at the second-hand stores, then I bring all of the treasures back to the shop and I start cleaning them up. I spend a lot of time cleaning things, making sure everything works, fixing and refurbishing items and then photographing them to get ready for clients and to sell. I usually end the day with more yard work and watering the plants and flowers outside. Then I rest up for the adventure tomorrow brings.
What superpower do you wish you had? Why? Gosh, how fun it would be to have a super power – If I could pick one, I would definitely choose to be able to time travel. I would like to go back and hang out with my mom again and relive all of our awesome family road trips and scary movie binge watching nights. That would be fun.
One thing that bugs you about humans is that…? One thing that bugs me about humans is that people always seem to be in a hurry. I just don’t understand the rush. We have limited time on earth, so why not, slow down for a bit and enjoy it – sit down, sip that coffee and breathe.
Tell us one thing about yourself people might find surprising. I think people would be surprised to know that my original career plan was to be a behavioral therapist. I really just wanted to help people to feel better. Then, I realized, that career was not what I wanted to do. I think it’s pretty cool that I still get to help people to (hopefully) feel better, happier but in a colorful and artistic way.