Watch the full conversation between Zadrian Smith and Deputy Editor Ana Colón on The Fashionista Network.
The fashion multihyphenate grew up in "a very stylish household," surrounded by grandparents and a mother who always "dressed to the nines." But despite his stylish environment, it was dancing that originally captured Smith's heart.
"I trained at the [Alvin] Ailey School in New York, so at one [point] one of my dreams in my life was to become a dancer," he said. "I also trained at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, conservatory-style classical ballet, which was in Carlyle, Pennsylvania — the middle of absolutely nowhere… And I then got a contract dancing, traveling across the world and traveling the globe."
Even then, Smith knew it was unlikely he'd achieve soloist or principal status, andn reevaluated his other passions in life — hence his turn toward fashion. He began as a journalist, studying at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) with a major in Advertising and Marketing Communications.
He immersed himself in the school, becoming president of WFIT radio and television station and landing the opportunity to interview designers during New York Fashion Week — the only collegiate channel to do so at the time.
His segue into styling happened unexpectedly: He met Mary J. Blige's stylist while working at the Gap and offered to assist for free. It was during Blige's world tour, and Smith assisted so well he was offered the opportunity to go on tour with the team (and he would've, had he had a valid passport at the time).
Two years into his time at FIT, and Smith traveled to London over the summer (passport in hand), where he interned at Tank Magazine. He witnessed the ins and outs of styling at a deeper level, such as prepping photo shoots, going on set and organizing the fashion cover. Falling in love with London, Smith found a way to enroll in the London College of Fashion for its fashion journalism program, complete with a full-ride scholarship.
Smith continued his higher education attaining a Master's degree in the History of Art at The Courtauld Institute of Art. Once he fully entered the industry as a young professional, the budding stylist was set on doing things on things a certain way.
"I realized that through my work and through my contribution as an artist, if I was going to do this, I was going to do it on my own terms," he said. "I was going to do it unapologetically, and I was going to do it with people who understood my mission; and who, through their work, were trying to do the same thing — where our morals and values were aligned."
This has remained true throughout his longest lasting client relationships; many of his and co-stylist Sarah Edmiston's clients are from marginalized communities, from actors of color to queer artists. They include Winnie Harlow, Ariana DeBose, Emily Carey, Phil Dunster and Sabrina Elba, among many others.
"I think what I'm very, very proud of is that with all of my clients, if you were to sit all of our clients that Sarah and I style next to each other at a fashion show and an event, they all have a singular style," he said. "Because for us, what we do first is we want to get to know the person."
He continued: "We want to understand what they like, what they don't like, what colors they like and what silhouettes they like. And once we have that information, it's up to us to take our years of experience and our expertise and kind of put that all into a melting pot and make it come together."
Forming that genuine client connection is what Smith emphasized as essential for any aspiring stylist.
"My advice to young stylists is first and foremost understand and know authentically who you are as a person," he advised. "Understand what you love and what your tastes are, and once you are secure in that, share that with your potential clients. And if they love that, then that's a great match. And if they don't, that's not a good match. And there's nothing wrong with that. You're not gonna be for everyone. Everyone's not your client."
This conversation was hosted on The Fashionista Network powered by interactive media platform Fireside, where viewers get the chance to participate and speak directly with industry figures. Learn more about The Fashionista Network here.