Celebrity stylist Katie Qian’s dip-dyed fuchsia hair blows in the wind at the Cheviot Hills Recreation Center where she usually walks her dog. She wears an oversized Tang suit-inspired Mukzin jacket, depicting a playful rabbit in a field with peonies and magnolia trees, paired with black-and-white Chopova Lowena jacquard pants patterned with red flowers. Qian isn’t afraid of mixing patterns, she explains, her middle and index fingers adorned with bright, chunky resin rings. She is a burst of color on a cloudy L.A. day and a welcome contrast to passersby in pastels and gray tennis gear.
At 25, Qian already has a decade’s worth of styling experience — she started organizing her own photo shoots and styling her friends while still in high school. Styling was initially a creative outlet that helped her with mental health struggles, and was an influence in her decision to study psychiatry at UCLA. “Creating in general has always given me an outlet to really express myself and cope, in a way, with whatever was going on at the time,” she says.
The L.A. stylist who has worked with Jessica Alba, Kate Hudson, Yalitza Aparicio and Goldie Hawn says her practice is about searching for a “vibe,” an “identity” — whatever it is that makes people human.
Originally from San Diego, Qian was born to migrant Chinese parents, a heritage she proudly incorporates into her style and work, supporting Asian designers and representing Asian artists whenever she can. Over the years, Qian has had the opportunity to style Rina Sawayama, Hayley Kiyoko, NIKI, Amber Liu, Arden Cho and Rich Brian and is stylist to Conan Gray.
Like a true late-’90s baby, Qian discovered the world of fashion through the internet. “I became interested [in fashion] scrolling on Tumblr for hours every day looking at all the runway shows and old Alexander McQueen shows, and that’s really what sparked my interest in high fashion in general.” From there, “it was just a wormhole” of magazine subscriptions and decorating the walls of her bedroom with some of her favorite editorials.
Even now, she garners inspiration from her social media feeds. Sitting on the bleachers near the baseball field, she starts scrolling through her saved posts on Instagram — “Nensi Dojaka, Dilara, Phlemuns and ONRUSHW23FH” are some of the brands she’s loving right now. “[Social media] was the first time I was seeing Asian people at the forefront, or music artists, like CL, at fashion [shows] in the front row with Jeremy Scott, and I was like, ‘This is so cool.’”
Qian finds that pushing her clients to try new looks also pushes her to evolve. On the day we meet, she credits Gray’s dark academia aesthetic for her “Beethoven or Hamilton” look: a black Comme des Garçons maxi skirt with a matching vest with silver bows, complete with a black tie and knee-high white lace Nodress socks. From her own fits to dreamy lingerie styles for Sabrina Claudio and dynamic dangling accessories for dancer Tinashe, Qian elevates modern trends with a feminine touch.
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Astrid Kayembe: What do clients come to you for? What’s the Katie special?
Katie Qian: Color everything, pattern everything and all mixed together and crazy. Maximalism for the most part. I can do minimalism, but I like to throw a pop in there, something that’s interesting or a cool silhouette — something that makes it unexpected.
AK: How would you describe your personal style?
KQ: Chill. I like to keep it casual and comfortable for the most part because my day-to-day routine involves running around all the different showrooms, lifting things, running up and down stairs, getting on my knees to do shoes. My daily outfit is just really casual silhouettes for the most part. I love a gigantic pair of pants. I love a hoodie. I love a little crop top, but I try to get interesting versions of those things. I like fun patterns, fun colors, cool, fresh, young designers and supporting my friends’ friends, as well.
On the days I’m not working, it’s usually a miniskirt or I really like a one-piece jumpsuit. It’s all over the place with my personal aesthetic. I’m either wearing a teeny tiny little skirt and a teeny tiny little top or I’m wearing a gigantic, double XL hoodie. It’s crazy. Whenever we’re on tour, Sabrina [Claudio] asks me how I have all these super sexy looks in my head while wearing a hoodie and jeans.
AK: You’ve taken your client Conan Gray from indie darling to wearing a custom Valentino at the Met Gala and Coachella. How have you grown with your clients as you’ve gained access to bigger-name brands?
KQ: When we think of styling, we think “I” style whoever, so it’s my style on them, but really, it’s a combination of things. I’m constantly looking for clients whom I can grow and develop with, and it’s really changed the trajectory of my career. I think finding people who have been a really great match for me [has allowed me] to develop my aesthetic through their aesthetic.
With Conan, I feel like he’s always had that in him. The cardigans and jeans are still him, but the academic, Victorian aesthetic is also him. We’re always sending each other ideas or inspiration, and I try to bring him crazier and crazier pieces.
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AK: Where do you draw inspiration from?
KQ: It’s really hard to pinpoint. I’m constantly inspired by everything that’s going on, and I think independent designers in particular are really inspiring for me. They’re just bringing new perspectives to everything that’s so different from what the more established, older designers are bringing to the table, and it’s not necessarily about being super consumer friendly. You have to be if you’re a luxury brand because you want to sell but it’s really just about the heart and creating things that are cool and you want the world to see. I think as a stylist that’s one of the main things — keeping an eye on trends.
AK: Is there any piece that you are wearing today or even otherwise that transports you to a favorite memory?
KQ: Clothes carry a lot of memories. I remember growing up, if something negative had happened to me wearing a particular sweater, I could never wear that sweater again. So I did have sweaters that I did throw away when things had gone south. And I was like, “Oh, this is carrying something now that I don’t want to bring with me into the future.”
A lot of the pieces [I’m wearing today] I haven’t had for too long. I would say the Opening Ceremony jacket is the oldest (rest in peace), and I did order that with all of the money I had in college. I would say the [Comme des Garçons Girl] outfit I bought in New York when [Conan and I] were there for the VMAs last year. That’s a memory that it will always hold because it’s a pretty special outfit. That was a big day for us. We served looks that day. Always a good memory.
AK: You mentioned the chill energy you bring to set. How does where you’re from show up in your work?
KQ: Compared to most fashion people or stylists, I’m very, very chill and laid back. I like to take a step back. [We try to use] L.A.-based designers as much as possible. I don’t necessarily know what the specific elements are, but when I go to New York, and I walk down the street, people will yell at me that they can tell. [Whether] you grew up in Southern California, on the East Coast, or in the Bay Area, it just ends up being such a part of who you are and everything that you do, especially artistically.
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AK: What does style mean to you?
KQ: I think style is really not something that’s so attached to clothing. When we think of having good style, we think of outfits that people have on. But if you think about it, most of the people that we think have really amazing style or timeless style, it’s really not necessarily about the actual outfit they have on. Look at Zoë Kravitz: It’s partially because she’s drop-dead gorgeous, but it’s also the attitude that she has. That’s what people really love about her — the effortlessness. She’s so cool. She’s wearing a little T-shirt with a little silk skirt, and some sneakers. And she’s walking down the street in New York. It’s a vibe. When people look at that, it’s not necessarily “Oh, I want to wear the outfit.” It’s like, “I want to be her.” It’s really about the person, their personality, their attitude.
If you think something is an extension of your personality that you want to wear, it really doesn’t matter outwardly what it looks like. I think people will be able to tell that it’s part of you. People are always saying, “Oh, it’s gonna look like I’m trying too hard. It’s gonna look like I can’t pull that off.” And I really think that shouldn’t exist. Because if it feels like you then it is you, and people will be able to tell.