Melissa Maxted-Henderson

Swish and savvy styling by Melissa Maxted-Henderson

Jozi-based Melissa Maxted-Henderson has styled it all; her multi-faceted work can be found in commercials, on South African television sets, major retail catalogues and big brand campaigns. At first, her sole focus was magazine work but since becoming a freelancer she’s also opened a wardrobe studio called TheSourceJoburg, and broadened her focus to art direction, set and creative concept building, fashion styling and production. From glossy magazine spreads to personal projects, she’s driven to create unique images using clothes as a tool to tell stories. 


Where does your love for styling come from?

I would love to say it started when we were living in Stanger, isolated in a small town with little to no spare cash to spend on dolls clothes, so my mom bought me a sewing machine at the age of four in order for me to make my own. But I am not sure if it is styling specifically that I am in love with or the emotional connection I have to interesting texture, materials, shapes, stories, processes, structure and the limitless possibilities all of the above paired together present to a single person. I guess I realised at a young age that there is a lot of power involved in what you wear or how you wear it, and essentially it is the one thing each of us has complete control over.

Styling requires an aesthetic sensibility. Do you think this is innate or can it be learnt?

Perhaps initially it is an innate element in one’s make-up that gives you the desire to understand and learn and experiment, but I also think that an aesthetic sensibility comes with confidence, courage and ultimately the expression of your thoughts. If people weren’t scared to explore what they actually liked instead of following rules used completely out of context in the 21st century, the art of styling may not have ever existed.

At the end of the day you are hired as a stylist, so style and be confident about it – but don’t be a dick.

You started out working for magazines and have since expanded into creative concept building. How do you think the industry has evolved since your days working as a stylist’s assistant?

I think there is more opportunity and definitely more exposure to the market as well as an array of different platforms to showcase work and ideas and for young creatives to ‘climb the ladder’ a lot faster now. In magazines you had to do the time and basically wait for someone to leave in order to fill the gap, whereas now a good eye is a good eye. I don’t think it matters how long you have been in the industry, it’s fair play for everyone and if you are willing to do the work be prepared to take the glory.


Who or what has been your greatest source of inspiration?

I am not sure I’ve discovered my greatest source of inspiration yet, I would probably say to date it has been my environment but it’s ever changing. I guess a general thread of inspiration is the people I meet and places I go, experience and experiment, the unexpected and often the mundane.

I am very interested in African tradition and culture, myths and stories. I am also interested in female sexuality, how to bridge the gap between what we were taught to be versus what we want to be.

How important is it for you to keep up with local and international trends?

I think it is important to know what is going on in the industry, if only for a base to work from. Often it is just talk. I think it makes people feel special when they can quote designers, compare 2001 collections with 2016 collections, but it is more important to have your own take on the trends instead of just regurgitating someone else’s opinion. Generally, if you are connected and open you know what is coming and so anticipate the trends. It is a feeling that most people in the industry naturally gravitate to – whether a colour, shape or culture. I think living in a bubble in this time is dangerous and yet being stuck in a copycat mentality where you rely only on what others are wearing, creating, directing etc is pretty contrived. How can you pioneer when you have already set a ceiling? I think knowledge allows you to figure out your place in the world.

Working with briefs from clients can sometimes be limiting. How do you find creative freedom within these parameters?

I spent last year figuring that out because it can be seriously demoralising. I think honesty is the only way to get through tough client briefs. If you have put your heart into presenting your most progressive version of the brief and given your opinion and if it gets pulled back, at least you can say you tried to push and be proud of that. It’s not personal. At the end of the day you are hired as a stylist, so style and be confident about it – but don’t be a dick.

Melissa Maxted-Henderson

You’ve done a variety of different work from editorials to TVC’s and pack shots. What do you enjoy the most and why?

They all give me a break from each other and I have the opportunity to play with a bunch of different teams every day. I couldn’t choose because each one of these areas of styling teaches me new ways of doing what I love.

What’s the most challenging part of the artistic process in this line of work?

Personally, I find the initial process of getting into the mind of the director, brand manager, designer on a basic reference level the most challenging because a red chair to me is not a red chair to you necessarily, and if you are pushing a fresh idea, getting on the exact same page is the most important thing. Once the foundation is set the rest of the process is the fun part.

You’ve embarked on a few personal projects. Tell us about some of themes you’ve been exploring.

I love exploring human interaction. I find allowing people the time and space to express themselves without shouting direction can reflect a real feeling versus just another picture. I am very interested in African tradition and culture, myths and stories. I am also interested in female sexuality, how to bridge the gap between what we were taught to be versus what we want to be.

How do ensure that each project is unique and fresh in look and feel?

I think that no matter what, we all have a particular style and give a particular underlying energy to each shoot produced, and I think it is important to understand what your work stands for, where your ideas come from and who you want it to affect, otherwise it can get a bit mushy where you are trying to do what everyone else is doing but in the end you do nothing worthwhile. Personally, I feel on extreme levels, so when I have an overwhelming feeling to tell a story I do.

What are the key things that make for beautiful styling?

Beautiful styling makes you feel a connection – good or bad – with the subject matter, whether it is a brand, person or concept, just like a beautiful poem or insane book. Beautiful styling makes me cry sometimes.

Follow Melissa on Instagram.

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