Even in the Insta-crazed, fast fashion, free 2-day shipping world in which we live, clothes are still just clothes without someone to bring them to life. Sure the designers conceptualize, and the right wearer can be the perfect nurturer, but right in between the legs of fashion are the stylists who really birth a look.
Or as stylist Marv Neal says, they essentially “guide style,” and with his clear love of fashion and his impeccable attention to detail, Neal is the perfect ambassador. He’s been working primarily in Detroit as a personal and editorial stylist for several years. He keeps up with the trends; he knows his stuff, but he also knows that fashion isn’t a science it’s an art, so whether a client needs a particular look for a special event or a complete closet gut-job, Neal takes a made-to-order approach.
“You just have to ask questions,” Neal says. “I think a lot of the time stylists feel like they know everything, and you may know what’s trending or what’s going on for other people, but when you’re doing personal shopping for a small client or even an artist, or artist development, it’s about knowing the star, knowing the artist, or knowing the client because you have to make sure they’re comfortable. They’re coming to you for a service.”
Those consultations are what Neal uses to determine the wants and needs of his clients, their personal style, their insecurities, and what they aspire to look and feel like. From that, depending on the scenario, Neal may show up with a rack of envy-inducing garb from some of Detroit’s hottest shops and boutiques – or from an unassuming thrift shop. Yes, he’s an admirer of Tom Ford and Gucci’s Alessandro Michele, but before Neal was well-known, he credits thrifting with giving him a way to produce options for his early clients.
“Thrifting helped my styling career because starting out, seven years ago, stores weren’t really subjective to letting me come pull because they didn’t know who I was,” Neal says.
That’s changed, but still, Neal says thrift shopping is a key component of his bag of tricks. He says the art to making it work for you is developing your own sense of personal style and individuality – which he can help expel – and investing in a good seamstress or tailor. He wants to debunk the myth that you need to spend a lot of money to have great style. Neal says his clients are typically receptive to his direction, but he takes care not to push them too far from their comfort zones. With older women, he says it’s sometimes tough getting them to into high heels, and he has a hilariously adverse reaction to flats and wedges, so this means maybe a modern take on a low pump or a chunky ‘70s-esque heel. With men, he says it can sometimes be a struggle convincing them that a tailored pant and a fitted jacket won’t revoke their much-coveted man card.
Thrifting helped my styling career because starting out, seven years ago, stores weren’t really subjective to letting me come pull because they didn’t know who I was
But whether men, women or children, Neal prides himself on being able to style them all equally well, and loving each group’s fashion equally. His Aunt Toni Neal says she noticed his fascination with fashion early on, around five or six, when she would pack him along with her to the downtown Detroit shoe store she managed. He would sit obediently and watch the stylish men and women of the opulent ‘80s come in and shop, and all the while the young Neal would flip through the glossy pages of Vogue, Elle and Glamour – taking it all in.
“He was always very curious and just looked and watched, and I knew he was paying attention then,” Toni says, and she noticed his eye for design early on, too. “I never believed in coloring books, so I would always buy him a sketch pad and colored pencils and just let him do his thing.”
Neal (the nephew) knew early on that he wanted to work in fashion, and for a long time, he thought he’d be a designer, but something didn’t quite mesh.
He says, “I’m like ‘I know it’s something people are doing between a fashion designer and getting people dressed that make these looks come together.’”
It was when Neal discovered stylist to the hip-hop stars Misa Hylton-Brim within the pages of a Mary J. Blige album booklet that he was first introduced to the term “wardrobe stylist.” He started toying with the idea in his early 20s, shopping for friends, but it took a while before his career aspirations really started to solidify and before Neal really got serious, but he’s sure serious now, and he calls Hylton-Brim one of his earliest influences. “She’s my Michael Jordan,” he says.
Neal has styled editorials shoots for Hour Detroit and Ambassador Magazine, styled Toni Braxton, worked with WALK Fashion Show and most recently styled Icewear Vezzo’s “Pints & You” video shoot – to briefly snippet his achievements.
Friend, fashion designer and Detroit native Char Glover says “When I think of fashion I think of Marv.”
Glover says she and Neal have been friends for years, even before she made it the finals on season 13 of Project Runway. She now lives in LA and has her own fashion line, Rocknremix, but even with her own accomplishments, Glover says Marv is her go-to resource for all things fashion. She doesn’t hesitate to pick his brain, and his is quite the noggin to explore.
“His head is always in the game,” Glovers says, and that even in between jokes, “he is 100 percent fashion.”
She adds, “Fashion is something that a lot of people draw to, but not everybody really believes it. He’s really into it. Marv is definitely one to watch.”
Neal styled a fall photo shoot for Glover’s line and one of her collections for a runway show in Detroit. Like Glover, Neal says he does consider expanding more aggressively to other cities, like Los Angeles or New York. In a blue-collar, every-penny-counts town like Detroit, it can sometimes be difficult to get Detroiters to appreciate the legitimacy of what he does and be willing to pay for the service, so money and opportunity can be stubborn roadblocks. Still, Neal says he loves seeing the finished product or witnessing the development of a client’s style.
“Detroit reminds me of a New York on a smaller scale, where you get your copycats but then you still get your people that kind of do what they want to do, and that’s cool; it should be that way. I think everybody should have their own personal style,” he says.
Whether Neal will decide to one day wave Au Revoir to the motor city is unknown, but in the interim, social media is his wormhole to the heavy hitters. Misa Hylton-Brim, his Michael Jordan, follows him on Twitter.
Neal wants to continue to build a greater celebrity clientele and further develop his personal brand.
Ultimately, he wants the title of creative director of a major fashion house.
“Fashion is important. It’s a part of everyday,” Neal says, “I think people take it for granted.”