With an eye for all things authentic, foodie and stylist, Fiona Hugues has forged her career by embracing the imperfections and drama of raw beauty and objects. Her boundless creativity and experimentation has her craft magical scenes for her clients in the food and interior world. Her work, in partnership with photographer, Jani Shepherd, under Gatherum Collectif is highly respected and in demand here in New Zealand. You know a stylist “has it” when you flick through magazines and you easily recognize their trademark. Fiona answered some questions about her work and how she got started in the industry.
I call you a foodie and stylist. Which one comes first and how would you describe your aesthetic?
It all depends on the job. I’m happy wearing both hats and am lucky enough to simultaneously wear both on occasion. I started out in fashion after I left art school and I got a job as a visual merchandiser in the rag trade, which suited me perfectly. I could be creative all day and get paid for it, then this job led to me later into designing retail store fit-outs. Back in the nineties, stylists were really only known to be associated with fashion and hair. It took a while for the word “stylist” to roll over into interiors and food, even though we all essentially worked towards the same visual goal. Years later a few weeks before my first child was due I put my career aside to stay at home full time although during this time I always dabbled creatively from painting site specific artwork for interior clients to the odd design & VM job here and there. Almost a decade on when my third child was a toddler an opportunity came up to create and run a farmers market close to home so I leapt at the chance and have been managing it ever since. During that time I have met and assisted many food entrepreneurs in launching their brands and learnt a hell of a lot about the perils and success of growing and producing food.
One of my biggest rules for creating in design and food is to be honest, don’t try to be something you’re not in mark making, branding or self – if it’s got good bones and budget is tight use it, refurbish it, let things shine naturally. If the product is worn, knobbly or misshapen use this as an advantage and own it. I’ve always been fascinated with the beauty of patinas and timeworn qualities in surfaces and let this real aesthetic come out in my food styling work as much as I can, so you’ll often see rust, flaked paints, rubbed worn surfaces, chips, cracks and crazing in my sets. So I guess my aesthetic is natural honest imagery – nothing fake, nothing that’s not real, no food you can’t eat and props, textures and materials that make sense to the season, location and theme of the event or editorial I am styling.
What ignited your love of food and styling and how did it all begin? I’m a descendant from grain merchants and bakers that came out to NZ from Scotland in so I guess it’s in my blood. My mother is also a wonderful entertainer and floral designer and I remember amazingly curated parties and dinners when we were growing up in rural Waikato. Both her and my grandmother read a lot of wonderful magazine titles like Vogue, The World of Interiors, Vanity Fair and Architectural Digest, so as a kid I had access to amazing inspirational material. I did work in restaurants a lot as a student but only really began to be truly passionate about food after meeting my French husband. We’ve been married for 17 years and he has really opened my eyes to new flavours that back then made me recoil in horror, but now are very much part of our family life. I just know he’ll snigger reading in this! I tend to live by what my grandfather told me when I was growing up “don’t do anything if you can’t do it well”, so I guess attention to detail is an affliction of mine, it goes hand in hand with being a stylist and food stylist.
You live on a farm, grow food, bake, bottle and experiment with incredible things like imprisoned fruit. Could I be forgiven for thinking that this idyllic life is your playground and much of your source of inspiration?
Oh my god yes – I’m forever looking to nature for inspiration and use found, hunted and gathered natural objects a lot in my work, I’ve said many times as I see it, Nature herself is the absolute master of design. Living on our small farm allows me the freedom to create so many different things and I’ve usually got a number of projects on the go, from a construction I’m working on, to something I’m painting or growing. I can happily have power tools going all night without disturbing anyone and find working in my studio at night so much easier when the kids are all in bed. My husband and I both love to garden and between us grow a lot of what we eat – he handles the big stuff like fruit trees, pumpkins, beans, beets and potatoes and I look after salads with herbs, tomatoes and edible flowers, much of what I use as inspiration for recipes and to garnish my food work.
You and photographer, Jani Shepherd make a great team. At what point in your career did you decide to join forces to create Gatherum Collectif, and what was behind the decision?
I met Jani my co-founding partner of our company Gatherum Collectif at my market – she had just returned from France with her husband and was helping out her brother in law who runs the espresso stall. We were introduced and soon discovered our life and creative similarities were eerie – she sees what I see and we hit it off immediately. Just like my mother I love to host parties and I invited Jani who was then running her own portrait studio to come & take some shots and my young sons 5th birthday soiree. A snap of the party and my food made it on to the internet, we soon after had a meeting with a magazine editor, job offers came in and our image and event company was born after that.
Clearly you are very busy developing recipes, styling, managing a local gourmet market, not to mention being a mother and wife. How do you spend a typical day?
For me there’s never a typical day but it usually always starts with animals, I’m always rescuing things, so we have a lot of them. I’ll feed the dogs, chooks, ducks and doves, collect the eggs and my daughters will check and feed our horses, cattle, cats & rabbit. Then it’s a chaotic combination of school lunches, lost homework, emails, breakfast, lost socks, espresso and or washing on before heading out the door to drive kids to school. From here I’m either heading to the city for client meetings, or scouting locations, ingredients or props – I’ve a number of second hand retailers in south Auckland after years of prop sourcing I now consider as indispensible friends. During this time I usually chat with Jani from the car about production and jobs we have on the go and coming up.
What advice would you give someone wanting to crack the styling industry?
Experiment. Make stuff. Train yourself to see – most of all practice. At art school we were made to critique each other’s workas part of the creating process, so look at work you admire and work out why and how. The light, the textures the angles. Once you can see those things you are on the way to creating your own style. Then use the internet. I didn’t have that initially and it’s an incredible visual platform to get your work noticed.
Thank you Fiona!
In case you missed it, as I make my way to my new life in Sweden, the month of September is my homage to this beautiful country that I called home for over five years. It’s a dedication to its people and talent. Look out for my next New Zealand month feature this coming Thursday.
All images courtesy of Gatherum Collectif