If you’ve flicked through any of the recent issues of Fashion Quarterly, chances are you’ve seen Tori Ambler’s name cited in the credits. Blessed with a keen eye for detail and a natural affinity for curating looks, Ambler knew she wanted to work in fashion long before she realised it was a viable career path. Starting out as a junior fashion editor for publication Karen magazine in the mid-2000s, Ambler has since earned a reputation as one of Aotearoa’s top stylists, working on shoots for a variety of clients across the local fashion and media scene. As a freelancer and the mother to two seven-year-old twin boys, each day for Ambler is extremely fast-paced. From sourcing pieces from local designers to dashing to after school pick up, it’s a constant juggling act, but one that Ambler approaches enthusiastically. As one of our frequent contributors and a woman whose style and work ethic we greatly admire, we sat down with Ambler this week to learn more about her career to date, her muses, and the advice she has for those wanting to elevate their personal style.
In conversation with with Tori Ambler:
Let’s get up to speed. Could you tell us a bit about you, your background, and your career to date?
Apart from a brief stint working with a not for profit organisation, fashion and styling is all I’ve ever known. I began my career as junior fashion editor for Karen magazine back in 2004, under the incredible Marian Simms. It was a super hands-on role that gave me gritty experience across the inner workings of the industry. Everything from taping shoes, to clothing returns after shoots, copy editing articles, and doing coffee runs! Today I’m a freelance fashion stylist, and mum of very busy twin seven-year-old boys. I work on a huge range of jobs; fashion editorials for the best magazine, FQ, [plus] TV commercials, advertising campaigns, fashion shows, look books, ecommerce — the list goes on.
What drew you to the medium of styling? Have you always been creative?
I’ve been obsessed with clothing and fashion for as long as I can remember. Planning and laying out my outfits the night (or week) before, even if it was just for school. When I started styling, I knew immediately it was the role for me. Until I began at Karen magazine, I’d never even heard of the job ‘stylist’. It was pre-social media, and stylists were always very much behind the scenes. I loved, and still love preparing for shoots, developing a theme, sourcing, pre-styling, and then producing beautiful imagery.
How would you describe your aesthetic as a stylist?
My aesthetic definitely shifts for each shoot and client. But I like clean lines — a bit understated, with a hint of masculine.
What stylists or fellow creatives inspire you?
So many! The joy of instagram is regularly being inspired by creatives from all over the globe. Two currently stand out for me; l love Vanessa Coyle‘s work, an Australian stylist who works a lot with Lara Worthington. And Amy Bannerman, an english stylist who works a lot with vintage clothing and sourcing incredible vintage. She has a knack for finding rare designer pieces, like mid ’90s Versace dresses — so dreamy!
In what ways does your personal style influence the way you style others?
Personally I love to be comfortable, whilst looking stylish and put together. I definitely reflect this in my work. I’m a big fan of soft suiting, and oversized [pieces]!
What has been your favourite campaign or job you’ve ever worked on and why was it your favourite?
I have so many! I absolutely love my job. One that really comes to mind was my first shoot out of lock down. We were still under heavy restrictions, with no retail stores open. I had to source the whole shoot online with only a few retailers to work with. The company is still using the images on billboards all over New Zealand which I feel so proud of.
How do you find balance between motherhood and work?
It’s not easy. As a freelancer, if you’ve committed to a shoot, you really need to turn up. And equally, if your kids need you, you need to show up! We thankfully have amazing family support, and my husband Josh is flexible with his work.
What are your favourite parts about working in the New Zealand fashion industry?
Because it’s small, you get to know everyone really well. I’ve made so many close friends. Everyone is hugely supportive of each other, especially other stylists.
Are there any challenges you have encountered working as a freelancer?
The ebb and flow of work is constantly changing! Managing finances is a constant struggle, especially when you have a savage shopping addiction…
What does an average day look like for you?
A shoot usually starts around 8:30am, so I’ll get up early, make the boys’ lunches and breakfast, lay out their outfits (of course), then get myself ready and pack the car. It’s a tight squeeze on shoot day, loading racks of clothes, steamer, the racks, my kit, and then the kids! I drop them at before-school care, and then head to work. Shoot days are my favourite. I set up my racks and the wardrobe, steam everything, then we start shooting once the model is finished in the make-up chair. Shoots are fast-paced and fun!
What tips would you give to FQ readers looking to elevate their personal style?
Start with a Pinterest board. Pin images of outfits and styles that you love that inspire you.
What’s next for you? Any exciting projects or campaigns on the horizon we should look out for?
I’m currently working on the next Mi Piaci campaign which is looking amazing! Imagery will come out from February 2024, so keep an eye out.
If I had to listen to one musician for the rest of my life it would be… I just checked my Spotify, and it looks like it’d be Kaytranada… at the moment.
Last TV show I binged… The Beckham doco.
Best place for a cocktail… Beau. Excellent marg.
If I could have dinner with any three people on earth, dead or alive, I would choose… Michael Jackson, Kate Moss, Louis Theroux.
The last item I bought for my wardrobe was… My beautiful Olivia Cashmore ‘Agnes’ dress.
If I wasn’t a stylist I would be a… A home organiser, like Marie Kondo.
The most cherished item in my home is… Old family photos.
My style icon is… This is a great question. I have many. Ashley Olsen, Lara Worthington (after the Clarkie break up), Alexa Chung – the list goes on.