Celebrity Stylist Paying It Forward
Posted: 05/20/2013 4:39 pm by Reyne Hirsch
Celebrity stylist Sam Russell knew how to make his clients look great on the red carpet. He had years of experience and relationships with some of the most sought after designers.
While styling celebrities was his day job, he always felt like there was something else he was meant to do. What if he could put his talents to use towards those down on their luck? Perhaps he could help women dress for success by filling their closets with clothing and accessories that would help get them back on their feet.
Russell’s idea went beyond a passing thought. He formed “The Giving Closet” and began searching for potential recipients for a wardrobe makeover. It didn’t take long before word got out and his charity found recipients.
As we all know, people need in need are not limited to residents of Los Angeles. Russell learned of the plight of others via non-profits and social workers and began taking his gift giving nationwide. He enlisted the help of local television news producers to help with his surprise. Reporters would tell recipients they were going to take part in a story about makeovers. Little did they know this would go far beyond a little cut and color. Russell would step in at the end of the segment and reveal their new wardrobe.
His relationships with designers helped him to secure donations of clothing, shoes, handbags and accessories, often valued over $10,000 per person.
His gift to these women isn’t just a bag of nice clothes. He says:
It’s personal. I take into consideration skin tone, body type and lifestyle. People going back to school and working part-time jobs don’t need fancy evening gowns. I am about practical and looking good. I put together 20 to 24 pieces of clothing, jewelry, tops, pants dresses, shoes and handbags. It all interchanges and fits into everyday life.
Russell’s charity has visited cities such as San Diego, Nashville TN, Lancaster PA, Baltimore MD, Long Island, NY and Los Angeles CA. His giving has also gone beyond “just” a wardrobe. He partnered with Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (writers for Spiderman, Star Trek, the new Hawaii 5-0 and Fringe) to give one woman a makeover AND a job.
“I just can’t use all of my fashion contacts and resources anymore for these Hollywood types.” said Russell. “They are paid enough and really don’t need me. Real people need me.”
Yes Sam Russell…they do!
Learn more about The Giving Closet by visiting their website and catch episodes of past Giving on their Facebook page: The Giving Closet
Can Dressing Well Increase Your Income in 2013?
We’ve all heard the phrase “Clothes Make the Man”. This expression was first recorded more than 400 years ago by Erasmus, a Catholic priest, theologian, and social critic, but many have repeated it since. From the writings ofShakespeare to Will Smith in Hitch, we’ve heard this proverb for years.
Can your wardrobe influence your income? The experts say “yes!”
A number of independent studies maintain that clothing can affect a first impression dramatically. Is it possible, then, to determine how someone is paid based on what they wear? For men, the answer is nearly always yes according to a 2011 salary report from Payscale. For women, the answer is more complex: According to somestudies, dress doesn’t influence higher income for women as much as it helps to ensure security in their current roles. Forbes writer Laura Sinberg warns that dressing ‘too sexy’ can make a woman seem less competent.
Regardless of your position on the data, in the spirit of the New Year I’ve invited six image consultants to share the advice they give clients on how to improve their salaries by improving their wardrobes. Each of them has helped clients make more money by wearing the optimal clothes.
Sam Russell, The Giving Closet
For the past year, Sam has provided disadvantaged women with $10,000 apiece in work and personal clothes. He’s accomplished this by convincing fashion designers and PR handlers to reroute some of the “PR Swag” they customarily give to famous people to help people in need. Here are a few of their stories:
- Mary Anne escaped an abusive relationship and found herself alone in Southern California with a child and no work skills. Then Sam surprised her on anNBC morning news show in San Diego with a wardrobe upgrade. She immediately landed a new part time job, started a company teaching etiquette to young kids and with her new swagger, landed a new boyfriend as well.
- Shenee is a single mom of five in Long Island. She is now in school and juggles a full-time job. With dreams of becoming a lawyer, Shenee landed a job promotion recently and is saving for a car. She proudly wears her New Balance shoes at the bus stop, and now dresses like a leader at work.
- Sierra, a young mom of four, found herself in a very abusive situation. She escaped, and with the guidance of a non-profit in downtown Baltimore, she is getting back on her feet. With dreams of becoming a singer, she was surprised and delighted with a $10,000 wardrobe upgrade and quickly landed a clerical job and has moved into her first apartment.
Whether advising young starlets such as Sophia Bush, Emmanuelle Vaugier, DJ Sandra Collins before their press appearances or helping established stars to “pop” at a special event, Sam Russell has proven that women can increase their incomes with clothing, while also proving that fashion can have a heart.
“Giving” the “Ultimate Surprise”
The City of Angels is full of dreamers who come to Hollywood with big aspirations of industry success. Unfortunately, not everyone who enters Los Angeles becomes the actor or screenwriter they once desired to be. This is not the case this holiday season for one lucky dreamer.
On December 10, 2012, the Yahoo original series “Ultimate Surprises”** will end season 3 with a bang! Wardrobe stylist Sam Russell’s passion project caught the eye of Fishbowl Worldwide Media executive producer, James Tooley. After a decade in Hollywood working behind-the-scenes with the greats, Sam’s new mission is to now travel the U.S. surprising women in need with $10,000 worth of work and personal attire. He finds women through non-profits and social workers, calling each recipient a “survivor”. “I just can’t use all of my fashion contacts and resources anymore for these Hollywood types. They are paid enough and really do not need me. Real people need me,” humbly explains Mr. Russell from his home now in Washington, DC.
His fifth (5th) surprise give-away will have an added twist. Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci (writers of the New Spider Man & Star Trek, creators of Hawaii 5-0 & Fringe) will make a guest appearance giving this one lucky woman something she did not see coming—a JOB! Yes, she is being surprised with a job to wear this new wardrobe upgrade. Two-time cancer survivor Christine Pechera’s dream is to become a screenwriter. Today, she is cancer free. Pechera is also busy with bone marrow drives and raising awareness about getting more minorities on the bone marrow registry. Soon she will be out of graduate school and Hollywood’s behind-the-scenes gurus have chipped in to make December 10th a very special day for her.
Sam’s non-profit is titled “The Giving Closet” and debuted on NBC San Diego Sept. 1, 2011. This charity has surprised a woman in San Diego, CA; Lancaster, PA; Baltimore, MD; Long Island, NY; and now Los Angeles, CA. Sam is a bi-coastal wardrobe stylist that has worked with Stevie Wonder, Chuck Lorre, Sophia Bush, Donna Mills, The John Wayne Cancer Institute, & The Learning Channel. He also won the Maggie Award in 2004 for leading the magazine Femme Fatales to win most improved publication. Sam shares, “I was a regular on the early morning show for NBC San Diego for two years coming on to speak about fashion trends and stocking stuffers. I then had one of those Oprah Winfrey light bulb moments. I can do so much more with my resources. So now I do.”
Popular fashion brands that made this give-away possible include Tory Burch, Darling, Adrianna Papell, Sienna Rose, jewelry from Vilaiwan and Konplott , a generous donation of shoes from Sole Society & New Balance, and a line of facial products from Dermaesthetics USA in Beverly Hills. “It’s exciting to prove that fashion actually does have a heart,” said Russell.
Ultimate Surprises expands the successful Yahoo brand franchise, allowing friends and family to spring heartfelt and over-the-top surprises on the people they love. Whether it’s fulfilling a wish, celebrating an anniversary, reuniting with lost friends or proposing marriage, life’s biggest moments are the ones you share with those closest to you. With the help of a team of experts, these special events are transformed into unforgettable surprises that are so outrageous and personal that you’ll be dying to see the look on everyone’s face when it happens. In February 2012, “Ultimate Proposal” had nearly one million unique visitors per month, making it #25 of the top 25 shows on the Web.
See the surprise here: screen.yahoo.com/proposal-episode-12-christines-life-021018517.html
Mother’s Day Edition – May 18, 2012
Shenee Crespo’s days start early, often well before the sun rises and her five children are awakened for the mad scramble that is their morning routine. There’s breakfast and getting the younger ones dressed and ready for daycare.
Crespo doesn’t have a car, so when she isn’t able to catch a ride with a co-worker, she spends four hours on public transit each day, commuting back and forth to her job on Long Island as a corporate biller. Then it’s home to cook for her kids, help them with homework, study for her online college courses and squeeze in a session of Zumba via their PlayStation to help manage her neuropathy (a disorder of the nervous system) before going to bed and doing it all again the next day.
She often struggles to make ends meet. After paying her family’s living expenses and also helping her mother financially, she has little left over to spend on herself. Crespo, a bubbly and curvaceous woman of African-American and Puerto Rican descent, owns only one pair of jeans and two pairs of shoes.
But with the help of celebrity stylist Sam Russell, Crespo’s wardrobe — and spirits — both recently got a major boost after being surprised with a $10,000 fashion giveaway.
“This is like a dream. I never do anything for myself. My children always come first,” said Crespo. “So I’m beyond grateful for this awesome surprise.”
And to understand the power of this gift, you have to understand the man who made it all happen.
Celebrity stylist Russell dresses some of Hollywood’s brightest stars, from music legend Stevie Wonder to actors like John Hamm and Sophia Bush, to name a few.
But beyond pulling together head-to-toe ensembles for red carpet events or onscreen roles, Russell makes sure his clients are well taken care of in the “swag” department — you know, free stuff.
The unfortunate truth is that the rich, powerful and famous folks, who can actually afford the items, are usually the first (and often only) people who are gifted the goods.
“I have requested so much swag over the years for celebrities, celebrities’ girlfriends and boyfriends, handlers and family — I basically became ‘The Swag Guy,’” Russell told The Huffington Post.
The relationships that Russell has cultivated over the years within the fashion and beauty industry give him easy access to anything from a tube of lip gloss to a luxury designer bag.
But Russell knew he could do so much more with his influence and resources: Something big, something inspiring, something to show that “fashion really does have a heart,” Russell said.
So in September 2011 Russell launched The Giving Closet, his very own fashion giveaway mission, where he surprises deserving women with a fashion giveaway worth approximately $10,000, including clothes, accessories, beauty products and styling services.
Most companies are thrilled to help Russell in his altruistic pursuits, fulfilling his requests without hesitation and making sure he reaches his goal of securing thousands of dollars’ worth of merchandise. But that’s not to say Russell hasn’t run into some obstacles.
“I’ve definitely had to deal with some snobbery — companies unwilling to extend their product to regular women — and I’ve also heard the ‘we don’t do plus-size women’ excuse,” Russell said.
Yet like something out of a storybook, Russell has managed to transform himself into the ultimate fairy (fashion) godfather.
By reaching out to various social care and nonprofit organizations across the country, Russell finds his recipients. Crespo is the third recipient of what Russell hopes are many more giveaways for the Giving Closet.
It was Crespo’s involvement with the 85-year-old Family Service League that prompted the agency to nominate her for the amazing opportunity.
“The best promotion for the agency and the work we do is through people that we have successfully assisted,” Larry Weiss, senior vice president of programs, told The Huffington Post. “So it’s wonderful to see Shenee being honored with something like this.”
Crespo credits the Family Service League for turning her life around. The agency was able to give her a computer several years ago, which allowed Crespo to take online college courses and fulfill her dream of getting an education. In fact, next month she will receive her Masters in Business Administration.
“My drive comes from the people that depend on me. Everything I do is for my children,” Crespo said. “I plan to go to law school next and then open my own law firm.”
Russell’s connection with Crepso goes beyond simply gifting her clothes. He understands the struggles of women like Crespo who have persevered through extraordinary challenges in life. He calls them “survivors” — and his mother was one. She, along with Russell and his two brothers, endured years of physical, verbal and emotional abuse by her husband until day he died, when Russell was 15 years old.
They made it through and now Russell’s doing his part to celebrate those who have done the same. “I’m just a vessel for this, it has nothing to do with me,” Russell said. “Shenee is a survivor. I’m doing this for all the survivors.”
Special thanks to the following companies for donating items for the giveaway: Sienna Rose, Paul Frank, Single Dress by Galina, Guy & Eva, Bed Stu, Elaine Turner, BEARPAW, Gwyneth Shoes, AMI ClubWear, Dermaesthetics USA and Whitening Lightning.
Written by Julee Wilson ( firstname.lastname@example.org)
This Giving Closet Surprise Give-Away Was Made Possible By The Generous Donations Of: Adrianna Papell , Sienna Rose, Single Dress, Marie Bruns Jewelry, Lockheart Handbags, Paul Frank, Paige Padgett, and Shoes from Bedstu, Jellypop, Naya, New Balance & Tsubo
Celebrity wardrobe stylist Sam Russell capped off his final appearance on the local NBC San Diego AM News program Sept. 1, 2011 with a grand finale: over $10,000 worth of wardrobe for one randomly selected woman from a local Dress For Success organization.
The woman selected made a live appearance on the 6:45 AM NBC San Diego program thinking she had won a new make-over.
Stylist Sam Russell shares, “I chose Dress For Success because I believe so strongly in their mission statement. Women re-entering the work force need a strong wardrobe, so I thought to myself if I can gift thousands of dollars in clothing to celebrities, why not help someone in need.”
Generous donations for The Giving Closet came from notable fashion companies and included an entire rack of clothing from Adrianna Papell, shoes from New Balance and Bedstu, handbags from Agabhumi and Baciami, and jewelry from Guy & Eva.
“I had to decide fast when approaching Dress For Success,” claims Russell. “Do I want to help a group of strangers and give them one outfit each or do I help one woman for the rest for her life? The choice was simple,” he says. This was Russell’s first fashion give-away, and he plans to travel the United States in search of outfitting one randomly selected woman on various morning news programs. Says Russell, “I have spent so many years focused on my local career that I now have become hungry to explore the possibilities of the next chapter of my life. Oprah Winfrey has been a constant source of inspiration for me that I started to ponder how I could best utilize all of the amazing PR contacts and brand managers I’ve been working with for so long.” He quickly adds, “Tapping one woman on the shoulder who is in need and saying I can help just seems natural.”
Sam Russell: Red Carpet wardrobe stylist gives back
Entering the fashion world as a model/actor waiting tables with no prior experience, Sam Russell joined the industry as an amateur and left a styling maven. However, tired of the soul-tearing ego of Hollywood, and inspired by his mother’s drive in overcoming struggle, he founded The Giving Closet and redirected his attention to helping women in need.
An Austin native, Russell daydreamed of working in show business, and with 13 years in LA, his dream came true. And, as with all fantasies that come to life, many of his experiences still come as a surprise, bringing him to the realization that his connections should be shared.
“From traveling with Stevie Wonder and window shopping with Sophia Bush to discussing “socks’ with Chuck Lorre before the Daytime Emmys & meeting our First Family, I had a light bulb moment one day and realized I could do so much good with my fashion contacts,” Russell told 429Magazine.
“Once that thought washed over me, it all consumed me.”
Frustrated with Hollywood and immersed in a world of people with so much, but incessantly “whining” about wanting more, Russell found the ego out of balance. Despite the synergy between his work and LA, he needed a break. With his partner, he moved to a four-acre country home reminiscent of his Texas roots in the Washington DC suburbs, and now commutes to NYC for work.
“Separating my ego from the work has helped my career tremendously.”
Russell’s work with women stemmed from growing up seeing his mother overcome her circumstances, despite being exceedingly abused by his father.
“My mom is a survivor,” he said. “I saw that through hard work, wise career choices and having a flair for dressing really helped her take better control of her destiny.”
In spite of witnessing the abuse his mother endured, he found himself in an abusive relationship for 3 ½ years. Seemingly an ideal relationship by outsiders, as his partner was a public figure, Russell explained it as an illusion and feeling trapped.
“It took him hitting me once to say enough,” he said.
“When I came to, I realized I needed to better apply what I have learned in my life and moved swiftly with my personal choices so I never had to wake up in that type of situation again. I am a survivor, just like the women I help,” he added.
“If you empower every woman on the planet, you empower every child and point them in the direction for a better future that they create.”
In 2011, he began a traveling mission to “re-route” fashion PR goods set aside for celebrity gifting to “real women in need.”
The Giving Closet seeks exceptional stories of selfless women through non-profits and social workers and surprises each chosen with a wardrobe upgrade valued at $10,000.
“I am here to prove that fashion does have a heart.”
Using fashion to boost underprivileged women’s morale, Russell explained that a new outfit could change not only someone’s attitude, but their destiny as well. Many of the women he has worked with through The Giving Closet have landed new jobs, promotions, and even new boyfriends.
“The new outfits inspire confidence and I get to be a part of that,” he exclaimed.
“This is my new calling—I am less interested in dressing the elite anymore. Real people need me and what good does it do to have all of these amazing PR contacts and to only use them for the privileged?”
He described one of the consistent highlights of his career as “looking in the eyes of a single mom that has been surprised with a Giving Closet giveaway, [and] seeing that hope come back into her soul.”
A major part of Russell’s purpose is sharing his experience with others in order to help them overcome and flourish. Speaking openly about being out since middle school, his near death car accident, the abuse he endured as a child, and how sexual abuse his influenced his choices over the years, he says he has only begun.
“I have made a lot of bad choices in my life, but those things do not define me,” Russell said about his abuse issues. “I am not defined by any of my mistakes; I am made up of my possibilities.”
As related to the LGBT community, he believes discussing sexuality diminishes the power it has in shaping choices. “It’s crucial that we have more gay, lesbian and transgendered role models,” he stated.
What Russell has taken from his encounters is to never mistake kindness for weakness and to draw personal boundaries. It’s ok to walk away when uncomfortable in an impossible situation.
“I learned that some people are truly friends that care for you, others are just curious,” he said.
Written by Jen Woo