The Yak goes one on one with…
…Bali’s favorite female stylist and global image creator, May Cortazzi.
May, we originally met when you started The Mask Society initiative (buy 1 mask donate 1 mask) at the beginning of C19… (Great initiative by the way!!) Tell us how that came about?
I started the Mask Society during the beginning of the pandemic when the Island was left devastated, we were in full on lockdown, everyone abandoned the island in a panic, beaches, shops, fashion businesses and garment factories had closed, many seamstresses had lost their jobs, whilst masks were compulsory yet impossible to find.
I had a close connection to a seamstress who having lost her job and is a single mum who needed to support her son. She needed money to eat and I wanted to help her financially through buying masks, so I initially just brought some masks then drove around giving them out to the community.
Suddenly this one action inspired others to want to do the same so with my close friend Ilka (who designed the branding) we started trying to develop the designs of the masks and marketing them in order to support different pockets of seamstresses all over the island – with our BUY ONE, GIVE ONE initiative, which allowed everyone to support seamstresses and communities by purchasing masks in order to donate all over Indonesia through registered charities and crisis groups.
As the pandemic went on, we would also help with the purchasing of food and even planting trees to help communities become more self-sufficient. It all grew quite organically, we felt it was our sole purpose of being in Bali, by combining our creative skills together to help, whilst raising awareness on issues surrounding sustainability, education, disabilities and poverty, which I tried to document through film and photos. To share worldwide.
During this time, I visited a lot of communities and met so many amazing people from all over the world trying to help, which pushed me to put my fashion & marketing skills to good use and make an impact.
I realized at this point that we all have skills and if we each donated some money and time we can make a huge impact all over the world.
Cortazzi. What are the origins of your surname and where are you from?
My name is May Helena Dina Cortazzi, my father is British, Italian and my mother is Persian.
I was named after a few powerful women, one of those include a distant relative called Helena Cortazzi who was Edward Lear’s (one of the world’s most influential poets and creative figures) female muse.
Edward famously proposed to Helena but alas she turned him down.
Can you give us a bit of your background story?
What was May up to as a child under 10 years old?
As a child of the 80s I would network my way around the neighborhood trying to learn as much as I could from seamstresses in Leicester as during that time in the UK took great pride in the ‘Made in Britain’movement.
I was born and raised in the Leicester, which was an area famous for clothing production in the UK. As a child I was nicknamed ‘ Little Princess’ on my street, and apparently would call out the names of elderly ladies and widows who lived close by, really loudly, over the garden fence until they came to talk to me.
As a child of four, I felt sorry for them all alone, so I would make excuses to keep them company by asking them to teach me sewing, embroidery or dolls clothes.
My mum still has all the things I would make which is pretty amazing, I distinctly remember being amazed by colored embroidery cotton and the slow process of creating by hand.
And at 18 years old? (All the teenage bells and whistles please 😀 )
Eighteen I would say was the happiest time of my life, I was very free-spirited, social and had my own defined style which was an eclectic mix of being completely submerged in music, dance and subcultures.
I studied Fashion Design at Northumbria University in the UK, which at that time was highly competitive, I remember showing up to the interview styled head to toe in things I had made, whilst pushing them to look at my portfolio of work that I had created at art college.
The lecturers who taught me were incredibly inspiring, they were historians of fashion, the most incredible pattern cutters and inspiring creators, I was totally absorbed in everything I experienced in fashion; making clothes; curating shoots, and meeting different people from all walks of life.
And at 24?
At 24, after graduating from university, I learnt the true impact of fashion. I moved to India and volunteered at the ‘Barli Development Institute of Rural Women’, an NGO that trains and empowers women, by teaching them how to read, write and also teaches key vocational skills – sewing, batik and embroidery. One of the proudest moments of this time was going into a remote village and seeing how a woman had taught her husband how to sew, and how they managed to create a farm and an amazing fashion business together.
This was incredible; then and today my goal was and still is to empower women through fashion.
After India I was awarded a scholarship to study for a masters in fashion design and marketing, this is where I studied ethics and sustainable fashion.
Name the top people that inspired you to go into fashion and why?
I was lucky enough to study fashion growing up in the 90s and 2000s, which was such an exciting time in fashion, and in terms of creative visionaries, both in the U.K. and Europe. There was so much influence in terms of music, art, technology and culture. It was the best time to be an inspired fashion student.
Creative visionaries that inspired my creative mindset I would say are:-
John Galliano, simply because of the depth of how he researches and submerges himself into a concept, by building his muses into his 3D creative designs, and of course his narrative and artistic direction of the models on his catwalk.
Issey Miyake, I remember being at his ‘Making Things’ exhibition in Paris, and his ‘Pleats Please’ garments which bounced from the ceiling, I remember being excited by the spirit of his creations.
Alexander McQueen is also an inspiration in terms of being a creative visionary, I remember meeting him in London, he was approachable and non-pretentious.
My key favorite show moments of his shows would have to be:
- 1998 – Shalom Harlow, where giant robots sprayed models with spray paint.
- 2006 – “The Widows of Culloden” runway show. Kate Moss’s appearance as an ethereal hologram.
How does one become a stylist? What was your path?
To be a stylist you must study the history of fashion, the business of fashion and the trends/spirit of the times.
I studied fashion design, marketing and the fashion business for 8 years. I have been an international fashion lecturer and creative director for many years, fashion styling and creative direction takes a lot of hard work and dedication. People think it is glamourous but it isn’t, we are usually the ones that work long hours, are the first and last to leave the shoot, and have the biggest responsibilities.
Fashion stylists are the biggest secret weapons in the fashion industry, we create memorable visuals that define and capture the spirit of the times.
We help to define recognizable image for a fashion brand in a highly competitive industry by building a creative story. It’s a huge responsibility – essentially if the looks are not inspiring enough or do not relate to customers then products do not sell.
Styling is about ‘style-stepping’ from creativity to business. It’s about building strong and lasting relationships with clients, videographers, photographers, models, hair & make-up artists. Because without a strong team that is totally ‘behind’ you to believe in your creative vision, then nothing will turn into reality.
Therefore part of your journey as a stylist is about finding your creative family and team.
How would you describe your own personal dress style?
I have a real eclectic style ‘rock n roll’ meets Bohemian, I am heavily influenced by the 70s and 90s and mainly shop at vintage markets or design my own clothing especially shoes/boots, my jewelry is generally from my travels.
Sometimes I’m lucky to get given products from designers or vouchers to spend each season.
From whom did you inherit your dress sense? Or how did ‘creating looks’ come about?
I inherited my dress sense from my mother for sure, she is Persian and was living in London in the swinging 60s and 70s, so I’m influenced by her heritage mixed with London, she is super stylish and was asked to model a lot when she was younger, but always refused. I look back at her old photos and wish I was half as cool as her.
Creating looks for me is part of my creative process, it’s about taking inspiration from a creative vision I have, which could be triggered by a muse, a feeling, or just a piece of clothing I feel inspired by. To create a shoot for me is a lengthy process because I like to ‘deep dive’ into each concept and convey an emotion behind each look created, I generally will be curating every possible look in my mind, before a shoot in order to ensure everything is pre-planned so there is no time wasted, and sometimes this will involve other creatives within a team.
How big is your closet? Do you spend a lot on clothes?
I try not to spend a lot of money on clothing, usually preferring to shop for vintage, or asking designers to make me clothing or designing my own.
My closet is definitely not as big as I would like it to be 😉
What are your thoughts on the fast fashion industry?
I think the whole of the fashion industry is changing due to the pandemic, which has slowed the industry down and meant that people are now questioning their needs for more clothing. We are demanding more value not only through price and quality, but more sustainability through brand values.
I feel more considerations are being made with consumers demanding to know more about who made their clothes, what materials are being used inside their products, just as they are with the food and beauty industry as a whole.
It’s important that brands build stronger relationships with consumers by communicating their values, showing the story of how each item is carefully crafted, and the people behind the brand.
For me this goes even wider in the way of design, I don’t believe its ethical to copy or replicate other designers work as this is a huge part of a wider problem.
Do you design your own line of clothes?
I design my own shoes, some clothes for shoots and my own organic beauty products, I am constantly creating, I feel as though I have to.
What brands have you styled for over the years, and which was your most favourite shoot?
My favorite projects have definitely been runway shows, which I creatively directed, alongside editorials and runways. I like to develop runways and see a complete creative concept through film and high fashion editorial, this is one of my biggest passions in life. My work has been featured in magazines like Harper’s Bazaar and Elle.
Some of my favorite shoots in Bali has been for Erika Pena, L’Officiel, Maison Les Nerves, Client magazine, Style Cruz, State of Georgia and The Yak magazine.
What is 2022 looking like for May Cortazzi? Any ‘collabs’ in the pipeline?
2022 is looking super exciting for me, I’m working on curating some exciting film projects, fashion campaigns and working with young designers lecturing for some cool fashion courses for fashion schools in UK and Vietnam.
To be honest I am so happy with my creative projects, Bali is like a huge creative playground for a person like me who loves to create.
Is there a mantra or a slogan you live by?
Make decisions you are proud of!
This one to be really pushes me in terms of my creative integrity, wanting to give my all and how I treat others, I tried to hold myself accountable each day and if I slip up I always know that tomorrow is another day to be better or try harder.
And any parting words of encouragement for future stylists?
I would say think limitless, create stories that inspire and be unique. Don’t be too influenced by what other people think and just enjoy the creative process.