Popularity is relative, and especially in the digital age. You could have hundreds of thousands of followers online, but be completely unknown in the streets — massively famous on Instagram, YouTube or Twitter, but lack any kind of real, authentic cool in person. For our new series, Coolest Person in the Room, New York-based photographer Megan Walschlager pinpoints all the people whose energy is contagious regardless of their following count or celebrity. Meet NYC-based stylist Marta Del Rio, a rising stylist and creative assistant to fashion star Nicola Formichetti.
What is your job?
I am working with Nicola Formichetti day to day. I assist with everything from production to styling. Sometimes I get to consult a little bit with clients, which is really fun. And, of course, we got to work on [Lady] Gaga's Enigma [Vegas Residency], and spend almost a month in Vegas.
That seems like a weird experience.
It's a strange place to spend Christmas and New Years. The first time I met her was doing the Enigma poster, which we did with Inez and Vinoodh. It was my first time working with them — what an incredible photography duo. And I had never met Gaga's entire team — like the dancers and the band. I had met Sandra [Amador] and Tom [Eerebout] who are her incredible stylists, but it was so amazing to watch such a big team that is genuinely family. They have traveled so much together and some of them have been with her for like 10 years. It's beautiful to watch how people have grown together. That's a bit how I feel with Nicola — I'm getting to grow with him. I used to be an intern at Nicopanda, then I moved up little bit by little bit and now I'm in [Studio Formichetti].
Are you working on anything independently?
I'm trying little by little to do my own solo projects. I just did my first ever solo runway styling: BCALLA's show [at NYFW], which was super fun. Brad [Callahan] texted me asking if I would be interested in helping out, and I was like, "Of course, I love you!" I had the pleasure of pulling from him in the very beginning. And at parties he would come in incredible looks and be like, "Oh, I just made this in 2 hours." So, he told me, "This is what my collection is going to be. It's mainly black and gold," and he added a few other things I immediately knew what he was talking about and threw a bunch of ideas out. I remember on our first phone call I was like, "What if we do somebody's head just completely covered in leopard print." And in the show we had someone's head who was completely shaved with leopard print. We were completely on the same page. That's how I wish every project was.
It's so amazing, but every project is so different. You get to meet so many new people. It's opened up New York so much for me. Especially when you're working in a studio by yourself, you forget that there's more things going on.
Related | BCALLA Brought Ballroom to Fashion Week
I wanna hear more about your month in Vegas. Is there anything cool happening in Vegas? Or are you just walking laps on the strip?
Actually Vegas has incredible thrift stores. They're more in the older part of the city. There's also a Liberace Foundation. I didn't have time to go there, but I will on my next trip. When I was in Vegas, since I wasn't going home for Christmas, my parents and sister decided to come and visit. I bought them tickets to the Gaga show as a Christmas present. It was really fun to have my parents watch something that I helped out on because it somehow validates what you do.
Photo by Megan Walschlager
Especially when you have a creative job, your parents don't always get it when you're not working a typical 9-5.
No, especially with styling. They understand more when I do production or when I support Nicola in other areas. But when it's styling, they're like, "So, are you just choosing clothes? Are you just picking them up?" And I'm like, "No, it's a bit more than that." And they're like, "So you guys just dress people? Can people not dress themselves?" Obviously they've had no exposure to the fashion world except me having gone to fashion school. So I had to explain a big chunk of my job is working with PRs and designers and pulling things — it's a lot of logistics. The creative side is a part of it, but oh my god the logistics! The creative is just the tip of the iceberg. The rest of it is production. But now my parents completely understand it. And whenever they see articles about fashion in the newspaper, they'll literally send me a photo of it.
You're from Spain, right?
Yes, I'm from the very south — a small, very-touristy town called Marbella. It is by the seaside and also right next to a mountain so it has one of the world's best microclimates. It's not too hot, not too cold, beautiful summers, great beach clubs, amazing food. I hope one day I can retire there, but there isn't much for me to do there right now. I grew up in a very small town called San Pedro and my family's been working there all their lives, so the town knows us. We're a big family. Whenever I go back, I'll go to the pharmacy where my mom works and they'll be like, "Oh my god the New York girl is back! Show us your shoes! Show us your hair!" They're so sweet. At the beginning they were like, "Oh my god, Marta, you've changed!" But now they're so fun and they'll be like, "Oh what's your next hair color? Do you have beach sandals that are platforms as well?"
How long have you had the iconic Marta pink and green hairstyle? Whenever I watch a Nicola video I can always spot your head boppin' around in the background.
Depending on how stressed I am it will be bobbing or more of a flash! Then you'll hear my big platforms clumping around in the back. I've had green and pink almost a year. Originally it was yellow and purple. Then yellow and blue. Then yellow and pink. Then green and purple. Then green and pink. And I did the green and pink because it was summer and I decided I wanted to be a watermelon for the summer. And I thought that was hilarious, but it kind of stuck. I've been thinking I need to change it soon, but it's starting to become so recognizable.
"The sky's the limit with [Nicola Formichetti]. I've learned so much from him and I've learned that to be a fashion designer you don't have to follow the traditional route."
How did you go from Parson's student to working on Enigma? Walk me through your journey.
Honestly it was thanks to Nicola. When I was at Parson's I interned at different places. I had this idea in my head that since I was studying fashion design and that's what I was going to do all my life, I didn't want to intern doing fashion design. I wanted to intern anywhere else in fashion. So, I thought to be better prepared I would learn production or styling.
One of my first internships was at this company called Defacto Inc. They represent photographers, stylists, manicurists — all across the board. The day I went in to interview — I was probably 19 or 20 — and back then I had long brown hair and used to dress more conservative for interviews especially. And I had one outfit for interviewing. I had a black pencil skirt, an electric blue blouse, little black work pumps — everything was from Zara. And I showed up, they interviewed me, and we clicked immediately. They were like, "When can you start?" And I was like, "I can start tomorrow if you want."
That's one thing I think I've done well in every interview. When they ask me how soon I can start I'm like, "I can start in an hour if you need." So, I started there and was there for like 6 months and I learned so much on the backside of fashion. Basically everything that builds up to sell what a fashion designer is. Like getting a hairstylist and a manicurist, doing a campaign, doing a runway. Just seeing how many departments come together to build the image the mass audience gets to see.
After that I was like, I've done agency, what if I try production/styling? So my next internship was Moda Operandi. I actually had a great time and that was the first time I got to be on set every day at work. We were doing the boutique ecomm images so we were shooting every day. I got to see a lot of production and a lot of ecomm styling and that taught me so much.
Photo by Megan Walschlager
Yeah they do it so fast, it's like a machine.
While I was doing all that, I was working on my fashion thesis at Parsons, which was completely outrageous comparatively. And a friend of mine from Parsons — Vasilis Loizides, who actually now has his own collection and presents in fashion week — we were at an open studio one day and talking about what we were doing, and he was like, "Actually i just finished an internship at this place and now that I see your work I think it would be the perfect place for you. It's called Nicopanda — it's Nicola Formichetti's brand."
And that's how I met Gerlan Marcel, who did Gerlan Jeans and worked at Jeremy Scott before. I interviewed with her [for an internship] and we really hit it off. That internship was incredible. I was sketching and moodboarding. I was completely invested in design and doing Photoshop and I learned so much. When my internship was over they asked me to stay on as freelance. Little by little I started helping out more, and I started meeting Nicola more often and we just got along, and it snowballed to three years later. I'm still in America because of him and I'm his assistant.
He's always up for a new project. The sky's the limit with him. I've learned so much from him and I've learned that to be a fashion designer you don't have to follow the traditional route.
I feel like there's a big overlap between fashion and nightlife — has that been true for you?
The first party I went to, I decided to just wear a bra with a chain I bought at home depot, panties and fishnets. I went all out and wore my massive platforms. Then that night someone introduced me to Nicky Ottav and immediately we started talking. That night he asked me if I would like to host, and I was like, "Well what do I have to do?" And he was like, "Just tell people to come to my party and dress fabulous." And I was like, "Sounds like I can do that."
So for about a year I was doing club kid looks and building these massive feather mohawks going to On Top at Le Bain, Flash Factory, Holy Mountain. I actually bumped into Nicola at my first Holy Mountain — I did like a whole costume — and I was dancing and I felt someone tap my shoulder and I turn around and it was my boss! But he was super nice and was like, "You look great!"
That's so funny.
Once I went to Holy Mountain and it was around Valentine's Day, but I had forgotten — I had had so much work. And I freaked out because I didn't know what to wear. I had a bunch of liquid latex at home, so I ran to Duane Reade and they had a bunch of roses on sale so I bought like three bouquets, took off all the petals and glued them all over my body. Very baby Marta. I didn't know what I was doing. I thought it was okay to go out in red panties with petals glued all over my body and my long hair that covered my tits.
That's basically a shirt. Do you have any specific getting ready routines when you go out?
When I used to go out more often, I had this drag queen friend from Chile. Her name was Annabelle Monica and she was new to New York — she was here for like 4 months studying English and staying in New Jersey at her uncle's house. I met her one night out and we got along because we both speak Spanish. She had made out with someone so her lipstick was no longer there, so I lent her my lipstick and we got to talking. I got worried when she was like, "Oh it's my first time going out, and I have to take the train back to New Jersey at 4 AM in full drag." And I was worried about her safety, so I convinced her to crash at my house. After that we became really good friends.
A few days later I was like, "Why don't you come to my house and we can get ready together?" She was like, "I need 5 hours to get ready." And I'm like, "Don't worry! I will get beer, sangria, shots, and we can watch old Drag Race episodes while you get ready and I finish hot gluing things."
We got into the habit of getting ready at my house. At the time, I was living in FiDi and my housemates were lovely — they would let us take over the entire living room. They thought it was so fun to watch. And she would take over the bathroom for 4 hours, just powdering and contouring. Then we'd get into our looks and our friends would come over as the night progressed. Then by 11 we would all leave for the club together. A couple of times we had issues getting into the cabs because our headpieces were too big, so we needed to lay horizontal.
Photo by Megan Walschlager
What do you think are some of the coolest places in New York?
I love Decibel. They have loads of sakes and their kitchen is open late. You can get good ol' rice bowls with beef — and they make it in the tiniest kitchen — it's incredible. I've been coming here the 7 years I've been in New York. This is the first place I went on a date back when I was living in the dorms at Parsons. I saw the guy for a couple of months after that and when we decided to go our ways, I got this spot in the divorce. It was the only thing I asked for.
I also live two blocks from Bar 169 and one of my really good friends Roman [Darkholme] works there. Whenever I don't feel like going out and he's working, I'll go there and wait for an open spot at the bar and we'll talk all night while he works. Also Beverly's and Clockwork — more because of convenience. I love Pies N Thighs and this place called Little Mo in Bushwick. It's a Pho place. And Shigure has amazing Japanese food and an amazing sake selection. I also go to Baby Brasa a lot. And K-Town for a BBQ and karaoke.
What's next for you?
I don't think I can tell you that. But what I am super excited about right now is Nicola's YouTube channel because it's such a different medium than we're used to. It's really fun because I don't think the big audience on YouTube is very well-versed in fashion. And of course Nicola is well-known in New York and the fashion industry, but for a lot of people they don't know who is working behind the scenes, so it'll be cool to show the world the guy behind all these iconic moments. What builds an image isn't just the talent dressed — it's the photographer, the stylist, the designer — so I'm really excited to help give a glimpse of what our world is to other people. And it will give my parents another example of what I do when they see my bun running around in the background.
Follow Marta Del Rio on Instagram (@from_theriver).