As the daughter of first-generation immigrants, stylist Katie Qian recalls her mother regularly sending pre-med requirements and courses all throughout college. But Qian was certain of her path. “In my head, I knew I wanted to pursue styling the whole time,” she says.
Growing up in San Diego, Qian devoured Fashion Week clips on YouTube and sartorial posts on Tumblr as a teen. “I got into a rabbit hole of watching high-fashion runway shows of old McQueen and Dior by [John] Galiano,” she recalls. While volunteering at a hospital gift shop, she would flip through fashion magazines like W and British Vogue, becoming inspired by the editors. Her research paid off; one of her first celebrity gigs was for a local magazine, styling Tori Kelly.
She went on to double major in psychology and business at the University of California Los Angeles, but continued collecting editorial styling credits on top of a full schedule of classes. That intense workflow helped her amass a stable of star clients, and since graduating in 2018, Qian, now 25, has worked full time as a stylist. Regulars include Conan Gray, Hayley Kiyoko and NIKI, along with most of 88rising’s roster.
“It’s noticeably harder [to pull clothes] for Asian people,” says Qian of the challenges she has faced so far. “I think [fashion houses] usually have a target list of talent they think is a good fit for their brand … [there’s a perception that] there haven’t been that many Asian artists who fit that profile in America. I don’t think we’re super visible yet.”
Her growing portfolio – which includes a recent magazine cover for Rina Sawayama – is helping change that perception. And while Qian has already dressed many stars on her wish list, she always has an eye on who could be next: “[I’m most interested in] really cool, alternative artists who are not afraid to do something crazy or funky. To stand out.”
Below, Qian breaks down some favorite moments she styled this year and beyond.
After first meeting through Lauv on the set of their “Fake” music video in October 2020, Qian and Gray teamed up to create the singer’s gender-bending looks. “I remember the first time I put him in a corset when we were fitting in his garage two years ago. His face lit up,” says Qian. “Since then, I kept bringing him riskier and riskier stuff to experiment.”
Case in point: Gray’s monochromatic fuschia fit of custom Valentino trousers, platforms and a wind-catching cape that he wore for his Coachella performance earlier this year. Qian says that particular look proves just how much his style has evolved from the white tank top and jeans combo he often adorned in the beginning of their working relationship. “Conan trusts everything,” she says. “That’s one of my favorite things about him.”
NIKI & 88Rising
Qian says she manifested working with the music label 88Rising. Founded by Sean Miyashiro and known for repping Asian American artists, “88Rising was a big goal of mine. I love what they stand for, so I was trying to get in touch with them for a while,” she recalls. In 2018, the stylist got her chance when photographer Silas Lee tapped her to style one of the label’s artists, NIKI, for a Guess fashion campaign. “That’s when I first met anyone from 88,” she says. “NIKI liked me and continued reaching out. After that, I started doing Rich Brian, Higher Brothers, Joji. It kind of spread throughout the whole label.”
Near the end of 2022, Qian was preparing to join NIKI on the Asian leg of her Nicole Tour. When dressing the Indonesian-born singer for the stage, Qian says NIKI will give her a feeling to work with: “‘I wanna feel hot. I wanna look badass.’ I’ll then come up with new ways to portray that.”
When asked which of her clients excites her the most, Qian blurts out her muse: Sabrina Claudio. “For every stylist, they need to find a client that fits them. You can’t shine until you find a client that lets you create to your fullest capacity.” According to Qian, Claudio’s confidence and embodiment of “divine femininity” is what makes dressing her so fun.
In 2021, Qian enlisted the help of designer Michelle Hébert to create a look that captured that exact ethos. Specializing in ethereal gowns, Hébert made Claudio’s silk butterfly dress for a livestream concert tied to her album About Time. Using ’90s-era Versace as a reference, Hébert hand-stitched silk-printed butterflies and sewed them over an asymmetric, orange charmeuse gown featuring strategic cutouts. The look enjoyed a viral moment on the internet, about which Qian says: “It was just magic.”