Secrets of a Superstar Stylist

An unwavering focus on being the best in the business catapulted Irma Martinez into stylist superstardom. Now, she is sharing how it’s really done

Irma Martinez never stops changing her look. On Monday, she’s wearing jeans and tennis shoes. Tuesday it’s a pencil skirt and blazer, and Wednesday is hippie chic with a flouncy floral blouse. Thursday, she’s rocking a leather jacket and an metallic top, not unlike a rock star.

Though the stylist’s appearance might constantly evolve, a few things never change: her thick, melodious Colombian accent, her fierce work ethic, and her cheerful determination to prove that she can, actually, have it all.

Martinez, the founder and creative director of Trendy Inc., a six-branch lifestyle brand committed to 360-degree service for the entertainment and style industry, isn’t just a stylist for stars; she’s a superstar stylist. Her first big break came in 1995 when she was hired to style singer-songwriter Shakira, then 17 years old and just breaking into stardom. Martinez styled everything from Shakira’s album covers to her looks on tour for four years, and other stars started to notice her work.

Twenty years ago, singers like Chayanne and Gloria Estefan started calling, and a snowball effect took form. Martinez hasn’t stopped working with pop stars, movie stars, and an ever-growing roster of celebrities of all varieties ever since.

When Martinez was first building that roster, the fashion industry wasn’t exactly welcoming to a Latina stylist with a thick accent. “People doubted my abilities without giving me a chance,” she says. “That has completely changed for Latinas in the industry today. We have come a long way.” Latinas in the industry are known for perfection in their looks, she says “which is great because we don’t miss a detail. It puts us ahead of the trends and the things that are happening in fashion.”

Martinez’s forthcoming book, slotted for an early 2016 release, is an instruction manual for young, aspiring designers and stylists. Its inspiration was an internship program her company offers for girls interested in design and styling who are still in school. “The girls and my connections on social media are constantly asking me how I started, how I solved this problem or that, how I became the stylist I am today, and how I am the business owner I am today,” Martinez says.

In response, she wrote El Manual del Estilista (“The Stylist’s Manual”), which draws upon her own experiences as a way to teach tricks of the trade and to inform anyone about how the fashion industry really works—especially the aspects of it that were entirely different when she first got her start. “Every day I was learning as I went, so for me the best experience is to share all this knowledge and make it easier for the person who’s reading the book,” she says.

“Every day I was learning as I went, so for me the best experience is to share all this knowledge and make it easier for the person who’s reading the book.”

The fashion industry is surprisingly complicated and unglamorous, Martinez says, so it was her priority that the book be easy to read and understand. El Manual del Estilista speaks directly to the reader, and Martinez remembers how her husband and business partner, Enrique López, was surprised by its rawness when he first read it. “I wanted it to be real, and I didn’t want it to be complicated,” Martinez says. “It speaks so much about me to be easily understood.”

Martinez has worked with campaigns for companies including Colgate and Target (on the latter’s “Dream in Color” campaign), but her favorite effort to date was styling former Miss Universe Dayanara Torres for the “Got Milk?” campaign. She loved the shoot because of its simplicity; Torres was shot in a couture gown by Colombian designer Silvia Tcherassi, but was barefoot and had almost no makeup on. The contrast of high fashion and minimalism is an idea Martinez still draws from today when styling for award shows.

These award shows are fast-paced, adrenaline-filled, multi-look challenges, but Martinez loves the thrill of it all. Back in October, she was responsible for 11 performances at the Latin American Music Awards. That meant getting to know every artist and creating concepts unique to each, including looks for all their dancers. “Then, these looks have to come alive in two hours,” she says. “The decoration, the adrenaline that goes behind everything … my team and I work for weeks creating different themes, and then when we see it live in the show, it’s one rush after the other. It’s unbelievable when you see all of your creations come alive on stage. It’s so rewarding.”

In 2016, Martinez will be styling the awards show “Premios Lo Nuestro” in February and promoting her book through workshops for aspiring fashionistas. She hopes to increase her presence in the US market through collaborations with major design brands and retailers as well.

Martinez defines her success based on her ability to combine her career and family, and the mother of two is a vocal proponent of the idea that it’s possible to balance two complete lives, no matter one’s background; she considers her own story  proof of this. “I followed my dreams, and I never let anything stop me until I made it,” she says. “I want people to feel like they can do it too, that they can be successful even if they lived in a bad neighborhood, or didn’t speak the language, or didn’t have money. You work hard, and you can do it.”