Inside with Margaret Williamson Bechtold

Inside with Margaret Williamson Bechtold

Recently we interviewed Margaret Williamson Bechtold, a brand director and stylist who works here in Austin. She has had an incredible career, being seen in major publications and having major success with commercial clients. We asked her for some insight into her work and her thoughts on life.

How did you get started in Brand Direction and Styling?
I got into brand direction through a couple of leaps of faith, actually. The first one: I had worked my way through several positions and departments on the market editing and styling teams at Lucky magazine (R.I.P.) and was itching to stretch my experience in a new direction.
I was really inspired by a new editor of mine there who had just come back into magazines after a stint as a trend forecaster for a major brand. I don’t think I had ever heard the words “trend forecaster” before meeting her – or at least they hadn’t stuck with me if I had; I had been so laser-focused on making it into magazines when I was in school that I really had blinders on to pretty much everything else.
I did my research and found a company that had recently been covered by the Wall Street Journal and looked really intriguing. I found their website and blindly emailed their generic address, since no career openings were listed online at the time. For whatever reason they answered my email, had me come in for a few rounds of interviews, and I was hired within about a week of sending that first hopeful transmission.

That job was such a dream. We were a small core of smart millennials that acted as a satellite creative office for mature businesses that needed a bit of outside perspective – Target, DreamWorks, Louis Vuitton, those types of places. We were cool hunters, brand whisperers, forecasters and fashion directors all at once. Looking back, I can tell identify that I was starting to feel like I had reached my peak there, which is so disorienting when you love what you do. It’s funny how a sense of ease can be sort of discomforting – that some sort of togetherness can actually make you begin to feel out of whack. That’s something I’ve started to explore about myself since then.

But anyway at that time, subliminally, it must have seemed like the only way to grow more was to put myself in an entirely new environment, with entirely new circumstances. So that’s where the second leap of faith comes in. My husband and I had visited Austin to see some friends around that time, and found a community here that we felt we just had to be a part of. So we relocated his career and I turned in my notice, deciding to give myself a chance to get us moved and settled in before committing to a new job. The day I told my team I was leaving, one of my teammates pulled me aside and told me that she was starting a company and asked if she could hire me. Just like that, I had landed my first consulting client. I was under-employed for all of five minutes.
I got my start in styling as an intern at NYLON magazine. I assisted with all of the in-town shoots, and was able to get in with enough freelance stylists that way that I was able to get a diversity of work beyond the internship. Then, part of my time at Lucky was spent assisting the founding creative director, who styled most of the covers and feature stories. I was on set for all of those as her assistant. Eventually I got to take my own assignments styling for the magazine’s website and TV segments.

Fashion editing was a big part of my forecasting work, but I was really craving hands-on styling again, so I picked that back up when I got to Austin. It provides perfect physical balance to my more cerebral consulting projects.

How do you draw inspiration for your work?

Generally for me, it’s less linear than “get assignment, seek inspiration”…instead, I take in inspiration in real time, and access my thought catalog when it’s time to make something, connecting the dots back to what I’ve collected and looking forward to fill any holes. To that end, I’m always trying to keep my sense awake to what’s around me. I actively take in art, read, visit new environments, and keep beautiful things on my social feeds. I see things in context now.
If it’s for a specific client, I work to align myself and the crew with what the client wants from the project, and devise strategies that can best propel the brand forward from there.
What was one of your favorite shoots you styled?

Oh man that’s hard to say. I love so many of them, and I choose my collaborators with a lot of care, because it matters to me that everyone is present and excited about what we’re making together so we can all do our best work. The ones that come to mind first are those that felt really effortless on the day. Not because of any lack of effort, but because of lack of extra effort – no anxiety, no mixed messages, no distrust in the outcome. I still really love the images I made with Cecilia Alejandra and Rachel Ruth Baker for Contributor Magazine – that was the three of us roaming around East Austin with a car full of looks and no real plan, which you can only do when you all just trust each other aesthetically, entirely.

I’m also thinking about the story Cydney Cosette Holm and I did for Pansy. We had never worked together before, but I sensed from meeting her that we would click on a wavelength that doesn’t require too much discussion, and I was right. Ah I have to stop because now I just want to name all of my favorites.

Your work is very original and artistic. How do you achieve this look?

Aw thanks! It’s everything together – my shoots are a sum of their parts. The clothes don’t come through if you don’t cast the right talent to bring it to life. The perfect moment slips away if the photographer isn’t inspired to capture it. There is something to the one-man-band-ness that can happen when a photographer’s arranging and shooting it all on her own – especially possibly with still photography – but even then, there’s value in a team. Everyone concentrating on their area of expertise, then harmonizing together to make it all ring true. I’m really grateful that I’m drawn to styling, because a previous version of me would have probably preferred working alone. It’s made me a much more social and trusting animal.

What brought you to Austin and what do you like about the city?

Yet another leap of faith (I’m learning that my favorite things result from these). My husband and I really felt drawn to it in the most organic way. We weren’t ready to leave New York per se, but the contrast of Austin to NY was sort of irresistible to us. Even though it’s incredibly developed and popular, a pioneering spirit is palpable here. I had an intense feeling that if we didn’t go nowthen – I would have missed out, or something. We genuinely just picked up and moved.
We’ve been here for over two years now and are so content. What an adventure it’s been to plop ourselves in a whole new place and just have a go at it. The things I love about it are endless. Friends, Deep Eddy, the tacos at Las Perlas…the backyard of Kinda Tropical on a slow afternoon, Joe Swecc’s handiwork on signs and cars around town, anything the Land Boys design, everything Liz Lambert touches. There’s so much gold here. 

What are some of the words you live by?
These days I’m feeling drawn to sayings about appreciation and awareness. 
Leonard Cohen describing life with his partner as “Sweetness, sweetness everywhere.”
Johnny Cash on his definition of paradise: “This morning. With Her. Having Coffee.”
And Vonnegut’s “Everything is beautiful and nothing hurt.” (Delivered sardonically, but I choose to see it otherwise).

What are some of your favorite things about the summer?

Sunning, swimming, traveling, time off…freckles, skin, margaritas, barbeques, parties…I love all of it. I’m such a summer baby, I could live in hot weather year round. The Austin heat is seriously heaven to me.

Any tips for people trying to have a career in Brand Direction or Styling?
I kind of think of myself as a specialized generalist, the amalgamation of my entire background. So my best advice is do a bunch of stuff! Assist. Explore. Empathize. Feel. Read. Study. Think. Don’t overthink. Take people to coffee. Take calculated risks. Take a day off. “Take the ride.” Enjoy it all. Don’t delay gratification for later or “when…”. Be proud of yourself the whole damn time.

Below is some of Margaret's work

Margaret Williamson Bechtold
Margaret Williamson Bechtold
Margaret Williamson Bechtold