Style Profile: Amber Lehman
TO MANY WOMEN AND MORE THAN A FEW MEN, AMBER LEHMAN HAS THE DREAM JOB. SHE SPENDS HER DAYS SHOPPING AND HER EVENINGS DRESSING SOME OF THE BIGGEST NAMES IN THE BRIGHT, SWIRLING LIGHTS OF NASHVILLE.
ARTICLE BY MICHAEL DEVAULT AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY MARTIN G MEYERS
Amber Lehman starts most of her days browsing online in search of the perfect bangles to pair with that Nicole Miller top she found last week on sale in the Green Hills Mall. Growing up in the tiny village of Spencer, Louisiana, Amber never expected she’d end up running a fashion company and dressing country music stars.
In fact, Amber spent the first years of her life in Nashville preparing for a very different career.
“I came to Nashville to go to grad school at Vanderbilt, where I was studying Microbiology,” she says. In the strange way Nashville has of rerouting even the best laid plans, Amber found herself with a flexible schedule. “I would set up my experiments and then head out shopping, help photographer friends style shoots, get musicians ready for their gigs.”
She never considered that her hobby, the activities she was doing to fill the time between starting new experiments, could be a money maker, much less a career.
“I was doing it mostly for free at the time, just to have a creative outlet,” she says. “But people started offering to pay me.”
Very quickly, Amber’s hobby transitioned. Her first big break came in 2008, when she was asked to style the music video for “It’s Not My Time” for the band 3 Doors Down, who were set to film in Cincinnati. A few months later, she got a call from the director. He wanted her to come to Jamaica to style Kenny Chesney’s next video and that was that.
She took a sabbatical from Vanderbilt and embarked on a full-time career. After Chesney came names like Brett Eldredge, Dan + Shay, Lauren Alaina, Justin Moore, Thomas Rhett and Cole Swindell. The list reads a little man-heavy, because it is.
“Somehow, I found a niche styling men,” she says. “In country music, there have just been more men on the country charts – more men to work with than females, and that’s how the imbalance happened.”
Along the way, she got really good at dressing men, where tailored lines, a good pair of boots and a pair of jeans that fit just so go just as far as all of the accessories, the hair, the makeup, the jewelry for women.
“Their personalities are a lot different, too,” she says, laughing. “Guys are a lot less opinionated and more trusting, whereas girls can be a little more opinionated than guys—and more dramatic as well.”
Drama aside, Amber enjoys working with all of her clients. And again in that strange, Nashville way, she’s also found an important way to make a contribution on a global scale, as an important part of the sustainable style company, fashionABLE, a brand of fine, handcrafted leather products and accessories made by women who have overcome tremendous obstacles.
The brainchild of Rachel and Barrett Ward, fashionABLE started when they witnessed firsthand the horrible choices open to young girls and women in Ethopia. At the same time, these women came from a culture capable of producing great beauty and skilled crafts. Amber lends her skills by consulting with the brand on style and direction. Today, the company has products in boutiques across the country, and through Amber’s stylist efforts, their profile continues to grow.
Shoes and boots are on deck for release later this year – just in time for awards season.
peaking of awards season, that’s just one of the many times of year Amber calls “busy” – there’s also music video season, concert kickoffs, television appearances and dozens of other special events that take place on a round-the-year schedule.
She shrugs off questions about “a day in the life of Amber,” quipping back, “Which version?”
As she sees it, there are five types of days for her stylist practice.
There are inspiration days, where she may spend the day with a client, director or producer looking at hundreds of images and items to establish the overall look of a project or outfit.
There are shopping days, when she visits boutiques around town where she’s developed relationships. She’ll find outfits, borrow a few, do some shopping online and then organize what she’s collected into looks to present.
Then fitting days are where rubber meets road for a stylist. The client comes in with their management team or their assistants and begins trying on the selections she’s picked out for their approval.
“We take pictures of everything and start ‘yes,’ ‘no’ and ‘maybe’ piles,” she says. And the no pile is almost always bigger than the yes and maybe piles. “Then we do another document of pictures and circulate it around for everyone to weigh in.”
While that document is making its rounds, Amber revisits the boutiques and web sites where she found the looks in the first place, making returns, looking for replacement items and shipping items back to online retailers.
“Once we’ve edited out the things we’re definitely not going to use, we send everything back,” she says. It’s a labor-intensive process, to say the least.
Another of her days is awards show day. She’s backstage, sewing kit at hand, to make last-minute adjustments and to fix problems that arise – and there are always adjustments to make and problems to fix.
“We had a CMA Awards where we had everything that could possibly go wrong go wrong,” Amber says, recounting the story of an hour in which a disaster averted began with a see-through dress.
“We realized very quickly that the client, well, she needed some unmentionables that we simply didn’t have,” she says. “That’s when we realized another artist’s tuxedo pants were unhemmed and one sleeve of his tux jacket was sewn completely backwards. It was unwearable.”
She and her assistants – she’s worked with her sister-in-law, Beth, and Carrie, who was actually Amber’s first paid gig as a stylist, back when Carrie was an aspiring singer-songwriter. Between them, they solved the problems, fixed the tux, found a camisole, and got the clients camera-ready.
“Needless to say, no one was the wiser, and I had a big, fat glass of wine at the end of that day,” she says. “That’s the job.”
If this lifestyle sounds a little bit chaotic, it is. Amber and her crew live at the fringes of a hectic swirl of chaos, and from the entropy of that chaos they seize a little bit of order, give just a touch of peace of mind and help create the effortless beauty we fans recognize and love.