California native Monica Rose started off working in a mall near her hometown. Now, the 35-year-old mom of two is one of the most influential stylists in Hollywood: Her clients (Kendall and Kylie Jenner, Khloe and Kourtney Kardashian, Gigi Hadid, Chrissy Teigen, Cindy Crawford and her daughter Kaia Gerber, Chanel Iman, among others) have more than 223 million Instagram followers combined. Rose herself has 1.1 million, but it was a long way to the top.
“I never knew I wanted to be a stylist,” she tells PeopleStyle after being photographed at her L.A. studio for a feature in this week’s PEOPLE issue, on newsstands now. “I grew up in a small town so I didn’t know anything about fashion.” But while working for nearly ten years in retail (including a stint at a Northern California mall), she fell in love with putting together looks: “I loved the one-on-one experience of working with clients,” she says.
It wasn’t until she moved to Los Angeles in 2001 that she discovered that there was even such thing as a stylist. “[Stylists] would come into the boutique I worked at, and I thought, ‘Wow this is something I can see myself doing,'” she says. “I was trying to really tap into their energy and finding out what it is that they did. I didn’t know how you got started in the business. I had no idea and I was so scared to even ask a stylist if they needed help assisting. People didn’t talk about it. People didn’t know celebrities had stylists.”
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It took years to carve out her niche in the business. “When I decided to start styling, I didn’t know what a showroom was,” she admits. “I had no idea that you had to work off of seasons. There was so much that I had no idea about. So everything I learned, I learned on my own. I had to learn fast, I had to learn about editorials, I had to learn about stories, I had to learn about lighting.” After gaining experience doing editorial photo shoots and assisting more experienced stylists, she scored a gig for Complex magazine in 2007. That’s where she met Kim Kardashian.
“We met on the shoot and we hit it off,” she says. “She was just so sweet. We reconnected a year later when they were filming the show [Keeping Up With the Kardashians] and ended up working together on everything she had going on. The show had just launched so she was really busy with a lot of press and a lot of photo shoots so I came in to work with her. She introduced me to her family and we’ve been working together ever since.”
Rose worked out of a small studio at her home for years, and recently had to upgrade to a bigger space of her own. Now, she keeps a rack of clothes for each of her clients at her studio, she says. “I do fittings here but I mostly go to my clients houses,” she explains. “It’s nice to have a creative space as a home base.”
These days, “the amount of emails is really hard to keep up with,” she says. “I had to get a couple separate email [accounts] just because it was getting a little too overwhelming. In a day, I get about 4,000 emails and we have about four or five fittings a day.”
And designers are clamoring to get her clients in their pieces. “Sometimes we get up to fifteen packages a day,” she says. “I have a team of five girls and we’re constantly running around to stores and showrooms and trying to get as much clothing as possible. For the most part we get a lot of messenger services that drop off from different designers.”
In dressing some of the most visible women on the face of the earth, she’s also put herself out there. “Do I feel pressure? Absolutely. I’m so hard on myself and I’m probably my worst critic,” she says. “Sometimes I’m hard on myself in terms of finding new designers and trying to evolve my clients’ fashion.”
“Fittings are always stressful,” she says. “Even though I’ve worked with my clients for many years, I still want to make sure that I bring the best of the best. I think there’s a lot of pressure on me, especially now with all eyes on me for major red carpets. I try to just block that out and do me and focus and make sure that my client is happy. It always works out.”
Each star has a slightly different personal style, but they all trust Rose’s judgement. “They’re all pretty open,” she says. “I know there are times when I’m into something and my client isn’t, and I’m like please just try this on for me and they’re like ‘Fine, for you.’ And it either works and it’s amazing or we end up laughing about it. I think it’s important to be able to gain that trust from your client. I don’t have a client that is opinionated. They’re just open which I love.”
When she sends clients abroad for multiple appearances (like Kendall Jenner’s recent trip to the Cannes Film Festival), she keeps tabs on their looks via FaceTime and text. “I feel like a mother checking on her child. ‘Is everything okay? Just making sure!’ And it all works out in the end.”
Despite the fact that her clients are photographed daily in Rose’s work (and post their looks on social media to their millions of followers), she doesn’t take all the credit for their style influence. “I don’t think of myself as a trendsetter,” she says. “Obviously the girls that I work with have such strong followings and so many young fans that look up to them. It’s crazy the impact these girls have.”
Rather, she considers it her mission to promote up-and-coming talent in the fashion industry. “My goal is always to work with new and emerging designers,” she says. “It’s a great thing to help out new designers by having my clients wear [their pieces] and look cool and effortless.”
Now that she’s helped her clients shape their own personal brand images, Rose is looking to expand her own.
“I’ve really surprised myself with how far I’ve come in this business. I’ve never been the type of person who has planned my life out, like, ‘In five years I’m going to be this big stylist,’ but I always set small goals for myself,” she says. “I think now it’s important for me to take on new projects, like maybe a clothing line. Who knows? There are so many different things I want to tap into that have been brought to my attention. I just love my roster, I love my clientele and I have a lot of exciting things coming up. I don’t see where I’m going to be in five years and I don’t think I want to know but I’m excited to see.”
For more of our exclusive interview with Monica Rose, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now.
–Reporting by Aili Nahas