Winchester stylist to the stars Donna McCulloch

Donna says her key skills are not to focus on where a client is going wrong, but to help them unders

Donna says her key skills are not to focus on where a client is going wrong, but to help them understand what suits them @cookiesncandies/ - Credit: @cookiesncandies/

Looking good is feeling good discovers Rebecca Fletcher when she met Winchester’s stylist to the stars, Donna McCulloch

From her early days advising friends on what to wear to a dream job styling celebrities for events, fashion has been a lifelong love affair for Winchester-based stylist and fashion editor, Donna McCulloch, aka Sulky Doll. Retraining after years as a speech therapist, Donna has been on an incredible journey which has seen her styling stars from stage and screen as well as those of us mere mortals looking for a complete style overhaul or a little guidance for a special occasion.

“I hate that phrase ‘passion for fashion’ but it’s true. I was the person friends would ask when they had an event to go to. Fashion has always been a huge part of my life,” Donna shares. “It was a bit of an epiphany in my mid-thirties which kick-started it all. I lost a baby, my nanna died and I decided that life was just too short not to do what I wanted to do.”

Juggling being a mum alongside her speech therapy work, Donna enrolled at the London School of Styling with a legacy her grandmother had left her, only to find that she was the oldest person on the course.

“I was going to lectures with twenty year olds. I suppose I stood out because I turned up on time, took it seriously and really listened to the briefs we were given,” she recalls.

It was during this transition from speech therapist to stylist that she decided to rebrand using a childhood nickname, and her alter ego Sulky Doll, was born. As her styling list grew, Donna was able to take a step back from speech therapy but would often take on unpaid work as she strived to make a name for herself in an industry which tends not to favour the more mature woman.

“Whilst I thought that my age might have gone against me, it ended up playing in my favour. I truly believe in the phrase ‘Trust in the timing of your life’ because I think that if I had done this in my twenties, I might not have gone for it so hard,” Donna adds.

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Building up a client base which includes the likes of authors Viv Groskop and Clover Stroud to This Morning’s Juliet Sear, make-up artist SJ Froom, and QVC presenter and comedy duo, Scummy Mummies, Donna has worked on many editorial and advertorial shoots as well as personal styling assignments since. Sharing her daily fashion choices and styling updates on Instagram, she has styled alongside numerous industry greats and designers such as Donna Ida, founder of London’s premier denim boutique. Adding well-known British brand Jaeger to her list, she is also fashion editor for StyleNest, an online luxury fashion and lifestyle edit. A recent highlight has been landing BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing 2017’s fitness-loving actress and radio host, Gemma Atkinson and her boyfriend, Gorka Marquez, a professional dancer and choreographer on the show, whom she says are a joy to style.

However, her fashionista services are not just reserved for those in the public eye – she offers advice to men and women from all walks of life too. In fact, her regular and celebrity clients often have a lot in common she reveals.

“I often feel that styling is in many ways like therapy. You could be wearing a £300 dress but if you don’t feel good wearing it, then it won’t translate. Even my male clients have insecurities about their appearance. It’s not just about taking someone out to buy an outfit. It’s about building a rapport with that person.”

One of Donna’s key skills is not to show her clients where they are going wrong but to help them to understand what suits them, often bringing them out of their comfort zone. Challenging those who question why people need her services, her answer offers an insight into why her expertise is in such high demand.

“It isn’t about posting outfits of the day on social media. It’s understanding why someone dresses a certain way, how they want to be seen as well as how they see themselves. So much of our identity and how we portray ourselves is through image. What you wear speaks volumes,” she shares. “I want my clients to go away knowing what suits them, where to shop and how to wear an outfit. My role is to make them look the very best version of themselves. If I haven’t done that, then I haven’t done my job properly.”

It was this considerable knack for understanding her clientele’s needs that led to one of her biggest styling jobs to date last year. In a wonderful moment of synergy between past and present, 2018 saw Donna flying off to Los Angeles to the biggest red carpet event of all – the Oscars. Being asked to style the cast and crew of indie British short film, The Silent Child, was like a dream come true. The film also highlights a subject she is passionate about, telling the story of a deaf four year old who lives in a world of silence until she meets Joanne, a young social worker.

“Kat Wright, the BSL interpreter working with Maisie (who plays four year old Libby in the film), got talking to an old colleague of mine and mentioned they were off to the Oscars. It turned out that they were buying their outfits on the high street and my friend said, ‘You need Donna,’” laughs the lady herself. “It couldn’t have been a more perfect project for me. It was as if the universe had merged my careers into one.”

As she giggles about the panic of arriving in Beverley Hills with nothing to wear and only the nominee’s outfits – her suitcase had been lost in transit - it’s not hard to see why she is so popular with clients. Her skill is in making them feel at ease.

With The Silent Child winning an Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film, Donna’s styling career has been catapulted further into the limelight and it looks as if there’s no stopping this Sulky Doll.

“Life’s too short,” she smiles. “When we look good, we feel good. It’s all about that for me.”

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