May 23rd, 2021, will go down in history as the day Machine Gun Kelly and Megan Fox sent me into cardiac arrest with their too hot to handle red carpet looks for the Billboard Music Awards. I’m not alone as the internet, press, and paparazzi collectively lost it over the rockstar punk couple. Which creative genius was behind MGK’s sleek deconstructed Balmain suit? Adam Ballheim who’s been styling the actor and musician for the last year. He’s a veteran in menswear with a client roster that includes Ross Butler, Luke Hemmings, Christian Slater, and of course MGK. The term “stylist” doesn’t even do justice to what Ballheim’s job entails. With a client like MGK, Ballheim curates every look from red carpets and press appearances to music videos and tour outfits. He always takes into account MGK’s lifestyle and career trajectory to make sure that an individual look fits in with a cohesive style narrative—he’s more of an image architect.
When Ballheim isn’t coordinating sultry red carpet moments with Megan Fox’s stylist Maeve Reily, he’s collaborating with designers like Ashton Michael and Dolce & Gabbana for custom MGK outfits. It sounds like a glamorous job but he’s the first to say so much of his work is about logistics—how to get a Dolce & Gabbana jersey from Milan to Los Angeles in a few days or finding pants that are seven feet long for a music video shoot in 24 hours. He solves all these problems and more in the most seamless way possible making sure clients like MGK always look on point all while making their lives a bit easier.
Below, we chat about his creative process, his favorite styling moment with MGK, that iconic BBMA’s look, and what the most rewarding part of his job is.
What made you want to pursue a career in styling?
Honestly, it was a little bit of an accident. I was going to school in New York City at NYU and one of my friends had an internship at a fashion PR house. I had this vision of myself going into politics and doing something very practical and I was like okay I’m in New York City, I’m a freshman in college let me just try this out. When I was interning for that fashion PR company, I met some stylists, I started working with them, I got an internship at Vogue, I started working with the New York Times Style Magazine, and then come graduation day I was like well all I’ve done is styling so I guess this is gonna be my life.
Who was your first client and how have you evolved as a stylist since then?
My first client that was mine alone was Christian Slater which was obviously an amazing first client to have. He’s also my longest client and we still work together to this day. I think one thing he really taught me, I was coming off of mostly working on womenswear and I didn’t have a lot of experience with menswear and it opened my eyes to that being a good niche for me to fill. It opened my eyes to okay with dudes. It’s not always about a crazy silhouette or the loudest possible thing, it’s more about textures, tailoring, and how things fit.
What is your creative process when working with a new client?
The first thing I like to do is talk to them about where their head’s at as far as what their style has been, if they’re looking to change directions, and [any] style inspiration that they have. Some dudes I talk to are like ‘oh let me show this 500 image Pinterest board I’ve put together’ and some dudes are like ‘oh you know I think Brad Pitt looks cool.’ Once we have those conversations I like to go back and make a mood board of my own, and share that with them and their team so we can start developing a vocabulary about what their style is and what direction we’re trying to take them.
How long have you been working with MGK and how did that relationship start?
Honestly, he was a godsend because my first fitting with him was about two weeks before everything shut down last March. So timing-wise it’s been over a year, I don’t even know which connection brought us together but I’d been manifesting him as a client for a couple of years. I always loved his look and style. There had been a couple of projects I think my name was mentioned and I was told it might happen [but] it fell through. Eventually, I worked with him on his press tour for Big Time Adolescence and it evolved from there.
Does your process for styling differ depending on the project? Is styling for a red carpet different from press or music video?
The short answer is yes. In a video, there’s some sort of narrative. So even though it’s MGK, Luke Hemmings, or whoever it is I’m working with, in a way they’re playing a character. So it’s understanding what that character is and how it relates to MGK. When it’s press, especially with MGK, he doesn’t want to feel like he’s some doll that got dressed up. So figuring out what [he’s] comfortable with for press and what’s going to look cool but not overdressed. Carpets [are] always fun for me because [I’m] able to focus and be like these are the runway looks that I really want and someone like MGK can really carry them in a way that I don’t think a lot of other dudes can. Recently, Colson (MGK) and I were talking and he’s leaning more into custom stuff for carpet because he doesn’t want it to feel commercial, he wants it to feel more true to him.
A lot of the events you’ve styled MGK for recently, he’s attended with girlfriend Megan Fox, and her outfit pairs perfectly with his. Do you collaborate with her stylist Maeve?
We do, that’s something that’s very important to Maeve, me, Colson, and Megan that it feels cohesive. The word iconic is overused but [it’s important] that their looks work together in an iconic way. There needs to be some sort of synergy where they work together. We’ve done it both ways where sometimes I’ve already fit with MGK for something, we have something in mind and I talk to Maeve and she works out what makes sense with Megan and we’ve done it the opposite way where this is a look that Megan really loves and what can we do on our end to find that synergy there.
How did you find that synergy for the 2021 Billboard Awards red carpet look?
View this post on Instagram
That was one where Colson and I had fit beforehand and we really liked that [Balmain] suit. It felt like something we hadn’t done before because we were doing a lot of bright and bold, crazy things. We showed that to Maeve and Maeve was like I need to find the sexiest little black dress possible and she did.
Out of all the looks you’ve done with MGK, does one stand out as a favorite for you?
View this post on Instagram
There’s a lot that I have loved but outside of the premiere for Big Time Adolescence, it was the first big carpet [look] I did with him. It was the VMA’s last year and it was the pink sleeveless Berluti suit with the blazer thrown over his shoulder. It got a ton of press, he fucking loved it, I fucking loved it. It was one of those moments where something clicked and that was still early in our relationship so it was exciting to have the positive feedback. Even though I’ve done many looks since then, maybe I liked the look more, that just as a moment felt rewarding and my favorite.
You’ve done a few custom outfits for MGK with designer Ashton Michael, how do you collaborate with a designer to create your vision?
It depends on the designer, Ashton, I, and Colson all speak the same language. I’ve gone to Ashton before and been like okay this is what we want and he’ll do the best possible version of it. We’ve done a couple of custom pieces with Dolce & Gabbana and [I’ll go] to them and [be] like this is where his head is at, these are some runway looks that I think different pieces of them could work well together and then leave it up to their design team on how to interpret that and put it together.
We had this custom [Dolce & Gabbana] jersey made for when he performed in Cleveland for the NFL draft closing, I [told] Dolce [on] Sunday what we wanted to do, their team in Milan made it Monday/Tuesday, shipped it out Tuesday night from Milan, it arrived in Los Angeles [on] Thursday at like 7 PM right before I had to leave for the airport to go to Cleveland with it. But it was done and it fit perfectly.
View this post on Instagram
What are your three essential elements for creating a standout look?
The number one most important thing is the client feels comfortable and feels like themselves. You could have the most epic look but if the client doesn’t feel comfortable or sexy, it’s not gonna work. Number two is that it follows a narrative with that client, it’s never something that feels far out of left field. If you line up all the red carpet photos of MGK or Christian Slater, it should feel like a cohesive story. Third, I’m not someone who’s super big on trends but it should fit the moment and be careful not to be repetitive of something other people have done—mindful of the trends but still unique.
What does a typical workday look like for you right now?
There is no typical workday. A lot of the brands I like are European or New York brands and I’m based in Los Angeles so I tend to wake up very early and do my initial contact with the European and NY offices. I find the mornings [better] because there are not a million emails coming in [and] I’m more creative in the morning. Since things opened up, most days I have either a shoot and a fitting or multiple fittings and it’s about balancing and figuring out timing. One thing that I don’t think people really understand about being a stylist is that it’s 95% just logistics, how to get clothes from Milan to Los Angeles in a day, how to balance your time, there is a creative component to it but so much of it is problem-solving and logistics.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
My gut instinct is to be like when you get a really great press reaction and everyone is obsessed with Colson and Megan. That is very exciting but more than that is when the client feels that excitement and usually those are tied together. It really is about making the client happy and feel [their] best. Someone like MGK, and all my clients, have so much going on. If I can show up and make that one part of their life a bit easier and better that is a reward in itself.
What advice would you give to those looking to get into the industry?
Drop your ego, if you really want to do this you’re gonna be asked to do a lot of things—work late hours, work very hard, and work on things that feel menial but are really important for the larger [picture]. Also be able to deal with setbacks, not every day, week, [or] year is going to go smoothly but you have to believe in yourself and your quality of work that eventually it’s going to pay off and work out.
Like what you saw? Here’s more:
Machine Gun Kelly on the Resurgence of Pop-Punk
Why Everyone From Future To Wiz Khalifa Wants Zac Facts Directing Their Next Video
She’s The Nail Artist Behind A$AP Rocky’s Best Manicures