Thursday, 24 November 2011

Tale of a Frustrated Creative!! ~ Interview with Styling Consultant Lisa Gillbe

Photo: Lisa Gillbe, Corporate Stylist.

Would you like to tell us a little of your background and why you decided to become a personal stylist?

The reason I went into styling is because I was a frustrated creative! I spent years working in finance and banking including investment banking. I worked with finance in media and enjoyed the creative side of it, eventually coming to the realisation that I am essentially a creative person.

I have always been involved with vintage clothing and used to make my own clothes, curtains and blinds; being obsessed with interiors! I was working at Coutts bank as a member of the charity investment team when I had my first child and found the job too demanding to fit in with the priorities of my new lifestyle. It was clearly time for a change.

How did you go about making such a phenomenal change?

Luck played its hand. Whilst I was expecting my second son I was offered voluntary redundancy. The redundancy payment was generous enabling me to follow my creative interests by doing a course at the London College of Fashion where I studied the principals of styling. I absolutely loved it and knew that I had done the right thing as it fulfilled my passion or more accurately ‘obsession’ for fashion! My friends were very interested in my self styling so I decided to set up professionally. I pursued this by going to an image consultancy business in Holland Park who train corporate image consultants and signed up for a very intensive course. I learnt how to be a colour analyst so that I can tell people what skin tone they are and advise as to which colours they should wear. I followed this with additional training as a style analysist for women which involved learning to match cuts, colours and styles with the different body shapes. My next moves were to find a web designer and design my logo so I could develop my brand. I settled on using my name and based the logo around black, white and gold, featuring lace which is feminine and eye-catching. This proved challenging and it took 3 attempts to find a designer who understood my vision for the brand.

Were you based at home?
No, I was working from an office in Putney where I was able to network and styled 5 people before I really launched. One of these contacts introduced me to a company who train high achieving people, including politicians, in the true art of public speaking. I am now working as their Image Consultant which helps to enhance their service.

Do you have links with hair dressers and make-up artists?
Yes, I have found an excellent make-up artist and am looking for a free-lance hairdresser who understands my vision for the client. Eventually I would like to extend my business and be able to offer a complete bridal service.

How are you finding it setting up a business in the recession?

It is quite difficult in these times to find clients because having a stylist is seen as a luxury. That is why I am trying to make inroads into companies with the possibility of developing group contracts and maybe group sessions. I went to a ‘women in business’ meeting at the Chamber of Commerce which was attended by women such as barristers and lawyers, my target market. They are high flyers who like to look good but often are not interested in fashion or don’t have the time to shop so want somebody to sort it out for them.

How long does it take to re-style someone and can you outline the steps?
 First we do a telephone questionnaire which takes about an hour.
 Secondly I go to their house and undertake the colour and style check... 2 hours.
 Thirdly, the wardrobe re-vamp which is where I bring my rail and put all of the client’s clothes on it, analyze everything and remove all unsuitable clothing.
 Next I plan to utilize what people have and identify gaps in the wardrobe to give them a more functional and usually classic wardrobe
 Now I can create the shopping list
 With the list prepared I go back to the client and also use the comprehensive notes identifying their style and requirements to ensure I am meeting their requirements.
 Finally we go for our personal shopping session of between 2-6 hours.

Can you describe how you go about re-styling someone?

I will go to their house and do a full style, colour and body analysis. I look at their shape, scale, body proportions and then their colouring. I use a series of seasonal coloured drapes to work out their true colouring and usually people resemble one season. Occasionally people resemble two seasons if they have a strong personality, which needs to be taken into account. I look through their wardrobe and establish their tastes, patterns and ‘Ruts’ as many people buy the same thing constantly. I build up a picture and try to get to know the person and what makes them tick as people dress in very different ways. Some people like to look natural with little make up and an easy hairstyle so I would keep them looking natural and not dress them in tight pencil skirts and high heels for instance.

How would you handle somebody who likes to look natural if you have to style them for a red carpet event?

Firstly they have to accept that they need to dress up for such an event and can’t go in their jeans! I would go for a simple, classic outfit and keep the heels to a minimum so that they would feel well dressed and comfortable. I would not put them in an outfit that is screaming for publicity and attention. Usually a classic dresser will have a well organised wardrobe and wear matching things whereas a creative person is more likely to be disorganised and wear unusual combinations. They might border on the eccentric and want to show this, so I dress people in a professional way that reflects their style and personality. Some people who approach me need to raise their game at work whereas others have a specific area they wish to address such as ‘smart casual.’ It is quite varied and complicated, skills needed being ; getting on with people at all levels, understanding how people tick and how to relate to them, understanding their interest and what makes them comfortable and having a passion for fashion. My aim is to dress people in a way that makes them look authentic and not just put them in the latest trends, such as ‘Harem Trousers,’ if they are not comfortable as this makes them into a fashion victim.

Could you give an interesting example pertaining to the wardrobe re-vamp?
I was re-styling a city party girl the other day who used to work in an advertising agency and was extremely glamorous. Since then she had a baby, put on 2 stone, became a garden designer and subsequently shed the extra weight. Her entire life changed within 3 years yet she had held on to her entire wardrobe having beautiful dresses and high heels that bore no relation to her current lifestyle. People tend to hoard so we went through everything giving reasons as to suitability. We worked out what she needed now rather than before and removed the un-necessary items.

Do you experience much resistance from people when you suggest removing their favourite dresses etc?
No surprisingly I don’t. There are things we all hold onto and just need someone who is objective to come in and help sort it out. If you haven’t worn it for 18 months you probably don’t need it and it’s a waste of space. It’s actually therapeutic and once done you can start afresh however you do need time and money to invest in this. I did have a young TV producer as a client, very high up in the BBC, who worked 20 hours a day, 6 days a week. She would just pop into shops and buy something, pop it in the wardrobe but never wear it, so she had about 40% of her clothing still with tags on! We gave a lot of clothes to charity shops but the designer clothes I sold through my boutique. I often sell busy customer’s clothes through my on-line boutique and give them 40%. Wherever possible I try to utilise further the clothes that people already have in their wardrobe. People naturally tend to go for things that suit them so I will try to style these; for example I will say, ’if you buy 2 scarves, 1 belt and a pair of wedgies you will get 6 more outfits from this to make your money go further.’ Ideally I like them to go shopping with me afterwards.

Could you run us through the actual shopping experience?

Yes, recently I had a client who I took to Selfridges. I arrived 2 hours before my client and went in the personal shopping suites on the second floor, collected a rail and went round while the staff collected the items I requested and brought them to the room. Her brief was; 2 new suits for work and an outfit for a business trip. I gathered the suits, put them on the rail and ordered the client a coffee up to the room so by the time she arrived it was all ready. It’s rather like being in a plush hotel. The client tried on the clothes and bought almost everything on the rail.
How much do you need to invest in your end of the market?

I would say to build a classic functioning wardrobe you ultimately need to invest between £1,500-£3000, which can be done over time. It is seasonal, so right now you would usually need a good winter coat, some good suites for work, nice shoes, great blouses and trousers and of course an attractive party outfit.

What do you regard as your personal approach to this business?

Definitely the key thing for me is making people look and feel authentic so they really understand where their style personality is. The advice I give is life-long advice to help people look their best now and in the future. It’s sound advice that suits their lifestyle. By comparison TV styling predominantly plays to the camera. For example, I saw a mother of 4 dressed in a white rain coat when she spends a lot of time taking the children and her dog to the park which is far from ideal! Clearly no thought went into it whereas I ask for personal details about how their week pans out to make sure that the clothes will be functional. The clothes have to work well and work hard for them because they are investing money in it.

As a final word I would say that ultimately you will need time and money to invest in personal styling because this is a premium service.

Interview by: Jaz McKenzie

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