The Principles of Good Packaging
Working with an image consultant can help you save time and stay ahead of the latest fashion trends. Here’s how.
Men’s clothes are all over the bed —
not strewn, but carefully arranged
by color and fabric into a series of
smart combinations. Their owner is standing in
front of his closet, staring at a tie that he has
just acknowledged is not a winner.
And still the woman standing with him is not
satisfied. She says she needs him to understand
why the tie doesn’t work. The man hedges,
but soon agrees with her explanation: the tie
The discussion is bitter medicine, but it’s also
just what the man bargained for. The clothes, tie
included, belong to Chicago attorney and real
estate agent Jeff Kropp, who has hired image
consultant Robin Walker to help him reinvent his
wardrobe. Consultants like Walker see clothing
as a means to create an image for their clients.
“I just apply the principles of good packaging.
It’s just branding a particular person,” Walker
says. “Anything well packaged is half sold.”
Keeping Up With the Latest
The image consulting industry encompasses
training in etiquette and communication skills in
addition to wardrobe and style advice. Clothing
is the anchor component, because it’s an easy
external tool that can make a dramatic difference,
says Karen Brunger, international president
of the Des Moines, Ia.-based Association
of Image Consultants International (AICI). The
AICI certifies members through exams and
peer review; the idea is to convey that image
consulting isn’t based just on opinion.
Walker travels to Italy twice a year for fashion
trade shows and follows the advice of the
Color Association in New York. She’s a certified
AICI member. And for jet-setting clients
who travel extensively or keep second homes,
she keeps tabs on local fashion trends in
places ranging from Aspen, Colo. to Moscow,
Russia. She also keeps track of which articles
of clothing are kept at clients’ various residences, so she can recommend the perfect ensemble for a
When her clients are dressing for a big meeting or state
dinner, Walker feels as invested as her clients. It’s her version
of the red carpet scrutiny at the Oscars. But she doesn’t get
to attend the events, so she relies on feedback. The big payoff
comes through compliments, like when former president Bill
Clinton remarked on one of her client’s shirts.
Creating a Personal “Brand”
The key to coming up with the right look is applying timeless
style principles to the needs and body type of a particular client,
then drawing on the latest fashions from New York and Milan
as appropriate. By combining an exhaustive knowledge of the
trends coming to market with an emphasis on staple colors and
styles that help define a client’s fashion “brand” over time, image
consultants have an advantage over personal shoppers.
Image consultants can charge anywhere from $80 per hour
for an inexperienced consultant up to several hundred for the
top executive consultants, according to Brunger. Walker’s rate is
$225 per hour. “People pay for honesty,” says Walker. “It’s ‘Don’t
hold back: why isn’t this going the way I want it to?’” Some
clients ask her for more detail than others, though, such as the
fashion trend behind a color choice, or the reasons she chooses
certain fabrics or patterns. Walker hosts a monthly conference
call where guest speakers discuss image and style. But for the
majority of her clientele, it’s the results that matter. “All they
want to know is that it’s a new season, new clothes are
coming and they will be in your closet in three weeks.”
And it’s all confidential: her discussions with clients stay,
well, in the closet.
Walker is fairly gentle in her critique of Kropp’s wardrobe.
She pulls out a couple of shirts she likes, then waves toward a
section of shirts that won’t make the cut. “You’ve transcended
some of the things in your closet,” she says.
She lays out some ground rules based on Kropp’s body type,
complexion and career: she’ll start him on a basic diet of three
colors, charcoal, blue and khaki, with cordovan accessories. He
should always wear at least three layers, and he should wear
collared shirts, because the angles will complement his round
face. “When you’ve got a lot of curve, it comes across as
soft,” says Walker. “Friendly, but not powerful.”
Here are some tips to help you dress like you’re already
under the tutelage of a professional image consultant:
- Be consistent. “People don’t need 15 wardrobes,” says
Chicago image consultant Robin Walker. “You want to nail
down some colors to form a backbone for your wardrobe.
It’s very inconsistent to have a huge range of colors.
People want to know what they’re getting from you.”
- Pay attention to fabric and cut. “Many people sabotage
themselves at the quality level,” says Karen
Brunger, international president of Image Consultants
Association International (AICI.org) and director of the
International Image Institute (imageinstitute.com).
“Higher quality fabric has a more refined look, and
when you put it with the right cut, it just makes the body
look good. It’s not so much the brand name, but the right
fabric and workmanship. You can get a really amazing
image that way.”
- Have a goal. Walker says she can quickly put an outfit
together for any occasion, from a dinner party in Dubai
to a shareholder meeting. But shopping for deals or for
stuff that’s “cool” isn’t her style.
“This is boggling my mind a little bit,” says Kropp. He likens
the makeover to a Web site redesign, and says he only has a
couple of seconds to make a strong first impression. At the
end of the initial session with Walker, he’s ready to entrust
her with bringing him some core pieces like shirts, pants
and a sport coat to build a wardrobe around. She’ll have them
custom-made, so the second meeting with Kropp will involve
a detailed set of measurements.
Walker says, “It doesn’t matter to me where the clothes
come from. The point is that my clients need them, and
custom is the easiest way to get it in and have it be exactly
what they need it to be.”
The good news is that Kropp already owns some charcoal
and khaki pants, as well as several blue shirts — a few of
which stand up to Walker’s scrutiny. Still, there’s a lot to be
done, and Kropp turns a little melancholy at the thought of
retiring so much of his wardrobe. He reminds himself that
he’s doing this to enhance his image. Walker just smiles:
“As soon as he puts on some of the stuff we talked about
and somebody gives him a compliment, it’ll be a whole