Suits you, madam

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The Independent Culture
The chance of a whole new look, put together by professionals? Yes please, said Polly Toynbee

It's everyone's secret dream: a fairy godmother will appear some day, wave a wand and transform your workaday self into something infinitely better. Suddenly, Flash! there is elegance, poise, elan and that look that says class and sophistication. So when our fashion department asked if I would be a guinea pig for just such a transformation, how could I refuse?

This Fairy Godmother is Susie Faux, founder of Wardrobe 25 years ago. She offers women consultations on a whole new look: her Cinderellas are busy women, often of a certain age, with more money than time to spend on their appearance. She creates a working woman's wardrobe from an array of designer clothes she stocks in her shop. But it isn't just clothes. It's make-up, hair by Michaeljohn in an upstairs salon, shoes, handbags, tights, the Full Monty, accompanied by worldly wise advice and tips. "Who tells women what they should do, how they should look, shows them how to wear make-up and jewellery, discusses what suits them?" she asks rhetorically. No-one, of course, except her. And she does it with such mesmerising charm and panache that you believe every word she says.

It was a Monday morning and I arrived in a hurry, not looking my best - a mistake, I realised within moments of stepping into the calm hush of the chic Conduit Street store. Over a calming cup of coffee Susie Faux looked me over, in the nicest possible way. None of it would do, from top to toe. "Never, never wear a long skirt again", she said as I mentally ran through the row of them in my wardrobe at home. She said it's a mistake all middle-aged women make, climbing into the respectable security of the long cover-up. They're mumsie and clumpy so stick with short skirts or trousers.

"Be a bit sexy!" she exhorts, and gives me an uplifting talk on how women today are at least 10 years younger than they used to be, and should dress younger. I murmer a general concern about mutton and lamb and she throws her hands in the air. "Nonsense!" She won't have any of it, herself a beautifully crisp-looking fifty-something. Tight, but exquisitely cut clothes are the answer, not baggy loose things.

Her other theme also concerns age. We get stuck in old eras - the same old bob haircut, the black eye-liner, styles that date you. So my hair was cut, with orders to keep it firmly off the face and behind the ears. I lost those comforting corners you can hide behind, that probably owe something to early Cilla and Mary Quant. Laurent Derame, her hairdresser upstairs, shook his head. My hair was, well, sort of green, he said. "You need ze warmth, ze gold", so I got gold and blonde streaks.

She explains the art of a good wardrobe, the sort of perfection many aspire to, few achieve. Just a very few perfectly made, perfectly co-ordinated garments is "all" you need. Again I thought glumly of my own wardrobe - a great many indeterminate and dubious garments came to mind. Throwing things out is the key, she said. Chuck it out. Then spend, say, pounds 1,500- pounds 2,000 a season on just a few perfect things, look after them, cherish them, and co-ordinate everything.

She proved her point. She produced something I had never had, a little black sleeveless dress in lovely material that fitted as if it had been made for me. She showed how it worked with an evening jacket or a daytime one, perfect busy travelling wear for the high-flying woman. Then she produced a suit in the softest stone-beige herring-bone wool with wonderfully cut trousers or a short skirt to match. The jacket looked terrific with the little black dress, too. She got it absolutely right, couldn't have been better.

High-fliers, though, is the operative word. The three-piece herringbone by Kiton cost pounds 1,715. The little black dress by Piazza Sempione was pounds 499. A bright blue cashmere jacket with silk velvet collar by Kiton was pounds 1,399. These are mainly clothes you won't find anywhere else - some selected from designer collections, others from tailors Susie Faux finds in Naples. She comes from a long line of tailors and knows every pleat and fold of the trade, exactly how things should be cut, how button holes should be hand-stitched. She's not interested in labels - everyone wears Armani, and her clients aren't interested in sporting Prada handbags. They just want perfection. And they are by no means mainly the mega-rich, most earning their own, not spending wildly on their husband's Amex gold card. They are the sort of women who choose very, very carefully, budget and invest in clothes. "These are clothes for the cognoscenti" Susie says. Strictly disciplined clothes-buying means spending less in the long run, she claims. It's all an attitude of mind that goes with efficiency, organisation and demanding nothing but the best.

Did I feel better afterwards? Yes. Susie is a great encourager. I may never, ever, be one of those perfectly disciplined organised women - but I could try a bit harder. So I dug out the short skirts I had abandoned. I gloomed over the jewellery she said wouldn't do - no short necklaces, (make your neck look short), no big earrings and only a large man's watch to make your wrist look more delicate. High heels (painful), short coat, (haven't got one, long is so much handier) - and think a little bit sexy! Well, maybe occasionally, on a good hair day.

Wardrobe, Sfera House, 42 Conduit St, London W1 R9FB. 0171-494-1131.

A consultation with Susie Faux costs pounds 200, however the consultation fee is deducted from any purchases made. A haircut with Laurent from Michaeljohn costs pounds 65.

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