Style with substance: How personal stylists can help others to look their best

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The Independent Online

How often have you gone to a job interview in an uncomfortable stuffy suit, wondering how to get across to your interviewer that you are also a seasoned traveller and man of the world? Or maybe you've bought a stunning brown dress on a whim and got home to realise all your shoes are black?

Personal stylist Natalia Colman has the answer. She describes the wardrobe as the "strategic dressing-up box". Based in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, Colman defines her role as someone who "works with individuals to help them create the look that's right for them". This, she explains, "means helping them consider their lifestyle and what their professional and personal goals are and creating a wardrobe that helps them achieve this".

Colman also works with e-tailer Business Wardrobe, styling photoshoots and writing their blog. She also works with universities helping final-year student to create their business wardrobes. Surprisingly enough, Colman's job is quite literary. "I do a lot of writing at the moment," she says. "It's essential for marketing my business. As well as Business Wardrobe, I write my own blog and do postings on Twitter every morning and I am also writing a book about dressing for work." Later in her day, Colman will have personal shopping or wardrobe appointments with clients.

For Colman's part, the best aspect of her job is "helping people look the way they want to look. It transforms their character when they wear the right clothes. Working with clothes and jewellery all day long is a big plus. I'm a little girl at heart and love imagining, creating and playing."

But it's not all How To Look Good Naked and fairy outfits: "Trying to find a constant stream of clients can be hard," she says, "while I love to concentrate on styling, I have to juggle this with bringing in new business and – worst of all – doing my accounts..."

To become a stylist, Colman says you need to get a lot of training and do a lot of reading and research. Then add your own flavour to everything you do, she says. Break rules, challenge ideas. "People want to work with someone original not someone trotting out rules and textbook theory," she says. It's also important to listen to the client. "They are all unique and they do often have their own answers. You just need to ask them the right questions. You're just the catalyst to help them create the image they want."

Sarah Gilfillan runs Sartoria Lab, her own menswear personal styling and shopping company in East Dulwich, London. Like Colman, her role is to advise clients (mainly men who don't have the time or inclination) on getting the most from their wardrobe and dressing to suit their colouring, body-shape, personality and lifestyle.

On a typical day, Gilfillan will go to a client's home to do a styling session. This entails everything from analysing which colours suit them best, which shapes flatter them to which glasses to wear. "I might do a wardrobe edit," she says, " discarding things that don't suit them, creating new outfits with the things they have and writing a shopping list for missing items."

She might take the client on a shopping trip to select items based on what they've learnt. "My aim is to guide them out of their comfort zones and into a new look so they feel like an enhanced version of themselves," she says.

You don't need formal qualifications to be a stylist but there are courses that can help you. London College of Fashion runs a two-year foundation degree in fashion styling and photography and brand development agency Aston and Hayes runs training courses for new and established image consultants.

Gilfillan's advice to wannabe stylists is to "do a course in colour analysis and style analysis. I think it's beneficial to have credentials to back you up and you are able to explain to clients why some items work better than others."

And practice. "Practice on your friends and family, have a great knowledge of the brands and what's in the shops for all shapes, sizes and ages."

You've got the look

Aston and Hayes

www.aston-hayes.com

Natalia Colman

www.stylespecialists.co.uk

Sarah Gilfillan

www.sartorialab.co.uk

London College of Fashion

www.fashion.arts.ac.uk

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