Jackie O’Fee

"Fifteen years ago when I launched Signature Style there were two other “Image Consultants” listed in the Auckland Yellow Pages. Now, if you google “Personal Stylist Auckland” there are more than 100 results. That in itself speaks to just how rapid the growth has been in my sector of the fashion industry. Admittedly, there’s a fairly low barrier to entry and many of those listed are simply working part-time with their ‘love of fashion’ but no training, muddying the waters for those of us who take what we do more seriously.

While our Kiwi fashion industry has grown and developed, my branch of it has enjoyed being taken more seriously, too. I can recall in the early days not being allowed to put garments aside in one store where I was told it was “because we might sell it”. I remember thinking, “But I most likely will sell it to my client” (by way of explanation I usually put things aside in the hour before I meet my client – not days prior).  Now, there’s often a host of business cards attached to garments on the holds rack and numerous stores reward our clients by offering ‘stylist only’ discounts of up to 20%.  Although many stores call their staff ‘stylists’ some now actually recommend our services to their customers.

The growth in my industry can really be attributed to the growing public awareness that the way you wear a garment has an impact on how you look (and yes, we really do have Trinny & Susannah and Gok Wan to thank for that). I also believe that as our fashion industry has grown up and diversified, so too has the New Zealand public’s perception of it. Our fashion information now comes from so many sources beyond our kiwi borders and we now expect so much more from our local stores, and faster, too. We are personally more discerning, and want what works for ‘me’ and ‘my lifestyle’, not simply what a designer or magazine might describe as this seasons ‘must have’.

What’s key for me is what will look best on my client. That means that if your colour palette this season isn’t going to suit her colouring, we won’t be trying it on, much less buying it. As a personal stylist, I can often pick at the beginning of a season which pieces will be languishing on the sale rack at the end of it. That piece that may be referenced straight from a European runway won’t sell if it makes a woman feel stupid or look fat.

I suspect that because we work at a retail level, personal stylists are still seen as being on the fringes of the industry. Perhaps the scale in which Personal Stylists are able to affect your sales is smaller than that the mass exposure of a magazine or website, however in a multi-channel, fragmented market our endorsement of your product is valuable. Each of our clients has friends and colleagues that see them in your garments, and I can’t count the number of times a client will tell me “I’ve never been in here” when we enter your store. We are a gateway to commercial success and no matter how pure your fashion ethos, it makes sense to ensure we are aware of what you are doing - the bottom line is you want to sell your product, and we are a conduit to do that for you."