updated 10 Jul 2011, 21:45
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Mon, Dec 28, 2009
Urban, The Straits Times
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Dare to change
by Rohaizatul Azhar

There is no lack of image consultants in Singapore who dish out advice on personal grooming, conduct etiquette seminars and flash colour charts that tell which hue is right for you.

These days, though, some are remaking the image business by offering unusual services.

These include organising shopping trips to Darwin, Australia, doling out advice on nutrition and even coaching celebrity wannabes.

Clients fork out a pretty penny for a consultation - from $120 to $450 for a one-hour session.

The image consultant industry is a fast-growing one, especially in Asia. The Asian chapter of the United States-based Association of Image Consultants International (AICI) started with 17 members in 2007 and now has about 100 members.

Hiring an image consultant, however, is still something of a novelty for the average Singaporean.

Consultants such as Joshua Luke, 33, assistant director and chief consultant of Signature Image International, notes that while his company holds courses for the public, they are not that popular.

The bulk of his clients come from the corporate sector and most are sent by their employers.

Still, 'people are always looking to change', says image doyenne Christina Ong, 50, managing consultant of Imageworks Asia which she founded in 1995. She has seen many successful professionals who are not so successful in the dating arena.

Says the founder and president of the AICI South Asia Singapore Chapter: 'Many get so caught up with climbing the corporate ladder that they don't have the time to date. So they come to us to help them change and get back into the market.'

However, she shudders at being labelled a 'date doctor'. 'An image consultant is more of a life coach and is not concerned about just your image. She is the catalyst for the change you need.'


Christina Liang, 36, founder, Communications 360

Envy celebrities who strut the red carpet with poise and style? You, too, can learn to carry yourself with confidence, says Liang.

'Many Singaporeans don't know how to carry themselves properly. They are shy and often don't know what to say in certain situations.'

To address this, the mother of one, who used to run her own public relations firm, has developed what she calls 'celebrity star coaching'.

She set up Communications 360 three months ago and charges $120 for a 45-minute session. This includes a makeover and training in social etiquette, speech and presentation skills.

Coaching is tailored to meet her clients' needs, she says.

Media coaching is a series of assessments she devised to help clients deal with media attention. These include mock interviews as well as how to walk the red carpet and pose for cameras.

Liang, who has coached many Singapore socialites and Malaysian royalty on how to dress and carry themselves at interviews and public appearances, is quick to add that she is not a celebrity agent.

'I would only guide you in the direction of becoming a star. The rest is entirely up to you.'

She concedes that not everyone is destined for the limelight. For instance, she once had a client who desperately wanted to be an actress but lacked talent.

Instead of sending her away, Liang redirected her focus and capitalised on her bubbly personality. The woman eventually found work in a public relations firm.

Even if you do not harbour dreams of stardom, celebrity coaching can still come in useful, says Liang.

'It will help you develop a set of communication skills and the confidence to land your dream job.'

Tips to shine in the limelight

# Before a media interview, always do background research and work out a script with your coach.

Keep your answers short and to the point.

# Communicating fluently and professionally can take you places. Correct pronunciation is key.

# Being positive and confident without seeming arrogant is a skill everyone should learn. One way to do this is to think positive thoughts, stay calm and be generous with your smiles.

# Contrary to popular belief, good eye contact is made by looking at just above the other person's eyes and not directly into their eyes. This prevents you from staring too intensely at the other party and making him or her uncomfortable.

# Know what camera angle works best for you. Experiment with a digital camera first so that you can see the results of each pose.

The classic pose is to tilt your body at an angle such that one foot is in front of the other and one shoulder is closer to the camera than the other. This will make you appear slimmer and taller.

Singer Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas, a regular of red carpet events, makes use of the shoulder pose to achieve the slimming effect.


Jo Clary Maughan, 36, founder, F3 Image Consultants

In hard times, shopping in fashion capitals such as London, Paris and New York could seem a tad indulgent. Enter Maughan, a firm believer that you do not have to travel far for chic clothes that fit.

The Singapore-based Canadian has hit upon offering shopping trips Down Under.

She is organising personal shopping trips next month and in March to lesser-known Darwin, northern Australia, which is under five hours away by flight.

A former model with Elite Model Japan, she later trained and groomed newbies who wanted to crack the Japanese modelling scene. She started her own image consultant company in 2003 and about 60 per cent of her clients are expatriates based here.

'They lament that it's hard to find clothes that fit. When you're size 18, finding trendy clothes that fit is close to impossible in Singapore unless you have them tailor-made.'

Darwin, where sizes go up to 30, has a climate that is similar to Singapore's - wet and humid - so the choice of clothes there is appropriate for the weather here.

Maughan promises that her clients will be able to find fashionable and chic outfits for under A$100 (S$129), not to mention the perfect ball gown for under A$300. A five-day shopping trip costs slightly under $2,500 per person.

Tips on shopping smart

# If you are not sure of a coloured item, hold it across your body right under your face and look in the mirror. If the colour overpowers you, drop it.

# To conceal large hips, opt for styles that are straight cut with a slight A-line or a gored skirt. The latter has vertical panels which create a slimming effect. Avoid wide A-line, ruffled hemlines.

# Beware of pleats which add bulk and weight, especially if you have large hips. However, pleats on top will make your bust look larger.

# Choose the right prints. Prints the size of your palm or larger can add bulk if you are short. Choose small- to medium-sized prints instead. Swirly prints and circular patterns also make you appear bigger. Bear in mind that round equals pounds.


Aileen Lane, 35, founder of Nutri-Style

A new you is not just about changing your clothes but also about leading a healthy lifestyle and having a balanced diet.

That is according to this Irish image consultant and trained nutritionist.

The fit-looking mum of a nine-month-old son says: 'It is when you eat right and lead a healthy lifestyle that you will feel good about yourself. Only then can clothes help you complete the transformation.'

Lane set up Nutri-Style here in 2003 after working nine years for a local food and bio-technology company.

Trained in biotechnology in her hometown of Dublin and armed with a post-graduate diploma in diet and nutrition, she has always been interested in promoting a healthy lifestyle.

The 10-week, $1,700 weight-loss programme she offers through her six-year-old consultancy involves regular exercise and sticking to a balanced diet.

Clients keep an online daily diary of their food intake, which she tracks. She then discusses their progress at weekly one-on-one sessions.

While she is not a personal trainer, she offers exercise tips. Her programme guarantees weight loss of up to 10kg.

Lane, who follows the regimen herself, has lost about 12kg since giving birth in March.

Her clients, more than half of whom are expatriates, include new mothers as well as male clients who are undergoing major life and career changes.

Tips for a better figure

# Drink at least two litres of water each day to flush out the by-products of fat breakdown. Sometimes, thirst is mistaken for hunger pangs. Try drinking water before your regular meals and see if it helps to cut down on your food intake.

# Besides improving your general fitness level, exercising for 40 minutes five times a week also boosts your metabolism to maximise weight loss.

# Do not skip breakfast. Research shows that people who have breakfast consume fewer calories overall.

# Limit meat and dairy in your diet as they are high in calories and full of hormones and preservatives. Instead, opt for a wide variety of vegetables in different colours. These natural pigments contain phytochemicals, beneficial plant compounds which are said to reduce the risk of cancer.

# Log your food and calorie intake and stick to a calorie intake that will allow you to lose or maintain your current weight. To lose 500g in a week, one needs to cut about 500 calories each day.

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This article was first published in Urban, The Straits Times.

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