Personal stylists are no longer just for the rich and famous; well-heeled professionals are also willing to pay for style advice.
Charu Nirula was a top performer in the multinational for which she worked, so good with clients that she could always be counted on to win the pitch. Even so, her boss was uneasy. Charu, who had to travel overseas quite frequently, wasn’t a great dresser and in the company’s line of business, appearance mattered almost as much as ability.
The solution was found in a personal stylist — someone who could advise Charu on what to wear, how to avoid wardrobe disasters and so on.
Till recently, clientele for personal stylists in India was mostly restricted to movie stars and celebrities. Now, the demand is expanding: anyone from aspiring corporate professionals to CEOs and their spouses can hire them.
"You simply need the inclination and a fair budget," says Delhi-based stylist Ajay Bisht, a veteran stylist for leading magazines and apparel brands. The "fair budget" can range between Rs 10,000 and "as many zeros as you care to add," said another stylist on condition of anonymity. Some stylists have a minimum budget below which they will not sign on clients.
Much of the new demand is emerging from people like Nirula, professionals who represent global brand names and need to look the part. "Today’s need is all about style and substance. It is a dog-eat-dog world in which opinions are formed even before words are exchanged. In short, appearances speak volumes, so it is vital to be presentable to create a good first impression," say Shazia Aggarwal and Divisha Maroli, proprietors of a Mumbai-based style consultancy Revive My Vibe.
The entry barriers for the personal styling business aren’t high. Anyone with flair and good taste can become a personal stylist. Aggarwal and Maroli, for instance, conceived of their company in a coffee shop and it was set up to turn their passion for styling and shopping into a career.
Hina Oomer-Ahmed, another Mumbai-based personal stylist who has a Bachelor’s degree in international relations and has done an image consulting course from Fashion Institute, New York, says you don’t need a formal degree to be a good personal stylist. "There is a ‘good look’ everywhere — on the small and big screen, in magazines and all around you. And people always emulate stylish people. So, stylists must have a strong aesthetic sense and the confidence to tell clients what would look good on them," she says.
Delhi’s Geeta Khanna, who set up stylists’ agency Hirumchi Styling Company two years ago, stipulates a National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) diploma as a minimum qualification for stylists who work for her either on the rolls or on a freelance basis.
Sayali Angachekar, a freelancer stylist based in Mumbai and a NIFT graduate, charges on the basis of client budgets since customers often ask for simple advice on what to wear and so on but may not want to sign up a personal stylist. Angachekar is a personal stylist to Hindustani classical fusion music maestro Abhijeet Pohankar’s brand of apparel from the album Piya Bavari.
Revive My Vibe charges on the basis of the services the client chooses. The stylists offer three services — style consultation (deciding the "look" the client wants), "wardrobe detox" (eliminating ill-fitting and outdated garments and identifying the clothing that will fit in with the look), followed by a personal shopping trip.
For most other establishments, the charges vary significantly — a client may be charged per shopping trip, per day, per look, per hour or simply a lump sum.
"We get all kinds of requests," says Hirumchi’s Khanna. "Once, the managing director of a top company requested us to shop for his wife and daughter because he could not take time out from his work trip to Delhi."
Hirumchi also advises high-profile housewives, such as ministers’ wives.
Personal styling isn’t, however, yet the big-ticket business it is in the West where agencies like the UK-based TopStylista and Los Angeles-based Crystal Agency thrive on advising rich housewives and politicians’ spouses. That is why Hirumchi also has clients like publishing houses and magazines for which the company does exclusive shoots.
Oomer-Ahmed also does a certain amount of event management and image consulting for consumer companies and media houses. "The Indian market has not opened up as much as it should and being just a personal stylist may not be commercially viable yet," she says.