Saturday, April 19, 2008

A Conversation with Elaine Armstrong, Visual Strategist

Since spring is all about new beginnings and fresh starts, I thought that this month I would feature a conversation with someone whose purpose is to bring clients a fresh perspective on their look, Visual Strategist, Elaine Armstrong.

ANTONIO: First off, could you give a quick explanation of what Visual Strategy is, and why it is important?

ELAINE ARMSTRONG: In our everyday lives we create strategies for all facets of our lives; our career, our money, etc. A strategy gives you an advantage in that it is a clear path for what you need to do to get results. One area that people often neglect or don’t understand is the importance of their own visual strategy, their outward appearance that the world sees. In a split second of exposure, this forms people’s perceptions of who we are and where we are in our lives.

ANT: Can you give me an example of how the “strategy” part comes into play?

EA: Let’s say you are in upper management and you are moving jobs from a very corporate environment (business suits everyday) to one that is less rigid. The strategy here is to communicate that you are still to be taken seriously, yet fit in with the new company’s more laid back culture.

ANT: How would you go about helping that client out?

EA: First, I would do an assessment of her current wardrobe. Even though it may consist of “serious business attire”, there still may be items that can be put into the new mix. Let’s face it, there are certain classic pieces like an Armani or Chanel jacket can be worked into any wardrobe! I am a big believer in shopping in your closet first, then filling in the gaps.

The key would be to combine new separates in interesting ways that soften the look to create a new style while still communicating authority. I am a big proponent of the odd ball piece. Be it a shoe, bag or jewelry, instant style can be achieved by incorporating one into your wardrobe. Ditching the oversize, drab black office bag and investing in one that has color or an interesting texture like patent or skin, instantly communicates that you have some style and aren’t afraid to take risks.

FURLA “CARMEN” Bag in silver embossed leather (pic)

You would use this bag as if it were your new “black” carry-all bag. Bags, shoes and jewelry are always good style bets, because no matter what the scale says, they always fit! And, if you make a mistake with a shoe, it’s just a shoe. But, that’s why I am here so you won’t make any mistakes!

ANT: So true! If you could name 3 things that women need in their wardrobes, what would they be?

EA: 1. A classic collared, fitted white shirt. I know that this one has been said many times before, but truly, a great white shirt can be the starting off point for many an outfit. You can wear it on its own, as a jacket over a dress or shell, belted, under a jacket, etc. The key is to find the correct collar size and cut for your figure. Some of my favorite resources for great white blouses are Anne Fontaine, Brooks Brothers and Theory.

THEORY Classic blouse.

2. A black pencil skirt or pair of black tailored trousers. Whether you are a skirt or a pants girl, the importance here is to have a “foundation” garment that you can build on. I prefer black but it could most certainly be any dark solid color that can be built upon to create a wardrobe.

3. The oddball piece. It is worth repeating. As I mentioned before, you can create/express individual style by choosing that bag, shoe or accessory that is surprising or unexpected.

ANT: Can you tell me how your process works? How do people get started with you?

EA: When I first meet a new client, we define what the objectives are, or what is it that individual hopes to achieve by our engagement. For example, perhaps the goal is to project a more serious image at work, or maybe the client is feeling as if they are in a style “rut”. These are all things that we would talk about first.

The second step is to do an assessment of what the client already owns. Literally digging in those closets to see what can be utilized and what should BE PURGED!!! (Yes, I am talking about items you haven’t worn in 5 years and you know who you are!) From whatever remains (and in some cases it may not be very much!) we identify what are the crucial items that need to be added to create their new style.

The third step is to go shopping. I do this either with the client, or I shop and then bring it all to them to try on. I tend to like the second way better, because I find that when people go into stores and see items on display, they immediately make a judgment as to whether or not they would wear something, which makes it more difficult to get them to try something new. When the item is removed from the context of the store display, I think clients have an easier time with trying something new. (Cuts down on the “Oh, I could never wear that!)

The last step in the process is to put it all together so the client can understand how it’s supposed to be worn, etc. Sometimes I will even take digital pictures of the outfits as a reference for the client to make things easier. My goal is to leave you with clothing and accessories that translate into your new personal style.

ANT: What do you think people’s biggest mistakes are when it comes to fashion?

EA: Bad fitting clothing and really bad undergarments!

ANT: Can you tell me what your clientele is like?

EA: I have a varied clientele, both women and men. They are all at different levels professionally and financially. I tailor my process to their specific needs.

ANT: And lastly, how would you describe your style?

EA: Minimally mismatched! I do try to combine textures and patterns when I dress, but I do always ground it in some way, utilizing a relatively classic piece as a foundation.

ANT: How can people get in touch with you?

EA: They can email me at or through your contact information on this blog.