DELHI -- Namita Mehta, a doctor in Delhi, wanted a new look to beat the onset of a midlife crisis. She wasn’t looking for a makeover, which would last a day or a week, but rather a more permanent way of reinventing herself –- “inside and out.”
“It’s not about just looking good or dressing like a model. It’s more than that,” she said.
Mehta, 45, was surprised to learn that her rather dreamy-sounding desire actually had a practical manifestation. Instead of heading to a beauty parlor, Mehta knocked on the door of image consultant Vibha Ravee.
Ravee is a pioneer of an emerging trend in Delhi: enhancing images. In 2009, the 45-year-old entrepreneur launched an image consulting firm to make people look good, speak well and exude confidence.
The logic behind the venture was simple. As India’s forays into the global economic stage increased, and big cities were rapidly transforming, more people would want to look trendy and sophisticated as well as feel self-assured in their modern workplaces and hangouts.
Ravee’s hunch was right. Bosses want their employees to be stylishly turned out especially when meeting with international clients. Professionals of different ages and varying fields hope to look more polished. And many women like Mehta just want to feel good about themselves when they step into public life everyday.
“This is not about dressing for a party one evening,” said Ravee. “It’s about the whole package. We work with the client to select the wardrobe, accessories and the makeup that suits them. It's all put together to bring out their personality in the best way.”
Ravee’s firm offers services like color analysis, which involves advice on what color clothing complements one’s skin tone, body analysis to figure what type of clothes accentuate one’s assets and training in etiquette to be comfortable in different professional and casual settings.
Besides direct consultations with her clients, Ravee works with a team of stylists, makeup artists and a nutritionist. “It is a sort of finishing school,” she said. “First impressions are becoming even more important in work and social life these days.”
Mehta said that her profession requires dressing simply. But she learned that even dressing simply could be stylish and inspire confidence in her patients. And feeling confident made her work better. “It feels good if the receptionist or patients say you look nice,” she said. “And that positive energy then reflects in your attitude and work.”
The doctor really liked Ravee’s approach of figuring out what worked for each person. “It’s really individualistic,” she said, pointing out that one useful tip had been that white silver jewelry suited her more that oxidized accessories. Another takeaway, Mehta said, was that closed collars didn’t suit her petite build. "It made me look stockier," she said.
Besides clothes and accessories, Mehta said that she learned the impact of good body language. “You see so many people walking around with their bags clutched to their bodies. But someone walking with their hands relaxed to the sides gives a better impression," she said.
Along with individual clients, Ravee is approached by multinational companies and high-end domestic companies based in Delhi and surrounding satellite cities like Gurgaon and Noida to polish up their employees as well.
It’s difficult, however, to assess just how widespread the image-consulting business is at the moment. The Image Consulting Business Institute, based in Delhi and Mumbai, which trains and helps image consultants to establish their businesses, lists about 30 consultants on its websites.
“Image consulting is reported to be one of the fastest growing businesses in today’s service economy as per consumer trend lists and business books,” its website notes.
Soma Sundaram, head of the Image Consulting Business Institute in Delhi, noted that around 30 people had trained to become consultants three years ago . "Now we have about 100 plus who have finished or are pursuing the program," he said.
While her clients have grown since 2009, Ravee describes image consulting as still being a more “push” than a “pull” venture at the moment. The problem, she explained, is that the concept of image consulting is quite novel in India. But people, especially women, are really taking to the idea after they discover what it is. “So the market is there but people need to be drawn into it,” she said.
For Gurrit Kaur, 41, who works in the health management for a multinational diagnostics company, an enhanced image is a natural ingredient of a successful career. “I wanted to wear clothes instead of the clothes wearing me. I wanted to look good when dealing with international clients,” she said. “I wanted to stand out in the crowd.”
Kaur said that she learned how to easily transition from formal attire for a work day to a semi-formal get together with office colleagues in the evening. “Sometimes, there isn’t time to go home,” she said. “But a change of sandals or taking off or putting on a jacket or making your hair a certain way can get you ready.”
For Kaur, Ravee’s tip on how to maker better presentations has also been helpful. “I learned that it's important to maintain eye contact and holding something in your hand can channel any nervousness to the object,” she said.
Ravee noted that women are more open to try out image consulting than men. Several of her male clients, she said, had been senior executive in companies and some young men had come in to learn etiquette. “They are shy,” she said. “Men still see this through the prism of beauty and not something a man should be doing. It takes a lot of convincing that this about personality enhancement.”
On the other hand, women are trying it out for several reasons. Priya, a 28-year-old investment banker, who asked her last name not appear, said that she just wanted to “experiment” to get a better understanding of what look suited her character. “You learn small things that make a big impact on your overall personality,” she said.
Reflecting on why image enhancement is more popular with women, Gurrit said, “In India women are just waking up to the choices they have and the empowerment they can give themselves.”