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Designing Women: Sunee LaClaire

April 25, 2013

Sunee LaClaire


Interview by Elizabeth Heywood

The arrival of cherry blossoms and farmers’ markets means we can  look forward to shedding our ‘sleeping bag’ coats and delving into our spring wardrobes. In honor of this  annual pop of color and pattern onto our cityscape, Damsels sat down with image and lifestyle consultant Sunee LaClaire. Having recently been living Hong Kong where she had been running her own consultancy business, Sunee is back in the States and helping clients as a partner at Fit Valet. Find out more about Sunee on her blog, Thoughts on Style, her business site La Claire Styles, and be sure to check out her Etsy store where she’s started selling her handmade accessories.

The more I’ve been thinking about stylists, the more I realize I don’t actually know that much about the profession! Could you please explain a little more about what you do? How does being stylish differ from being on trend?

What a great question! The first thing I should explain is that I am trained as an Image Consultant, which differs from a personal stylist in a couple of important ways. My job is to make men and women feel fantastic by giving them confidence by knowing that they look their best. I am also trained in teaching etiquette and well as presentation skills. Personal styling is generally more of a one off that is less involved with the personality of the individual. The focus is to ensure that the client looks good for a particular event as opposed to training them how to shop and choose appropriate items for their shape.

Being stylish is for most of us vastly different from being on trend because by their very nature, trends only look good on a rather small percentage of the population. While it suits some people’s personalities to follow trends, that is not true for most of us. In general, we each have styles that suit our specific body shapes and personalities. We can always tweek that look in small ways to make it up to date or more on-trend but trying to always fit into trends simply doesn’t work for most people.

You had been a teacher before making the switch over to being a stylist. At what point did you realize that the time was ripe for a career change?

Actually I was a teacher for thirteen years! In truth, I knew it was time for a change when I started waking up every work day dreading what the day was to bring. It’s not a nice feeling to realize that you no longer enjoy what used to be your passion. So I decided to explore another passion of mine, style.

Fringe Benefits

 

I love helping people and that is a big part of what I do. Seeing someone walk away from a consultation with a new sense of confidence and a great big smile really makes my day. Plus I get to make money shopping and I LOVE to shop.

What inspired you to move to Hong Kong to start your own business?

I decided to use my Masters Degree in Education as a way to travel the world. There is a rather large community of International schools who are looking to hire well-qualified teachers in all corners of the earth. I landed my first overseas job in Shanghai in 2004. After 2 years there, I was offered a position in Hong Kong. I loved living there and when it came time for me to change careers, I decided to stay in Hong Kong since it is a very entrepreneur friendly city.

How have your travels influenced your sense of style?

All of my experiences have influenced my style, however the last 8 years in Asia have allowed me to embrace a little more spunk in my personal style. I also really love some traditional elements of Chinese style and I own many mandarin collar dresses. In addition, Hong Kong has a large haberdashery district where you can buy anything you might like to create your own clothing and accessories. I love making things so naturally I was there often buying supplies to make accessories. Oh and it’s very inexpensive to have your clothing tailor made in China so that I got to become a designer of my very own wardrobe. I’ll miss that the most!

Back to basics

What are the most difficult and more rewarding parts of being a stylist? 

To begin with the positive, I love helping people. I have a gift of being able to put things together easily and my clients love it when I can pull a look that they might never have dreamt of. And I really like discovering new designers.

I think that the most difficult part right now is convincing people of the value of the services that personal stylists provide. I often meet people who ask me right away how they should change their style. I’m always polite when that happens but part of me wants to say, “I get paid more than $100 hour for that advice. I’m not giving it away to you for free!” Anyone who provides a service can understand this. When what you are selling is your time and expertise, you have to make sure you value it appropriately.

If you could go back in time to when you started your career and give yourself advice, what would that be?

When I first launched Immaginare Limited in Hong Kong in 2009, I thought I could do everything on my own. I can’t. I’ve learned that lesson the hard way so now that I have relocated to New York, I’m definitely going to find other people to work with or hire to help me rebuild my company and network.

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