September 27, 2011

Suits you, madam!

A client tries on an item of clothing suggested by a personal shopper. (CFP)

Seasonal Color Theory is applied in image consulting services. (CFP)

In a vast metropolis like Shanghai, shoppers can easily feel overwhelmed by the sheer variety of options on offer when it comes to buying clothes, makeup and accessories。
And it was precisely for this reason that the personal shopper came into being. Popular in the West for a couple of decades now, their Shanghai counterparts are noticeably younger, and yet have developed their own unique styles.
Color theory
Li Yingying established her Inin Color Studio on Guiping Road in Xuhui district some nine years ago, based on the Seasonal Color Theory by the American colorist Carole Jackson. "My job as a personal shopper is like a bridge which combines the inner beauty of a person and the exquisite works of fashion designers," Li told the Global Times。
The Seasonal Color Theory divides all the colors into four categories according to their brightness and purity, and names each category after a season. The theory is so popular in the fashion industry that Liu Jihui, the founder of Shanghai Qixin Color Consulting Inc, another company with a personal shopping service, also adopts it as her working "bible."
After 10 years in the business, and a successful cooperation with Colour Me Beautiful in the UK, Liu has come up with an Asian version of the Seasonal Color Theory which she applies to every aspect of her work. Each client is tested by putting a color card next to their face according to the color of their skin. Depending on which category their skin tone suits best, clothes, makeup and accessories matching these colors are deemed best for them. The personal shoppers also ask the clients about their preferences in order to combine these colors with a person's own style.
According to Li from Inin studio, personal shoppers are equipped with special knowledge because they are so familiar with the shopping malls in the downtown city. This makes it easy for them to find suitable clothes and accessories for clients relatively quickly and within budget limits. "We take what fits the client and his or her dressing habits into account," said Li. "Our shopping service costs 5,000 yuan ($777) for a six-hour consulting course in the studio," said Li. She added that clients then pay between 300 to 400 yuan an hour to actually go shopping with a personal shopper。
To make clients more willing to accept the choices made by personal shoppers, Li says they use some psychological methods to help "dig out the sense of beauty and confidence in the clients," in her own words. She makes use of hypnotism and Tarot readings to help clients "get a deep understanding of themselves and gain more confidence." "I have to make sure that they are ready for a makeover," said Li. "Winning trust is always my first step."
Zhang Yiqing, general manager of Qixin Color Consulting does not worry about her clients' willingness to wear suggested clothes since all her clients "have demanded that their look be improved." "So they all have a certain idea of what we do beforehand and trust us," said Zhang。
The personal shoppers at Qixin aim to improve the style and appearance of clients for specific events, such as job interviews, weddings and formal evening dinners. They charge about 1,000 yuan for a three-to-four-hour personal shopping service in downtown Shanghai. A shopping tour with a professional shopper outside Shanghai (in Shenzhen or Hong Kong, for example) will cost between 5,000 yuan and 10,000 yuan for three to four hours. However, male clients are charged even more than this as Zhang explains that "matching and mixing for men is more delicate and there are a comparatively small number of designs for men."
Mix and match
At Inin, staff also take pictures of their clients while giving mix and match advice. "Blind spots exist when people try clothes on, especially on the back," Li said. "That's why we take photos so clients can get an overall view of how the clothes hang. Usually our clients purchase so many clothes and accessories that they get lost in trying to match them," Li added。
So, at the end of a shopping session, clients sit down with shoppers to go through all of their purchases in trying to help match them. The shoppers take photos of ideal matches which the clients can refer to the next time they are looking for a suitable outfit。
With a client base of both genders of various ages, the studio deals with many Chinese overseas returnees, "who pay a lot of attention to the way they look," according to Li。
As for concerns about the qualifications of the shoppers, Qixin admits that most of the employees do not have degrees in fashion design, but have received in-house training, as have the shoppers in Inin。
Xuanxuan Image Center on Yuyuan Road has an even longer history of 11 years and has maintained its "pocket size" staff of only two personal shoppers who have lots of experience. Hu Zhaolei, one of the personal shoppers, refers to her job as "a necessary service."
According to Hu, there is no standardized method for carrying out personal shopping. "Some of our clients have such a tight schedule that they can only afford one day a season to go shopping," she said. "So that means we have to be highly efficient in the time we have."