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Boutique Offers Help When Your Look Wears Out : Customers can get image overhauls focusing on everything from lipstick shades to the right type of panty hose.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Even before one walks in the door of Image Works in Irvine, there are signs that this is no ordinary clothing boutique.

The shop is on the bottom floor of a bank building, not in one of Orange County’s many shopping malls, and it’s closed on weekends. For most other clothing stores, the hours and location would be suicide.

While drop-in customers are welcome at Image Works, the boutique’s emphasis is on one-on-one consultations. The boutique offers head-to-toe make-overs--complete image overhauls that focus on everything from the shade of one’s lipstick to the right type of panty hose.

“We do a lot of listening and we push (our clients) a little bit,” says Cecilia Goodman, co-owner of Image Works. “I can’t tell you how many times people have said, ‘I would have never tried that on.’ Change is difficult.”

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There are no mirrors in the boutique’s dressing rooms because the consultants want to see how customers look in the clothes--a policy that makes some glad they don’t sell bathing suits. While most salespeople gush over whatever outfit a customer tries on, Image Works consultants give candid appraisals.

“We’re pretty direct. We’ll tell you how something looks,” says Sandi Clark, Goodman’s partner. They once had to tell a customer she was wearing a loose-fitting jumpsuit upside down. They’ll also offer tips on how an outfit should be worn and what accessories would look best.

“We’ll even recommend the hose and what color shoes to buy,” says Clark, although shoes are not carried in the store.

Getting customers to change their looks often requires some coaxing.

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“Women get stuck in the image that first worked for them,” Clark says. One client had six of the same suits because she liked the style.

“I said ‘Susan, you’re paying a fortune for your clothes and everyone’s wondering why you always wear the same old thing.’ ”

Unsure of how to choose colors, women tend to stick with neutrals such as white, gray, beige and black, making it “much more difficult to make a statement,” Clark says.

“We call it the baked-potato look. All she wears is beige. The danger is you can fade into the woodwork.”

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Clark and Goodman favor strong colors to add flair to a wardrobe. Clark, for instance, pulls an emerald green suit by Jones New York that has a single-button blazer and slim skirt. Someone with a less practiced eye would choose a white or cream blouse to match the suit.

Not Clark.

She selects a deep purple blouse then adds a belt of green and purple braided cord to tie the outfit together. For a dressier look, she switches the purple blouse with a gold Lurex tank top.

Fashions and accessories at Image Works reflect the owners’ personal taste. Colors are vivid and the styles are fashion-forward.

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“We don’t have things that are very traditional in line or style,” Clark says.

Among the recent offerings: a cream-colored satin blouse with a bow embroidered on a black satin collar for $170, Lurex tank tops in silver, gold or a deep copper for $78, and gold stretch pants for $140.

They also carried a fun line of sportswear by Platinum called the Las Vegas group, featuring a top with a black-and-white printed gambling motif with dice dangling from an asymmetric hemline, and pedal pushers, pants and blazers all adorned with buttons shaped like hearts, clubs, diamonds and spades.

Accessories included a pair of glitzy beaded earrings with dangling dice or a pair of heart-shaped dangles made from actual playing cards.

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“We try to find things not carried everywhere,” Goodman says.

The consultants are big on big earrings. Many button-style pairs have large jewels or clusters of rhinestones, some with beaded dangles that detach with Velcro. Thanks to Goodman’s encouragement, one woman went from wearing dainty pearl studs to bold dangle earrings that gave her more presence.

Changing one’s image involves more than changing clothes.

“Some women say, ‘Oh I can’t wear that.’ But they could if they made other changes,” Goodman says.

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The consultants have devised a nine-hour “Total Look” program that covers makeup, hair, an accessories workshop in which clients bring in favorite outfits, color analysis, style and line in clothing and a home visit to coordinate clients’ existing wardrobe. Cost of the program is $395.

Before-and-after photographs of program graduates on the walls of the boutique best illustrate the results: One woman went from wearing a pale mauve-colored suit with a short jacket and long flared skirt that accentuated her middle to a straight cobalt blue leather skirt that showed off her legs, a purple sweater and long, slenderizing purple jacket.

To complete the transformation, the consultants helped her change her makeup and update her hair style.

Image make-overs usually begin with a instrument called a spectrophotometer that measures clients’ skin color and tone with scientific precision.

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“It told me my skin was 4.4. yellow-red with a value of 7.3 and a chroma of 7.9,” Clark says. The numbers describe the color family of the skin and whether it’s light or dark (value) and bright or dull (chroma).

“It’s a color fingerprint,” she says.

Customers check their numbers against a book of 200 color samples to find makeup and clothes that will balance their skin.

“It does the same thing with hair, whether it’s natural or what we call ‘assisted color,’ ” Clark says.

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For the two former schoolteachers, instructing clients on hair, makeup and wardrobe comes naturally. They began their business 12 years ago as color consultants, using their experience as researchers to develop their color analysis system.

“We read everything and questioned everything,” Clark says.

Over time they devised their complete image program and later added the clothing boutique because customers wanted clothes to match their new images. They also hold dressing seminars and serve as image consultants to Orange County businesses.


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