Monday, April 11, 2016

Unusual Occupations - Image Consultant

I -  Image consultant


It was the early nineties.  The liberalization of the Indian economy that was kicked off in 1992 had opened up the flood gates for the world to come and invest in India.  It also enabled India and Indians to showcase themselves and their offerings to the world. 

 Almost a decade earlier a middle-aged, middle-class man had taken a bold step along with a bunch of his friends and quit his job as a software programmer and founded a company.  Riding the wave of liberalization in the years to come the company would grow leaps and bounds and exponentially expand to establish their presence the world over. It became the darling of the Indian stock market and its share price movements would determine the sentiment of the SENSEX, the Indian equivalent of Dow-Jones.  

Despite the riches, the middle-aged, middle-class man like many others of his clan was way too deeply rooted in his ethos and was as some of his peers put it 'irritatingly modest'.  Flamboyance, style, expensive clothes. parties, publicity were alien to the culture he grew up in. Short, cockeyed and dressed in the most basic of  clothes he could easily pass off for the middle-aged uncle that was constantly portrayed as the stereotypical South Indian ’mama’- uncle.    

On the other hand AP was born with a silver spoon and grew up in the family mansion in Malabar hill arguably the poshest neighbourhood in Mumbai. A well-heeled man, he was a toast in the social parties and counted amongst the who’s who in the social circuits of Mumbai.  He was an advertising professional. At that point in his career, to his credit were a couple of advertisements that he made for two popular brands that forty years from then on are still considered as the classics in the world of advertising.  He had the knack to pick up the very basics of Indian ethos and add the touch of glamour and virtue to it and make the character a legend unto itself. 

(For those who are still guessing here is a clue: Lalitaji - the thrifty Indian housewife was his creation)

Brokered by a marketing genius the two men happened to meet and conceived a plan. 
What happened from then on is probably undocumented business history.

It gave rise to an unusual and otherwise unknown occupation in India called Image consulting. 

AP did not alter any of the fundamentals. He just made the ‘middle class mama’ look very virtuous and glamorous.  The fact that his multi-millionaire client still lived with his wife and children in a three bedroom apartment in a middle class neighbourhood were not a result of miserliness but out of sense of thriftiness coming out of a man who remained rooted in his humble upbringing. 

It made the headlines and cover pages of international magazines. 

The fact that his wife had to pawn her jewellery to kick-start her husband’s start-up was portrayed in such a way that it was idealized by the young men and wannabe entrepreneurs of an entire generation to come.

On the outward appearance the shirts and trousers that he normally wore were progressively altered to the latest style. The jackets became better cut, the shirt sleeves started peeping out slightly from the end of his jacket, though his trousers still ride high on his waist as before.

Wherever the middle aged uncle went and spoke, it made newspaper headlines the next day.  Any news, good or bad, success or failure, trivial or otherwise found press and television coverage. The fact that he washed his own plate, and still bathed with a bucket of water like most middle class Indians were public information despite the fact that it could have remained completely private.  

All thanks to the Image consultant who gave it all an adorable spin to enhance his client’s image.    

 It made the south India’s conservative, orthodox middle class very popular.  Popular, in a serious idealistic sense. The world began to take notice of them and take them seriously. A far cry from the comical stereotype portrayed in mainstream Bollywood. 

Even after he stepped down from his position as the CEO and founder of this marquee Indian software company his image as that idealistic middle class visionary is a brand unto itself.

The credit for which goes to his image consultant who through many years of intervention, coaching and prescription worked with his client to create that enduring image as a brand. 

Image consulting as an occupation has grown, transformed, matured and commercialized over the many years since then. All Image consultants do not necessarily cater to the up and coming who’s who in the business world. 

Young men and women who have had a rustic upbringing are suddenly flocking to Image consultants who help them with their wardrobe, go shopping for them, train them on dinner etiquettes, help them to deftly handle the fork and knife at the dinner table, learn the difference between liqueur glasses and sherry glasses, ingest a sense of style in their clothing and accessories, help them with neutralizing their accents which are heavily influenced by their mother tongue,  market themselves to their clients, co-workers and even would be matrimonial prospects without really altering the basic essence of who they are.

Today I have with me a guest blogger – Bhanu Khaturia who followed her heart and is carving a niche for herself as an up and coming image consultant.

Bhanu - over to you  


Image consulting, as fancy as it sounds, is not just about external appearances. And it is not just for movie stars and beauty contest aspirants although a majority of them do seek out Image consultants.  It is about instilling a sense of style, brand recall, confidence and acceptance of who you are and bring out the strengths in a more presentable way to a global audience.              

Born to a father who ran a cosmetics manufacturing company and a mother who was a beautician, I and my sisters grew up in a family that helped others groom their external appearances in a boom town Bangalore which was still to become the large cosmopolitan mega polis in a couple of decades from then. (Back in those days when I was still a toddler, Lalitaji, AP’s creation was a legendary household name and trust me I did not know the man behind Lalitaji  until very recently.) 

Right from a young age I displayed a knack of helping my sisters and cousins choose their clothes, conceptualize their new hairdo and create a wardrobe that would help them define their own style. I still do continue to do but now to the all the extended family’s members and a whole host of friends.  

At college I carved a niche for myself as a DJ and was soon seen compering many events. It was not later until I joined the corporate world as a learning and development professional that I obsessively felt the need to instill a sense of style and refinement in some globetrotting software professionals who in my eyes looked like unpolished diamonds. On the face of it, I would actually wonder if anyone ever took them seriously. But then apparently they did, Otherwise they would not be such sought after consultants, who with their hefty billing rates helped their organization reap massive profits.   

When I was flipping the pages of Times of India one morning, I found an advertisement that mentioned 'Image Consulting'. I found it very fancy but had clearly no idea what it entailed. I chose to ignore it for some time but the word stuck in my mind. A few weeks from then on, I got a call from a close friend of mine and she happened to mention Image consulting in the course of a conversation.  And so, I decided to find out more about it.

Little did I fathom that I would one day carve out an occupation from what came to me as second nature.
Changes in the world around me, the rapidly changing demographics and cultural contours of Bangalore propelled me into the career.

Bangalore like most south Indian small towns was a quaint sleepy town with a strong sense of culture and heritage associated with it.  About a century earlier it had seduced the British to set up base owing to its ‘England-like’ weather.  Half a century later the socialistic idealism led by Nehru found in Bangalore a perfect place to launch the finest of institutions that would propel cutting edge scientific research for the country. 

By early 2000 it was a city that had bred a strong intellectual middle class with a scientific bent of mind rooted in Indian tradition, waiting to take on the world. A few of them went on to found world class companies and set up base in Bangalore.  By the year 2015, an entire generation of middle class youth from all over the traditional, conservative and orthodox parts of southern India found themselves doing extremely well in what became the silicon valley of the east.

My father migrated to Bangalore to set up business from the north of India.  Out there people place a premium on external appearances and grooming which is a stark contrast to what is expected out of a person in the south. Having had the ‘family’ advantage and an understanding of both the cultures, I, while working as a learning and development professional in various multinational companies found my calling.

Not able to overcome my obsessive itch, I boldly approached a well-respected senior in my office and volunteered to be their image consultant. The change was very noticeable within a few weeks. One thing lead to another and soon I found myself being approached by many others who felt the need for grooming.  Grooming was not just about a change of wardrobe.

It was about many small things like striking small talk with strangers before the start of an audio conference, sending a thank you note, opening the door for a lady to walk in, using a napkin to wipe your mouth while in a fine dining restaurant, about explaining India's cultural nuances to foreigners without overwhelming them. It was all about communication and acquiring the inner confidence required to communicate.

It all came naturally to me but I felt I lacked credibility to be coaching them. It was then that I enrolled into a formal course by the Institute of image consulting (ICBI).

It was an amazing journey to find all the rationale behind our choices of the image we like to portray through our clothes, colors, jewelry etc.

I formally qualified as an image consultant. I had the experts from the industry training me on various concepts. Very soon I learnt that image consulting is a need in various sectors. It can be creatively applied in various job roles. It is overall an  internal and external change that gives a person a new image which is authentic to him or her.

From a house-wife to the CEO of a multinational firm anyone can do with a structured and authentic intervention in the form of an image consultant. Some need it for refining their exterior image, some for getting etiquette ready, some for understanding their own wardrobe, some for better shopping experience, some for better communication skills, some for being more presentable, some for being a better public speaker, some to get a press and media coverage to be taken seriously or for brand recall. The list goes on and is evolving manifold as we speak.

It is a step by step process which every individual goes through that makes it easier for them to transform. Each of this process is personalized to the individual’s needs. We concentrate on understanding the individual personal style, life style etc. The process also focuses heavily on color analysis, body shape analysis, Wardrobe analysis etc. It is then extended to train the individual on various communication aspects and Etiquette ready sessions. Sometime it culminates in me being a personal shopper, which is the bit I love the most! 

It indeed is an overwhelming experience to see people going through a change to bring out the best in themselves. It’s even more gratifying for me when I realize that I am a part of this change.

More often than not I work with people who are very accomplished in their respective fields. Sometimes it can be very intimidating for the image consultant and some of our clients can pose serious challenges because they are mentally closed to new experiences.  Unless the person is willing, I normally shy away from taking up assignments.

At this point in my life, I still have a foothold as a learning and development professional and hold a conventional 'nine to five' job with a consulting firm.  

However I am passionate about Image consulting and somewhere in the future plan to carve a niche for myself and strike out on my own as an image consultant. I have ambitious plans of refining the occupation of image consulting and bringing it to every middle class professional and housewife alike.


  1. It sounds like a very interesting career! Yay for following your passion, Bhanu :)

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    The Multicolored Diary

  2. who else better than me can understand what Image consulting can do.. Can bring about real change...)

  3. Shruti Chaudhary1:50 AM

    Way to go Bhanu !!


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