Having styled more than 3,000 men and women – including high-profile business leaders, politicians and BBC TV personalities – Saigon-born image consultant and founder of Inspired Image, Huong Nguyen, shares with Ruben Luong the secrets to feeling attractive and confident. Photo by Neil Massey. (Photo copyright: Huong Nguyen)
Why do you think image is important?
In my 12 years as an image consultant, what I’ve discovered is this: image is all about communication – it’s our silent yet powerful communication tool. It influences how people feel, think and act towards us because, whether we want to or not, people are always going to make their initial assessment about us based on our appearance. And sometimes, it’s the first and only opportunity for others to shape their opinion of us. This is especially true when it comes to business: whether we’re attending an interview, networking, pitching a deal, representing our company in the media or even going on a date!
The way we look tells others about our strengths, our values and our personality, so I believe it’s crucial that our image does justice to our capabilities and our sense of self. If we look like we pay attention to ourselves, people will feel more confident about us. We’ll gain their trust.
Having an effective image also gives us more confidence. My clients often say that, post-consultation, they can fully focus on the task at hand and not be distracted by the discomfort caused by an ill-fitting garment, or the fear that their image isn’t ”good enough”.
How does making the most of our image differ from, say, being obsessed with the way we look?
Making the most of our image is completely different from being showy, or being obsessed with the way we look. It means accepting our physique – flaws and all – and making the most of what we’ve already got. It’s about choosing what’s suitable for us and making the right investment in ourselves, so that our image tells others about the real us, whilst making the most of who we are.
Who are your clients?
Men and women – from CEOs to graduates – who want to make the most of themselves. I also deliver customised workshops on professional image to organisations of all sizes.
What is each consultation with each client like? What is the process?
Each consultation is totally different because no two clients are alike, in terms of their physique, age, lifestyle, personality, job, budget and style preferences. These are the key factors that define a person’s image. So before we begin the consultation, we discuss the client’s needs and expectations, and I try to find out as much as I can about that client – everything they tell me remains confidential, by the way.
The components of the consultation vary according to the client’s needs: it could cover advice on personal style, colour combinations, hair, personal grooming, accessorising, make-up for women, a personal shopping trip or coaching on dining etiquette. My aim is to help clients look good, look stylish, look appropriate in different situations and feel confident about themselves.
What different needs, if any, do your Asian clients have?
Asian clients have particular physical characteristics. For example, Asian women tend to be more petite and they often look younger than their age, and with that comes the risk of looking underpowered, or not being taken seriously at work. Secondly, in Asian cultures, we have different attitudes towards beauty and personal grooming, which may not be understood by people from other cultures. Then there are the environmental challenges of a hot, humid climate, plus the traffic congestion and difficult modes of transport, such as motorbikes and buses. I show clients how to choose the right clothing fit and styles, hair, make-up, grooming techniques and accessories that can handle these challenges and also make them look professional in an international setting.
What lifestyle changes are common across all clients?
My clients tell me that their lives are simplified: they find it easier to choose clothes after discovering what works for them. They say that they save money as they no longer buy clothes that don’t suit them. Many clients tell me that they now own fewer clothes, but the clothes are more versatile and they enjoy their clothes much more. This saves them time getting ready each morning. They often say that they “no longer wander around the shops not knowing what to buy”. My philosophy is simplicity works and that less can be more. I’m happy that my clients seem to benefit from this approach.
How does one begin to make changes in one’s appearance?
Change can be scary, especially when we don’t know what change will give us. However, our image should evolve, just as we also evolve over time. If you feel less than happy with your image or you suspect that your image is holding you back, I would suggest that you start with one simple change: it could be updating your hair or make-up, improving your posture or investing in some new accessories. Begin with just one change and you will be surprised at how easy it is to boost your appearance and confidence.
Do you have a memorable client?
A young dentist in the UK came to see me because he wanted to make the most of his chances of success in life and to overcome his shyness. His main concern was how to look good, how to look credible, because he was fairly short. After our consultation, we went on a shopping trip and he bought several new outfits. A few months later, he wrote to tell me that he had joined several sports clubs, he had started to meet new people and that he was hardly at home watching TV anymore. A year later, he told me that he had a steady girlfriend. And now, several years on, he is the owner of a successful dental practice, happily married and a proud dad of two young daughters. He told me:
“Huong, if it wasn’t for the confidence that I’d gained from having a new image, I would still be sitting at home most nights watching TV on my own.” His before and after story really means a lot to me: making a change in our image can really transform our confidence and impact.
What’s your secret to being confident and attractive in your life?
To develop my own style so that I feel comfortable and confident. To accept and work with what I’ve already got. To choose what suits me, dress for myself, but dress thoughtfully, so I always look appropriate for different occasions. To remind myself often that life is short and I should make the most of myself in many different ways.
Is there anything you’ve learned from your clients?
I’m fortunate to have witnessed some fascinating examples of image transformation in many of my clients, and how it has dramatically improved their confidence, lives and careers. There’s a common theme amongst them: they never think it’s too early, or, indeed, too late to make improvements in themselves. They invest time and effort to learn how to make the most of themselves and they put what they learned into practice.