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Wardrobe Stylist Hopes to Dress With Greater Success

December 05, 1999|SUSAN VAUGHN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Don't get Michele Gampel wrong. She loves being a wardrobe stylist. After all, how many American women would spurn the opportunity to earn as much as $1,200 a day shopping at Barneys, Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdale's?

Gampel concedes that styling is almost a dream job. Her bookings take her to Hollywood movie sets for promotional shoots and gorgeous outdoor settings for commercial work. She hobnobs with movers and shakers. Her research consists of poring through the world's top fashion magazines and consulting with leading designers' reps.

But there's a money problem. Only a handful of top stylists earn more than $150,000 a year. Most freelancers such as Gampel scramble from job to job for a third of that figure. Pay is unpredictable. Health insurance and retirement benefits aren't among the profession's glitzy perks.

To supplement her income, the fortysomething West Hills resident has been teaching at the Make-Up Designory in Toluca Lake and at the Learning Annex. Still, she said, she's not making enough to support herself and her two boys, Jared, 11, and Landon, 7.

So Gampel is mulling other options. Should she start a business? Venture into other fields? How can she markedly increase her income and benefits?

For help, she consulted counselor Paul Tieger, author of "Do What You Are: Discover the Perfect Career for You Through the Secrets of Personality Type" (Little Brown & Co., 1995).

"I absolutely love my work and being around the creative energy," she told Tieger. "It's in my blood. But when I walk away from this at the end of my career, what will I have to live on other than memories?"

Tieger analyzed Gampel's personality type. He told her that she was an "ESFP" (extrovert, sensor, feeler, perceiver) who thrives in stimulating, unpredictable, high-energy social settings. Because of this, she'd profit more from expanding her current job functions than from striking out in a new vocation. "We've got to get you into a much larger arena," Tieger said.

Gampel was eager to learn how she could attract new clients and raise her professional profile.

Assisted by a bevy of experts, Tieger had these suggestions to help Gampel transform herself into "Michele Gampel Inc."--a highly visible, intelligently marketed commodity. If she could become the Jake Steinfeld of styling, the Martha Stewart of wardrobe wizardry, Gampel could significantly increase her income, the experts said.

* Diversify. Gampel should consider venturing into TV and film costuming, suggested costume designer Erica Phillips ("Cable Guy," "Total Recall" and "Robocop"). Gampel restricts her styling stints mainly to print ad and commercial jobs. But TV and film work would offer longer assignments and union benefits.

TV costume designers earn $1,500 to $3,000 a week. Their counterparts in feature film earn more than $3,000. Because Gampel doesn't want to leave her sons for extended out-of-town assignments, she could focus efforts on trying to land costuming jobs with sitcom productions, said designer Michelle Cole, a four-time Emmy nominee.

Sitcom work usually has shorter hours and is conducted at local sites, Cole said.

"She can get up to speed quickly by hiring seasoned costume supervisors who'll assist her with the nuts and bolts of the business," Phillips said. "That's what other stylists who've entered the business before her have done."

* Tap new markets. Celebrities aren't the only ones who can benefit from a wardrobe stylist's wizardry, said Anthony Mora, a West Los Angeles-based media relations expert. He suggests that Gampel consider two new avenues: working as a "corporate stylist" for high-paying business clients and becoming a wardrobe guru who could reveal fashion secrets of the stars to laypeople.

Gampel could perhaps give styling consultations to trial attorneys, after determining the looks that judges, lawyers and juries find most persuasive. She might help wardrobe-challenged buccaneers in the high-tech world dress appropriately. And she could teach salespeople how to dress for success.

Gampel might create a packaged product consisting of a book, workbook, audiotapes or videocassettes that teach step-by-step professional styling techniques. She could market the product through infomercials, catalogs and on the Web. Gampel also could offer consultations by mail or on the Internet, where, for a fee, she could evaluate clients' looks from photographs and offer suggestions for enhancement.

* Go national or, better yet, international. "High visibility can generate increased income, power and privilege," says Irving Rein, professor of communications at Northwestern University and co-author of "High Visibility: The Making and Marketing of Professionals into Celebrities" (NTC Business Books, 1997). Rein said that during image-building campaigns--in which unknowns shoot to fame through media manipulation--professionals must successfully sell themselves as products.

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