"So much of what we are all about is what we see." This according to Judith Ann Graham, a professional image consultant and a member of the Association of Image Consultants International, a nonprofit organization made up of men and women who specialize in working with individuals, groups, or corporations on improving personal appearance, verbal and nonverbal communication skills, and etiquette.
On July 14 approximately 500 wardrobe, style, and color consultants, media trainers, cosmetic and skin-care specialists, teachers, authors, personal shoppers, and hairstylists from all over the world will descend on Miami for the AICI convention, the theme of which is "Mastering the Power We Possess."
The image industry, which blossomed in the early Seventies when John T. Molloy's book Dress for Success became popular, is all about creating an aura of personal power. Strict AICI tenets decree that members dedicate themselves to helping clients toward the goal of achieving a "lifetime of inner and outer confidence."
"Image is about appearance, individuality, communication, and integrity," explains the gravely serious Graham, who quickly points out that the first letters of each of those words spell out the acronym AICI. "What we do is really a combination of what makes a person look good, feel good, and what gives them the presentation skills that create confidence."
How do people become image consultants? "It starts with a mother who slaps you on the wrist the minute you pick up the wrong fork," Graham jokes. "Not really. It's an accumulated knowledge that brings one to this profession. People realize that their experience and their education support this industry."
Accrued experience and education is all good and well, but the ideal image consultant should never stop learning. That's where the yearly conventions come into play. Over four days several members-only seminars will offer tips ranging from the practical to the kooky. The convention's kick-off reception is open to the public and features guest speaker Maureen Rorech, owner of the world's largest collection of gowns once owned by the late Princess Diana. A supremely self-confident Rorech will discuss her multimillion-dollar collection and her plans to create a total-image empire. Although she is not a member of AICI, Rorech and the organization share similar objectives. "We are helping the world become more aware of its image," avers Graham.
Statistics, Graham contends, prove it's a job that is never done: "People who care about how they look on the average make fifteen to twenty percent more. They make more money! I've worked with people who look good. They've got the Armani suits, they've got the $400 shoes, yet they come to me and they're like clumsy oxes. They have no idea what to do with their hands, they have no idea how to speak, they don't know how to have themselves fit in to their situation. And that's what we get paid the big bucks for."
Yes, the bucks can be big: Consultation rates range from $50 per hour to $150. "What amazes me is that there are so many people who just lack a level of observation," Graham notes. "That's part of my job -- to make them become more aware."
Awareness of or comfort with one's public self is not only the key ingredient in projecting a proper image; they may also be, for Graham at least, major components in promoting world peace. "It's so much deeper than a little lipstick," she declares. "When people feel whole about themselves, that's when there's no conflict left. We wouldn't have wars if we had all this going on!"
The convention of the Association of Image Consultants International begins at 7:00 p.m. Tuesday, July 14, at the Doral Golf Resort and Spa, 4400 NW 87th Ave. Admission to the reception is $45. Call 800-383-8831.