Consultant helps transform who you are into who you want to be

By Meredith Grenier


“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

Image consultant Ashley Rothschild of Marina del Rey hammers home an important message. In a blink of an eye people assess one's character, net worth, trustworthiness, intelligence — even ancestral social status.

“We are judged 55 percent on our appearance, 38 percent on our voice and only 7 percent on what we actually say, according to UCLA professor Albert Mehrabin,” Rothschild says.

Then she congratulates the 50 people attending her image consulting seminar for taking charge and enhancing their personal package.

Rothschild asks participants what they expect to get out of her seminar and the goals vary from doubling their salaries to landing Mr. or Ms. Right. The expectation is much less dramatic for my 25-year-old daughter, Meredith, and me. We were enjoying a pre-Mother's Day image-polishing seminar and hoped to “kick it up a notch,” as I told the group.

As requested, we arrived in our “power outfits,” appropriate for an interview in our respective fields. Since I'm on the high side of my weight scale, my only choice is a black ensemble from Chico's, “powered” by a red suede jacket, a bargain from T.J. Maxx. Since Mer is on the low end of the weight scale, hers is a gray wool pants suit two sizes too big, left over from her former career as a hotel management junior executive. It screams conservative and rates low on the chic scale.

“What do you expect, I'm in grad school,” Mer protests when I joke about her choice. “I wear jeans!”

One by one the participants are assessed by the group based only on their looks, clothes, a few words and their body language.

“This is my passion,” says Rothschild in her charming Yugoslavian accent.

“Don't worry, you are safe here,” she assures 16-year-old Rachael. The teen's mother, Peggy, brought her daughter to see if some compromise could be reached on the teen-ager's punk look. Rachael is dressed in a sophisticated black sheath (her mother's choice) and high heels that clearly are killing her. It is an outfit she wore to a family wedding.

As Rothschild chats about her background as a professional photographer, a fashion model and 20 years in the personal image business, we begin to feel less like meat at the scrutiny of the pack. Five at a time we parade in front of our peers, who are asked to guess our occupation, our salary level and to say whether they would trust us with $50,000 of their own money or with their children.

“We want you to be honest. We don't want to waste your time,” Rothschild instructs.

Tina, a beautiful 5-foot-10-inch model-type is among the first up. She confides she has big goals, big dreams and wants her image to be consistent with these lofty aspirations. At 5-feet-4-inches, I'm beginning to feel small by comparison — not counting my stomach.

But seen through Rothschild's seasoned eye, even the lovely Tina has a flaw: She is “totally unapproachable.”

“She might as well put up a stop sign,” one attractive man said. “I wouldn't go there.”

“Her hair is too severe and hides her face. Let's trim it back a bit,” Rothschild declares to a band of volunteer fairy godmothers and fathers who do make-up, hair and dress.

“The black suit is too conservative and the turtleneck is sabotaging her even more. This unapproachable woman is actually a kitten underneath. We need to let a little of that warm kitten come out,” Rothschild adds, finally coaxing an overdue smile from Tina.

Forty-something Christine, on the other hand, is too much of a kitten. Despite wearing a chic white suit and appearing well educated, her hair shrieks Dallas Cowboy cheerleader from the '70s. For a woman of her stature as a high-powered international film distributor (we later learn), her floozy hair thwarts an otherwise polished package.

Throughout the day, Rothschild recites fashion commandments to live by: “Large women, large jewelry; small women, small jewelry,” “if you are short or a little chunky, wear boots.”

But her favorite mantra is about quality: “Buy the best you can afford — it's you we're talking about. If you don't think you deserve the best, who will?”

While getting into physical shape is an admirable goal, be proud of who you are at any size, says the consultant, who went from a size 6 to 16 after being sidelined by an accident. Now she's on her way back down, she says.

In deflecting compliments on her uncanny ability to zoom in on an individual's biggest problem area, she responds: “God did the original job. All I do is put a frame around it.” Rothschild consults with individuals and takes them shopping in Beverly Hills for $200 an hour.

During my daughter's turn to polish her image, the group picks up on her education, agreeing she has “at least” a master's degree. But they declare that her loose-fitting “Charlie Brown” sweater, which she changed into at the last minute, makes her look like a “tomboy.” In response, Mer grouses under her breath: “My boyfriend sure doesn't think so!”

But she gets their drift during the “after” session when she dons a black sheath accessorized with Rothschild's expensive pearl necklace and earrings. Stefan, who owns Azalia Beauty Salon in Brentwood, gives her a more flirtatious, breezy do, and make-up artist Natalie Naufal spins her magic.

When she reappears transformed before the group there is a collective gasp.

“Wow, look at those eyes,” exclaims a male participant. “It's Jodie Foster.” The rest of the group heartily agrees, and a star is born. For the rest of the day Mer is almost giddy with new possibilities, confident she can be beautiful if she works at it. Her playful side emerges: “I might even wear a bare midriff one of these days,” she says laughing.

Conservative or wild are just two of the images Rothschild reshapes. Sometimes she zones in on confidence-building as in the case of Frank Labrador of Lawndale, who has a goal of singing at Carnegie Hall in three years.

He arrives in well-worn, baggy jeans and a sweater. The group speculates he is a playground coordinator. But when he dons an expensive shirt and $1,500 jacket (owned by Rothschild's husband, Blair Zajac) and belts out a Spanish aria, there is no question that he'll succeed.

“Before I dressed to make other people comfortable,” he explains. “Now I am going to dress to project my new image.”

“I want to be in Carnegie Hall for your standing ovation,” Rothschild cheers.

Christina Arca, a nurse working in Gardena, gives the seminar a hearty endorsement: “She boosted me 1,000 percent,” she says afterward.

Arca is making the transition from medicine to a service-oriented business that requires her to make public presentations. When she first appears before the group wearing a light-green polyester jacket over navy pants, they assume she is an administrative assistant making less than $30,000. After a new haircut, improved make-up and being draped in an expensive ensemble under a cobalt blue shawl, the consensus has her owning a company and earning upward of $100,000.

“The seminar really changed me,” Arca said. “I now carry myself differently. I am very shy, and it gave me a start — something to work toward. Later gazing into the mirror in disbelief, she fights back a tear: “I haven't had much confidence in a long time. I just let out the giant within.”

And what about sweet, shy, little Rachael, the 16-year-old punk queen, who looks in the mirror and fails to see the beauty and worth everyone else sees? She too is heartened by the end of the day. While she doesn't promise to lose her punk look 100 percent, she walks a lot taller and smiles a lot broader at day's end.

By the time it's my turn to become transformed, time is running low. So is the availability of clothes my size. Rothschild decides to go for the power look and puts me in a black designer jacket, tan trousers and a men's tuxedo shirt.

While the group speculates I'm either a college professor or a corporate executive, I feel the trade-off — power for a loss of feminity — may be a little severe, although the new look perhaps is more slimming and the clothes definitely have a more up-scale panache. Naufal's make-up was excellent, enhancing the look even though Stefan didn't have time to spruce up my hair.

By 6 p.m., when the seminar is scheduled to end, Rothschild generously offers to take the group to the Block At Orange about 50 miles south to visit Off 5th — Saks Fifth Avenue to show us how to spot serious bargains in designer clothes.

We regroup in the women's department. Christine, now looking refined and beautiful minus her big hair, purchases a suede Armani jacket that originally was $1,500 for about $200. She also picks up designer sunglasses, pants and shoes. Others find outfits for up to 80 percent off the retail price.

Perhaps the most dramatic transformation was experienced by Leona Christensen, 26, who attended a Rothschild seminar in February. A willowy blue-eyed brunette, Christensen moved from a farm in a Mormon community near Provo, Utah, to Carson to seek her fortune. Within six months she landed an entry-level job in a public relations firm, but was so self-conscious she opted to sit in the office and dream up successful campaigns while someone else collected the kudos.

After finding Rothschild on the Internet, Christensen said she was “totally incapable” of listing her three- and five-year goals requested on the consultant's preseminar information form.

“I couldn't formulate any goals. I thought I was stuck permanently. I didn't see myself advancing. At the seminar I wore a red Casual Corner dress and everyone thought I was a flight attendant making about $30,000,” she said later in a telephone interview.

After Stefan put her hair in a French twist and Rothschild dressed her in a designer black-striped blazer, black trousers and a blue shirt, the group agreed she could be on the cover of every international fashion magazine.

“That stuck with me, especially since I didn't even go to my high school prom,” said Christensen. “I learned I had options. All of a sudden I could see myself and I realized I had real potential. I decided I was worth the money to hire a personal trainer and started working out. And I'm finding this new confidence has transformed the quality of my work. I'm still a work in progress, but now I'm only beginning to walk through the doors that have been opened to me.”

Publish Date:Sunday, May 12, 2002

Ashley Rothschild picture

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