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First Lady of First Impressions: Sandy Dumont, The Image Architect

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Quick. What color is the Mona Lisa's dress? If you answered "black" or couldn't recall, you're not alone. Most people, when conjuring up images of the world's most enigmatic woman, remember the deft curl of her smile, the softness of her eyes. And according to Sandy Dumont, The Image Architect®, that's a good thing. That we remember the Mona Lisa's overall effect rather than the details of her dress is indicative of the success of her image. The sum, Dumont reminds her clients, is greater than the parts.

However, there is one addendum to this proverb. "The devil is in the details," Dumont warned with a chuckle. In other words, one wrong turn can put the kibosh on the whole deal. Those shoes or that tie can sink the most precious cargo you carry—your image.

Dumont's talent lies in her supreme ability to detect those fiendish details that may have implications as far reaching as lost job promotions, killed deals, and ruined sales. She assesses her clients' appearances with the cool, sharp eye of a forensic scientist. In fact, that's how she earned her name. "You're so technically oriented," one of her male clients said. True, but technical, in Dumont's case, doesn't mean boring. Her philosophy? "You've got to stand out from the herd. You want to have distinctive styles."

From Norfolk, VA, to Washington, DC, to Brussels, Belgium, Dumont has spread her image insights to a bevy of clients including such Fortune 500 companies as Lancôme, Sheraton Hotels, TWA, Farmers Insurance, Rolex, ITT, Yves St. Laurent Cosmetics, and American Express Financial Services. A graduate of the John Robert Powers Fashion & Finishing School, former faculty member at The Barbizon School, founder of Impressions Strategies Institute, and founder of the World Association of Image Consultants (and that's only skimming the top of her list of credentials), Dumont uses her art and psychology background to change antiquated perceptions of what's professional and classy by ditching conventional consulting practices and adopting a holistic approach to image.

We've all heard the rules about matching our skin and hair colors to our clothes or letting our sunnier-than-sunny dispositions radiate through vibrant lime and chartreuse colors. Those are the tickets to looking our best, right? Wrong!

"Your skin is the only thing you look at when determining your colors," Dumont said. "Hair takes care of itself. Eyes take care of themselves."

And for that reason, she warns blondes and fair-skinned women to steer clear of the pastels and "food colors"—ketchup, mustard, lemon, lime—that they traditionally favor, claiming such colors will wash them out and/or make them look garish, not to mention less credible.

Similarly, matching your personality to colors won't always be flattering or bolster your professional presence. For example, shy gals who stick to light pinks and purples will only play up their shyness. Dumont insists that women ditch men's blazers as well. Who wants to look like she's playing dress up in her father's clothes? Instead, choose fitted jackets in distinctive, bold-but-classy colors such as navy blue, emerald green, royal purple, and cherry red.

Dumont's also a fan of fuchsia lipstick, especially for younger women in their 20s and early 30s. But before you scream, "The horror! The horror!" consider her reasoning. Wearing fuchsia lipstick, "you will go up a notch in credibility; you will be perceived as having more experience in the working world. You'll make a bigger impact." But won't younger women look like they're copying their mothers? No way, according to Dumont. "You can't possibly look like your mother," she promised.

Q. What do you like to do for fun?
A. Astrology, Pilates, playing with my cat, Muffin, and going places with my husband.
Q. What CD is in your CD player?
A. The latest tape from the National Speakers Association.
Q. What is the last magazine you read?
A. Allure. They have great university studies.
Q. What is your favorite TV show?
A. 60 Minutes.
Q. Who is your role model?
A. Tina Turner. She is the only person who can get on stage with Mick Jagger and show him up!

Dumont's vast and varied background leaves little room for skepticism. Formerly an accomplished model, Dumont got her start in Washington, DC, working with such designers as Bill Blass to put on big fashion shows with "no expenses barred and fabulous accessories." These early experiences taught her the value of "making a statement," still a core tenet of her approach to image consulting. "You get noticed when you look dynamic," Dumont insisted.

It wasn't long until neighbors began enlisting her savvy, but it was in Brussels where her career catapulted into "serious corporate work." First, though, she harvested her knowledge of image consulting by teaching summer classes to expatriates. "When you have to teach a subject, you really learn it," she said. It was also in Brussels that Dumont saw the birth of her first company, Color and Fashion Associates, which later became Image-inations and still later was rechristened with its current name, Impressions Strategy Institute.

Since returning to the U.S. several years ago, Dumont has forged her own way in the industry. A few years ago, when attending an Association of Image Consultants International (AICI) conference in San Francisco, Dumont noticed a curious and, frankly, shocking trend: "Not too many women looked like image consultants." Dumont added, "They didn't seem to be in the right colors." They played by the rules, sticking to certain color palettes and so-called complimentary colors as though they'd been handed down from Mount Sinai.

Lewis and Clark had nothing on Dumont. She struck out on her own, creating the World Association of Image Consultants. And she hasn't looked back. "I go against nearly everything that they [other image consultants] condone, propose, or suggest because I think that what they're doing is old-fashioned paint by numbers," she said.

Both men and women can and have benefited from Dumont's pioneering attitude. She advises her male clientele to keep in mind that often, "the darker the color, the higher the authority." With that in mind, she makes it her mission to steer them clear of monochromatic or matching tie and suit combinations and leads them into the world of ties that get results. Attention-grabbing ties, Dumont instructed, should contrast with suits (though smaller details such as lines on a tie can coordinate with one's suit color). Select ties with small, discreet patterns in order to emulate the "old money" aesthetic.

Dumont also recommended that men test drive "gray or navy blue suits" that can be paired with raspberry, burgundy, or red ties. But stay away from black if you have black hair because you'll look too intimidating. To avoid scaring the kiddies, try opting for a light (never dark) French-blue shirt to combat the overpowering effect of the black. However, under no circumstances should you don a yellow or red tie to top off the ensemble. Why? One word. Godfather. And while fun for Halloween parties and costume balls, the gangster look can sure bring the mood of any meeting or sale down.

Above all, in her sage manner acquired through 30 years of experience, Dumont tells her clients not to become fad slaves, "whether certain trends work for you or not." Instead, Dumont writes on her website, focus on making heads turn because you exude professionalism, trustworthiness, and refinement. Because, just like the Mona Lisa, there's something about you.

And just what color is the Mona Lisa's dress? Dumont didn't miss a beat: "Dark green." Of course!
On the net:Sandy Dumont, The Image Architect

World Association of Image Consultants

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