As the great Coco Chanel once said “fashion changes, style endures”, and it is this sense of presence which Caroline Williams seeks to develop in others through her styling business, De Vallenger Design.
Growing up in Orakei in Auckland, Caroline spent her days at Snell’s Beach at her family’s bach. Drawn to the ocean she enjoyed boating, water skiing and windsurfing, as well as being a bit of a “sun worshipper”. However, she always knew she wanted to work in fashion, and recalls her parent’s recollections of her at a young age making button necklaces as well as complementing her outfits with the perfect handbag or accessory.
Given her early forays into fashion, Caroline then went on to study Fashion Design at AUT, whilst simultaneously obtaining her Interior Design qualification at night school from Nanette Cameron School of Interior Design.
After much consideration and research and with the support of her parents, she decided to set up an interior and fashion styling business in Newmarket as there was only one other stylist in Auckland at the time. She called the business De Vallenger, a name suggested by her grandfather that was both synonymous with her family and would invoke connotations of a global luxury brand.
With her father’s assistance she designed her own logo and rented some commercial space next to where he ran his engineering firm. As advisor and mentor, he helped Caroline to grow her business although she still faced many challenges due to her age and perceived lack of experience. However, Caroline quickly proved the doubters wrong and channelled these challenges into positive learning opportunities as well as using her love of accessorising to differentiate herself in the marketplace.
In 2007, Caroline decided to take a holiday to the UK for three months and with only 50p in her bank account she decided to stay as she felt she was “missing out on the big wide world if I went home”. At 22 she set up a London branch of De Vallenger and spent many months making contacts, often by striking up conversation in cafes or restaurants frequented by those in the fashion industry.
This strategy paid off as through her friend Natalie, a Vogue contributor, she got a job working on that year’s Karen Millen NY fashion show. Out of this grew other celebrity styling work, and one of her most memorable jobs was as a consultant to Hayley Hasselhoff on a Parisian fashion shoot. Caroline also started to attract VIP clients through word of mouth who were cash rich, time poor or had limited creativity, including a stay at home mum with an amazing “Sex and the City-esque” wardrobe who was both a pleasure to style and a personal career highlight.
Caroline’s secret to success seems to lie in her ability to listen to the client and build a psychological profile to determine what they really want. During a typical styling session this normally begins with an in home consultation and a review of the client’s wardrobe, where they like to shop, and what they would like to spend. Caroline then maps out which stores to take the client to and often conducts a pre-review of what clothes will be suitable in order to maximise her and the client’s time (normally 2-3 hours per session to avoid over-tiring the client).
In addition, Caroline feels her design background gives her an edge over other stylists as it helps her to understand the anatomy of clothes, how they wear, whether they are poorly constructed, and what fabrics can be complementary.
A trained colour psychologist, Caroline also believes we are susceptible or drawn to certain colours and that there is a reason for this. For example, wearing blue is more likely to get you a second interview as it implies stability, whilst green is generally associated with a calm environments and why it is used in hospitals to such good effect! On the opposite end of the scale, red is a very vibrant colour and can be both provocative and sexy, as well as making the person or object, such as a fire engine, stand out and be noticed.
Whilst a particular colour may not always be complementary to a client, Caroline feels that by incorporating their preferred colour into aspects such as nail polish or accessories it may make them feel more comfortable and at ease with other style choices. She also strongly encourages her clients to not slavishly follow fashion trends, and instead invest in ten (10) key basics including a pair of really good jeans, black trousers, a white shirt, a trench-coat, a pencil skirt, long or short sleeve monochrome t-shirts and a well tailored suit. Pair this with a good quality handbag, shoes and underwear and you have the makings of a top quality wardrobe into which can be inserted items with a pop of colour or that channel a preferred style or trend.
However, Caroline believes that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to look good, and that you can find pieces that are right for you and that work within any budget, whether that is £200 or £2000. She feels that this can be achieved by mixing up vintage, luxe and high street fashion, and enjoys working with clients to get a good bargain, as well as sharing her knowledge and expertise. For Caroline, one of the most rewarding aspects of styling is seeing clients put her teachings into practice both in turn building their confidence and enabling them to be better in their jobs and partnerships.
Whilst Caroline does not have a particular role model or mentor herself, she does take inspiration from others in the industry such as Rachel Zoe, who runs a similarly successful styling and interior business in the US; Dame Vivienne Westwood, for her wacky style; and L’Wren Scott, some of whose dresses Caroline was lucky to inherit upon her passing through a mutual friend.
Her introduction to the NZBWN, has also been a great source of inspiration and Caroline is proud to be part of such a supportive and strong community of brilliant women. She believes that growing up in a country such as NZ where systems are very different has encouraged women to aim higher and to pursue different career paths, and as such kiwi women are more understanding, open and warm towards each other.
Moving forwards, Caroline would like to establish franchises all over the world, and is currently setting one up in Sydney. Whilst she still oversees both her NZ and UK branches, she has a good team of staff in place who run the day to day operations which include personal styling 1:1’s, group workshops, and maternity and prom styling, and she would like any new franchises to also be similarly modelled.
Although, she now has over 500 styling and design clients in the UK and has met 1000’s through her workshops, Caroline is also seeking to grow the men’s styling side of the business as only 20% of her UK clientele are male compared to 50% in NZ.
Caroline’s energy, drive and enthusiasm are unwavering and she strongly believes that the world really is your oyster and nothing is impossible if you believe in yourself as “crazy people are more likely to succeed”.
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