LIBBY ARMSTRONG WAS about to go back to her marketing job with an international bank in Hong Kong. But after 18 months of caring for two small children, she felt her look needed a boost.
Through friends, she heard about image consultant Alexandra Menzel, so she signed up for a personal overhaul.
'She'd been a consultant for a couple of friends of mine and they looked fabulous,' Armstrong says from Singapore, where she now lives. 'These were people I'd known for years and I was looking at them and thinking, what have they done?'
Armstrong, 37, says Menzel showed her how to apply makeup ('The last time I learnt how to I was 15') and forced her to throw out her Hermes scarf collection. 'She said they made me look like a 60-year-old - and she's right.'
Menzel, who trained as a makeup artist in her native Germany and London, has been in Hong Kong for 10 years and runs an image consultancy from her home in Clear Water Bay. The mother-of-three says that being an image consultant is her passion.
She also runs courses for large companies that want to improve the image of senior employees. 'The most important thing for them is feeling confident and comfortable with their own image, within guidelines that are appropriate,' she says.
Among her clients was a female judge who, after retirement, began thinking about her image, having been used to her wig and robes for so long. 'These women aren't models,' Menzel says. 'I look at their wardrobe and makeup and see what brings out the best in them.'
Menzel says the only way she can give the right advice is by getting to know the person - and that means lengthy sessions. 'When I see a person, I look at the whole picture,' she says. 'I need to get to know them. I'm very honest. If their hair isn't looking good, then I suggest they need to do something about it.
'I initially go to their house and see what they use and wear. It can take three to five hours. I also teach them how to apply makeup themselves. I don't want them to keep needing advice.
'I'm quite a strict teacher and only if I'm satisfied do I go on to the next part.'
She also addresses body shape and image, including posture, exercise and diet.
Menzel will also go shopping with a client if they wish. But she usually doesn't schedule a second meeting for four to eight weeks after the initial meeting. 'By that time, the client has usually changed a lot of their clothes, been to the hair- dresser, gained or lost a few pounds and improved their makeup application.
'Often with makeup, the colour of the foundation is wrong. A lot of people have the same foundation colour throughout the whole year, but they should change it - with the weather, for example.'
Instead of buying a foundation and a tinted moisturiser, Menzel advises mixing foundation with moisturiser for a lighter coverage. The same goes for concealer. Not that she's adamant about makeup - 'but if you do wear it, do it the right way'.
Most of her clients are over 30 and are a mixture of businesswomen, businessmen and housewives. She charges anywhere from $2,500 to $6,800 for the service.
What drives a woman to seek such advice after years of apparently not requiring any? 'I'd just spent two years out of the workforce having my second child and doing the school thing with my elder daughter,' says a former client, who didn't want to be named. 'Then, I was starting a new job and it was time to start a new chapter. Originally, I thought I just needed makeup advice. After 20 years of applying eye shadow and eyeliner the same way, it was certainly time to change.'
Armstrong says he motivation was to ensure she projected the best image when meeting clients. 'People think I look really well,' she says. 'I've stuck to it and it gives you more confidence.'
Eve Roth Lindsay, of beauty and fashion consultancy Savvy Style, says women pay for beauty advice not because they're clueless, but because they're smart.
'We want to look our best and know that the best way is to get advice,' she says. 'Whether you're seeing a doctor, lawyer or hairdresser, you're paying for advice. Beauty is the same thing. This isn't something we learn in school so we need to learn how to do it. We're constantly bombarded with images of beautiful women and we want to look the best we can.'
Lindsay says the women she sees often stay in touch, and she often receives e-mails about their progress. 'I get regular reports from clients telling me what they've done, from their recent hairstyles to their latest wardrobe purchases.'
Whether we like it or not, people judge us by the way we look. 'We make a judgment in less than seven seconds,' she says. 'When you look good, you feel good and you give off positive vibes which in turn give positive feedback.
'Since the beauty of our face and the clothing we wear is what people use to judge, they're obviously the most important things to get right.'
But looking good isn't just about spending money on products. It comes from looking after yourself, Lindsay says. 'It's so easy to get into a rut and do the same things over and over again. You don't have to be the most beautiful person in the world to look good. It's about the beauty that comes from making the best of your features. Everyone can learn how to make themselves look good.'
The most important things are to keep up with fashion, and look after your skin and general health, she says. 'Stylish, healthy people look good.'