Of course Lou Heller has opinions and favourites, as you’d expect of a stylist. She can foretell a fashion moment, nails a first impression and lives for true design. “Clothing is my passion; it’s how I speak to the world,” she says.
Yet Lou goes beyond quick fixes – she likes going “deep” with her clients, beyond the latest silhouette or hue. With each connection Lou makes, she encourages women to lean on each other, listen to themselves and allow their soul to sparkle. Her clients gain personal style awareness that steers them through the years, not just the next season.
It’s no surprise, then, that empathetic yet on-point Lou chooses “chameleon” as her style word. Who better to be judging the looks at the IRT New Zealand Trotting Cup Day on November 9, than someone who does the tango between gut instinct and thought-out look for a living?
Lou challenges clients to tune into their self-talk. You know, the bullying chatterbox in your head that drowns out any nice comments your friend or partner makes.
Transforming a person’s look is less about waving a style wand, says Lou, than giving their confidence a shake-up and that dastardly inner saboteur a good talking to. It only takes a few minutes of her opening a wardrobe door before the anxieties appear. We all have them, she assures us.
“As I’ve grown in the role of stylist, I’ve come to understand it’s not just about clothing. It’s so much deeper than that – it’s about being heard.”
What was the little girl who ran to the farm letterbox to fetch her mum’s EziBuy catalogue and cut out the pictures trying to say? “Enough with the track pants, let’s turn them into stirrup pants!” she laughs.
“I’ve been on a massive journey. I had negative self-talk too. We aren’t born thinking this, but someone else conditions us or projects their insecurities onto us. You hear something negative repeated two or three times and you’re going to believe the story. These wrong words can cause wounds that last for years.”
She often hears comments like: “I can’t wear that colour or style”; “I have nothing to wear”; or “I don’t know how to put an outfit together.”
At times, women and men are too scared to stand out, says Lou. And that’s what she wants to change. In her talks, she doesn’t focus on the latest trends; rather, she asks the audience, “Who are you getting dressed for and why?”
Lou keeps her confidence afloat through positive self-talk. “The earthquakes really shifted something in me and in the last few years in particular, I feel like I’ve woken up. I’ve had to work hard to fall in love with parts of myself again, as at times I’d let others define who I thought I needed to be.”
The stylist suggests it’s helpful to focus on one thing at a time. “I learnt to like my eyes, so I say that to myself now,” she admits. “Talking differently to yourself makes you dress better, eat better. Making sure your internal voice is kind – it’s huge. Words can be powerful, words carry energy.”
“It’s hard to watch with my teen daughter… I tell her to trust her gut, to spend time on things, experiences and people that make her feel like ‘her’. I believe this can change the whole narrative.
“I have a much stronger sense of self now, which helps me to connect with my clients.”
Lou is in Auckland shopping with clients when we speak. She’s just been helping a successful businesswoman whose black-and-white wardrobe is full of the same type of clothes. Lou is just the person to change things up.
“It’s been a re-education for my client. She lost a parent when she was 12 – her inner child, her voice, got drowned out as she was forced to grow up quickly and look after others. The experience meant she forgot how to have fun,” says Lou empathetically. “I’ve been helping her to rediscover the beautiful tones that suit her so well, to reassure her that she deserves to be fashionable.”
The last few years, Lou has seen a change within people. Her business has “gone gung ho”, perhaps because people are prioritising themselves more. Lou plays an active educator role. Focused on equipping as many people as possible with knowledge, she provides group sessions, public talks and Instagram videos. In autumn she held ‘The Style Fundamentals with Lou Heller’ events across the country.
“I get so frustrated that women are still wedded to an eighties colour palette! People need to re-learn the fundamentals, based on their own style.
“I think in the past, stylists imposed a fashion trend without giving their clients the tools to see what works for them, without teaching them how to approach decisions in the future. People just ended up with clothes they don’t wear. It’s time for them to trust their gut.”
Teenage Lou was always shopping with and styling her friends. “I could see things other people couldn’t.”
The career advice she received was to work the store floor in retail or go to design school, neither of which appealed. Coming from a horticultural family, creative Lou first trained as a florist. Ten years ago, while raising her three kids, she took the leap and started an online clothing store that sold brands new to our shores (think Camilla and Marc). It was when working for a designer retailer that the penny dropped.
“True designers know what their clothes mean to a person and how it feels to wear that item every day. However, a lot of stores are packed full of ‘wardrobe-stuffers’. I could see a massive gap in the market. We were selling the same thing each season, items that appealed to the big spenders, but I felt something was missing between what was on offer and what customers needed.”
Thus, a professional stylist was born, one who sees the power in her work.
“I find it humbling to see women change – from not being able to look in the mirror to saying out loud how amazing they look! I can read it all over their faces and half the time we both end up in tears.”
People are keen to learn from Lou – when she posts a video on Instagram, she reaches thousands of viewers, mostly Kiwis and Aussies. While she can’t get to each wardrobe, she can encourage people to learn more about themselves and listen to their inner voice. This is a large part of why she travels, does events and delivers presentations. That’s why she’s channelling her energy into a new education tool available to the masses. “I’m looking at producing a book as e-modules, teaching customers how to do the work themselves.”
As for shopping, yes, Lou does spend much of her time in Auckland and Christchurch, helping clients with vastly different budgets. She’s as much at home with designers or hunting looks out around town as she is in a
second-hand shop or reselling her ensembles on Instagram.
One of Lou’s packages is helping a client to reorganise their wardrobe.
“There’s power in your wardrobe and what you can get out of it, people just need to know how to pull from it.”