Know your brand: Lessons from a 92-year-old fashionista
Among my friends, it is no secret that I love and admire my 92-year-old great aunt. Born in Vienna, Austria, she came to New York escaping WWII when she was 17. She married the love of her life—my grandfather's brother—and stayed with him until he died. Then at 80 married one of her closest friends.
At our recent holiday party, one of her daughters gave her a long, very hip coat from Uniqlo, the Japanese store in Soho. She tried it on and this is the dialogue that ensued: "Shouldn't I exchange it for the shorter jacket?" she asked. "Oh, but Marietta, this coat is warmer for the winter," was the general consensus from most of us at the party. "Who cares if it's warm? Does it look good on me?" she questioned, stunned that anyone--and I mean ANYONE--would dare to worry about the weather over fashion.
I laughed so hard, it hurt. This woman has kept a consistent brand for her entire life and she'd be damned if she was going to let age get in the way of maintaining it.
Marietta is one of the most fashion conscious people I know. She gets her hair and gel nails done regularly, wears the most fashionable yet classy clothes and accessories, and her shoes always match her purse--which naturally she changes for every single ocassion. She has gone shopping with my mom (20 years her junior) and has offered her advice along the lines of: "That looks like an old lady's dress. Try this one instead."
As many women in her generation, she's lived through some of the worst economic times this country has seen, yet she has always managed to look fabulous maintaining her brand of "fashionable woman always in touch with current trends and events."
Seeing her stand up to her family's suggestion that she pay attention to the weather rather than her appearance made me wonder how many of us are as clear as she is about our brands.
Whether your brand is about equitable leadership, helping others achieve their dreams, unparalleled creativity, risk-taking or anything else, how well have you honed it? And another more pressing question: Is it possible to manipulate your brand to advance your career without losing your personality in the process? In my experience, not really.
In order for your brand to work best for you, it needs to be an authentic reflection of who you are, what you bring to the table, what makes you unique. (If you are an administrative assistant, what differentiates you from others with your same skill set?)
The truth is that it's very hard to pretend you are someone you are not for more than a short time. People see through the layers of fake intentions, and when they discover you are being dishonest, any fabricated brand will backfire. (So, if you think your brand should be "out of the box thinker who can make do with less," but the truth is that you always come up with run of the mill solutions to problems, and you can't save on the cost of office supllies to save your life, your brand won't stick.)
It's much more productive to spend some time learning about yourself, about what moves you, what's important to you and asking others how they perceive you. You can then use your introspection along with the feedback you gather from a few trusted advisors to help sharpen your brand. In other words, help you go with the grain instead of against it.
That's how you'll have a powerful brand that endures past your nineties, which will mean you've had a long life of being true to yourself. Judging by my great aunt, you'll have a very happy life.
Image via Mariela Dabbah
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