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From Drab To Fab

Jeremy Little, 26, center, evolved from East Coast nerd to man-about-Houston with the help of his boss, Mark Sullivan, right, and celebrity stylist Cerón.

ERIC KAYNE: Houston Chronicle

July 16, 2008, 10:45PM

A journey from drab to fab

In corporate culture today, employers are turning to the talents of image consultants to make sure their workers are dressed to impress and primed for success

Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle

Jeremy Little’s metamorphosis is like a fairy tale.

He came to Houston last year down on his luck. On the East Coast, a friend recalled, he was known as a nerd. He lived with his parents in Springfield, Mass.

Today, he can be spotted at exclusive parties sporting Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent and hanging with River Oaks glitterati.

It’s all because of his new job.

In a relative instant, “my life has gone from Catcher in the Rye to Absolutely Fabulous,” Little said.

His makeover was born the moment he joined On the Mark Communications, a public relations firm.

It is a new two-man operation: Little and his boss, Mark Sullivan. On the Mark’s chichi clients include Cafe Annie, Gravitas and Omni Houston Hotel.

Sullivan hired Little because of his writing and organizational skills but knew he didn’t look right for the part.

“I could already talk the talk. I had to figure out how to walk the walk,” Little recalled.

It happens a lot in business. Employees are great at what they do but don’t know how to present themselves. So the company hires an image consultant.

On the Mark did not have to hire one. Sullivan’s boyfriend is Cerón, hair stylist for the city’s creme de la creme and a fashion maven.

Cerón, who now does Little’s hair, has a bedroom-size closet filled with threads by Gucci, Prada, Armani and YSL that Little can wear. And there are other perks: Sullivan and Cerón are introducing Little to single women.

Reimagining image

Perry, who charges $150 an hour, begins her consultation focusing on her clients’ wardrobes, first entering their closets.

“Always, always, the clothes need altering,” she said.

After taking clients shopping, she works on etiquette over a meal, followed by speech and body language training.

A client can learn much in a month or two, Perry said, “but if they stick with me throughout a year – that’s a better plan.

“It’s like peeling an onion in terms of what comes up for them with their emotions and self-esteem.”

David Skinner, CEO of Decision Strategies, a Houston-based management consulting firm, has hired Perry to work with about 25 of his 75 employees.

“I was the first guinea pig,” he joked, although she only had to tweak him.

Her work can improve the company bottom line, he said. She’s made it “easy to pick our people out,” giving them a “classic look and feel that helps exude confidence.”

Not ‘raised by wolves’

Little arrived in Houston already well-spoken and well-mannered. He learned etiquette at boarding school. “I wasn’t raised by wolves,” he said.

The 26-year-old came to town feeling “in a rut” and in need of a change after leaving a job as executive assistant to a Republican state senator in Massachusetts.

He first took a temporary job as an executive assistant for a business development consultant.

When it ended, he cold-called Sullivan.

“Here’s this conservative prep school-looking kid who just sort of dropped out of the sky,” Sullivan recalled. “He had no background in the field, but as soon as he started talking, I could see that he’s incredibly fast thinking and could be a public relations dynamo.”

“When I met him I was like, ‘Are you kidding?’ ” Cerón recalled. “The tennis shoes, the glasses, the haircut. It was terrible.”

At a recent Saturday night patio party at Gigi’s Asian Bistro, Little had on a Gucci shirt – the top buttons were unbuttoned – and pants and Prada shoes, all from Cerón’s closet.

His mentor approached.

“What did I say tonight about posture? Tuck in that stomach,” Cerón admonished.


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