Saving Graces

Saving Graces
Don’t let anyone tell you etiquette is passé: our business and social success still hinges on good presentation.

Words by Julie Lamberg-Burnet
Photography by Mel Koutchavlis

I vividly remember my first flight ever, from Hamilton to Wellington. I was on my way to an interview for a job as cabin crew with what was then the New Zealand domestic airline NAC. Little did I know at the time that my teaching background, combined with these soon-to-be-acquired aviation skills, would take me around the world many times, collaborating with global aviation brands and style consultants.

After my stint as an NAC flight attendant, I graduated to teaching cabin crew at Air New Zealand and suddenly found myself surrounded by wonderful women of style. It seemed natural to move into management and I was soon overseeing new uniforms for the brand and working with consultants to develop a global style.

A move to Australia saw me take up 
a position with Qantas at a time when the inspired management was launching the Centre of Service Excellence. With a $10 million budget, my team created an academy designed to help employees understand and absorb the Qantas brand. The key was involving a group of colleagues who understood the essence of style, service and presentation not just personally, but also for the brand overall.

While taking a break from aviation I travelled to France with my niece Olivia to attend an immersion course at the prestigious Institut de Français, in the small coastal resort town of Villefranche-sur-Mer in the heart of the French Riviera, overlooking the Mediterranean. The deep soak in the French language, with me at debutante level and Olivia excelling in the advanced group, was a brilliant change from the rigours of corporate life. But it was the unexpected connection that happened next that provided the catalyst for the real change in my journey.

While trying to avoid a fine – handed out by the institute if you slip from speaking French into English – I met Robyn, a graduate of the Protocol School of Washington, an educational institution providing international protocol, cross-cultural awareness, business etiquette and image training to professionals. Robyn inspired me to pursue the idea of attending the school. After all, style, grace and manners are binding components of not just society generally, but also of service and branding.

Back in Sydney, after graduating from Washington, I researched the market in Australia and identified a window of opportunity to introduce protocol programmes Down Under. The concept of the Sydney School of Protocol was born. The goal was to offer international protocol, modern etiquette, communications, image and presentation programmes.

The concept was an instant success, resonating with men and women seeking to rejuvenate their careers, take the next big step, return to the workplace or update their hair, make-up and clothes to enhance their identity.

One client, a mid-level executive from a rural Victorian firm, came to me wanting to advance her position in the company. She struggled with the networking side of making business contacts and her professional image, and wanted some tips on how to improve her skills in this area. She attended sessions over two days and her feedback afterwards was full of new confidence.

An Adelaide mother-of-two came for similar sessions and wrote to us afterwards about her experience. “It has been quite a revelation that, although I am not a naturally outgoing person, there are achievable changes I can make to my personal presentation that will help me to be more self-assured and confident,” she said.

Not long after, a leading Sydney barrister came to us for private coaching. A brilliant orator in the courtroom, he wanted help polishing his business and social etiquette skills; then a mother-of-two who drives mining trucks to pay for her children’s education sent her 13-year-old daughter to us twice (she will be returning shortly for a modelling course). The satisfaction I get from seeing the inner strength of clients who ask for help and then transform themselves with our help is immense and gratifying.

Top Style Tips
Good presentation comes down to more than just how we conduct ourselves in a business or social environment; we don’t want the first impression we give to be of not being dressed for the occasion. Contrary to expectation it need not come down to spending a fortune; it’s about investing wisely in quality basics. Choose a jacket or blazer, a trench coat, cashmere sweaters, statement dress and some well-cut pants and jeans that suit your shape. Accessories are all important, especially top-quality shoes and bags; choose quality over quantity.

Hunt out the best vintage clothing stores and buy classic or signature couture pieces, such as Chanel, Saint Laurent, Gucci or Chloé – you deserve to have at least a couple of pieces in your wardrobe to show what beautiful tailoring feels and looks like. Mix it up a little. Create your own style and avoid looking stitched together or creating a head-to-toe look; know how to mix things up.

Effortless style is also about a smile, loads of self-confidence and always appearing well groomed at any time of the day or night. Remember the fundamentals of style: good health and wellbeing, excellent posture, exercise, a good nutritionist to keep you on track, and regular dental care, regardless of your age.

Rhodes & Beckett white shirt in Egyptian cotton.
Robert Clergerie sandals, along with a pedicure.
• Roger Vivier U-look flats in bright pink.
• Wolford lingerie for pure luxury.
• Gucci Bamboo tote in taupe.
• Jour d’Hermès EDP.
• Eve Lom Intense Firming Serum.
• Chanel Lift Lumière SPF 15.
• Lancôme Hypnôse Doll Lashes mascara.
Chanel Rouge Coco Shine lipstick in Monte-Carlo.


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