Making Over the Outside to Fit the Inside

In her intuitive approach, she said she reads the energy of her clients “to create a balance between their internal and external worlds.”
Annette Azan-Baker’s job is to hold up a proverbial mirror and ask her clients to trust her as she leads them through changes in their wardrobe and their environment. Durell Godfrey

   Annette Azan-Baker, a fashion industry veteran who lives in Sag Harbor and North Carolina, has embarked on a new career, and is blazing through such uncharted territory that she hasn’t found a name yet for the service she performs. While, in essence, she guides clients through redesigning their homes and wardrobes, she doesn’t want to be called an interior decorator or personal shopper or image consultant or any of those other limiting names.

    She may borrow elements from these callings, but they don’t define her very different approach. While waiting for inspiration to hit, she is temporarily calling herself a “stylist.” She played briefly with the title “style medium,” rejecting it as too out there. Yet, that may be an accurate description of her method. In her intuitive approach, she said she reads the energy of her clients “to create a balance between their internal and external worlds.”

    What she has found is that many people live in houses and dress in clothes that no longer serve who they are. People, she believes, are “always evolving,” and that green sweater or oversize armoire that may have fit into your life a decade ago is not germane to your present journey. “I loved to read that Oprah is redoing all her homes,” she said. “She found that her external environment didn’t match who she is today, and that’s exactly what I do.”

    Ms. Azan-Baker is flexible, sometimes working with a client’s house or wardrobe, sometimes both. But in either case, her process starts by getting to know the person’s life goals and philosophy, all the while touring their surroundings and taking in “all the visuals” that inform that person’s world, an unfolding that could take four or five hours.

    Her next step is guiding the client through “releasing” the things that are no longer relevant in their lives. “Many people have ‘precious’ items in the attic. If it’s so precious why keep it in a box?” If she ascertains that an item really is meaningful for its owner, it is given a “place of honor.” If not, it’s discarded to allow the person to “create an environment in which they can expand,” she said.

    “There are pieces from our past that are important,” but there is also a danger of living too much in the past. This is not always an easy process. “I have clients with problems releasing anything that was their great-grandmother’s. If everything is precious, then nothing is precious.”

    Ms. Azan-Baker’s explorations take her on a profound journey of discovery into the lives of her clients. It is her job to hold up a mirror and ask them to trust her judgment as she directs them through changes. Not everyone can do this, but the exotic-looking stylist exudes a confidence-building serenity and assuredness.

    The solutions to clients’ problems are often simple fixes, but difficult for people to see for themselves. “Some people want to entertain, but they don’t have a large enough table,” she said by way of example. Or a single woman “with nothing happening in the relationship sector” might be sharing her bed with her dog, therefore not making room for a mate. She had one client with “sad pictures of lonely women” decorating her house. Her advice: Replace them with images of lovers. “That brings the right energy in there.”

    Her goal is to help people get to where they want to in their lives by keeping their external and internal worlds in sync. “You can’t make changes internally by doing the same thing the same way,” she said. And external changes will grease the wheels of change. Ms. Azan-Baker brings elements of the Chinese concept feng shui and the Indian concept of vastu to her practice.

    During her redesign of a client’s space she addresses their entire aesthetic from scents and visuals to audio and touch. “I want them to be in a bubble of happiness that gives them the best opportunity to expand.”

    With a natural gift for intuiting people’s needs, Ms. Azan-Baker was also nurtured by a mother, with Jamaican and Cuban antecedents, who was a psychic and owned a metaphysical bookstore. But Ms. Azan-Baker at first followed a path in fashion, working for Dianne Benson after graduating from the Fashion Institute of Technology and later managing the Urban Zen stores in New York and Sag Harbor for Donna Karan. When styling a person’s clothing, she looks at not just how they look, “but I watch to see how they move and if they are feeling comfortable . . . are they ready for it?”

    She outfits them with the basics for layering “that make everything else work.” And then she finds them that “fantastic piece” that will give them a look that any Parisian would envy.

    “My biggest joy is seeing how lives are changed,” she said, adding that her mission is to make people feel they can go beyond where they thought they could go.

    And, she believes, “There’s a name out there waiting for me.”