MARIANNE Ilunga’s love for fashion started at an early age. Growing up in the Democratic Republic of Congo, she remembers spending valuable time with her godmother who was a dressmaker. She collected fashion magazines as a hobby and spent time sketching several styles she believed would eventually come to life. Her parents decided it would be a great idea to let her attend a fashion magnet high school. Shortly before graduation the Congo experienced some political turmoil, so Marianne accepted the great opportunity to move to the United States.
Landing in Los Angeles was the best thing that could have happened to her. Throughout her college years Marianne gained some experience as a fashion model for up and coming designers. In addition to pursuing her studies, she also held various retail positions in Beverly Hills, which ultimately landed her an internship at the esteemed Fifth Avenue Club at Saks Beverly Hills, California. Her myriad of experiences made her not only the go-to person for family and friends wanting to know the latest styling tips, but also propelled her to the next phase as a Designer Specialist at the Neiman Marcus Couture Department in Orlando, Florida. Her extensive retail knowledge, coupled with her keen sense of style, heavily influences her ability to mix high fashion and mass production. But this comes with years of hard work styling for her clients and for fashion shows. Marianne is fluent in French and has had the privilege to explore prestigious fashion districts in London, Paris, New York and Los Angeles.
Clients rave on the fact that Marianne’s creativeness and personal touch allows them to always look fashionable regardless of what they are wearing or where they shop. She always reminds them that it is all about how it’s put together.
Marianne decided to do fashion in the most rewarding way--helping women feel empowered, while looking their best. “Stylissima’s goal is to change women’s lives one closet at a time because I believe there can always be a new you,” she states.
Marianne holds a Bachelors degree in Fashion Merchandising and Retailing. She resides in Orlando, Florida with her husband and two children.
AM: Where are you from originally?
Marianne: I’m from the Democratic Republic of Congo
AM: How many brothers and sisters do you have?
Marianne: 2 sisters and 2 brothers
AM: Who are your role models?
Marianne: My mother
AM: When you’re not working, what are your favorite things to do?
Marianne: Going to church on sundays, spending time with my family, working out, and shopping.
AM: Currently, where is home?
Marianne: Orlando, Florida.
AM: Can you tell us something about you that people would never guess?
Marianne: I think I can sing (Laughs)
AM: Favorite sport/hobby? Why?
Marianne: Running because it’s a total body workout and it gives me energy.
AM: Tell us a little bit about Stylissima, your Fashion consulting business. When did you start it?
Marianne: Stylissima officially started two years ago. I’m the only employee so far but I have people that freelance their services such as makeup artists or hair stylists. There’s also a few people that help me of with the personal shopping services when needed in Miami and in Los Angeles.
AM: How did you come up with the name?
Marianne: I was actually just brainstorming one night and thought of the name Bellissima,which means beautiful in Italian. I just added Style to it.
AM: Who did you work for prior starting Stylissima?
Marianne: I worked for several boutiques in Beverly Hills,California as well as retailers like Saks and Neiman Marcus.
AM: What made you start the consulting business?
Marianne: Women would always ask me what to wear or what to buy so I figured why not create a service that could provide the help they need.
AM: How hard was it to start your own consulting firm?
Marianne: It was very challenging because I thought that with the access to the Internet and all these great fashion magazines there was no need for such a service. But to my great surprise a lot of women responded well to it.
AM: Did you have support from family? Friends?
Marianne: My family and friends were very supportive. They actually were hoping I would open a boutique of my own and sell clothing, shoes, and accessories. I think God had a different plan. But you never know; that can always be in my future.
AM: How many clients do you service?
Marianne: I service about 10 women. What I do is very personal and time consuming. I spend several hours researching items and putting them together to create a specific image depending on the individual. I can only take a small number of people a week. I usually try to work with a maximum of 2 to 3 people a week. I also freelance as a Style Contributor for magazines. I usually have two photo shoots a month which involves creating a theme, picking out clothes and booking models. Depending on the time of the year I sometimes provide clothing stores with a Fashion Show to create a buzz and generate some sales.
AM: So, how do people use your service? What does Stylissima offer?
Marianne: People that use my services typically have a busy life or really want to change their look. The first step is always a closet assessment and then come the rest. It’s very important for me to see where they stand so I can take them to the next level. The shopping part is not always a necessity. Sometimes it’s just a matter of teaching them how to put it together. There are a lot of great items out there but they are not for everybody. I try to keep my clients look age appropriate but yet fashionable. Store owners use my services for Fashion Shows and Magazines use my services for their Fashion/Style segment.
AM: Who are your clients? How can prospective customer contact you?
Marianne: Mostly woman that own businesses and housewives with a busy social life. I also work with boutiques and magazines. Prospective clients can contact me by sending me an email via my website, my Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. They can also reach me on my business phone number which is 407 404 1136.
AM: Are most of your clients local? Do you get to travel?
Marianne: Thankfully most of my clients have been local. I do get to travel because some of my clients are always looking for things that are in Los Angeles, Miami, New York or Atlanta. So I try to do a trip at the beginning of every season outside of Orlando.
AM: What are your plans for next year for Stylissima?
Marianne: Wardrobe styling for magazines and giving fashion tips on blogs. I also plan on helping organization like Dress For Success which helps women revamp themselves and regain confidence in order to join the workforce. I’m also planning on taking a few shopping trips to Europe for clients that want to be very exclusive. One of my goals is also to work with women that are public figures in Africa.
AM: Will you expand? Franchise? Hire more people?
Marianne: Expansion is always an option. Franshise, maybe not. I probably need to hire someone to help me with all the social media I have to keep up with. Fashion is so fast paced I have to stay connected all the time.
Marianne: The latest trends would be Spring/Summer 2011 for women are fashion safari looks in khaki and white. Soft and romantic floral prints, 70’s chic bohemian, very feminine dresses and suits(lace, eyelet,..)
AM: Does Brand name clothing important in Fashion?
Marianne: Basically, can someone still look fly while wearing retail store clothing? Brand name clothing are not important in fashion. It’s all about how things are put together. It’s nice to have great designer items but it’s not a must and it certainly doesn’t mean you are stylish! You can shop anywhere from Target to Neiman Marcus and still “look fly”.
AM: Then, what justify the high price tags on brands such as Armani, D&G, etc…?
Marianne: The price tag on designer items are high because of the workmanship and the quality of their fabrics. Some of these design houses have factories where people are expert at what they do whether it’s sewing sleeves or cutting patterns. Plus most of us know labor in Europe is extremely expensive. You will also notice that most designers now have a “cheaper” line like DG for Dolce and Gabbana or Armani Exchange for Armani. The price of the item varies on which collection it belongs to so that people can actually still wear their favorite designer at a price range they can afford. But people also need to start understanding that designer are also selling an aspiring lifestyle.
AM: People associate someone’s fashion look to his/her economic status/class? Is that fair? true?
Marianne: I think it’s true in some cases and I don’t think it’s fair. I’ve seen several people in flip-flops and khaki shorts spend substantial amount of money. Sometimes people are dressed in all designer clothes but they can’t really afford that lifestyle. Fashion used to have a trickle down theory which meant the rich start the trends and then the rest follow but now it’s a total different ball game. Fashion is accessible at all prices now clothing doesn’t have to be expensive to be considered fashionable or even mean that you are upper class.
Read the entire exclusive interview with Marianne on our Jan/Feb 2011 issue of ADUNAGOW Magazine. Get it Here.