Maxine Gordon discovers that you don't need to be rich and famous to have a personal shopper...

CELEBRITIES wouldn't be without their personal shopper. Being too busy and too famous to mix with the hoi polloi on the high street, they rely on trusted fashion aides to keep their wardrobe well stocked with the latest looks.

But personal shopping is no longer the domain of the wealthy and well-known. Many stores now employ a personal shopper for hire to ordinary customers and York department store Browns in Davygate is the latest to launch this service.

Its personal shopper is Elizabeth Wright, who is well placed to offer style advice, having spent a long career in the beauty and fashion trade. Indeed, Elizabeth launched Browns' first cosmetics department in 1987.

As you might imagine, looking good is one of Elizabeth's passions. Jokingly, her colleagues at Browns call her Joany after Joan Collins because she's never seen without her make-up on. But that make-up, Elizabeth insists, is just the basics: foundation, blusher, mascara and lipstick. "It only takes me seven minutes to get ready in the morning - and that includes doing my hair," she says.

"I think you owe it to yourself to look your best. If you feel scruffy you feel tired and unwell. I know if I haven't done my hair I feel down and find it hard to motivate myself."

More than ever, she adds, we are judged on how we look, so never has it been more important to pay attention to our image.

And this is where the role of the personal shopper comes into its own. The service, which is free at Browns, is geared towards helping people who are too busy to shop or those who feel they have lost their way in the world of fashion and need a few friendly pointers in the right direction. It is also useful for people in need of an outfit for a special occasion, say a wedding or an important job interview.

"I'm no Trinny and Susannah," asserts Elizabeth in reference to the fashion fascists Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine of the popular TV makeover show What Not To Wear. "I would never dream of being so rude."

Instead, Elizabeth likens her role to a friend who wants to see you looking your best.

"I never lie," she says, with an earnest look. "I believe that everyone has a redeeming feature and that you can bring out the best in people."

Sometimes that is as simple as making sure the woman is wearing the right bra, or encouraging someone to try a different colour. It may even be ensuring the customer wears the correct size. "I had one lady come who told me over the telephone she was a size 12, but when she turned up she was an eight," says Elizabeth, who adds the woman left happy and clutching a well-fitting dress.

Elizabeth stresses people are under no obligation to buy. "I never put anyone under pressure," she says. "If someone wasn't sure I just tell them to go away and think about it."

But more often than not, customers leave happy and armed with new clothes they can wear with confidence.

To use the service, customers book an appointment with Elizabeth, who will take down details about their size and lifestyle and what they are looking to get from the appointment. Clients in the past have included a businesswoman too busy to shop for herself; a 50-year-old who was treated to the shopping day by her friends; and a man whose wife was ill and wanted sound guidance on his summer wardrobe.

Elizabeth also worked with a group of journalists who were visiting York on a press trip and were road-testing the service for an article. Elizabeth is keen to work with groups of friends, who could book her services for an evening. She is happy to offer breakfast appointments too.

Sessions last for a half-day or full-day and can include complementary coffee and lunch in the fashionable Rhodes restaurant. Clients are looked after in a dressing room which even the notoriously fussy Jennifer Lopez would find hard to fault. The beamed room is in the listed part of the department store, with windows overlooking St Sampson's Square. It features comfy chairs, magazines, a full-length mirror and private dressing room with mirror and two clothes rails.

Before the customer arrives, Elizabeth will pre-select a range of clothes and accessories for them to try in the privacy of the dressing room. She can also do makeovers in the room.

There is a Regis hair salon in the store, so customers can have a consultation or treatment there.

Elizabeth, who confesses to only buying her clothes at Browns, says one advantage of using a personal shopper is that you are not lured into only buying from one concession or brand.

"I tour the store regularly and talk to the buyers, so I know what's new and what is coming in," she says, adding that if she spots something she thinks a previous client would like she would ring them up to tip them off.

The service also extends to helping customers pick furnishings for their home as well as gift buying and wrapping - something for which Elizabeth already has several happy customers. Not surprisingly, these are mostly men looking for something appropriate for their wives.

So far, her success rate has been 100 per cent. "I've never had anybody send anything back," she says. "I think men get a lot of pleasure too from watching a woman open a beautifully-wrapped box and finding something inside that they actually like."

Updated: 09:31 Tuesday, May 20, 2003