A Place To Discover Your Style in Red Bank

October 25, 2018
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ate Neff, model and college student studying fashion design, credits Barbizon of Red Bank for helping her with
personal development. Mallory Zenner of Craft House Salon did her hair for this photo; makeup by Jan Murphy. Photo by Brandi Grooms Photography

By Judy O’Gorman Alvarez |

RED BANK – Whether you’re feeling stylish or looking to develop your style, there are many ways in the Two River area to achieve that goal.

Barbizon of Red Bank, a coaching center for modeling, acting and personal development, has been helping men, women and children find their style and personal best for decades.

“Years ago the slogan was ‘be a model or just look like one,’ ” said Mary DeMont, executive director, who runs the program with Michelle LaSala, operations manager. “Now it’s ‘discover your inner star.’ I think that’s a good one.”

Barbizon of Red Bank has been a staple in the borough since 1968. Since then, thousands of young women and men have come to learn how to walk, speak and present themselves in a professional manner.

As a modeling and acting coaching center, Barbizon grads have sashayed in shopping mall fashion shows and fundraisers, and even graced New York City runways. “We’re a small boutique placement; we’re lucky to have jobs coming in and out.”

According to DeMont, who has been involved with Barbizon since she was a student in the 1970s and went on to model, some parents bring a child as young as 3 ½ for an interview. Other parents come at the insistence of their kids begging to join and the parents are impressed at what is offered.

“It’s amazing how parents are starting children younger and younger,” said DeMont.

But it’s not all about modeling. Personal development can benefit everyone.
Although some graduates land on the runway, on camera or in beauty pageants, many use the skills they’ve gained at Barbizon to feel comfortable on college or job interviews, give presentations or speeches or just navigate through life.

Parents especially are interested in schooling their preteens in basic etiquette. Coaches teach them proper posture, table manners and more.

Manners are an oft-requested area of study, although DeMont says most youngsters have basic manners, but there’s always room for refinement. “With the onset of cellphones and texting, it’s a new area.” Learning appropriate cellphone behavior is covered.

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“Everyone can pretty much coach the kids in everything,” she said, from skin care to makeup application to manners.

“As we like to say, whether it’s the runway or the thruway of life,” said DeMont, “when you make an entrance, in seven seconds someone forms an opinion about you.”

Among the important life skills Barbizon lessons stress are “interview techniques, posture, poise, projection, eye contact,” she said. “ You want to project self-confidence.”

Adults also come to Barbizon, especially after a life change or career change.

“A mom who has been working with her children at home and now the children have moved on, often will want an updated look,” said DeMont.

Barbizon coaches will work with them on makeup, fashion selections and more. “It’s fun,” she said. “The whole point is to make them feel good about themselves. Maybe they’re competing in the business world. They want to be able to represent themselves well.”

Public speaking and presentations is another area where coaches can help. “We have worked with men and women who have to give speeches. Maybe they’ve taken on a role in management and now they have to be in front of a group,” she said. “It helps with communication styles,” she said.

DeMont tells of a woman who came to Barbizon for personal development. “She wanted to make a change,” Demont said. “Then she got interested in the modeling part because she had seen such a difference. Then she went on to plus modeling.”

DeMont brings in guest speakers, such as an esthetician to talk about skin care or a makeup artist will share lessons of her trade. A fitness and nutrition expert, who also has a modeling background, may conduct a workshop.

For the student who is interested in pursuing a career in modeling or acting, age-appropriate instruction in everything from audition practices, on camera TV workshops, voice and diction and more is offered.

Many of the students have gone on to success and have found the area they’d like to study.

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Kate Neff, 19, of Little Silver was no stranger to modeling when she first joined Barbizon. She had appeared in a print ad for Ralph Lauren when she was in 2nd grade.

“When I was 13 I wanted to get back into modeling,” Neff said. “I didn’t realize how beneficial personal development would be.”

Neff, who worked as a receptionist for Barbizon in high school, said among the lessons she learned were: “The importance of a firm handshake and making a good first impression. How you have five to seven seconds to make an impression overall.”

Now a freshman at University of Delaware, Neff is studying fashion design. “I’ve been lucky to do local modeling and in the city, and now pursue something I’m passionate about.”

She said she appreciated the instructors, “the professionals who worked as models for years who shared their experiences.”
“It will benefit me in my future years,” she said.

Alexis Alvarado

When Alexis Alvarado of Neptune was 7 years old and changed schools three times in three years – due to moving and a school closure – her mother Danielle wanted to help ease her daughter’s anxiety and shyness.

“She needed a boost of confidence and self-esteem,” Alvarado said. A friend recommended Barbizon.

Alvarado never would have thought a Barbizon class to help overcome her shyness would lead to modeling and acting for Alexis, now 10.

“At first I was hesitant because she was with other girls, but the staff said she was mature ‘and holding her own.’ ”

As a result, Alexis has been involved in local musical theater, taken improv classes and is in talks about modeling.
“She wouldn’t have had the confidence to really put forth the effort earlier.”

Other added benefits, Alvarado said, is Alexis has learned the proper way to take care of her skin and eat well, as well as the etiquette and style her daughter has developed. “She always had good manners but now she’ll say ‘this is how you set the table. This is where the bread goes, and the water goes.”

“It was an overall good experience,” she said. “It’s done wonders for her self-esteem.”

This article was first published in the Oct. 18-24, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.

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