03/25/2011 09:25 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Personal Branding: The Inside Story

Having spent half my business life in the fashion industry, I may have a somewhat jaundiced view of the culture that surrounds it. I was recently contacted by a woman who is following me on Twitter. She writes about fashion and style and explained via a DM (direct message), "If I post anything remotely un-superficial, I lose a few Twitter fashionistas!"

Fashion and style are marketed with great vigour by designers, celebrities and the media, and are widely spread on covers of glossy magazines. Their focus is on what I describe as "Outer Branding" -- that is, image. Unsurprisingly, this is a magnetic draw for those who aspire to improve their appearance, either by acquiring fashionable clothing items, a new hairstyle, makeup, or perhaps even cosmetic surgery. These so-called makeover strategies can provide some people with an improved self image. They can also increase levels of confidence, enhance self esteem, and for many, add another notch to one's sense of self worth. And while these are attributes I fully subscribe to, like most quick-fixes, longevity is never the focus or the intention.

These often pricey image enhancements only represent half of what constitutes a whole Personal Brand. For an individual to have a Personal Brand that's complete, there needs to be equal parts of Inner and Outer Branding. When our Outer Brand diminishes, which is inevitable, having a well developed Inner Brand will augment that which has faded through the ravages of time. Inner Branding came to me when I realised that many of the people I met, and whom I found truly compelling, had a kind of quality about them that transcended appearance, clothes or physical attributes. I remember thinking, "I'd like some of that." Each of these individuals had very similar characteristics, all of which, when cobbled together, constituted a well developed Inner Brand.

Because I spent a great deal of my working life designing and buying beautiful clothes, working in elegant fashion environs, dashing around Europe and North America and only staying the hippest of hotels, clearly, I was spoiled. In saying that, I never felt as though I fitted in with the fashion coterie's idea of what being a fashionable person meant, or was supposed to mean. To say I was an outsider would be an understatement. Although I had grown accustomed to not fitting in as the only Jew at school, I still subconsciously craved to be accepted. And as much as I resisted that pull, I knew in my heart that in the current profession I occupied, I would not be accepted -- not the way I wanted to be, anyway.

I'd be welcomed heartily by all the fabulously elegant vendeurs -- that's how chic female showroom sales assistants were described when I was in the business. One day I'd be attending fashion exhibitions in Paris, then off to Milan for the runway shows, before catching the Rapido -- a non-stop train to Florence that was a kind of entry-level version of the Orient Express -- where I'd attend the Pitti Uomo. In those days, the Pitti Uomo was considered the most elegant high fashion men's clothing exhibition in Europe. Then I'd jet off to New York to see the new wave of American designers. And although I felt all these jaunts were in the interest of appearance, image, even superficiality, I resisted feeling those feelings. But as Jung said, "What you resist persists." That's when my journey to discovering my Inner Brand began. I stopped resisting.

Over time, I discovered who we are on the inside -- to include our passions, personal integrity, what we stand for, etc. -- deeply affects who we are on the outside. And although fashion has a significant part to play as far as Outer Branding is concerned, and by virtue of its existence is ephemeral, our Inner Brand is solid, and truly represents our authentic self. And unlike our Outer Brand, it will never go out of style. Therefore, having a Personal Brand we are proud of as it relates to who we are on the inside is pivotal to our self esteem, levels of confidence and our reputation.

Putting at least as much effort to developing our Inner Brand as we do our Outer Brand is key to what I describe as having Brand Integrity. In fact, given the world we live in, it's our Inner Brand that will give more meaning to our lives, and to the lives of others. Having and projecting authentically the kind of Inner Brand that enables us to be our best selves -- which includes demonstrating enough gravitas so that others look up to us and seek our advice -- is a deeply worthy aspiration.


To learn more about Malcolm Levene, visit