Inside the dressing room of women’s boutique Intermix on the Upper West Side, Karen Chmielnicki, 43, is taking in the view.
“I really feel great,” she says, admiring herself in a red silk wrap dress in the three-way mirror. “I would never have pulled this off the rack.” For that, Chmielnicki — an actress and real estate broker — has her “fashion mentor” Ania Schwartzman to thank.
Schwartzman, 46, isn’t a stylist, but rather a clinical psychologist who has been in practice in New York for 18 years. This spring, she launched a personal wardrobe consultancy.“It sounds a little goofy, but I totally believe that fashion makes a difference in how you feel,” Schwartzman tells The Post.
Mindful dressing is a movement that’s gaining momentum: the Fashion Institute of Technology even offers fashion psychology classes led by Dawnn Karen, who holds a master’s degree in counseling psychology from Columbia University and teaches students how color and clothing affect human behavior.
Schwartzman, on the other hand, is more interested in field work — going shopping with clients. “I don’t do therapy with them, but I’m therapeutic,” she says of her approach.
Though she’s always been into fashion — she once worked at Zara and a Madison Avenue shoe store — Schwartzman didn’t hit upon wardrobe consultancy until last year.
That’s when she offered to help a friend find a new dress for her daughter’s graduation. But the pal, who was in the midst of a divorce, was falling apart.
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“The stylists in the store kept saying, ‘Oh, that looks so cute,’ as she was sobbing,” Schwartzman says. “They didn’t know what to do with her. I knew I could apply my psychology experience and my passion for fashion into a business.”
Her fashion clients — none of whom are her regular patients — are people “in transition”: recent divorcées, empty nesters, new moms, women celebrating a milestone birthday, or just looking to get out of a life rut.
“How you dress is not the only thing that will make you feel good in life, but it’s still a piece of it,” says Schwartzman, who still maintains a private practice for children and adults on the Upper West Side. “It’s a mindset that holds us back. You either believe things can change or you believe they can’t. Everything else is mental noise.”
Chmielnicki says she felt “stuck” before working with Schwartzman. “My uniform is ripped jeans, a denim shirt and Converse sneakers. It’s not sophisticated,” she says, adding that she feels pressure to look and act young in the competitive acting world.
But, by working with Schwartzman, she’s discovered her wardrobe choices reveal a lot about her mental state.
“I had a fear of being a true adult. We came to that together. It’s the issue of getting older and wanting to stay a kid as long as possible,” Chmielnicki says.
“I’ve been holding myself back subconsciously. Sophistication can make you feel good and not necessarily make you feel old,” she adds. “Ania helped me see that . . . She’s my Rachel Zoe, with a psychology degree.”
Before clients schedule official shopping sessions, they fill out a questionnaire to be discussed with Schwartzman over coffee or by phone. It asks questions like “How do you cope with the changes in your life?,” “What are your biggest daily struggles?” and “What obstacles get in the way of achieving your aspirations?”
A shopping session with Schwartzman costs $250 an hour, and she recommends a series of three so that she can help build up a new wardrobe and unearth buried confidence. “After a few sessions, they’ve stepped out of their comfort zone,” she says. “They’ve taken risks and can live life feeling hopeful.”
While analyzing outfits, Schwartzman does a mix of soft and serious probing, in an attempt to find out how certain pieces make her clients feel. “It’s more than, ‘Yeah, honey, I’ve been through that too,’ ” Schwartzman says.
Her frankness with Chmielnicki, especially when it came to her tattered tees and jeans, was eye opening.
“Ania said, ‘That’s a very young look for you.’ No one else has said that,” Chmielnicki says. “Her psychology background definitely made me feel more comfortable talking about that.”
Donning a pair of heels for the first time in years, she says the reflection in the mirror finally looks like an adult. Says Chmielnicki: “I feel sexier than ever.”
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