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Closet Case

There is nothing that gets Elika Gibbs' heart pumping more than piles of clutter.

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LONDON — There is nothing that gets Elika Gibbs' heart pumping more than piles of clutter. Give her a walk-in closet that looks like a shantytown and, in eight hours, she'll turn it into a luxury gated community.

"I'm like a Stepford Wife — without the Valium," says Gibbs, who five years ago started Practical Princess, a wardrobe service for highly fashionable — yet highly disorganized — pack rats.

Over tea at The Wolseley, Gibbs admits her business is growing, but not all of her clients love her all of the time. Loathing, she says, usually sets in when she tries to toss out items, like the free Virgin Airlines Upper Class pajamas one doyenne insisted on keeping. "These are wealthy women we're talking about," says the 39-year-old. "For some reason they're attached to those free pajamas."

Not surprisingly, these are the same clients who have trouble disposing of their grubby white T-shirts. "I tell them, 'It's OK if we throw these away. We can go to Gap and buy new ones,'" she says.

Gibbs' clients include Camilla Al Fayed, swimsuit designer Melissa Odabash and Tara Palmer-Tomkinson. But perhaps her most devoted is Tamara Mellon, who often refers to the closet guru as her "housewife." Gibbs has organized an archive of Halston dresses for Mellon's daughter Minty, packs Mellon's bags when she travels, and numbered all the outfits in her wardrobe so that Mellon can keep all the looks straight, even when she's traveling.

"I could not live the life I do without her organizational skills," says the Jimmy Choo chief. "Her attention to detail means that I know what goes with what outfit — and where to find it." Indeed, Gibbs believes most women only wear 20 percent of their shoes and clothing because they can't track down — or remember they have — the remaining 80 percent.

Although organizing and maintaining closets, drawers, shoes and jewelry is the core service at Practical Princess, Gibbs will also style looks for customers using the clothes they already own, sort out children's playrooms, offices and attics, and even help with moving homes.
Among Gibbs' tools are folding templates for stacking and color-coordinating sweaters — "like Benetton used to do" — thin, rubberized, no-slip hangers that save space, plastic boxes for seasonal storage, Perspex boxes for costume jewelry and suede drawer liners for fine jewelry.

She has a team of seven, and charges about 500 pounds, or a little more than $1,000, a day for a "deputy princess" and assistant who's usually "up the ladder dusting with Pledge." Gibbs' own prices start at 450 pounds per day, or more than $900, plus an assistant. In the new year, she will begin selling her 250 pounds, or $500, Wardrobe Essentials pack, which includes the hangers, folding templates, and products including bikini bags, drawer dividers and shoe labels.

Although life in Stepford requires a certain discipline, Gibbs swears it's worth the effort. "You wouldn't put your dinner in a blender, so why would you live with a jumbled up wardrobe?" she asks. "Clothes are like food, if you make them look appealing, you're more inclined to use them."