At the beginning of each episode of Nip/Tuck, the wildly popular drama series on F/X that reveals the back stories — both poignant and positively peculiar — of plastic surgery patients, the two doctors have a consult with their new patient of the week, looking him or her straight in the eye and asking the loaded question: What is it that you don’t like about yourself?
In 2000, at the dawn of a new year, a new century, and a new millennium, Lynne Wildenboer, one year shy of her 50th birthday, looked in the mirror and asked herself the same question. The previous year she had had gastric bypass surgery and shed the 70 pounds she had gained due to a medical condition. “But you know that little flap in the front you get when you lose a lot of weight?” says Wildenboer. “I wanted to get rid of that.” The answer: plastic surgery. “I went from having a pouch to having a totally flat stomach,” says Wildenboer. After the surgery she discovered the surgeon had given her a bonus. “She told me, ‘While I was in there I tightened all your abdominal muscles so you never have to do another crunch in your life.’”
Wildenboer, who is in the business of rebranding and image consulting — she founded and owns the marketing and graphic design firm, Red Wolf Design Group — decided to rebrand herself as well. She would go on, over the next several years, to have a mini-facelift as well as corrective work on her eyes, both top and bottom — “I was looking old and getting puffy pouches under my eyes”; a breast lift — “better than new,” she says; even a new belly button — almost de riguer after cutting off 12 inches of belly skin. “Image and inner comfort with one’s body is a given,” says Wildenboer. “You want to be innovative and you want to feel good about yourself,” she says, freely admitting she had these plastic surgeries to “stave off the hands of time.”
The year 2000 turned out not only to herald a decade of transformation for Wildenboer personally but also professionally. That year she changed the name of her company from Hoinash & Associates (her maiden name) to Red Wolf Design. On a vacation to Santa Fe, her husband, Corky (short for Cornelis) Wildenboer — a native of South Africa, now retired from his own business, Datacon, which designed and built hi-tech data rooms — fell in love with a painting of a red wolf in a gallery window.
“The artist believed that when you ask a red wolf a question, on a metaphysical level, they have to give you an answer filled with integrity, wisdom, honesty, and joy. Red wolves are an endangered species,” Lynne Wildenboer says. The Wildenboers went back to the gallery every day for three days and on the fourth day the painting was gone. On the flight home they discovered the people they were sitting next to had bought the Red Wolf. They had purchased the original painting but it turns out the artist had made five lithographs. Two years later, when the Wildenboers returned to Santa Fe, one of them was in the same gallery window. “So we got it. It was meant to be.”
Since her surgeries, Wildenboer has freely shared her stories with her own clients and in fact 10 of her clients and friends have become plastic surgery patients. “I’m one of the few women who actually share this information,” Wildenboer says. “When people say, ‘Oh, you look good,’ I say, ‘You have to meet my plastic surgeon.’” That surgeon, Jill Hazen, MD, of Hazen Plastic Surgery on Route 206, would sometimes have prospective patients who were sitting on the fence call Wildenboer, who would reassure them, “Oh, it’s like getting your nails done. It’s no big deal.” She adds: “A lot of people think plastic surgery is outrageously expensive. It’s not.” According to a spokesperson at Hazen Plastic Surgery, plastic surgery procedures there run between $3,000 and $5,500, not including facility or anesthesiology charges.
“People in both New York and New Jersey go to some of the best plastic surgeons in New York and get consultations and the prices are three times higher than here. There’s even financing available.” In fact most area plastic surgeons have financing plans. Wildenboer admits that not having any kids — and thus not having to send anyone to college — has increased her discretionary income, some of which she chooses to spend on such procedures.
Wildenboer says other upgrades, like the laminates on her teeth, are also affordable. “It’s like what it costs to do your manicure and pedicure over the course of a year.” (She also has cosmetically correct crowns on her front four teeth.)
Wildenboer says the results of plastic surgery are nothing short of amazing. “Three weeks after my facelift I was in a la-de-dah place in New York getting my hair done, and my stylist said, ‘I can’t see any scars. Some of my fanciest clients come in, having gone to the best of the best in New York, and I can see scars that look like earthworms behind their ears.’ If you look behind my ears, you can’t see anything.” She showed me. You can’t.
Wildenboer will tell anyone who’s considering plastic surgery to do their homework. “Go to two or three plastic surgeons. Talk to them. Talk to their patients. Look at before and after photos in their office or on their website. Jill, for example, will tell you if she doesn’t think you should do something. She was very honest in advising me about what I needed. I chose her because I felt like she was making recommendations based on what was good for me, not what would make her more money. She’s also ambidextrous.”
Wildenboer sees plastic surgery “as an investment in how you feel about yourself. And I think it’s a part of rebranding yourself. If you feel youthful why should you look older? So, it’s just like if you go out and invest in a $300 shirt. What’s the difference? You invest in how you feel. Why are people exercising every day? Because they want to feel good. It’s no different.” Asked if she has an exercise regimen herself or a particular approach to diet, she says she does not, and adds she does belong to a gym.
Were there any a-ha moments at a business conference or a networking event when she felt she was really glad she had done any of these procedures? She shakes her head no. “I did it all for myself, so it’s not about what anybody else perceives.” What did her husband think of all this? “He loves me at any weight. When we got married, I was probably a size 16 or 20. I was doing it for me and not for anyone else.”
Still hesitant to believe she really did this all of her own accord, I ask if her mother was image-conscious. “No, not at all. I just did this for me.” In fact Wildenboer convinced her mother, at age 84, to have her eyes done. “My mother didn’t like the bags under her eyes. She didn’t like the puffiness. Once that skin underneath the dermis starts breaking down there’s no product that will make it go back. I told her she should have the tops done at the same time, and she said, ‘No, I just care about the puffs.’ After my mother fighting me, I took her to see Jill, and she says, ‘You know, Mrs. Hoinash, you should really have the tops done at the same time, while you’re still this young.’ My mother says, ‘OK.’ My mother’s vain for her own self. I mean, everybody likes looking good.”
Wildenboer has also had those pesky folds that can develop on either side of your nose as you age taken care of with a process called Juvederm, a type of injectable filler. And she’s had liposelection (a different procedure from liposuction). “They put in something probably the size of a straw, then they put in ultrasound signals, so in your body it’s actually vibrating and melting the fat, and they pull it out like liquid. So you’re not cut. It’s quick and easy.” How does she know so much about the nitty gritty of plastic surgery? Hazen has become a client of Wildenboer, who has subsequently written brochures on liposelection and other plastic surgery procedures.
OK, it may be more affordable than we think. And the results are remarkable. But what about the healing process? Is it like that episode in “Mad Men” where all the socialites are sequestered in a fancy remote villa, playing bridge in the parlor while wrapped in bandages to while away the weeks while their faces heal? Not exactly, says Wildenboer. “After my facelift my eyes were black and blue. Most people go into seclusion for a week or two. I was seeing clients in three days with sunglasses on. And I was telling them why I looked like that. You wouldn’t believe how much women, especially, appreciated the honesty and my sharing that information. Why not be honest?
“The more you can share and the more you can embody honesty and truth and helping other people who feel there is a stigma attached — there really isn’t if you come straight out. My lengthiest healing after a procedure was the tummy tuck, probably a week, but it was just being sore. I could go out. With the breast lift you’re up and around that day because there are no muscles in your boobs.”
Wildenboer has been in the business of rebranding the better part of her career. She grew up in Englewood Cliffs, the elder of two daughters. Her father was a CPA and owned his own business, and her mother stayed at home. She earned her bachelor’s from Simmons College in Boston in 1973 with a major in home ec education and a minor in art and design. After about a year working for a microwave oven company — and writing one of the first cookbooks for microwave ovens, she went back to Simmons, earning her MBA in 1977. She says she was the youngest person in the MBA class; most of the women were in their 40s and 50s and in banking.
After working for Polaroid in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as an international advertising manager, she commuted from Boston to Digital Equipment Company (DEC) in New Hampshire, where she was a promotional strategy manager. In the late ’70s she came to New York, joining the advertising agency Trout and Ries, where Western Union — then promoting their telex technology — was a client.
She says having a father who worked for himself and also had friends who did too gave her a frame of reference that people could start their own businesses. Her own entrepreneurial spirit emerged when she left Trout and Ries to start her own business, working out of her parents’ house. Called Flirt Alert, it was a kind of precursor to eHarmony. “If you saw someone in a car and smiled at them and wanted to get in contact with them — this was before HIV/AIDS — and they were a member — they would have a bumper sticker — you could write down their plate number, fax it in, and we would connect you. I appeared on all the major networks but the next year AIDS struck, when I was just taking off, so there went $40,000 of investment capital.”
In the early ’80s she moved to Princeton to join Barish Advertising, serving as a VP with mostly high-tech clients. But her entrepreneurial drive kicked in again. “I decided I could do this on my own,” she says. She started Hoinash & Associates in 1984 out of her home in Lawrenceville. In 1990 she met her husband at a Chamber of Commerce event. It is her second marriage, his third. He has two grown children, now living in Mexico and Toronto. Wildenboer moved her business into the couple’s Princeton townhouse, a sprawling contemporary on Rodney Court, just off Princeton Pike. She eventually had six employees and in 2004 moved into offices on Alexander Street, with a distinctive red awning and red interior to play up the Red Wolf motif.
When the economy took a nose dive last year, Wildenboer seamlessly transformed her business once more. She moved the business back into her house with its roomy finished basement-turned-office still intact from when she first ran her business from home — a space which is actually bigger than the Alexander Road space. She is still using the same designers, only now they are “virtual.” “My designers are happy to work at home,” she says. “One had a baby and needed flexible hours to work at night. I’ve worked with my design team for five years so it’s just like, boom, boom, boom. I scribble out drawings and they just run with it. It’s fabulous.”
The dining room, as in the pre-Alexander Street days, serves as the conference room. “People liked being in a home situation,” says Wildenboer of those early Red Wolf days. “It was very successful. It’s private, you could play with the cats [she has four]. The hours were more flexible, if people needed to see me at 7 at night or 6 in the morning. It was always easier to serve the clients. So, after taking off a couple of months to travel, I went back to this. The business now is taking a lot less of my time, so I’ve been more efficient with my time. It’s worked out really well moving back here.”
The transformation isn’t over yet, however. While maintaining the Red Wolf name and her Red Wolf clients, Wildenboer earned her real estate license three years ago and just joined Henderson Sotheby’s Hopewell office. How is that going to be a part of her professional life? “Because just like branding a product or a service, you’re branding a house. And you’re serving customers who you really have to know at an intimate level in order to make the right match. So the same skill set I have at Red Wolf is what you need. I think I can put a slightly different twist on how I can work with buyers and sellers, and looking at a house from a branding perspective and helping sellers either stage their homes to present the right image. How do you package their marketing materials and so on?”
She is a master networker and is using every contact she has in the process of adding the real estate arm to her business. For example, she sometimes relies on the expertise of Ray Disch, a former Red Wolf client and a real estate broker who had his own Hopewell-based business (Red Wolf designed his black, maroon, and marigold yellow sign) from 2005 to 2009, before merging last April with Henderson Sotheby. “He’s great at having resources, like, oh, before you sell your house, you need this done, and he’s got the whole team together that can come in from a logical point of view and get your house ready. Not just, oh, paint the wall, but structurally what you might have to do. One of the things I really wanted to do at Red Wolf and become good at is supporting businesses and clients. Anybody who became a client of mine, I would give them resources of other clients of mine.”
In 2008 to expand her network even further Wildenboer started a group called Powerful Women in Princeton. The women — and some men — came from all walks of life, says Wildenboer. “I paid for everything so there were no rules, no fees. And no RSVPs. People could just show up.” They met monthly, sometimes at Jasna Polana, sometimes at Wildenboer’s home or other people’s homes, even in someone’s backyard, “where we could do drumming circles.”
And her network just grew and grew. Through Powerful Women in Princeton, for example, Wildenboer met Jeanette Wolfe, and introduced her to the people at Forrestal Village, another Red Wolf client. Wolfe then opened Planet Apothecary (which provides holistic, spiritual, green living, and nutritional services and programs) in Forrestal Village; Red Wolf designed all her materials. Wolfe also now consults on space and air and environmental issues for Forrestal Village.
“Through Powerful Women in Princeton, my clients and friends would bring their friends, so there was great cross-pollination of ideas, and support.” After a brief hiatus, Wildenboer plans to start up Powerful Women in Princeton again in early 2010.
Four or five years ago one of the women Wildenboer met through the group, who was very active in Big Brothers/Big Sisters, encouraged her to become a Big Sister. She sat on the board for about a year and a half and was also paired up with a young girl named Chelsea, now a freshman in high school, who she saw at first weekly, and now sees about once a month.
Along the way Wildenboer became good friends with Chelsea’s mother, Wendy Wilkinson, a single mom with three children (the other two are on scholarships in private schools) who she discovered has a remarkable knack for organization. Throwing open two doors adjacent to her kitchen to reveal a spotlessly organized pantry, Wildenboer says, “She just has a gift. She helped me clean and reorganize all the stuff in my house, including the garage.” So naturally, Red Wolf did a pro bono brochure and website for her, creating and giving shape and identity to a new business, The Wilkinson Way, with the tagline, “Go from cluttered to calm,” which serves residential and commercial clients.
Wildenboer says she wants to be a good role model for Chelsea. “Once or twice I took her to one of my rich black clients to meet them. And we pulled up to this huge house, and Chelsea said, ‘Oh, I don’t know.’ And I said, ‘I think this is their house, I’ve only been here once or twice; I’m helping them start a new business called Click It.’ So she says, ‘I better wait in the car.’ I said, ‘Well, they’re African American.’ She had never seen a wealthy black family.
“I expose her to my lifestyle,” Wildenboer continues. “I’ve told her how I’ve gotten here. I’ve exposed her to other successful black women who have become friends or clients, so it expands her horizons.”
She points to a painting of Chelsea’s in her office. “I had it framed, and I had reproductions made to give to her, her mother, and her best friend. She’s helped me with computers, I’ve nurtured her art, so it’s like I take it to the next level, where she might just think this is a picture. Then I gave her $50 for it. She’s also done some photography and I’ve bought a couple of her photos. I’m teaching her to make it real.”
Her desire to help Chelsea reach higher goes for her own clients too. “I think what makes me unique in the industry, personally and professionally, is that I really am passionate about supporting people to live their dreams, to line up their passion with a purpose.”
As an example she cites a client named Barbara Vanderkolk Gardner of Collins Interiors, with offices in Princeton and Sarasota-Longboat Key, Florida. “She’s fabulous. I did her website and all her marketing. Then I hired her to do my house. So I really support my clients! Every client I’ve had, I’ve either gotten them business or they’ve become a client of mine, so it’s really always a circle.” Now Wildenboer’s home/office is a living promotion for Gardner’s work and Wildenboer has referred clients to her.
“Whether I work with clients or my Little Sister, I really help. For example, Barbara has said to me, ‘You know, you were so instrumental in seeing my potential, encouraging me, supporting me, when some of my friends didn’t.’” Vanderkolk, a former management consultant, has other notable credentials, including serving as the president and CEO of the Rippel Foundation, which funds initiatives to promote women’s health. “She was a high-powered woman and speaker, friends with Hillary Clinton, etc,” says Wildenboer. “When she was going into this new career, I was the one who said, ‘Barbara, you’re great, you can do this.’ I always give people support and energy, because I’m rebranding them. So that’s like trusting me with delivering your baby.
“When I’m passionate about people and what they have to offer, they get passionate, or more passionate. So from there, with my intuition, we create beyond what they thought was possible. I’m passionate about supporting people and aligning them with their purpose. And I think I’m a little bit different than (someone who might say) oh, there’s a client who will pay me $30,000. If clients can’t afford me I either do it for free or I send them to someone who will. And it’s never about the money, it’s about birthing new ideas.”
While Wildenboer says there are no plastic surgery procedures planned going forward, she continues to get micropeels (a type of facial) and laser treatments for fine lines at Hazen’s skin care center. When I ask her, what do you see when you look in the mirror today, I wonder if she’ll answer figuratively or literally. She replies: “I see whether I have to get my hair colored, I see if my wrinkle cream is working, and I see if I took my makeup off last night.”
Red Wolf Design Group, Lynne Wildenboer, president. 313 Rodney Court, Princeton 08540. 609-577-5449. www.redwolfdesign.com.