Ni­cole Trunfio helps Peter Alexan­der cel­e­brate 30 years in fash­ion.


Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­phy TROYT COBURN Styling GEMMA KEIL Words AL­LEY PAS­COE

There is only a small part of Peter Alexan­der that wants to tell his haters to “suck it”. When he started his de­signer py­jama busi­ness in 1987, aged 23, at his mother’s din­ing room ta­ble with a $3000 loan from his fa­ther, peo­ple told him it was a crazy idea. They asked him what the hell he was do­ing. Who was go­ing to spend money on py­ja­mas?

As it turns out, a hell of a lot of peo­ple. So many, in fact, that his epony­mous sleep­wear com­pany is cel­e­brat­ing 30 years in busi­ness this month. The brand re­cently opened its 103rd store within Aus­tralia and New Zealand, and recorded sales of $89.1 mil­lion in the first half of last year.

But while the reign­ing Py­jama King could rub his suc­cess in the faces of those who doubted him, Alexan­der chooses to re­main hum­ble. “There are cer­tain peo­ple through­out my ca­reer who have been re­ally nasty to me, but we have to change our ways to rise above it all. In the past 10 years, neg­a­tiv­ity in the world has just grown, and I don’t want to add to it. I would never put any­body down,” he says. In­stead, “I would say to the naysay­ers, don’t clip peo­ple’s wings. You should never tell some­one they ‘can’t’.”

While the naysay­ers didn’t man­age to pull him down, Alexan­der ad­mits he was ner­vous when he started out. He’d strug­gled at school, wasn’t in­ter­ested in fash­ion and didn’t know how to sew or draw, let alone run a small busi­ness.

“It was tough be­cause I stut­tered a lot as a kid and I had a learn­ing dis­abil­ity. I re­mem­ber cry­ing with my dad when I was 19 be­cause I didn’t know what to do in life. I said to my dad, ‘How can I suc­ceed? I can’t even spell,’” he re­calls. “And my dad said, ‘That’s what sec­re­taries are for, son.’”

It was dur­ing a stint work­ing at Sports­girl that Alexan­der no­ticed a gap in the mar­ket. Women only had

a choice be­tween “Lit­tle House On The Prairie vir­ginal night­ies” and “femme fatale neg­ligees”. In an at­tempt to find a happy medium, Alexan­der came up with man-style py­ja­mas in ladies’ prints.

Af­ter his ini­tial suc­cess with a cat­a­logue-based busi­ness model, Alexan­der’s big­gest risk came five years in when he wanted to ex­pand. “Dad said on his deathbed to never put my mum’s house on a mort­gage,” he re­calls. “Well, we did. I needed about $100,000 to grow the busi­ness and Mum said she was happy to mort­gage the house. I was ter­ri­fied, and we had some pretty close calls, but we sur­vived.”

The gam­ble paid off. In 2000, Alexan­der sold the busi­ness to the Just Group for a sum be­tween $3 and $5 mil­lion, stay­ing on as founder and creative di­rec­tor. At the time, he didn’t feel like he was hand­ing over his baby be­cause it had grown into a ter­ri­ble teen. Un­able to han­dle the pres­sures of run­ning a big busi­ness, he be­lieves he sold it at ex­actly the right mo­ment.

De­spite his suc­cess, Alexan­der says he doesn’t have a se­cret for­mula or think of him­self as an en­tre­pre­neur­ial ge­nius. In­stead, he in­sists, most of it comes down to luck and says he has stum­bled his way through. “We thought the busi­ness would go un­der a lot of times, but it kept sur­viv­ing,” he mar­vels. “I al­ways say I’ve been suc­cess­ful be­cause I was at the right place at the right time, and made some re­ally bad de­ci­sions that turned out to be good.”

One of Alexan­der’s “hic­cups”, as he calls them, was the clo­sure of his US stores in 2009, fol­low­ing the global fi­nan­cial cri­sis.

“It hurt my ego more than any­thing else,” he says. “I’d been suc­cess­ful at ev­ery­thing and this was some­thing we tried, but it was just the wrong tim­ing.” While the ex­pe­ri­ence was hu­mil­i­at­ing for him, Alexan­der still looks back on it pos­i­tively and sees it as a re­al­ity check.

Ul­ti­mately, the highs out­weigh the lows. Alexan­der has spent much of his time in busi­ness pinch­ing him­self, and can reel off a tally of mon­u­men­tal achieve­ments like a shop­ping list. High­lights in­clude work­ing with Kylie Minogue, be­ing the first com­mer­cial brand al­lowed to shoot on the set of Sesame Street, ap­pear­ing on 60 Min­utes and hav­ing Crown Princess Mary of Den­mark shop at his store. Although, Alexan­der was most “tick­led pink” af­ter see­ing pa­parazzi shots of Brit­ney Spears walk­ing out of a store with Peter Alexan­der bags. “This is the gay boy in me speak­ing,” he says with a laugh.

Alexan­der was equally happy when the brand let him loose to de­sign the 30th an­niver­sary cap­sule col­lec­tion, which he de­scribes as a “lit­tle cap­sule of non­sense”. Fea­tur­ing se­quins and faux fur, his lat­est loungewear col­lec­tion is not to be worn to bed, but is per­fect for py­jama par­ties.

Aus­tralian model Ni­cole Trunfio is the face of the 30th an­niver­sary cam­paign and flew in from New York to be part of this ex­clu­sive shoot for Stel­lar. With se­ri­ous busi­ness as­pi­ra­tions of her own, she ad­mires Alexan­der’s longevity in a fickle in­dus­try. “Peter has built such an in­cred­i­bly strong brand that is in­stantly recog­nis­able. As a young en­tre­pre­neur, I look up to him so much,” she tells Stel­lar.

Pos­ing next to Trunfio, who’s also 30, Alexan­der ad­mits he hates be­ing in front of the cam­era and jok­ingly sucks in his stom­ach. “I’m a very pri­vate per­son, yet I have to be the pub­lic face of the busi­ness. It is part of the job, be­cause I called the brand Peter Alexan­der, but it’s not nat­u­ral to me; I am not [happy be­ing] the cen­tre of at­ten­tion. It’s a skill I’ve got, I can turn it on and do it, but nat­u­rally I’m a qui­eter per­son. I’ve been on so many TV shows and had so many in­ter­views, but I still find it awk­ward,” he says.

This pri­vacy ex­tends to so­cial me­dia; Alexan­der isn’t on Face­book, Twit­ter or In­sta­gram. “As I’ve got older, I’m a lot more con­scious of send­ing out pos­i­tiv­ity rather than neg­a­tiv­ity, that’s why I rarely read so­cial me­dia,” he says. “I just fig­ure if I have to lis­ten to all the good, I have to lis­ten to all the bad.”

The big­gest les­son he has learnt over the years is that hap­pi­ness comes from within. “I al­ways thought, ‘If I was a millionaire, my life would be per­fect’ – it’s not. Suc­cess might make you more com­fort­able and buy you nice stuff, but if you can’t find hap­pi­ness within your­self, that’s go­ing to be ir­rel­e­vant,” he says, be­fore quickly adding, “I sound like a wannabe spir­i­tual guru – but I’m not!”


Peter Alexan­der top, $60, pe­teralexan­der.; Strateas Car­lucci shirt, $742, strateas­car­; San­dro Paris skirt, $360, (02) 9327 3377; Rochas slides, $808, far­; stylist’s own socks

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