Delectable, but not deductable
Ellie Patsalos, I think I can safely say, is a tax inspector like no other. For a start, she’s not really a tax inspector. She’s an uberguru who advises mighty financial institutions (HSBC, Deutsche Bank, Bloomberg) and glamorous fashion houses (Burberry), and writes books about tax structures in Eastern Europe in her spare time (she was based in Warsaw in 1992, where she helped train the newly established tax authorities).
For another thing – well, look at her. Grey she is not. When we meet at her offices in the City, she’s wearing splashy Mary Katrantzou. This is a woman who knows her Young British Designers – and she’s not messing around with the grunge-merchants or the minimalists. Wear black, she says, and you age 10 years. Wear colour and everyone remembers you. Only once did a colleague suggest that her exuberant wardrobe(s) of bright, form-fitting frocks and elevating heels might be inappropriate. And he was on his way out the door to retirement.
“The fact that I was a foreign woman with an accent who loved fashion and was always in miniskirts made me stand out. I never dress inappropriately, but once people meet me they never forget. And if you provide an excellent service, that’s a powerful combination. Now my clients dress up when they come to see me. I think I’ve helped change the culture.”
That accent, now that she mentions it, is like gentle gunfire. She’s 0-60 in everything she does. “When I do motivational speaking to other women I always tell them, one, love what you do. Two, get a supportive family. Three, never feel guilty and four, don’t dwell on chauvinism. I’ve never encountered prejudice once in my career because I was the best person around.”
Five, work on your self-belief (I added that one).
The youngest of seven children, Patsalos was the first girl to leave her village in Cyprus to study abroad; she arrived in London in 1972. You’d think it would have seemed very dull to a Mediterranean. But she was in heaven. “No one in Cyprus wore much colour in those days. Suddenly in London I was shopping in Kensington Market and getting lots of nice cheap clothes made by other Greek Cypriots.”
Her teacher told her that her English was not good enough for her to go to the LSE. Naturally, she proved otherwise. Then came an MBA at City University, where she met her husband, Philip Patsalos, a fellow Greek Cypriot who was doing his PhD and embarking on a career in neurology.
“My family would have disowned me if I had married a foreigner,” she says, with the tolerance of a woman whose marriage has worked out. By the late Seventies, the Patsaloses were living in Houston, Texas, where she got a job in the tax department, with the occasional month off to have her two children. By that stage, her career had become the financial engine of the family. Luckily, her mother-in-law stepped in to look after the children, because the more successful she became, the more she had to travel. “And my bright clothes made me stand out, because although everyone in Dallas was very groomed, they were so conservative. I couldn’t wear the nude tights though, even though they were company policy. Not in that heat.” So she didn’t. She did, however, buy her first designer handbag, a Louis Vuitton: “Everyone had one.” A ferocious – but not unmanageable – addiction was born.
When the family returned to London in 1983, Britain was a different country, she says. “We left behind the three-day week and 98 per cent taxation, and got back to find optimism, pavement cafés and a city where you could actually go out after 11pm.”
Working for Deloitte, her reputation soared along with
Investment pieces: Ellie Patsalos in Peter Pilotto, right; below, a piece from Pilotto’s a/w 2014 collection. Below right: dress, £990, by Mary Katrantzou (matchesfashion. com)