Career: Eva Galambos
The buyer and owner of Sydney’s Parlour X reflects on 20 years in fashion retailing.
VOGUE AUSTRALIA: You founded Parlour X in Paddington in 2001 as an independent, luxury fashion retailer, which it remains today. No mean feat. Can you explain your strategy?
EVA GALAMBOS: “When we launched, Sydney did not have a high-end multi-brand boutique with collections straight from the catwalk. Twenty years ago, Australians were receiving collections six months later. I changed that. I also had a desire to introduce and curate contemporary collections that many Australians had never heard of before. I have always believed that Australians are progressive by nature and we are early adopters of technology, and my mission has been for Parlour X to reflect this. Hence, we were the first Australian-owned luxury fashion retailer to migrate online.”
How crucial was your early adoption of ecommerce?
“Over the last decade, other businesses were growing their store network, while we were growing our online business to compete within a global market with overseas retailers. There is no way we could compete today with the online giants if we didn’t have an established and robust ecommerce presence.”
Relocating from Fiveways Paddington to St John’s Church on Oxford Street was a landmark move. What did it mean to the brand?
“It was monumental. We transformed this nearly 200-year-old building into a focal point for fashion and cultural activities. This unique physical presence positioned Parlour X among the most iconic boutiques in the world, helping elevate Australia’s retail pedigree in the eyes of the major fashion houses.”
How important is it to you that Parlour X holds its own on a world stage?
“It is critical. We have developed solid relationships with the major European houses and they seek Parlour X as their custodians to represent their collections. Our buying strategy gives every
collection the best chance of representation and being well received by our clientele.”
You have always had a unique buy. Looking back, what have been some of the most rewarding moments for you as a buyer?
“My very first Comme des Garçons showroom experience in 2006. I now buy five lines from this iconic Japanese fashion house, so I customarily spend an entire day in its Place Vendôme HQ. I love seeing Rei Kawakubo inconspicuously float around, surrounded by her uber-cool Comme muses in all their sartorial splendour. Also being invited to the Alaïa showroom in 2007, and Mr Alaïa proudly showing me his newly gifted Marc Newson chair and connecting us as Australians, while Naomi Campbell and Anna Wintour waited to receive his reception.”
And as a businesswoman?
“Winning the Best Australian Retailer at the Australian Fashion Laureate Awards and helping foster many of today’s design talents as a judge for the Next Generation Award at Australian Fashion Week and a Finalist judge for the International Woolmark Prize.”
Did you ever want to do anything aside from fashion?
“I studied art and was one of the first employees at the MCA. If things turned out differently, I could have become a curator.”
What attributes have assisted you in running a successful fashion business?
“Being focused, disciplined, agile, open and having an ability to balance risk and reward. And I love to embrace change.”
What have been some of the key learnings for you?
“When I do not trust my first instincts, I have made mistakes. I wouldn’t call them failures, rather learning experiences, which are the best experiences of all. I believe that when problems arise in situations at the beginning, they won’t improve and it reflects the end result, so I am now very quick to cut my losses and move on. “
Multi-brand retail was already having a hard time before the pandemic. How challenging has it been to keep international brands enthusiastic about wholesaling?
“It’s very difficult. The larger online retailers have created a new model for luxury retail, which is based on higher volume, lower margins and deep discounting. With private equity entering the fray, growth has become an obsession and the pandemic created a glut with terrible consequences. The grey market [where products are unofficially bought and sold] boomed, discounting increased and even authenticity came into doubt as customers started to question the provenance of their purchases. Many brands are now rethinking wholesale as a result, especially if they have a robust direct-toconsumer model. They can therefore retain control of distribution and pricing, and ultimately protect their brand’s goodwill.”
Pricing remains a big issue for independent retailers – how do you stay competitive?
“Online retail creates pricing transparency. Customers compare prices, so you cannot be more expensive, not even if a competitor undercuts the brand’s RRPs [prices]. This challenges margins, so it’s critical to operate a lean business and seek out exclusive collaborations. For example, for our anniversary, we have an exclusive leather partnership with Bassike and an archive collaboration with Ellery.”
This period has highlighted many of fashion’s failings. What do you hope we will learn from this time?
“Fast fashion, contemporary fashion, luxury fashion and haute couture have recently merged into the same ‘fashion’ category. They should now be separated again to stimulate creativity, reinvention and newness. Commentators now talk in terms of billions instead of millions, making the measure of success more unattainable and forcing genuinely creative and talented people out of the business. The obsession with logo-branded styles mirrors the insatiable appetite for inflated profit. I would like to see individuality prevail. I hope to see true creatives expressing themselves in fashion again, rather than conforming to homogeneous looks that are, quite frankly, boring.”
What advice would you offer anyone wanting to pursue a career in buying?
“To become a truly exceptional buyer you must first obtain significant retail and sales experience, while possessing a natural eye for fashion. You cannot study buying at university. If I see a resume of a career salesperson with years on the sales floor, having worked in the one business for a considerable period of time, I am excited.”
What keeps you motivated?
“I set mini goals for myself and ambitious annual forecasts for the business. Apart from 2020, Parlour X had not missed a revenue target since the GFC.”
How do you define success?
“Receiving awards and plaudits are a great honour, but success is very personal and only comes when I feel I have achieved something truly unique and possibly against difficult odds. For me, it is also about making a positive contribution.”