Sydney's answer is Parlour X, the luxury retail brainchild of Eva Galambos. With a background as a commercial fashion agent and wholesaler in both Australia and in Europe, Galambos opened Parlour X 15 years ago with the intention of showcasing up-and-coming Australian brands. What she quickly discovered, though, is that her clientele were hunting for the European luxury brands that, at the time, were hard to come by. Not to be deterred, Galambos returned to Europe, where she mined her former contacts and built out Sydney's first true luxury boutique.
More than her top-notch selection (including Balenciaga, Céline and Valentino), the component that's sure to cement Parlour X's reputation as a global retail destination is the store's new space: a once-abandoned church. As Parlour X's business grew — exploding after introducing e-commerce — it grew out of its longtime location in Sydney's chic Five Ways neighborhood. "We literally were Alice in Wonderland that ate the tablet and grew out of the house," Galambos tells Fashionista. But the church was, if you'll excuse the expression, a "Hail Mary" choice after weeks of searching for the right space and coming up empty-handed.
"I kept driving past this church, and one week, there was nothing to look at and I was getting nervous, and somebody said, 'Look at the church.' I was like, I don't want to be in the church, I'm agnostic!" Galambos says with a laugh. "I thought, well, I have to look at something, otherwise I'm going to be too depressed."
The new space has completely opened up Galambos's options. The first night of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week: Australia, she hosted an intimate dinner celebrating Toni Maticevski, and she plans to find new and exciting ways to utilize the church to engage fashion and art, her other passion. But she also plans to keep supporting the Australian fashion community she so clearly adores. We sat down with Galambos in the open office space that hovers over the sales floor at Parlour X to chat about everything from how she runs her business on an opposite season than the rest of the fashion community to the challenges facing young Australian designers today.
Where did the inspiration come from to open Parlour X?
It was all about offering collections that were almost seen in the same way as art pieces, so people would see them as investment pieces or something that they would put in their cupboard and cherish for years and years, or potentially pass down to their children. To me, owning every Valentino piece you could ever own is like owning a precious work of art. I set it up with the purpose of wanting to showcase exclusive collections that people would really love and appreciate, so it would always have to be the highlight of any person's collection.
You have your office completely open right above the selling floor. How did you come up with that?
I got a retail job as soon as I could in fashion, and it was the best training I ever had my entire life — even beyond university and everything else. Retail can often be seen as a stepping stone job, where unless you're working at the very top boutique, it's not necessarily considered a profession. However, having been educated in Europe, in fashion, definitely it's a profession there. So it's very important for me that my entire team realizes that it's not hierarchical. Our sales team is not beneath the office team — I mean, they are, literally — but not necessarily in terms of status. In fact, it's more important for us, or at least equally important, to have phenomenal sales people and a phenomenal sales team. If they're not selling it, then they're not paying for everybody else's job upstairs. They gather all the information — how can we buy without their knowledge?
We have our weekly sales meetings, but our marketing and communications team sit in on that as well, because they're all interrelated. Everyone gets to brainstorm, and share ideas, and implement new systems. This is what retail is today. Otherwise, why doesn't everyone just buy online? It's making everyone feel that when they walk into a space, that they're kind of a part of all the mechanics.
How do you choose who you carry in the store?
Whenever I'm partnering with a brand for the first time and I'm not 100 percent sure about it, I'll say, my first order is really conservative, I'm going to take it to my clients and see what they say. If they love it, my next order could grow 250 percent.
We've got our solid brand basis, which is probably some of the world's best brands — you can't really beat Balenciaga and Céline and Chloé and Valentino, right? So when we want to experiment with other brands, I think they luckily allow us the platform to do this, because they want to be sitting next to these brands, too. Cultivating great relationships is paramount to me. I would never put a brand in without a very considered decision, because if it doesn't work, it's not great for anybody. But in saying that, if you just know something is going to be brilliant, you jump on it as well.
What are the challenges having a luxury boutique when you're operating in a completely different hemisphere than the rest of the industry?
I have always bought very light on runway and very heavily on pre-collection. At first that actually seemed like a hindrance, but I turned that into being our advantage, because Australians like to buy in-season. As pre-collection has become more defined and more important, and the deliveries have come earlier — we actually receive deliveries right in the season, which is perfect for us. Everything's worked out really well.
What the difficulty is, suddenly pre-collection has gone haywire. Instead of showing pre-collection the same week every year, so you can kind of plan ahead and get your airfares a year ahead, everyone is showing at completely different times, the Europeans in particular. It's not like you can just jump on the Eurostar or get a one-hour flight across; this is a 24-hour journey.
It's been interesting too, because we used to deal directly with the houses in France and Italy, and what they've done is moved Australia over to APAC, which is the Asian-Pacific region. That's been a bit challenging and different. We are technically a part of the Asian-Pacific region, but the problem with that is, it's still a 10-hour flight to Hong Kong. It's a nine-hour flight to Hawaii, to America, why can't we be lumped in with them? Culturally, it makes more sense. And not having that direct contact makes us feel a little bit at the end of their importance, in a way, whereas before we felt really important.
With fashion in general, we're going through a transitional period and it's confusing. I think there are mistakes being made, and I think some things are headed in the right direction, and some things feel like they're heading in no direction, and you feel a bit in no-man's land. We've got a solid business, we've got our systems in place, and we know where we're going, but it feels like some of the people around us don't know where they're going, and that impacts and affects us.
What are some of the challenges facing Australian designers?
We're not a manufacturing-based country, and I think that's one of the biggest hindrances of our industry. Our quality of production isn't fantastic, and it's really hard to find a great seamstress. Why would an American retailer want to buy a run-of-the-mill Australian brand when you could be buying an American brand, since you've got so many, that's the same quality? There's just no reason. I think if it was beautifully bound, if it was beautifully produced, that could be its edge. Unfortunately, it's very expensive in this country; wages are very high, so then that might elevate the brand into being too expensive. Also, because of the northern hemisphere situation and the fact that we're in opposite season, the fabrics on offer aren't the same. They're going to Italy or Japan, trying to get the best, technologically advanced fabrications, and they're being offered wintry color palettes in our summer and summer color palettes in our winter. It's complicated. It can be done, it's proven that it can be done, but I also know from personal fact that it's hard. It's resources. They need to find capital behind them, and that's not easy.
If [a designer] did want to get noticed, I imagine it would be easier to get noticed in Australia versus somewhere bigger like America where there's 300 million people and so many that want to get noticed. If someone just walked through the door here with an incredible portfolio but maybe they didn't have the resources, I would look at it and go, okay I know who to give this to. You can't just walk off the street in America into some random boutique! They're not going to know what to do with it either.
What's next for Parlour X?
Right now as we speak, we're redesigning our entire website, and we're constantly trying to look at new technologies in new ways. We want to have more activations, so we want to do more connecting like-minded creative industries. I'd love to do a photo gallery and an art exhibition in here.
Maybe one day we will do menswear if they do men's and women's together and I don't have to keep traveling abroad for extra seasons. Where we are now, we have the church, but there's other buildings surrounding it where maybe we can have more of a creative hub and expand our digital offering even more. It's just more of what we're doing, but taking everything to another level.
The other thing I'd really love to do is more collaborations, so this next buying trip in June — I can't say who just yet — but I'm meeting with some really prominent European designers and taking this collaboration thing to them, and there's a few that are really excited to do personalized collections for Parlour X as well. They're not in this market and they want the opportunity. Their collections aren't really right for our market, but if they're willing to do capsule collections for me so we can work together to produce something that's right for our clientele, that's another way forward for us: doing more and more capsule collections that are exclusive to Parlour X.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Disclosure: IMG provided my travel and accommodations to cover Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia.