Saturday, July 31, 2010

CHANEL one day PRADA the next....Interview with Melinda O'Rourke from MO Luxury

There are some women who discover their true passion and pursue a career which brings them much satisfaction. The world of fashion and luxury brands is one of the most exciting and coveted industries to be part of. I remember as a young woman going to David Jones and getting so excited by the feeling that even for a minute being part of this world would bring out in me! A little luxury or a lot women everywhere want to be part of this exciting and enviable industry.

I have recently met a woman who is part of this world everyday, she has carved out her own piece of the luxury brand pie and is inspired an excited about what she does and the impact the luxury brands and fashion have on our senses and our lives. We take a look into the universe of Melinda O'Rourke from MO Luxury where she'll take you through her success secrets and how you too can get into this exciting industry.

Favourite fashion brand?
SO, so difficult to have just one. However, if I am looking at the total brand, its innovation, design, quality of fabrics, quality of manufacture, artisanal embellishments, consistency and pure indulgence, I really do not believe you can go pass Chanel. Then there is the heritage, the business and marketing strategies… I could go on. It’s my favourite fashion brand for this multitude of reasons.

Favourite designer?
Past – Monsieur Yves Saint Laurent (rest well his soul), innovation and dare to be different at the time, sheer beauty, quality and luxury of his haute couture and ready-to-wear.
Now – I think the two Christopher’s if I can have two for the price of one! Christopher Bailey you really cannot beat what he is doing right now with Burberry and Christopher Kane, innovative, I love that he loves colour and his is an intelligent design.

How do these fashion brands/designers empower you as a woman?
They offer me the perfect balance of confidence, branché and femininity

Favourite holiday spot?
Anywhere in France….the food, the fashion, the wine, the history and beauty or when France doesn’t take any more visitors at its borders, then Italy, for all the same reasons.

Favourite charity?
Internationally World Vision, their scope and immediate call to action for global disasters. Locally Mission Beat for their work in the streets of Sydney, their availability and the great consistent work they do.

Things you love and can’t live without?
Good health, the ability to interact and engage with other human beings, wonderful fresh food produce. Also, the beach, the sun, fresh air, green grass, weekends, holidays, martini (vodka with a twist, dry please), pinot (gris, and noir), dark chocolate

How did you start out?
I started out essentially in a product and marketing assistant role with no formal (read: tertiary) qualifications. I left school at 17 as I could not ‘wait’ to work and earn money and explore (and buy clothes and shoes). My practical and theoretical learning developed from there and my tertiary education came later after years of practical experience just to ‘test’ myself and ensure what I was ‘doing’ was actually correct!

What do you love most about what you do?
Having started my business over two years ago what I love most is that I can ‘create’ something from zero and see it evolve into the Vision I had set three years ago, with some tweaking on the way.

What excites you about the luxury brands and where do your true passions lie in what you do?
Luxury brands inspire and excite me due to their rich heritage. Their stories from pioneering brands to global conglomerates are extraordinary and understanding the depth and the detail of why these brands continue today provides an ongoing excitement for me from their new advertising campaigns, their seasonal launches, their new store designs…. My true passions lie in the fact that I am an extremely visual person and I am constantly excited by the vision the founders and the custodians of these brands had and continue to have. Therefore it is a privilege to work with these brands as I am passionate about their DNA.

You have almost 20 years of experience with some of the world’s most luxurious brands including CHANEL, PRADA and Yves Saint Laurent – what excites you about the industry and working with luxury brands?
The industry is looked up to for inspiration by many other fashion, accessory and beauty brands globally, so to see what these brands launch continues to excite as they are visionary and can often push the boundaries in relation to the ‘marque’ of the brand, however maintaining the respect. Now isn’t that exciting, working with brands that are constant change agents and influence many.

You also have a talent management and research arm to you business – what do you look for when recruiting people in the luxury brand market?
First and foremost - passion, it’s numero uno. A love of quality products, exceptional service and a level of technical skills appropriate to the job description and an articulate, warm and personable communicator who is well groomed (this doesn’t mean conservative but relevant and appropriate)

What advice would you give to women wanting to get into the luxury brand business?
Retail is an excellent start. One issue that can be problematic in Australia is that retail can often be thought of as a ‘stepping stone’ and not taken as a ‘serious’ career. In the US, Europe and Asia retail is series business and taken very seriously. At MO Luxury we are also trying to educate and inform that retail is often a person’s best step into a luxury brand. Like all businesses, luxury is no different, you have to ‘see the opportunity’, identify your own personal vision of where you see yourself in the short, medium and long term and ensure you are on the right path to take you there. The success of luxury brands is built on beautiful, quality products with rarity and exclusivity sold by knowledgeable and professional people. Make sure you don’t shy away from a retail position. We have several Managing Directors that we work with that want to know if someone has worked ‘on the floor’ as they know it is the best training ground.

What do you feel is your calling and how do you achieve it through what you do in the luxury brands market?
Wow, my calling…well I truly believe it is to interact, engage, encourage and mentor people. Having the Talent Management pillar of the business allows tremendous connections with a great wealth of people. Also with our Consumer Research pillar we study consumer experiences in luxury environments and again, understanding what the motivators and drivers of satisfaction are keeps me constantly engaged with and learning more about people and how ‘we’ operate and what improvements can be made.

What other professions have you tried and when and how did you know that this was your calling?
I worked with Foreign Affairs for a couple of early years in my career, which was extremely interesting, however I did find it quite bureaucratic and not a fast paced enough environment for me. I wanted to be able to make change and I didn’t believe that could be done easily (or at all) in a government position.

What inspired you to choose this path?
Travel and aspiring to own some of the beautiful things I saw when window shopping in Paris when I was young. The colour, movement, the constant change, variety, excitement and the odd bit of drama thrown in!

How did you go about achieving such a level of success? We want the secrets….
Well I suppose success is subjective, however I am very happy with my career-to-date and I just love what I have done, everything has been a great experience and not a waste of time.
A strong vision, persistence, being brave and getting out of your comfort zone, instilling confidence in yourself that you ‘can do’ whatever it is you are thinking. I know a lot of people say this and it can seem rhetorical, however it really is thus. As long as you are committed, determined, always positive and open to learning you really will be successful.

What do you believe is the reason you are where you are today?
Wonderful foundations, I had a brilliant upbringing, with wonderful supportive parents and brothers. For that I count myself very lucky. From there it is self drive that further mobilizes you on your path. Self belief and a commitment to achieve, putting end goals up front and sign posts along the way to ensure you are tracking well.

What is success to you?
Happiness and ultimate fulfilment.

What has your success enabled you to do? What other goals and dreams has it allowed you to pursue?
Have the confidence to commence my business, travel, meet extraordinary people and see extraordinary things. It has enabled me to live a wonderful life thus far. The goal was to create a luxury brand and with the experience I have it has allowed me to pursue this.

Was success a choice or something that just happened? What conscious decision did you make to get to where you are today?
I find it a little difficult articulating why I am successful as I said, success can be subjective… Having said that, I do firmly believe success is a choice as some people can be successful for a period of time, or within one aspect of their life, you need to work at success.
The conscious decision I made was to be professional in every aspect of day to day, discreet, and diplomatic and operate with the highest of integrity and ethics in all aspects of my life.

What do you believe contributed mostly to you achieving success in the luxury brand business?
Being committed to achieving goals set by the companies I was employed by in addition to my own goals. Being patient for the right position, respecting my superiors and peers and being positive about the range of tasks and challenges as they arose. Hard work really ‘does’ pay off but you need to earn your dues.

Who are your role models and what inspires you about them?
I really cannot go passed Nelson Mandela for his unwavering strength and commitment to a cause he truly believed in. Through his passion, persistence and commitment he drove real change. The current Governor General Quentin Bryce, as she is always compassionate, gracious and appropriate. On a business side I would say Heather Ridout Chief Executive of the Australian Industry Group because she is intelligent and fair in her dealings representing business in a broad range of sectors; she has a deep interest in public policy and is a trusted professional and a voice of reason in her field.

What do you attribute to your success and having reached being at the top of your game?
Integrity and a professional approach, all with a smile!

Have you had a mentor along the way and who inspires you most and why?
My father has been a wonderful mentor (still is), an intelligent yet extremely down-to-earth and practical retired lawyer. He is a believer in “the closed mouth catches no flies” and “look before you leap”; he has many bon mots to hand out.. These are a few and also my mother of course for the diplomacy, humility and patience she has instilled in me. I have probably two unofficial female mentors who I have worked for and with over the years and have admired how they conduct themselves.

Who would you most like to meet and why?
Super tough – Barack Obama, he is a man that has always been driven to change and make things more equal for all people. I think his task is extremely daunting and I would like to ask him if he is as free to ‘really make change’ now as the President of the USA as he thought he would before he got the top gig.

What difficulties and challenges have you faced to get to where you are and how did you turn them around?
Realistically early on in my career it would be the constraints of being a female in the work place, you had to prove yourself more for the promotions and negotiate better for the pay rises. Being professional and delivering on KPIs ensured I was able to convince previous bosses that I was capable and worth it. Working very long days, nights, travelling enormously takes a toll on your social life, I made a clear decision five years ago, that I would not continue on this path as I really wasn’t that important (Prime Minister, Neurosurgeon etc) and therefore the only way to manage this challenge was to manage myself better…It’s working!

What are the most important lessons you’ve learnt along the way?
Listen to people, learn from them and be respectful at all times. Always look at the positive side of ‘everything’ and be sure you surround yourself with people who encourage and support you as you progress. The road can be a little bumpy at times but it’s certainly well worth it.

If you could say one thing to women out there to inspire them on their journey to success what would it be?
Be self aware, confident in your convictions, seek support when you need it, don’t be too proud to ask and don’t put too much pressure on yourself, you will self combust and then you’re no good to anyone! Every day is learning, enjoy it.

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