2020 was a rough ride, to say the least, for many businesses. For a fledgling fashion hire business, only founded in 2019? It could easily have been a death sentence. After all, if there’s one thing we all stopped doing once Covid became a household name, it’s going out. Loungewear replaced black tie. But for Tanya Perilli, the founder of Australia’s premier designer fashion hire label Fashion Alta Moda, going under was not an option. “After a crisis comes empowerment”, she tells us…
“In hindsight I was fortunate”, Tanya explains, “as it forced me to slow down and focus on the important parts of the FAM business.” And thankfully, the FAM archive is (by no accident) timeless. From vintage Dior to modern classics, Perilli had consciously built an edit of quality, luxury pieces for hire. Every piece in the FAM closet is as coveted today as it was before Covid. That’s partly because the mother of two had found herself thinking about sustainability, and the world she was leaving her children. “Clothing is the second biggest polluter in the world”, she reminds us. And equally, she wanted to democratise fashion. “In today’s world we can just about experience any form of luxury, without having to own it – why can’t it be the same for fashion?”
For the former engineer turned fashion entrepreneur, our new normal represents an opportunity. “I am already seeing that most functions being held are Black-Tie”, she says, “people want to get dressed up, feel good, and go out and celebrate…My experimental sides come out to play when I go out at night. That is why renting is such a great thing. We get to experiment with our style, wear things we would never buy, and project a different side of ourselves, without contributing to landfill and over consumption.”
We spoke to the FAM founder about weathering the storm, people watching in Milan, and the fashion pieces that have left a lasting impression on her…
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You have a background in engineering - what inspired the change?
It took a leap of courage to start something completely different, however it was an opportunity to combine my life’s passions with my life’s learnings and experiences. I have always had a love of fashion and this was nurtured in my childhood years when I would help my mother who loved to sew and make beautiful gowns. I also had and continue to have a love of the arts, which inspires me to be creative and create my own paintings. Whilst I studied engineering and then became a Site Engineer and later a Project Manager, I really enjoyed the interior design and architectural elements of the property industry.
I then started a family with my husband and they come first. I resolved that I could not hold down a corporate career with long hours as well as be the mother and wife that I wanted to be. However, I wanted to continue to be inspired and grow. So, I created a space where I could satisfy my dreams and also provide for my family.
I constantly find myself researching all sorts of topics that I am passionate about, and when I read up on businesses like Rent the Runway and Armarium in the US, I was inspired to introduce a similar offering in Australia with the added benefit of doing something positive for the planet. I saw this as a great opportunity to bring together all my life’s passions, learnings and experiences, and combine it with my personal and family situation.
Has motherhood influenced the way you think about sustainability and the future?
I definitely feel my behaviour and awareness around sustainability, the environment, and the future we provide the next generations, has changed over the years. Since having children I have found myself constantly researching sustainability and environmental topics, either as a direct result of my children’s queries and experiences or to improve their general surroundings and reduce our environmental footprint. As an avid buyer of clothing and fashion accessories, I was horrified to learn about the fashion industry’s significant impact on the environment. I wanted to set a good example for my children and the Fashion Alta Moda (FAM) business has definitely allowed me to practice what I preach.
Clothing is the second biggest polluter in the world, thanks to the rise of fast fashion. Through FAM I wanted to provide consumers with an alternative way to be more sustainable, whilst looking fabulous and never sacrificing on style. One of the unintended but positive consequences of the COVID pandemic that has affected the whole world is that it has brought sustainability awareness to the forefront of fashion like never before. We are already seeing positive signs with the fast fashion industry faltering as a result of consumers being more mindful, and the slow fashion movement increasing its market share.
I hope that collectively we seize this opportunity and make the necessary changes to the clothing industry so that we reduce the fashion industry’s environmental footprint, which will help to make our children’s future better.
FAM was only a year old when coronavirus hit Australia. How did that affect your business?
Yes, 2020 wasn’t the year that I had planned for FAM! In hindsight I was fortunate, as it forced me to slow down and focus on the important parts of the FAM business. I am not sure whether it is correct to say that FAM pivoted, but we did become more focused and connected to our customers, as well as provide more uplifting fashion stories through our Instagram account and website. We added the Style Files, giving our customers access to the insights of the super stylish women, noting that style is more than just trends or the latest pieces, but more importantly how the different garments make you feel. We also became more targeted in our marketing and collaborated with like-minded people and businesses in providing smaller tailored events.
What’s been your biggest pinch-me moment with FAM?
When we were coming out of the first wave of COVID in Sydney, a beautiful friend with her family members were attending a wedding. So, we put on a styling event at her home – where guests felt comfortable with their friends and family to be styled by us. What we found is that no matter the age or dress preference, all the women found at least 2-3 garments that they loved. They have all since become regular clients. FAM’s collaboration with other like-minded individuals and businesses in fashion photography, styling and beauty, produced an amazing event at TOGA’s Surry Hills Village display suite, defining what luxury means today regarding quality and service, and the experience was also a pinch-me moment. It showed that the merger of luxury interior spaces with fashion, experience and service are no longer mutually exclusive, but in fact what people are seeking.
With two children and a business, how do you juggle it? What’s your time- management secret?
I won’t lie, it is a juggle, but it keeps me motivated to keep improving. While the clutter in my bedroom may disguise it, I am quite disciplined and organised (the project manager in me). I find that my children are now at ages 11 and 9, where they are becoming a little more self-reliant.
Starting the business in late 2019 was perfect timing for our family. The kids are finding their confidence in being more independent and proving to be quite responsible, and they prefer a busy mum over a helicopter mum. Most days, including the weekends – I get up early around 5am, check emails, plan the day and then do some exercise, all before preparing the day for the kids and taking them to school. I also ensure that I have the time in the afternoon or evenings, whether through school pick-ups or family dinners, to share our collective daily experiences, which is rewarding. In the evenings and generally once the kids are in bed, I will gravitate back to my desk and work until around 10.30pm.
I do find it hard to switch off, and at the moment the business is 24/7. I find that now I am working full time, I am a much calmer mother, and the little things seem to bother me a lot less. Trying to be a perfectionist all the time was exhausting. Now I welcome the imperfect days and go with the flow a lot more. I have to say it has been gladly welcomed by all in our family.
Have you always loved fashion? Can you share any memorable pieces you’ve worn and what you loved about them?
It’s my passion – I love fashion, I love the way clothing makes me feel, and I love seeing how other people wear it. One of my favourite things to do is people watch and the best place to do that is in Milan. I could sit in one spot all day staring at the most fashionable women, taking in every detail. My most memorable piece of clothing comes from Italy, a 1950s swing coat passed down from my Grandmother.
You want to bring back dressing up for dinner or the ballet. Do you think post-covid we’ll all be relishing the chance to dress up more?
Definitely yes! – After a crisis comes empowerment. I am already seeing that most functions being held are Black-Tie and feel that people want to get dressed up, feel good, and go out and celebrate.
What’s your go-to mum outfit? Any wardrobe staples you’d say are a must?
Motherhood finally forced me to dress exclusively for myself. As a young professional, I experimented with different styles in clothes and hair to project and identify myself. Once I become a stay-at-home mum, those boundaries disappeared, activewear crept in for a while until I found greater joy in being dressed up rather than dressing down.
Personally I feel fashion is an essential aspect of self-expression and transformation. I love getting dressed up and feeling put together. So my go-to mum outfit is a code of classic, simple and elegant which I find works best for me during the day. My staples include a relaxed trouser, a stylish blouse and a great pair of slides.
My experimental sides come out to play when I go out at night. That is why renting is such a great thing. We get to experiment with our style, wear things we would never buy, and project a different side of ourselves, without contributing to landfill and over consumption.
Do you think fashion hire democratises fashion? Can you tell us about that?
Absolutely! In today’s world we can just about experience any form of luxury, without having to own it – why can’t it be the same for fashion? We can all rent luxury cars and villas for the weekend, why can we not rent a luxury Dior gown? Is ownership really that necessary anymore, when we know we will only wear a designer gown once or twice to only then sit in the back of the closet. Is that really sustainable?
In the US and the UK customers have access to renting such luxury pieces, but here in Australia it is limited. I want to provide access to luxury designer clothing not currently sold in Australia, making the inaccessible more accessible to the Australian consumer. Luxury brands are associated with sustainability purely because luxury products are higher in quality, longer lasting, and timeless. However, we all cannot afford these beautiful items or prefer or need to spend our money on other things. This is why a large number of people in the US and UK have and continue to embrace the rental of clothing as a preference over buying every single piece in their wardrobe. It’s the Australian consumer’s time to be savvy and be part of this worldwide movement.
What’s the most special piece in the FAM archive?
I would have to say all the Delpozo gowns I purchased in London. I am obsessed with the creative designer – Josep Font, who designs exquisite colourful and happy gowns for the “global woman, not any specific age or person”. Font studied architecture at university, thus joining a long line of fashion designers including Pierre Cardin and Tom Ford. I also have a complete love affair with both Dior’s vintage and current designs, as they are made for a woman’s body, are exquisite, and are timeless and forever pieces.
What are your plans for FAM?
Fashion Alta Moda is quite unique in its garment rental service of curated international designer pieces, combined with the level of service you receive by our stylists. FAM is all about the experience of luxury. Feeling fabulous knowing you have been savvy, sustainable, whilst looking stunning. FAM wants to be the first place you look when you have an upcoming event. We want to be fully accessible, making our customer’s life as convenient as possible. We will be conducting events across Australia and pop-ups to service all states. We plan to expand the collection of rental garments and progress ‘The Vault’ which will include the most expensive pieces on offer through appointment only. We will also provide online styling sessions and courier same day deliveries. We will also expand our Styling Suite to provide a full styling service incorporating clothing with accessories, bags and shoes.