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A chat with Almira Armstrong, founder of candle and fragrance brand Lumira

30th August, 2017

Almira Armstrong founder of candle and fragrance brand Lumira

It was becoming a mum that prompted Sydney-based Almira Armstrong to reassess her career. In 2013, Armstrong launched Lumira; leaving behind a successful career in marketing to meld her love of gorgeous scents and creating candles to create a luxe fragrance and candle range. Here the successful businesswoman and busy mother of two shares what inspires her, the key to looking stylish whilst juggling a young family and career and the one thing she is most proud of…

How did you come up with the Lumira range?

I’ve had a love affair with candles and fragrance for as long as I can remember. One of my earliest memories as a little girl was playing with mum’s bottles of perfume at every opportunity. During my teens, I taught myself how to make candles in the kitchen at home, which I would give to friends and family for special occasions. After university, a career in marketing kept me in creative circles and offered the valuable opportunity to live and work overseas, but becoming a mum prompted me to rethink the path ahead and I decided to pursue my dream of creating products that would allow me to indulge my love of scent, design and travel. In September 2013 Lumira was born.

What is your favourite scent in the range?

Tuscan Fig has to be my favourite scent at the moment as it reminds me of the time my husband and I travelled through Italy together. It was an easy scent to bring to life as the visual and scent memories were so vivid. It’s now available as a Perfume Oil, so I get to wear the scent everyday!

How has the range expanded?

I always wanted to add fragrance to the brand, it was just all about timing.  I introduced the Perfume Oils late last year and they have been so well received.

How would you describe your own personal style?

I would say casual-chic as I never know what my day will involve.  Most days I am quite hands on within the business so it’s usually my favourite J Brand jeans with a white tee and black blazer that can take me into meetings when need to.

Almira Armstrong founder of Lumira on her style

Armstrong describes her style as being casual-chic

What is your favourite room in your house?

My bedroom! I love getting dressed and ready for the day. There’s something ritualistic about it but also the notion of a new day and new opportunities. Then of course it’s the place I switch off after a long day too!

What is the best styling tip you have?

Your shoes are the finishing touch for every outfit! It doesn’t matter if it’s a simple tee and jeans, you can either dress it up or down with a pair of killer designer heels or simple white sneakers.

How do you like to relax?

Usually with a cup of tea and my favourite book.  I am currently reading Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler.

What is your favourite dish to eat?

Anything from [Sydney’s] Fratelli Paradiso, but especially the Scampi Pasta.

Do you have a favourite local café?

Sample Coffee which is right near my office has great coffee and croissants!

Where do you like to travel to?

I love Europe, but where I like to spend most of my time is Italy.  One of my favourite parts is Puglia, the diversity between land and sea is just so beautiful and inspiring.

Testing one of Lumira’s gorgeous scents

Where do you find inspiration for your range?

For me, fragrances can be very transportive and trigger memories with a power that none of the other senses have. Creating a fragrance begins with a series of inspirations – art,  design, travel, poetry… these (and more) are all elements that I draw on for inspiration when developing a new fragrance.

What are you most proud of in your life so far?

l am appreciative of being able to balance my work and my kids.  I have a five-year-old boy and a girl who is two years old. The juggle is very real, but it’s rewarding to be able to make time for the kids, yet dedicate my day to work.

How do you juggle a young family and your own business?

It’s not easy, that’s for sure. It’s hard to maintain a sense of self when you first have kids. But I’ve realised that, for me, it’s as easy to put on a dress and leather jacket as it is to pop on a pair of running leggings. I also take inspiration from other mums like Miroslava Duma, Anine Bing and Taylor Tomasi Hill. There are so many gorgeous mums on Instagram and in the blogosphere who are leading by example when it comes to balancing work with motherhood.

I balance everything by taking a casual approach to style – my routine is not time intensive – and making sure that I have the help I need to get my work done. I don’t do it alone. I also put down my instruments at a hard time every day so that I have good quality time with my family. It’s not easy to do in a world where you’re constantly switched on, but I find having so many competing high priority items actually makes me more regimented and disciplined when I’m in the office.

Where do you see yourself in five years?  

I have a lot going on this year but it’s all working toward a long term work goal. I’ll continue to invest in the fragrance ranges whilst experimenting with some new product lines. I love collaborating with other talented creatives and feel so grateful that people love what is being produced.  It’s the customers who love what I do that really inspire me to keep creating. I’m also spending a fair bit of my time overseas introducing the brand to new markets which is so much fun! So in five years time I imagine we will have a much stronger global presence. Having the kids by my side while I travel internationally is really special right now, they’re seeing how Lumira all works as well as fitting in  family time in between. In five years time, I hope I’m still doing exactly what I love – just on a larger scale.

Photography: @bianchiphotography 

Fashion

Fashion profile: Briella Brown, founder of Your Closet

17th October, 2016

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At just 17, Briella Brown founded online designer dress hire business Your Closet after being invited to three formals in one year and not being able to afford to buy a new gown for each event. The business premise is simple: browse the site and find a designer dress you’d like to wear then have it shipped to you between 1-2 business days. After wearing it simply pop it in the pre-supplied postal satchel to return it and Your Closet will look after the dry cleaning. The rental price starts from as little as $90 so it’s a fraction of the cost of buying a brand new dress. Your Closet is ideal for weddings, the races or even a girls’ night out so you can be guaranteed to look your best without having to spend a small fortune. Here I speak to Brown about founding her business, her favourite pieces and growing her business…

Why did you start Your Closet?
I started Your Closet from a personal desire for the ability to rent my dream dress for a formal I was attending at the time. It didn’t make much sense to spend so much money on a dress which would only be worn once and the idea evolved from there. Since initial conception Your Closet has grown to be a lot more than a cost effective solution but rather a more convenient option for women who would rather have flexible wardrobe options, super fast delivery and easy returns.

What is most challenging about working for yourself?
As the business is still in its early stages, it requires many hours which I love doing. I have found it tricky establishing a work-life balance but am slowly learning to strike more of a balance.

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Where do you see the business in three years?
In three years renting for all occasions will be a normal process, I think Your Closet will be a wardrobe staple for all events when you want to look your best – whether that be renting a Camilla and Marc blazer for a job interview or a whimsical Thurley gown for a bridesmaid dress. We are also looking to improve our shipping making it even faster, we currently offer a three-hour shipping window within Sydney but are exploring how we can get this under the hour within Sydney and Melbourne. With an estimated 10,000 dresses available in the next three years we will well and truly be an endless closet option for Australian women.

Which seasonal trends are you most excited about for the next spring/summer season?
I’m really excited for lace this season! We have some incredible, bright lacy midis [dresses] arriving soon in particular a bright yellow sheer lace dress by Thurley. This was recently worn by Isabel Lucas and we have already received so many requests to rent. Lace has evolved from a fine, intricate material to a more bold and often floral material in bright colours. Another trend I am really happy about is the rise of the off-the-shoulder style, which will be featured in collections by Nicholas, Thurley and Camilla and Marc. It is so flattering to all body shapes and is something a little bit different.

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Nicholas red lace dress

What are your best styling tips for the races?
There has been a big trend in terms of millinery away from the traditional fascinator and towards more fashion-forward crowns. We recently released a collection of incredible laser-cut leather crowns by Danica Erard and leather floral crowns by Natalie Bicicki – these are really easy to pair with our current dress range. Fascinators can be a little more involved whereas a chic dress paired with a unique crown will always be in style come race day. I think the Spring Carnival is a time to have fun with fashion and is one of the best times each year to get dressed up. The only must is comfy shoes as race days are often very long and the no-shoes look isn’t the best.

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Your Closet has headwear available for renting

What is your favourite piece from your collection?
My favourite piece is always changing with all of our new dresses constantly arriving each week however my dream item is definitely the ‘Saki Drape Jumpsuit’ by Camilla and Marc. It has a spotted velvety top, palazzo pants and best of all pockets. This will look uber cool come race day, as it’s different and a little funky – definitely a crowd pleaser!

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Camilla and Marc Saki Drap Jumpsuit

Why did you decide to expand your business?
Most of our growth has naturally evolved through customer feedback. An example of this has been a request for a more inclusive dress size range which is why we now stock sizes six through to 18. Customers want more of a one-stop shop, so this has prompted diversification into accessories. The business has been growing faster than I ever thought possible which has been really exciting as my vision is coming to life to develop a curated collection from Australia’s premier designers available in a convenient and smart way and revolutionise the way women approach their wardrobe.

What advice would you give to someone else considering starting their own business?
I’m still learning a lot myself but I would say just got for it! It sounds cliche but I think if you have an innovative idea then you need to give it a go otherwise you will be wondering ‘what if’ and with Wix and other website building platforms it can be really cost effective to set up a [site] and see how customers respond without spending a lot of time and money.

Who do you look up to?
Three women I look up to are Julie Stevanja from Stylerunner, Emily Weiss from Glossier and Alyce Tran from The Daily Edited. Julie has built such an incredible business and had the foresight to see the trend toward athleisure wear and Emily has built an incredible community who swoon over her [beauty] products – she had a waitlist, 60,ooo people strong for for her iconic ‘Boy Brow’ once it sold out. Alyce has an amazing social media presence and I love her flatlays – they are a work of art!

What is the most rewarding part about being the founder of Your Closet?
The most rewarding part is hearing feedback from our customers who have had a really wonderful experience. I love opening our return parcels and finding little handwritten notes saying how amazing they felt and all of the compliments they received.

 

Beauty, Date with Kate, Fashion

DATE WITH KATE: ELLE MACPHERSON

18th September, 2016
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Elle and I enjoying green juice and salads at the Intercontinental Hotel, Double Bay

 

Elle Macpherson might be still known as The Body but these days she spends less time in front of the camera and more time building her business empire. She has created WelleCo, her own supplement range, and was in Australia this week to launch her new lingerie line, Elle Macpherson Body. The 52-year-old chatted to me about how she juggles the demands of family life with her business ventures, and shares insights into what most people don’t know about her and what she would change about herself.

What are you doing during your trip to Sydney? 

I am thrilled to be back in Australia for the launch of my new lingerie business … I have a busy itinerary; lots of press engagements in Sydney and Melbourne … [and I’ll be] spending some time to see family, and even a quick trip to New Zealand!

What is a typical day for you? 

Every day is different for me. I travel so much, so nothing is ever the same. Typically, though, I like to be up by 5am and my first thoughts are always around setting my intentions for the day. Before emails and work, I make sure I meditate, then connect with the kids and follow my wellness regime. When I’m in Miami, I’m in the office around 10am and work until 6pm. Family time is important to me and so we have breakfast and dinner together. I do the morning school run and often the afternoon one and watch my son play sports – I use the hour drive to make business calls.

Congratulations on Elle Macpherson Body. What can we expect from the new lingerie line? 

Thank you – yes, it’s been an incredibly exciting time launching the brand here and internationally. Elle Macpherson Body is Australian lingerie with a strong, modern aesthetic … it’s the antithesis of traditional lingerie. There are lots of gorgeous details like paper-touch fabric, geometric laces, rose-gold hardware, but I never forfeit fit for fashion.

What made you decide to move from Elle Macpherson Intimates to create your own company with Elle Macpherson Body? 

After many years of licensing, in my heart I felt it was time for me to build my own business – I wanted to put everything I have learned over this time into practice and I didn’t want to find myself in the future looking back wishing I’d done things differently. It was not easy to walk away from the security of a licensing income stream. However, I had come to the realisation that the involvement I had for 25 years had unfortunate limitations; it would never enable the structural changes I needed to make my own business evolve in the ways I’d been longing for.

Why did you decide to partner with an Australian company?

I wanted my partner to be an Australian company as this is my heritage and it means a lot to me. I’ve lived all over the world, but Australia is still home.

What elements of the business did you work on?

All of them! Being co-founder and co-director has meant that I have worked with Simon [de Winter] and the team on production, design, retail strategies, fit, marketing and budgeting. I’ve certainly learnt a huge amount, but I’ve also been able to bring together all the things I’ve learned along the way. I have 25 years’ experience in the lingerie category.

What is it like to work with your ex-husband, Gilles Bensimon, who is responsible for the marketing imagery of the campaign?

[He is a] long-time friend and mentor … I absolutely love our campaign and had fun producing the shoot with Gilles. Gilles and I chose our model, Kirsten, for her natural athletic body – a new type of sexy.

What has been the most challenging aspect of your career?

That transition from the billboard to the boardroom has been the most rewarding challenge.

How did you transition from model to businesswoman? 

Looking back on 30 years in business, I believe that a natural curiosity, courage to try new things, a strong interest in business and a sense of adventure has led me to a very diverse career. Modelling has opened doors and I’ve been fortunate to meet inspirational creative people, encouraging me to bring my ideas to life. Timing is everything – I believe in trusting instincts and listening to my team’s perspectives.

What defines business success for you? 

There’s more to success than meets the eye. Many people might think it’s been moments in my career like being on the covers of Sports Illustrated, being on the front of the newspaper with Princess Diana, hosting TV shows and financial reward. I’ve also felt those things were symbols of success. But that’s only part of it. Today, my idea of success is making the journey towards happiness and fulfillment. It’s a deeply personal experience, but I value things like having the courage to take risks, to explore, and the willingness to go through the ups and downs in life and still find joy in the process.

What does it mean to have your own business now? 

I had to prove my credentials just like everyone else. Our partners both in Elle Macpherson Body and WelleCo all had to agree I could participate as an active partner. I had to prove I was more than the just a spokesperson … I asked myself and my business partners … to have faith in me to help me grow these businesses and to creatively and strategically direct their paths. I take it as a huge compliment that they saw potential and had faith and encouraged me to step up to a more responsible role.

What are you most proud of outside of your work? 

The most important thing to me is my family: my children, stepchildren and my husband. I also have deep connections to my parents, brother and sisters – these relationships are vital to me.

Who do you look up to?

I look for inspiration from strong independent women who are connected to their heart, like Arianna Huffington and Maya Angelou.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received? 

Someone once told me: never believe your own press. I agree!

How do you stay in shape? 

I love to get outdoors into nature and enjoy fresh air, so lots of hiking, biking swimming skiing and watersports … I also believe in beauty from the inside out – good nutrition, the value of sleep and lots of love and laughter.

What is your top beauty secret you’ve learnt while modelling?

My mum would say “water, water, water”!

How do you balance parenting with your busy schedule?

Like every parent, I do my best. I’m not perfect, but love and a sense of humour works wonders! With a busy schedule, I prioritise the children and everything else falls into place.

Where do you feel is home for you?

Home is where my heart is – usually wherever my family is.

What’s something that most people don’t know about you and would be surprised to find out?

I speak fluent French, want to learn how to play the ukulele, wish I had a vegetable garden and like to surf longboard. I love true stories – both in movies and books; would love to prepare a Ted talk on things I’ve learned along the way.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? 

My kids would say my singing voice – I personally don’t think it’s that bad! And sunblock! Too many years unprotected from the Aussie sun shows on my skin today.

What is up next for you? 

Our plan is to continue growing and building the Elle Macpherson Body brand. I’m loving new categories like socks and hosiery and sleep… Watch this space!

BITESIZE

WE WENT TO Intercontinental Hotel, Double, Bay

WE ATE Heirloom Tomato salad with Roasted Quinoa, cured cucumber, aged balsamic flakes, charred salt, micro parsley; Tasmanian Salmon Gravlax with Baby Fennel, orange fillet, caper berries, lemon gelee, petit red elk

WE DRANK green juices.

ELLE WORE an Ellery shirt and Isabel Marant pants.

KATE WORE a camilla and marc top and miu miu leather pants.