Mary Poulakis fires off brand names as she walks around Harrolds' newly-revamped flagship store on Collins Street in Melbourne.
"Thom Browne is there, Fear of God's there, Givenchy's there, Vetements is there, Craig Green, Neil Barrett, Stone Island, Stella McCartney Men's, Song for the Mute, Strateas Carlucci from Melbourne when that arrives – the list is endless!"
She is rightly proud of the three-level, 1500 square metre temple of high fashion, which is now the largest independently-owned, family-run retail store in the country. Poulakis, along with husband John and sons Alexander and Ross, spent 12 months and two million dollars overhauling the store to showcase more than 70 premium brands, from Saint Laurent to Balenciaga.
"There's not anything that hasn't had a paintbrush or chisel taken to it," she says, chuffed.
While Harrolds has been in this location since 2005, it's a completely new look for the store. High fashion womenswear is now on the ground level, with luxury 'tailored' menswear occupying a remodelled first floor, featuring Stefano Ricci and Tom Ford 'shop-in-shops' and a new Dunhill display.
You have to have no fear, complete belief, complete vision.Mary Poulakis
The basement is a brand new space, but far from being bargain-basement, where items sell for thousands of dollars, including collectable shoes and one-of-a-kind jeans to hard-to-find fragrances and deluxe bags.
Poulakis admits it was 'a massive job' turning the former carpark into a new destination for sleek, chic 'LA-cool' couture and streetwear. "We couldn't go up, we couldn't go sideways, and we weren't leaving."
World class chic
The only way was down. The landlord dropped the elevator, rerouted major services, lifted the floor and raised the ceiling to create a luxe shopping experience to rival the world's best.
A new VIP styling suite features two private fitting rooms with silk curtains and gilt mirrors. "It's very private, very spesh. You can do the pram, the girlfriend, the husband, the boyfriend, and we often do Champagne."
Poulakis sees Harrolds as a shopping destination in its own right, alongside cult favourites such as Colette in Paris, Selfridges in London or Barneys in New York.
"Some might think 'Australia, what do we know about luxury fashion?', but we are definitely playing on an international stage up here now. We have been for a little while … and this current flagship has definitely put us more into that global stage."
Riding the cycle
It's been an impressive journey for the Harrolds brand over 30 years. John Poulakis opened the first Harrolds at the Rialto in 1985, then moved to the Paris end of Collins Street where Van Cleef and Arpels now stands in 1993 before taking over the current flagship – formerly Maker's Mark jewellers – in 2005. The brand expanded to Sydney's Martin Place in 1999 and moved to Westfield in 2010, and most recently opened in Pacific Fair on the Gold Coast in August last year.
Australia's retail cycle is usually six months behind the northern hemisphere, but Harrolds sticks with the European cycle. "We're carrying spring/summer stock, not autumn/winter stock, so we're ahead of the curve … Bergdorf's got it, Selfridges have got it, Barneys have got it, Colette's got it, and our collections are very similar."
No going back
Harrolds' investment in the future of luxury retail speaks volumes about the current desire for premium brands, an appetite Poulakis hopes won't abate anytime soon.
"I'm not the only person [selling] this product, but it's the way that we curate the product, the way it is delivered that sets us apart," she explains. "I'm just a shop that sells stuff, I'm just the same as those who have gone by the wayside. But what I sell and how I sell it and how I display it and how I engage with my client is what separates me."
It's also the family passion to keep expanding, renovating, reinventing. The Melbourne store has had a renovation every single year for the past 10 years.
"You have to be a little bit crazy to do something like this," says Poulakis. "You have to have no fear, complete belief, complete vision, and once you decide, you can't change your mind. When you rip out a carpark, there's no going back."