05/08/2010 - 00:00

Frock fest queen

05/08/2010 - 00:00


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Drawing inspiration from her late father and her family, Mariella Harvey-Hanrahan has succeeded where many told her she would fail.

PIONEERING French fashion designer Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel, better known as ‘Coco’, once said, “success is often achieved by those who don’t know that failure is inevitable”.

Perth Fashion Festival founder and director Mariella Harvey-Hanrahan is a good example of this belief.

For while she acknowledges the challenges inherent in developing the festival into a globally recognised fashion event, it’s clear Ms Harvey-Hanrahan believes failure is not an option.

Her positive mindset, combined with an incredible work ethic instilled by her hard-working Italian father, has led to success personally and professionally.

Facing great odds and an even greater number of detractors, Ms Harvey-Hanrahan has played a key role in bringing fashion to the people of Perth via the festival.

“Honestly, if I had listened to everybody who said ‘you’re wasting your time, it’s never going to happen, Perth’s not big enough and people here don’t dress, we don’t have enough designers, we don’t have the population, we’re so far away’, then I wouldn’t have ever continued,” Ms Harvey-Hanrahan says.

“I’m stubborn if I have an idea I want to see through and I’m not one for giving up easily.

“I guess it’s fair to say I have a dogged determination when it comes to the festival.”

This tenacious, enthusiastic and feisty ‘fashionista’, who confesses to indulging in Italian handbags and shoes, is adamant about the increasingly important role of the festival, and fashion in general, in terms of benefiting the state’s economy and improving the liveability and vibrancy of Perth.

“What no-one can take away is what it (the festival) has done for Perth, and at the end of the day the results are evidential,” Ms Harvey-Hanrahan says.

“The 2009 Perth Fashion Festival returned $7.7 million to the WA economy.

“It delivered $22 million worth of media impact – it was the first time we were written up in British Vogue.

“That’s the thing about fashion, it’s not just a ‘frock-fest’; fashion is serious, fashion is an economy.”

Perth Fashion Festival emerged out of the 1997 Fashion Bridal Awards, which Ms Harvey-Hanrahan developed as a marketing tool in her previous role as the founding editor of Bridal Options magazine, later bought by CMS Events’ Richard Campbell and Michael Hanlon.

This also followed her time running her own fashion jewellery label called Lou Lou.

After the overwhelming popularity of the initial bridal awards, the event was continued and, in 1999, the first Perth Fashion Festival was held (at that time it was known as WA Fashion Week).

Despite the escalating success of the Perth Fashion Festival, the event has not been without its challenges and in 2005 the festival faced its darkest hour as it teetered on the brink of collapse.

In 2003, CMS Events sold the magazine and the bridal awards-turned-fashion festival to Gloss Media, a partnership between Mr Hanlon and Ms Harvey-Hanrahan.

However, due to various commercial factors stemming from the magazine’s ambitious national expansion, she says Gloss was wound up in late 2005 after that year’s festival.

“That was frightening when Gloss went under but what people don’t understand is that I lost $100,000 of my own money,” Ms Harvey-Hanrahan says. “We were left with nothing – no premises, no money, no staff.”

Faced with tough times, she once again drew on the advice of her late father.

“I remembered my dad’s words, ‘Mariella, life is not fair sometimes’; that taught me to pick myself up, dust myself off and start again,” Ms Harvey-Hanrahan says.

Openly admitting to not having the slightest interest in or understanding of balance sheets, she says it was her vision for the festival’s successful future that drove her to form the festival’s first advisory board in 2006, securing accountant Timothy Turner as its chairman to steer it towards securing not-for-profit status.

And she cites Tony Sage’s involvement as a partner in the festival since 2008, initially investing $1 million and “tipping in more every year since”, as a real blessing.

A successful businesswoman, loving wife and committed mother of two, Ms Harvey-Hanrahan says she continues to learn from her successes and her mistakes, a point that would undoubtedly please her mentor father.

“At the end of the day I’m just Mariella; when you pretend to be something you’re not it’s a disaster, but it has taken me a long time to know you can’t be everything and you can’t learn everything and just admit it,” she says.

What does the future hold for the Perth Fashion Festival?

I want it to get bigger. I want to invite buyers, I want it to become a more serious business. The language of fashion is so powerful [that] to use fashion to sell the WA brand is perfect. I don’t know why I’ve had to scream for 12 years for people to start hearing me; it’s a no brainer.

What’s been your best job?

I would have to say the most fun I had was as beauty editor at The Daily News. I loved the make-up updates and endless samples that hit my desk daily – I had a different lipstick for each day of the week.

What’s your greatest indulgence?

Definitely Italian bags and shoes.

What would you do if you were premier for a day?

Encourage and foster innovation above all else. Celebrate our city’s natural beauty and encourage the rich blend of cultures, freedom and energy.

What did you want be when you were a child?

I had romantic notions of being a legal-aid lawyer working for the ‘underdog’.

Do you have a favourite quote you reflect on?

Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” I have it pinned up on my office door and remind my staff of it daily.

Do you have a mentor?

My father. He was orphaned at 2.5 years old. Imagine how challenging that was in Italy after WWII and he kept at it, and had the most amazing work ethic and ‘can do’ attitude. He wouldn’t let anything keep him down. I want to make him proud.



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