Erin Mullaney left a high flying city job to pursue a career in fashion and has gone on to hold top buying roles at Selfridges, Browns and Harrods.
These days she is marching to the beat of her own drum as fashion director for online style haven Avenue 32.
Katy Harrington speaks to the second generation Irish style-setter with a business brain…
Erin Mullaney grew up in Virginia, with no real access to the fast-paced and fickle world of fashion, but that didn’t stop her dreaming about clothes.
“I was obsessed with magazines, I subscribed to Vogue and had pictures of Ralph Lauren ad campaigns all over my wall”, she says with her New York twang.
The accent is American but Mullaney is proud if her Irish roots. Her grandfather came from Shannon and landed in New York, and she makes regular trips to Dublin to see her brother, sister in law and their new baby.
When she was 14, Mullaney’s parents upped sticks to London. Attending the private American school in London, Mullaney suffered from culture shock and says she felt like “a very small town kid” amongst the children of foreign diplomats.
Her fashion awakening came when she visited the Ralph Lauren store in Paris for the first time. “It sounds really cheesy but that changed my life, I knew I wanted to be in fashion,” she says.
But how she would carve a niche for herself was still unclear. “I wasn’t a designer and I wasn’t a creative so I didn’t know what my place would be,” she adds.
Mullaney studied French and business and spent a year in Paris reading literature, philosophy and immersing herself in the language.
“Whether I knew it or not then, that has been really helpful in my career,” she says of her year in the city that feels like a second home to serious fashionistas.
But Mullaney is much more than a fashion fanatic. She proved her business acumen working with her father’s firm Accenture for three years. It was on a regular trip to New York when she got her first fashion break.
Up and coming designer, Holly Dunlop, was just starting here own shoe collection and was beginning to attract attention from the likes of American Vogue, but she needed a business partner. “I remember calling my dad and saying ‘I’m leaving Accenture to run a small start up fashion label’.”
Together, she and Dunlop turned the label ‘Hollywould’ into a million pound business.”It was the best training. Running a small business you see fashion from all sides, I did merchandising, PR, sales: I did everything.”
Homesick for her family, she returned to London in 2004 with the hope of making it as a buyer. She landed an interview in Harrods and was hired in the spot by Mr. Al Fayed himself.
“Mr Al Fayed was very hands on and would come around all the time to get the figures. You had to know them off the top of your head every hour. That’s really where I learned retail,” she says of her time in the world-famous store.
Next stop was Selfridges where under the new ownership of the Weston family, her confidence as a buyer grew. With the super-exclusive second floor of designer womenswear being revamped Mullaney had creative license.
One of her major coups was negotiating a two-year European exclusive deal with the then little-known label Balmain, which has since been worn by everyone from Victoria Beckham to Jennifer Connelly. “I remember being alone in their showroom in Paris thinking this could be the next big thing or it could be a flop,” she recalls.
While buying might sound very glamourous (with the front row seats at Paris fashion week, the parties and the jet set life style) Mullaney’s head for business makes her somewhat unique in fashion.
At Selfridges she was responsible for managing between £15 and £18million pounds worth of stock per season (with a Balmain dress going for about £5000). “It’s like working on the stock market, you’ve got to back the winners”, she says about the responsibility on a buyer’s shoulders.
Her “dream job” at the prestigious Browns added another string to her bow and Mrs Joan Bernstein CBE, known to fashion insiders simply as ‘Mrs B’ became a mentor during her time there. “Her strength is finding the next big talent, and she has the best eye”, says Mullaney, “she helped me learn how to select the very best pieces.”
That ‘eye’ was the grounding for her next venture, the uber chic website Avenue 32. If you don’t know the website, think an online version of Madison Avenue, or Bond Street, the only difference is that Mullaney and the website’s founder Roberta Benteler pride themselves on giving a launch pad to talented new designers.
They started trading in December 2011 with about 49 brands and now have 150, with 26 staff employed in their west London offices. Big sellers include Gilles Deacon, Preen and Irish designer Tim Ryan. “He does really well for us,” says Mullaney.
With four months of the year spent travelling and at shows, is the fashion week whirl as crazy as it sounds? “It can be crazy. You work so hard during the day so you just have to keep going, so you go for dinner and then cocktails, but it’s all work- it’s all very exhausting but it’s all the best part the job.”
The job, she says, all comes down to finding that exlusive ‘next big thing’. “You have to see everything, if you miss one that could be the next amazing brand and another buyer will find it, so you have to be tireless. But we are very lucky to do what we do.”
Erin’s guide to dressing summer 2013:
1. HOLIDAY DRESSING
“I am looking forward to getting away to my family home in Portugal for the long bank holiday weekend and will definitely be taking my new Marianna G swimsuit and my ancient greek metallic sandals with me.”
Hot Pink Bandeau Sumba Bikini
Ancient Greek Sandals
Gold Ikaria Winged Sandals
“For a casual look to go over my swimsuit on holiday – I would recommend this double denim look from super cool French brand A.P.C.”
Chambray Cotton Shorts
3. SUMMER WEDDINGS
For summer weddings or events, Temperley London is your go-to brand to be the best dressed wedding guest. These two dresses are my favourites…”
White Pavan Print Dress
Red Satin Freya Ribbon Dress
“For a cool festival look – try Irish knitwear designer Tim Ryan’s fringe jackets (much loved by Zoe Ball).”
Multi Gold Fringed Chevron Jacket
5. SUMMER ACCESSORIES
“To top off any summer look – these beautiful hand-made sunglasses by cult brand ZanZan Eyewear will make you stand out from the crowd.”
Pink Metallic Avida Dollars Sunglasses