When I met the ever so stylish LINDA COX I was reassured that a good career cannot get in the way of true passion. In 2016 a burnt out Linda threw in a solid corporate career in a male-dominated industry and took a job at one of her favourite boutiques in Woollahra, Riada. There's no rest for the wicked; before long she acquired the business and was back in charge. After a swift brand refresh, AQUEL continues to carry an elegant curation of European labels and stays true to providing everyday luxury for women who love to dress in a stylish classic timeless look. On the eve of the store's seasonal sale and preparations for her next buying trip, we sat down with Linda to discuss her journey so far in the business of fashion.
How did you get started in fashion? What were you doing before you took over the boutique?
For more than 25 years I had a corporate career. I have a law degree. Prior to moving into fashion I worked primarily inside companies in the company secretary role and advising boards of listed companies on governance issues. I also ran my own consulting business for a few years. However, I have always loved being well dressed in a classic timeless style rather than necessarily following the latest trends.
What inspired you to take over the boutique in August 2017?
After a particularly stressful period in my last corporate role, I decided to take a break from corporate life. I was really tired of the politics of corporate life and I was tired of the constant juggling of motherhood and career. I saw a sales job advertised at Riada Boutique and I applied. It was a complete contrast of course to my previous life. Having spent my career working almost solely in a male-dominated environment, I moved to the opposite end of the spectrum. It took some getting used to but I have no regrets. I had spent a lot of money in the Boutique over the years and always had a strong affinity with it, especially when it was owned by Laura Tramontina, who sold the business a few years ago now. So, I was known to the staff at the Boutique. I had only been there a few months when the previous owner approached me about buying the business from her. The rest they say is history.
If asked to describe AQUEL to someone unfamiliar with it, what would you say?
AQUEL is about every day luxury for women who love to dress in a stylish classic timeless look. Clients have built beautiful wardrobes with us over many years.
What was the original concept for Riada and how has this vision transpired to become AQUEL?
The original concept for Riada has never changed. I am simply carrying on what was started by Liz Jones more than 15 years ago.
Apparently, the name AQUEL was created on your first night of the first buying trip for the Boutique. What does AQUEL mean?
Yes, I was on my first buying trip, before the sale transaction had actually concluded, so I was with the previous owner. I woke up one morning and my husband said to me, ‘you need to come up with a new name’ and I replied immediately that I had thought of one during the night. It just stuck. It resonated very strongly with me. It’s meaningful to me, it’s feminine and a single word is great for branding. It took until Easter this year to finally launch it. There was a lot to be done when I took over the Boutique including implementing a new cloud-based retail management system, a refresh of the shop interior which had been unchanged for 10 years, getting branding collateral ready and building a website. We are now ready to move to some online selling.
You probably have customers that have been shopping at the boutique for 15 years. What factors do you feel have contributed most to the longevity of AQUEL?
There are a lot of customers who have shopped at the Boutique for many years. The shop has had a strong local clientele who have a need for stylish classic timeless pieces. They have loved the brands that we stock, most of which, we are the exclusive stockist of in Sydney. They also love the personal service that they get from long-standing staff members. We have some customers who just stop by to say ‘hello’ to us every week. I have brought back 2 staff members who worked in the Boutique many years ago for Liz Jones. The customers all know them and we create a happy relaxed vibe. It is also important to me that the shop is merchandised beautifully every day. We work very hard in that area to constantly update the window displays and shop merchandising. We also stock clothing in a wide range of sizes and this is important too as most luxury boutiques only cater for smaller women. This is not the case for AQUEL.
You have a very European (Italian, French and British) aesthetic. Can you tell us a bit about the brands you curate? And why?
I focus on continuity of labels as well as finding new ones. We have very long-standing relationships with our suppliers but in my spare time in Milan and Paris, I like to look for new labels. We have introduced a few new labels over the summer season and they have been successful. I focus on labels that are complementary and consistent with the philosophy of the Boutique but when looking at something new, I ask myself, ‘what will it add’ to the Boutique. Almost all of the labels are very established Italian labels, for example, Etro is celebrating its 50th year this year.
Where do you look for inspiration?
I always go to the stand alone flagship boutiques in Milan and Paris for the labels we sell in the Boutique. I think it is really important to see how the labels are sold and merchandised in their own stores. I follow all fashion, read all the magazines and online materials but at the end of the day, when I go to the showrooms, it is easy to pick up very quickly what the trends are for the season and I know what I like. We always like to have some showstopper pieces in every collection.
What do you think the future holds for AQUEL and the local area, Woollahra?
AQUEL has a strong future but we will continue to need to work hard to distinguish ourselves.
If you could give one piece of advice to the youth, or someone starting out in their career, what would you say?
Always do what you love and you will be good at it. If you don’t love what you are doing, find something else.