Arthur Galan was almost destined to the corporate rat race when he decided to trade up his commerce degree for a needle and thread.
17 years on, Galan hasn’t looked back and is now an established name in the Australian fashion scene with sophisticated lines for both men and women that have seen industry awards and celebrity endorsements from around the globe.
Rachelle Unreich takes a seat with the man to find out how creativity in fashion is conceived and his Duran Duran haircut.
RU: You’ve been working with your wife of 17 years, Mimi, since you started Arthur Galan AG in 1998. What’s your secret?
AG: Lots of love. Actually, our roles in the business are quite different – we’re not glued to each other every minute of the day. I spend my time creating the range and designing the collection, whereas Mimi’s role in the business is the marketing and PR side.
We don’t work hand in hand, and I think that’s quite healthy, although she will come in and say, ‘I’m not sure about that dress!’ or say nothing and roll her eyes and smile. Adding family [the Galans have a 12 year old son and 8 year old daughter] adds another dimension [to working together] because you become so busy.
RU: What are a few things a man needs in his wardrobe to be stylish?
AG: You need that perfect black suit, and a few white shirts – a great fitted one, a dinner one and something a bit more fashionable. A black suit with a white shirt is always a great look. Then you need a great jean and some items to make the wardrobe your own – maybe a cool sneaker, or denim, or pocket squares if you’re into those. I think the right shoe is one of the most important things in an outfit.
Men are very knowledgeable about fashion; they put just as much effort into it when there are things to go to.
RU: Purchase-wise, what’s been your grandest indulgence?
AG: Taking 26 friends to Mykonos for my 40th birthday. We had a week filled with lots of sun, beach, relaxing with good friends, who were there from Australia, from Europe, from Singapore. My background is Greek and I love the island – it’s got such a vast offering, so you can relax and be in your shorts and eat casually, or glam it up with an amazing dinner and glamorous bar.
The beaches are amazing. The water around the island is crystal clear, it’s almost like it’s been photoshopped. It’s an island with so many different sides – you can do it on the quiet and not see anyone, or be at the most glamorous beach and watch everyone traipse around in the latest caftan.
RU: What gets your juices flowing, creatively?
AG: I collect my mind when I go for a run in the morning. No iPod, no music, I just put on my running gear and go. It’s amazing how much you get through when your mind is clear and you’re running. It’s my little getaway.
When I need to be inspired, I go to the fabric. I’m a bit of a fabric nut, so just feeling it – the weave, the texture, seeing the colour – is the most inspiring thing for me and gets my mind thinking about what I can do to create a beautiful suit or coat. I also really enjoy watching movies from all eras. My son Daniel is a real movie-goer, and when you walk through those cinema doors, it’s like another world for two hours.
RU: When did you first know you were cut out for designing?
AG: I’ve got a commerce degree from Melbourne University, and after I finished that, I worked in corporate banking for a year. But I really thought to myself, the banking role is not for me. My mum and dad are both tailors, and there have been sewing machines in our lives for as long as I can remember. My grandfather was a tailor as well – it’s almost in our blood. I got into manufacturing garments and that rolled on to starting a collection and opening a store in South Yarra.
RU: Have you personally ever worn any dodgy looks over time?
AG: There was that phase with the super skinny stretch pants for guys and longer jackets – an Edwardian dandy look. There was also 90s tassled loafers and skinny ties and pastels, and big Duran Duran hairdos.
RU: What has been a life-changing event for you?
AG: Children change your life in a massive way. Before you have children, it’s all about career and work. When you get married nothing much changes, but children change your whole way you get through everything. You really need to start thinking about that balance.
RU: If you weren’t a designer, what would you be doing?
AG: My European background would force me to work in the food industry, probably with Italian food which is my favourite. When I was at a uni, I worked in retail and in the kitchen of an Italian restaurant and really enjoyed it. My favourite thing is to make home-made pasta.
RU: When have you been particularly chuffed about someone wearing your garments?
AG: Whenever you see someone wearing your designs, it’s exciting, if it’s someone you don’t know or a celebrity. It gives you a buzz. There are lots of red carpets we’ve done, and when Jennifer Hawkins wore one of our amazing ivory dresses to a Myer show, I thought, ‘wow!’. Jessica Alba and Orlando Bloom have worn our clothes, but anyone who wears it well is exciting.
RU: Who have you met that’s been memorable?
AG: I was waiting to get into a lift at the Ritz Hotel in London and all of a sudden the doors opened and there were two girls who looked amazing, and I thought, ‘Oh my god, that’s Jean-Paul Gaultier with them. That was exciting.
I was at a loss as to what to say, but I did say, ‘I think you’re a real artist when it comes to fashion.’ He does his own thing, it’s not trend-driven – it’s just about what he does. And when I went to the Gaultier launch at the NGV, it just confirmed that.