What is The Distinctive Dame and how did you get started?
It’s a continuation of the work I was doing under Dames of Distinction, which was a vintage beauty salon and vintage lingerie boutique. My original intention was to create a safe space for women where they don’t feel judged and are nurtured and supported. It’s a simple desire but I feel that working in the world of fashion / beauty this isn’t the default energy or vibe that you receive/sense when you walk in to similar establishments (nail salons, beauty salons, spas etc).
We receive validation through likes on Instagram, Facebook but our real life connections are distorted. We’re so quick to cast judgement, criticise and tear each other down. My response to that is to approach what I do with nurture and care. Everyone is welcome in my space and within an hour or two we become friends. I feel like I am the guardian of many tales as my clients share such candid stories with me. Some people view the work that I do as highly superficial. Yes, I make people look beautiful, but we’re simply building upon and enhancing what already exists so that they can go on. The transformation that I witness is internal; communicated through their body language. They stand taller and have the self confidence and raised self esteem to be able to exist in this sometimes harsh world.
The Distinctive Dame is bold, strong, empathetic, fierce, intelligent, wordly, assertive, a goddess.
I’m a late bloomer – unfolding at my own pace in my own time. I didn’t grow up with old films or anything like that. After I finished school I got a job at Review where many of the staff had an interest in the 40s and 50s. One of my colleagues introduced me to this beautiful music that I had never heard before – jazz – Billie Holiday, Lena Horne. From there I began to do my own research and track down old films, music, books, acquire vintage clothing. I fell really hard. It was a way to be a little subversive and contrast mainstream trends and popular aesthetic at the time. I then got a job with charm school which cemented / solidified my interest in the lifestyle and aesthetic. In September of 2013 I decided to take the leap and start up Dames after a serendipitous meeting with Marion.
What is it about your work that you love?
I guess it’s easy to think that I only make people look pretty. The real reason I do what I do is to elevate women to a place of confidence within themselves so they feel like they’re able to walk tall in the world. It’s a form of therapy – the women that come into my space are strong, intellectual, interesting women. I shower each one in love and give them my full attention and energy. For one hour I am their best friend, the guardian of their secrets and personal history. It’s a privileged space to be in. I’ve always viewed getting dressed as an art form – curating ensembles, creating the perfect hair and makeup look. My body is my canvas and each day I create art with it. I love being able to assist others in their journey to style.
Do you have any advice for anyone looking to start their own business?
Be realistic – about your skills, how much effort you’re willing to put in, where you’re at in your life. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and delegate. Focus on what you do well and hire /outsource your weaknesses. Enjoy the journey – celebrate the triumphs be they great or small and learn from your errors. Always schedule time for you and for fun.
What has been the biggest learning curve about working for yourself?
It’s not the romantic idea that I had at the beginning i.e. being my own boss and doing what I want. The reality is that I’m the one driving the ship.
Can you recall a time when something you set out to do has failed – how did you overcome it? What did you learn from it?
There have been so many. Not getting into my preferred uni course after high school. Starting a life in a new city and knowing nobody. Starting my first business. Failing my drivers test a few times…
There’d be lessons specific to each of these failures but ones that I think apply to them all are:
- Tenacity is a virtue.
- You have the ability and control to change what you dislike in your life.
- There’s always a way forward – the path may swirl around, go sideways and zig-zag. It may even backtrack but even in these moments it’s forward moving.
- It’s okay to admit defeat and wallow for a bit. It’s all about the recovery and how you turn it around. Try to use that energy as fuel to propel you to your next venture.
- Ask for help. People are often willing to share their tales of hardship so that you’re better informed when it comes to decision making.
- Develop and nurture your support network. These are the people that will aid and nurse you through your darkest moments. A load shared is a load halved.
Why do you think we are so reluctant to talk about our failures?
With the heavy incorporation of social media in our world and daily lives we’re able to curate a tale / photo story which people may look to and envy or think that this person, persons, companies or entities are without flaws and therefore hardship. What we see is filtered through this lens of perfection. Failure is a form of hardship which doesn’t seem to be spotlighted enough.
To discuss your failures in life requires you to be vulnerable.
It demands that you acknowledge that something didn’t go to plan – that you were disappointed, hurt, betrayed, swindled. Without failure though, we’re unable to flourish and blossom. Perfection is balanced out by imperfection and one can’t exist without the other.
What inspires you?
Music. People. Literature. Art. Dance. Film. Architecture. Sensory experiences. Conversations. Nature. Poetry. For me inspiration is everywhere and is wrapped up in the many idiosyncratic moments of life.
Biggest misconception about women who dress in vintage style?
That we’re docile women whom uphold and maintain old fashioned values. This may be true for some and there are certain ones that I place value in i.e. manners and respect for your fellow man, however I’m interested in the marriage of the old and new. dressing vintage was always a way for me to be subversive and challenge the modern day ideals of beauty.
What has been your greatest challenge?
Trying to overcome my self doubt re: my creativity and skills.
Comparison is indeed the thief of joy.
Existing in a world where the work of others is showcased and accessed so easily it’s easy to fall into the trap of second-guessing everything about what I’m doing. Realising that my thought processes are primarily right brained and that there is nothing wrong with that. We live in a world that really does celebrate the world of academia. Creativity is something which isn’t as easily quantifiable, the yardstick we measure it by is so subjective. Also trying to keep grounded and strike a balance between work and play.
How do you deal with feelings of self-doubt?
I keep a gratitude journal at home which contains many of the lovely compliments that I’ve received over time. In the shop I’ve started a joy where I write down one thing each day that has inspired me, brought me joy or that I’m grateful for. I have a series of affirmations scattered about my home and work space which serve as reminders that I’m moving forward and have achieved greatness.
How do you switch off? What’s your favourite way to relax?
Paint. Dance. Read. Ted talks. Countryside adventures. Op shop escapades. Cloud watching.
And finally – how do people make an appointment? Where can they find you?
We’re located in the dreamy heritage listed building, The Mitchell House. Level 1, 358 Lonsdale Street Melbourne CBD 3000. We’re also available for mobile styling where we can help you get fancy in the comfort of your own home.
Check out other interviews in The F – Word Series.