Industry Interviews

Karin Upton-Baker
Managing director

September 15, 2014

Describe your title, role and length of time in your current position?

As managing director, I run and develop the Hermès business in Australia supported by my colleagues here and abroad of course. I joined the maison in 2001.

After leaving university, working in advertising most appealed to you, so how did you end up in fashion publishing?

I worked in Estee Lauder’s advertising department, my first full time role that I started just prior to graduating from UTS. There were close ties between Estee Lauder and Vogue and I was fortunate to be referred directly to the Vogue fashion office by Lauder’s then PR person, Robyn Holt.

When starting your career, who inspired and influenced you most?

The women in my family all have, or have had, a very strong work ethic. My great grandmother bought and sold cattle,  (usually while dressed in a suit , hat and sensible heels) and chopped her own wood despite being quite diminutive. She was a divorcee in an era when you simply weren’t!  I never had any question in my mind that I would pursue a career and family life simultaneously.

How has the magazine industry changed since you first launched Harpers Bazaar Australia in 1995?

The magazine industry has completely transformed and fragmented since we launched Harper’s Bazaar. It is a new terrain where everyone is searching for the solution to retaining revenue and “readers”. The subscription model will, indeed is, working for some publications with high value content but I believe only those heritage brands with global recognition or powerful local scale will weather this disruption.

Was it a natural progression to move from fashion publishing into the luxury fashion industry?



Superficially, it might seem that moving from fashion publishing to fashion retailing is an easy and straightforward transition. In fact, there are very few shared skill sets; editing, photographing and writing about fashion is vastly different to managing operational retailing. The common ground is more in the area of creative judgements and the generation of ideas. Taste and aesthetic judgements are important of course, but you need to balance it with the empirical data. Art plus commerce, both in good measure. The unseen processes and technical aspects of each industry are also different.

Karin Upton-Baker Parlour X Industry Interview

What do you enjoy most working for Hermes?



Creativity and quality are the touchstones of Hermes; this is a daily joy.  I also feel a very keen sense of being part of the mix of a global group, despite the distance, and I enjoy the relationships with colleagues around the world.

What skills and attributes do you look for when hiring new people?

Intelligence.

What is your best advice to offer a point of difference for anyone starting their career in luxury fashion?

Despite the stereotypes, fashion is work, not party time. It is important to take it seriously.

What do you hope to achieve as a director on the board of the Australian Fashion Chamber?

I hope the Australian Fashion Chamber will develop into a galvanising force for local designers. It is early days. I believe that creative industries are part of the fabric of a sophisticated culture and economy.

You are heavily involved in many charities; how important is this to you and why?



I help the silver committee raise funds for the Sydney Children’s Hospital and I also support The Sydney Dance Company’s Dance Noir fundraiser. I think it is very hard to say no if others consider you have the skills to assist worthwhile causes.

What advice can you offer women who both work and raise a family at the same time?

Be very organised and muster your strength. Decline alcohol; it blurs the mind and blunts your ability to cope with small children.

In what terms do you measure success?

My work motto is “perfection can always be improved upon”. Success remains an elusive concept so you are constantly challenged.

How you would describe your personal style/aesthetic?

I like very dressed up looks with vintage jewellery or sporty masculine looks; I vacillate between the two. I mix labels a lot – from Adidas to Hermes (but of course there is a bias for Hermès!).  A successful combination of 4+ prints and textures in a single look is my favourite. Or just a standout dress. I detest “fail safe” corporate-style dressing.

Whose fashion style do you currently admire most?

I admire the individual flair of Babe Paley (the ultimate patrician style and devotee of Mainbocher couture );
 The Duchess of Windsor (who also wore Mainbocher and kept fabulous dogs and fabulous jewels);
 Diana Vreeland (for outrageous use of  rouge and powerful accessories);
 Betty Cattroux (the archetype for masculine dressing ); Elle Macpherson (who really created off duty model style – her underdone Heathrow casual looks are how we wish we could all travel); Deeda Blair (a lover of all things grey); Yasmin Sewell (looks superb in everything);
 Peggy Guggenheim (glasses!! Art!!!); 
Cate Blanchett (with her great instincts about clothes and designers, she can be her own stylist);
 Caroline Laws and finally, all those  women who select and wear their own clothes, (as opposed to borrowed exits), with purpose and flair.

What does style mean to you?

Critically, style is about selecting pieces that enhance the body and its proportions. We are all different. Fashion is the adjunct, not the main event.

What is next? Where do you hope to be in 10 years from now and what will you be doing?

I hope my backhand has improved.

Karin Upton-Baker Parlour X Industry Interview

You can find Hermès on Instagram @hermes

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