Scarlet Perkins by Kevin Cheung

slow waves represents a new kind of retail—but is australia ready?

The Melbourne store is bridging a widening gap in Australian consumer behaviour. But being a trailblazer isn’t a simple job.

by i-D Staff
23 May 2016, 5:00am

Scarlet Perkins by Kevin Cheung

After a lengthy teething period and a nervous adolescence, luxury in Australia has come of age. Retailers weathered the global financial downturn and held steady for a few years, finally seeing annual revenue cross the billion dollar line just last year. As their financial footprints grew, their shopfronts hurried to keep up: Prada, Gucci, Chanel and Louis Vuitton have all significantly expanded their floorspace in recent years. 

In contrast, emerging designers are still searching for their place in our retail landscape. LVHM finalists like Marques'AlmeidaNasir Mazhar, Vejas and Faustine Steinmetz are still more likely to find their way to Australian consumers through the post than the doors of a physical store. Spaces which function as labs — to incubate new designers — remain scarce. While our market craves stockists able to support and mentor the designers they represent, a changing tide is swelling around our feet. 

Marli Atterton's Slow Waves is Australia's closest cousin to V-Files or Dover Street Market. The store is tucked inside Melbourne's No Order Market; an enclave of niche retailers in Melbourne. Marli's goal is to give emerging designers a warm introduction to Australian buyers, and she's in good company: Distal Phalanx, Homecoming Intl and Pet Shop Girls round out the new guard of Australia retailers.

i-D sat down with Marli to discuss the art of running a shop — assuming there is one at all.

Scarlet Perkins by Kevin Cheung

In a comparatively short time, Slow Waves has come to feel like a retail destination — no doubt in part because it's so beautiful. Artful spaces do tend to obscure the day-to-day practicalities of running a shop, like ordering receipt paper or counting the till. Does that invisible work bum you out?
To be honest, the majority of my time is actually spent doing that stuff: cleaning, admin, emails. We're a small team, and I guess I could leave the minor tasks to my two staff — Scarlet and Kevin — but at the same time, I want them spending their time working on things they actually want to pursue. Scarlet is the model for our shoots and handles the social media, and Kevin is our photographer. Really, I think being the boss sometimes means doing the stuff that no one else wants to do.

Most designers you're buying from show in the northern hemisphere. How do you manage the travel?
Yeah, at the moment I go to Paris three times a year for buying; everyone is there for Fashion Week. For pre-season collections I can buy through lookbooks, but for the main collections I have to be there. It's expensive and tiring and time consuming, but it's so important to see the collections. I can't afford to screw up an order and have a dud season.

Tell us about working with emerging designers. It's something people are quick to champion, but there are challenges when labels are on the rise and don't have their business operations fully established.
I'm all about supporting emerging designers, it's what keeps you fresh, but I do struggle with getting the balance between well known and lesser known right. In the beginning one label actually made me buy, not even from a lookbook as such, but from sketches of items and descriptions of colours! When that order was delivered it was pretty much a disaster. Two seasons later and I still have it boxed up at my house.

Scarlet Perkins by Kevin Cheung

Do you regret that?
I don't have any regrets about the designers we stock, but I do wish more of our buyers were Australian. Some of our more exclusive items end up selling online and being shipped back out overseas. It can be a little disheartening when we stock something that was really hard to get, and we've paid the costs of shipping and importing to get it to Melbourne, then someone in Paris or Japan or New York end up buying it!

It's funny, because No Order Market draws comparisons to retails spaces in those cities — like DSM.
DSM is the best. I've been to Dover Street Market and Dover Street Ginza and they're beyond incredible, just a constant source of inspiration. So many people that come in to No Order Market say that there is a DSM vibe going on. It is super nice to have that comparison, but they're in a league of their own when it comes to retail.

Would you says there's an art to retail?
Maybe — if there was I should probably already know it by now, but I guess I'm a slow learner. Me, personally, I'm not very 'fashion.' My friends don't work in fashion, I don't go to 'events,' and I don't get dressed up. That's not what I'm about. I even have a tattoo that says 'FASHUN SUX.' Slow Waves is my number one priority, but I think it's good to try and keep things in perspective.



Photography Kevin Cheung
Model Scarlet Perkins
All Clothing Slow Waves

fashion interview
no order market
slow waves