When the photographer asks Lita Stathis and Byron Turnbull how they normally sit, they answer together.
There’s no time to. Goldie — their swanky Darlinghurst hair and beauty salon — opened last week, and its books are already full.
The duo’s business is one of several new hair ventures cashing in on Australia’s growing luxury market, despite an otherwise soft retail sector and dwindling trade on the Sydney’s high streets.
An appointment for colouring at Goldie can set you back as much as $700, but there’s no shortage of Sydney society sashaying up the stairs.
“It’s a lot of money, but you know we use premium products, you’re in a premium space, getting premium service,” Mr Turnbull says.
“We don’t use apprentices here either, it’s a one-on-one experience from the time you walk in to the time you leave.
“I even make the teas and coffees.”
Despite increasing financial pressures on small businesses, Australia’s luxury markets are among the world’s strongest, according to advisory and consultancy firm Retail Doctor Group.
“If you look at the configuration of cities like Sydney, those premium retailers and businesses are in concentrated areas,” chief executive Brian Walker says.
“It links to this concept of status and aspiration, and what’s greatly appealing is the scarcity and the exclusivity of these products and services.
“At some colloquial level, it gives the people that buy these goods some bragging rights.”
While there is clearly serious money to be made, Hair Stylists Australia — the hairdressers union which was set up two years ago — says not all salons were doing well.
“The best people are booked out months ahead, literally six months ahead, but that’s not the normal story,” national organising and campaigns director Shane Roulstone says.
“You’d have to say 90 per cent of the industry scrapes by because good employers and salons are continually undercut by dodgy operators, places that might only have one qualified person and pay their other staff about $10 an hour off the books.”
Secret to ‘bomb-proof’ business
The idea of lowering prices is something another elite hair stylist, Adam Walmsley, has never considered.
After moving from London, he set up a hip Chippendale headquarters 18 months ago and is about to put on more staff.
“I don’t believe in undercutting, you get the wrong type of clientele,” he says.
A trip to Mr Walmsley’s friends&family salon is not quite as pricey as Goldie — a men’s chop will set you back about $80, while women’s trims start from $120.
His typical clients are inner-city creatives who value the finer things in life.
He says the secret to his “bomb-proof” business is about knowing his worth.
“If you market yourself on price, somebody can always undercut you,” he says.
“They can’t undercut you on quality.
“If you market yourself as a new thing on the block, there’s always going to be newer things on the block.”
‘People pay for it’
Back at Goldie Mr Turnbull and Ms Stathis — who specialises in cosmetic tattooing, which can cost about $1,000 per treatment — believe their business is built on offering Sydney something different.
Their salon comprises both hair and beauty, and that means some clients are in there for upwards of four hours getting pampered.
Ms Stathis said setting up the new venture was an easy decision, despite some warnings from friends and business analysts.
“People were telling us, we are going into a downturn, and is this the right year?
“People were saying this is a big move, but for the next six weeks, we’re fully booked.
“People pay for it, because they value it.”
Mr Turnbull and Ms Stathis are stylists to several stars like Ellie Goulding, Natalie Imbruglia and Nancy Pilcher, the former long-time Australia editor of fashion bible Vogue.
At this point of the interview, they start mouthing more names at each other — it’s clear we’re not allowed to know who the most famous clientele are.
“We want people to really want to come and be a Goldie girl, and have the whole experience,” Mr Turnbull says.
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And according to Mr Walker’s extensive economic experience, that pull-factor is vital.
“People in the market for these premium services and products are clearly influenced by influencers,” he says.
“The premium brands, they promote these people through thing like social media, events and networking, it’s a powerful tool in the armoury of premium brand building.
“In advertising there’s above-the-line activity which is things like billboards, but influencing is all about aspiration, and the projection of success.”