Lianna Perdis is gushing over her latest pair of silver designer heels. “These are Balenciaga, really cool,” she says in her gentle American accent. “You can dress them up or down or wear them with a pair of jeans.”
The way the word Balenciaga rolls off her tongue, you know she’s grown up immersed in the world of international high-end fashion.
The eldest daughter of Greek-Australian make-up mogul Napoleon Perdis, the 17-year-old recently emerged as a key figure in the family beauty business. She is both creative director and the face of the youthful new Napoleon Perdis range, Total Bae. She’s also a promising catwalk model. Last year, she signed with Chic Model Management in Europe, appearing on the January cover of Harper’s Bazaar Greece. She made her runway debut in Greece in December and in February walked for Australian designer Christopher Esber in her first New York Fashion Week.
“I fell in love with this industry when I was a little girl,” says Lianna, who made her Australian Fashion Week debut, also for Christopher Esber, this month. “I was always going backstage with my dad at fashion weeks, and behind the scenes on different shoots. The whole industry – modelling, fashion, beauty, make-up – it’s been a part of my life since I can remember.”
I meet Lianna Perdis in the bar of the InterContinental Hotel in Double Bay, only a stone’s throw from the eclectic three-storey home that is her family’s part-time Sydney base. Though both her parents grew up in working-class Greek immigrant families in Sydney’s western suburbs, Lianna has spent most of her life jet-setting around the world.
She was four years old when the family relocated to the United States, the first stage in her father’s global expansion. For a decade, their home was a six-bedroom, eight-bathroom mansion on the famed Mulholland Drive, in the Hollywood Hills. The pad once belonged to musician Sheryl Crow, and Lianna and her sisters – triplets Angelene, Athina and Alexia, now 15 – went to school with the children of Hollywood A-listers including Halle Berry, Johnny Depp and Warren Beatty.
“The Hollywood culture is so fake,” says Lianna. “I was bubbled from the world and I didn’t even realise that. My parents wanted to pop that bubble and show us what real life is.”
Max Mara “Emery” dress, $1025. Daniel Avakian “Phoebe” bodysuit, $149. Bracelet (worn throughout) Lianna’s own. Photo: Bec Parsons
Lianna got her first taste of reality in late 2014, when Napoleon Perdis decided to pull out of the US because the $17 million annual turnover there was just a fraction of the $120 million made in sales in Australia each year. The American arm of the business was no longer profitable and Napoleon wanted to pursue more lucrative markets in Asia and the Middle East. The Napoleon Perdis brand came off the shelves in upscale department stores Bergdorf Goodman, Neimen Marcus, Nordstrom and Dillard’s, and her father closed his flagship Beverly Hills store and the company’s warehouses in California.
It also meant relocating the family. Napoleon and wife Soula-Marie made the most of the opportunity, choosing Athens as their new base. They wanted to immerse their daughters in the European way of life, exposing them to Greek language and culture. Lianna, who was 14 at the time, hated it.
“I was crying and saying, ‘What am I doing here, I have no friends here,’ ” Lianna recalls. “I didn’t know much Greek and I was in an American school doing all my classes, even physics and chemistry, in Greek.”‘
But Athens had more to teach Lianna than just reacquainting her with her mother tongue. She saw a new version of the poverty and strife her grandparents had fled from 50 years earlier. Witnessing the flood of refugees from war-torn Syria had a profound impact on her.
“Out at the old airport, there were a couple of thousand refugees,” she says. “I was seeing first-hand what other people were seeing on the news, and it taught me what real life is and what problems real people have.”
Athens, meanwhile, stole her heart. “It is a city that is part of my ethnicity. It’s a city that is ancient but very modern at the same time. It’s not the most beautiful city in the world, but I love how gritty it is.”
Trelise Cooper “Double or Trouble” jacket, $72. Max Mara bra, $235. Cooper “Fray With Me” jeans, $299. Lucy Folk earrings, $375, and“Mediterranean” necklace, $4350. Photo: Bec Parsons
Lianna is gracious and funny, with not even a hint of pretentious teen. She is named after her paternal grandmother Liana, who famously allowed her 13-year-old son Napoleon to practise his budding make-up skills on her, complete with electric-blue mascara.
Napoleon and Soula-Marie learnt their work ethic the hard way. The Perdises ran a takeaway shop in Sydney and, like all Greek families, the children were expected to work after school. Soula-Marie was raised by a single mother who worked as a seamstress.
“I see her as a superwoman, I idolise her,” Lianna says of her mother. “I love the way she can balance everything but she always looks so beautiful. She cooks us breakfast and she still goes to work, she still takes care of the house and she comes home to cook us dinner. I am astonished by her, she inspires me.”
Lianna says her parents have worked hard to give their daughters as normal an upbringing as possible. The family has dinner together every night, phones are banned after lights out, and the girls were not allowed to wear make-up until they hit year 6 – and then only mascara and lip gloss. The girls didn’t make their first public appearance until 2015, at a series of beauty master classes in Melbourne and Sydney.
“They worked so hard and they got to this level,” Lianna says of her parents. “I feel like working hard is important to me because when you work hard you can achieve your goals and actually get somewhere in life. That’s essentially what my parents did and it’s very inspiring to me. Family, and working hard for your family, is everything.”
When the Perdises say family comes first, they mean it. At the time of our talk, Lianna, her parents and her sisters had just arrived in Sydney to be with her gravely ill 88-year-old grandfather, John Perdis. When John died a week later, his funeral notice declared that his “bright and cheeky spirit” will be carried on by his children and grandchildren.
It was John Perdis who kick-started his son’s make-up empire, with a $30,000 business loan to Napoleon and Soula-Marie. The couple met at the University of Western Sydney when they were both 18. In 1992, one year after they married, Napoleon opened a make-up studio in Leichhardt in Sydney. Three years later, he opened a concept store on Oxford Street in Paddington. Soula-Marie became the chief financial officer, and four years ago chief operating officer.
Napoleon’s brother Emanuel remains the founding managing director.
It’s an outstanding Australian success story. Today the company turns over more than $100 million annually, and has 86 concept stores and 110 shop counters in Myer and David Jones department stores around Australia. It’s stocked throughout South East Asia and the Middle East, and maintains a busy online presence in the US.
Rebecca Vallance “The Wolfe” oversized leather jacket, $929. Sportmax jumpsuit, $1455. Christopher Esber Split Apron Singlet, $330. Photo: Bec Parsons
Napoleon had always been the creative whirlwind behind the brand. Then along came Lianna and her three sisters. As the girls hit their teens, they became Napoleon’s perfect in-house product testers. And as they began to put in their requests, he began asking their advice.
Lianna describes Total Bae, which she conceived and created with her father, as driven by social media trends. “It’s more youthful but not necessarily for the youth. It’s fun, quick and easy.”
She’s particularly proud of Total Bae mascara Own It! “It has a special wand which is double-sided and gives length plus volume,” she says. Then, exhibiting her father’s brilliant gift for hyperbole, she adds with a grin: “It gives my eyelashes goals – it makes them so long and thick, but still natural.”
Christopher Esber Buckle Back crepe blazer, $990 and reversed twill pants, $690. COOP ‘Crop To It’ top, $129. Paul Smith ‘Basso’ leather trainers, $530. Photo: Bec Parsons
In two years, Lianna Perdis will compete her circumnavigation of the globe, returning home to Australia in time to start university. And this time, it’s Lianna making the decisions. “I want to go to university in Sydney, I consider myself Australian,” she says. “I am an international, I have an American accent. But I’m always essentially a Greek-Australian girl.”
Photographer Bec Parsons, Stylist Nadene Duncan, Hair Richard Kavanagh, Make-up Tannia Tiropanis for Napoleon Perdis.