Another Quite Interesting thing to ponder is the role of Paul Sumner's wife, Amanda Swanson, Co-Director of R.M.S.S Mossgreen Titanic.
Chief Executive Officer
Co-Founder and Events and Sponsorship Director
Chief Financial Officer
Kylie brings to the role over twenty years of extensive experience working in a finance role and in excess of fourteen years working in the Auction and Collectibles industries. Most recently Kylie has held the position of Business and Finance Manager for Leski Auctions
There is quite a big puff piece on her here, which is actually quite revealing:
The Woman Behind The Brand
Amanda Swanson, the co-founder of international auction house and gallery Mossgreen.
Amanda Swanson doesn’t have the luxury of awaiting opportunity.
In a professional career spanning just two decades and three cities, she has launched an eponymous design business, taken on a high profile role marketing fashion, managed a burgeoning Sydney art gallery and co-founded Australia’s first hybrid auction house and art gallery.
After leaving Firbank Grammar senior school and securing a place in Melbourne’s renowned fashion and design degree course, Amanda was taking her first tentative steps towards a career which would see her spend her days surrounded by beauty in all its different guises.
Always a creative soul, who as a child was immersed in ballet, music, and art, Amanda was the latest in a long line of proud Swanson women who had sartorial DNA.
“Mum always was into fashion and had a great wardrobe, and I think playing dress ups in her old designer heels kicked off the fashion gene. [This interest] was bolstered by my fashionista Sydney grandma Hilda who worked on the famous seventh floor of David Jones and had a similarly fun collection of shoes and fab vintage garments to dress up in. There was also my wonderful Melbourne grandma Isobell – originally a milliner – who spent many fond hours teaching [my sister and I] all sorts of creative pursuits including beading and embroidery and combinations of both. She had a fabulous collection of old antique beads, collars and beautiful haberdashery items and this just resonated with me so much; this love of embellishment lead me to think of a career in fashion primarily to be able to then pursue costume design or accessory design [as] these were my favourite areas of interest.”
The venture proved a successful one and before long Amanda Swanson Design boasted a swag of international and national stockists including Jane Lambert in Sydney, Georges and Le Louvre in Melbourne, and The Cross in London’s Notting Hill. This was in addition to commanding gushing editorials in the likes of Tatler, Australian Vogue and Harpers Bazaar.
“I am definitely a person who likes a challenge… so I gave it a go. Financially it was very difficult – people always wanted to borrow not buy and I sunk every second and every cent into creating the pieces and promoting myself.”
Amanda, who began her label while in the midst of her European OE, says she worked hard at creating fabulous pieces and would then send them off to “famous” Australians in the hope they would wear them and publicity would follow.
“Of course I realise now what a naïve and expensive approach this was – but at the time I just went with my gut instinct,” Amanda says.
Three years later, the closure of Georges proved the catalyst for closing down the business.
“I lost a huge amount of stock and was never paid – this is called learning the hard way [but] at the time was devastating.”
Down but not out and with a proven track record in public relations, Amanda, who by then had returned to Australian shores, found herself representing some of the country’s most distinguished fashion brands via a stint as account manager at fashion communications firm Hush Communications.
But she soon discovered the world of PR was not for her.
“I had very much enjoyed doing my own PR for my own label and so thought it would be a similar experience for other brands however I soon realised it was not the same for another brand – it was simply not for me.”
Soon after she met life partner Paul Sumner, who at the time was the managing director of the Australian arm of auction house Sotheby’s, Paul received a job transfer to the UK. Amanda accompanied him and began working for a London art dealer.
Impressed by her knowledge of the global arts scene, Di and Ali Yeldham offered Amanda a job managing the Art House Gallery in Sydney’s Neutral Bay upon their return. It was a homecoming in more ways than one and Amanda says she instantly felt a sense of belonging.
“I loved the gallery. I loved its stable of artists where I could combine all my selling, curating, PR skills in an industry I really enjoyed. It’s funny as fashion and art have many similarities and are completely symbiotic. I wish when at school and thinking of a career in the arts there had been more detail about the kinds of jobs you can have in the arts industries – such as specialising in a particular field for an auction house, or managing an art gallery. Instead, the only two options I could see at the time was to become an artist or to study arts at Melbourne University.”
Paul and Amanda were together for just a couple of years when talk turned to the possibility of opening their own gallery.
In the end, the move happened organically and in 2004, less than four years after first locking eyes on each other, they decided to pool their respective talents and launch their own business, Mossgreen.
“Being young and starting up a business is hard on two fronts – the banks of course don’t take you seriously and I remember so clearly how tough things were in those early days. We had a few close shaves…but it makes you hungry for success as for us failure just wasn’t an option,” Amanda says.
What began as a little start up is today one of Australia’s most unique and innovative arts businesses, encompassing a contemporary art gallery, boutique auction house and elegant tearooms. Also, state-of-the-art venue spaces available for private hire for private parties and high-end corporate events.
After nine years of almost continuous growth, Mossgreen merged with Leski Auctions three years ago and acquired the former Armadale Picture Theatre in Melbourne where it is currently headquartered. It has since opened a second site in Sydney’s Woollahra and now operates an international division, having recently acquired Webbs Auction House in Auckland, New Zealand.
Yet despite putting in 60-hour weeks and finding herself immersed in the business at all hours of the day and night, Amanda, who is now the company’s events and sponsorship director and head of department for the Interior Decorator Auctions says there’s no other way she’d prefer to spend her time.
“We probably never thought [the business] would be the size it is…
however it’s immensely gratifying to see the company where it is now. The Mossgreen story is one of evolution – so sometimes new horizons need to be chartered. If we had a crystal ball then I would say some things may have been averted, but then you learn and grow from experience so maybe the hard things are good to experience for a reason.”
“We decided on a change of strategy three years ago with some additional shareholders joining the company which has allowed the incredible growth and expansion, however the pressure is still just as much on us as the co-founders as a brand is an extension of yourself and you need to constantly nurture it to ensure it remains true to itself and what our clients expect from it.”
When pressed, Amanda says she finds it difficult to point one clear reason why Mossgreen has enjoyed such phenomenal success. While timing and selecting the right niche played a part so too did the relationship and dynamic between the house’s co-founders.
“[Paul and I] are two very different beings and I believe that’s part of the key to our success. We complement each other and challenge each other constantly. It’s a lot easier now we have more clearly defined roles as the business is so much larger.”
Yet sharing a workspace, together with a home and a love of all things beautiful is not where the pair’s similarities start and end.
Believing a glass or six of a good wine is as important as any other form of relaxation, the pair like to turn off from talking shop by finishing the renovations on their Melbourne home and fine tuning their outdoor living spaces.
“We’re obsessed with old houses and aesthetics. We love collecting interesting beautiful things and we love to travel to source great things – this is the ultimate in personal enjoyment. When we entertain we like to do it in a theatrical detailed way. Maybe we are a bit stuck in the past but I like that.”