She is cool, calm and collected, absolutely nothing seems to flap her. Even when there is a flood in the warehouse, and lovely Valentino gowns could be damaged, this Lady keeps it all under control. Her (genuine) smile is always in place, and this makes her special. Paula Moldes, the Store Director at STIVALI ( for those of you who live under a rock, a fantastically curated multi-brand store in Lisbon) shares her past and her present with me.
How did you start out in fashion?
By mere chance, as I actually have a degree in Physical Education, so I should be coaching volleyball! I played the sport for many years and it all altered when I broke my knee and my life changed forever. Thirty odd years something ago, the only option open was to change to a physiotherapy course but that was the furthest thing from my mind. Since I loved fashion and magazines, I decided that was the new way to go.
I lived and grew up, above an atelier that made the frogging for all the uniforms for the superior officers of the G.N.R. So when all the kids ran out to play in the street, I was upstairs in the atelier winding up these spools of golden cords, tons of boxes full of buttons, and I spent many an afternoon tidying up these boxes and I was fascinated and captivated. Galoes of the gala uniforms, were all handmade, and I remember sitting on a tiny wooden stool, used for the fittings, (the officers stood on them to measure the pant hems), watching the artisans at work for hours. My Mother's Burda magazine was also cut up to style and dress my dolls. I gobbled up my mom's magazines.
From there, what was your first interaction within a shop?
My first experience was in a shop that a had a family environment, a very interesting woman called Albertina, that nurtured my fashion curiosity. From there I went to a shop downtown, and that's where I first started on the sales floor. But it felt that I was doing little, and it wasn't very into the trends, and by then I 'd started reading Harpers Bazaar. It was an expensive luxury, I didn't smoke or drink but my magazines were my vice. I still have piles and piles of magazines in my attic at home, that I cannot throw away. When I packed everything up to move house, I gave away a lot of books but no magazines! Vanity Fair, Harper's Bazaar, Vogue US, Brazil and UK, it's all boxed up. It's a memory, a chronology of my life, of my growing up, all the trends that passed through my life. When I go to the shows today, I can see the thread of all that I've seen coming through.
How many years have you worked at Stivali?
25 anos na Stivali, I was almost born here when i came here i was reborn in the first month i worked here, i quit 35 times, every day , I mnot good enough, its too much, I came from a clothing background and so Mr Frank, one of he owners, placed me in the shoes section of the store. Now I looove shoes but at that time I ddin t understand shoes at all. And it was so difficult
Why, I'd think that if the shoe fits and the client is in love with it... it's easy
No not at all. We have to adapt the shoe to the foot, to her taste, 1000 shoes references, was overwhelming. From day, night colors, So it was definitely these two men, Frank and Manuel Casal, the other owner, that have educated me .Always edging me on, you cannot quit, you cannot relinquish your own self , have to think it's difficult but I'm going to do it. This kind of profession, is demanding and there are no certainties. volatile as one day a client's wants all black, but the next day she's feeling happier and wants polka dots...so it's very sensitive, emotional and subjective . Here we train that sensitivity to clients mood and dealing with emotions, our and theirs. this is the initial journey as I think 25 years is very little, it s gone by very fast, and I haven't quit for the last 24 years!!
Have there been many changes?
Yes, we moved address several times, the economy goes up and down, and but this " house " is different from any other place that I've worked at. The owners have never imposed anything on us, the staff. What they do tell us is that this is their dream, and that we're all in this together, walking the same path. Asking us " What do you think is best? " etc. So it is very democratic and there is always a dialogue between all of us. It's kind of " we're going to change location because it'll be better, are you with us? Yes, we are! " Many times it is the owners that ask us if we'd like to close over a holiday, and normally we say no! Sometimes it is us that ask, can we close for a day, say if it's a period that the Avenida is closed for some reason, because we're really tired? They don't act like bosses per say, and we, the Stivalettes, ( yes, we call ourselves this), consider our job as anything else but teamwork, we work and function with the owners as a team! A type of family, not in the sense that were in and out of each others homes, but in that we professionally respect and support each other. We here for the good and bad, to work. It's been imparted in our work ethic that one has to get up and be happy to come to work, as if it's from one home to another. This shop has been a sort of school, as I think every major shop in Lisbon has somebody that worked here at a time.
What is your strategy when you buy for the store?
We, Mr Franck and Manuel Casal that is, buy the collections thinking about women in general. Mr Franck, is imbued in fashion, and many times, he's one century ahead! Often, we introduce brands that only in many years will be successful, but he'll predict it earlier than most, and he's always right. Donna Karan was one, a brand that was new to the market, expensive, very luxurious, without being ostentatious, and it was a challenge but our clients loved it. We look for what makes the difference, true style and chicness. Our pieces are chosen essentially for the portuguese woman, her particular shape, her figure, her emotive state, that way she carries herself and what she does. We constantly want our clients to look and feel amazing. Pieces that can look great on an American or on an Italian might not look so fantastic on a portuguese, it's our cultural identity that have to be preserved.
As a Lisbon lover, what are your must see places?
- Igreja de São Roque
- Belém, as I lived nearby and Botanical Gardens, where I went to jump rope with my friends whilst my grandfather swung the rope for us.
- Rua António Maria Cardoso, the São Luís Theatre
Any advice that you'd like to share?
One of my first jobs was at the Centro Nacional da Cultura and I was there for a long time. I spoke English, and since I am fascinated by the city of Lisbon, I thought to get a job as a secretary. There I worked for Helena Vaz da Silva, an incredible woman, who taught me that if you want to be the director, you also have to know how to mop the floor, and that to mop the floor you also have to know how to a be director. It took me forever to understand what she meant, and as my career progressed, I slowly came to understand what she'd said to me.