Maria Lambros has a tendency to repeat the term “privileged” when she’s talking about her life, and, based on the facts, it’s hard not to concur with her assessment. Lambros is the CEO of Prestige Cosmetics, the group responsible for distributing luxury cosmetics brands, such as Chanel, Bulgari and Hèrmes, in South Africa. The group’s portfolio comprises no less than 20 highend labels: La Prairie, Guerlain, Issey Miyake and Narciso Rodriguez, among others, all fall under Lambros’ dominion — and, it would seem, into her enviably well-stocked cupboards and drawers.
“It’s impossible to pick a favourite child,” she says of her perfume collection. “I think fragrances are about a mood. If you open my wardrobe, I have lots of fragrances; again, I’m just so privileged to be exposed to them. But I look at them and think: what do I feel like today? It’s cold, so I’m going to do Coco Noir by Chanel. Or, I’m feeling flirty, and Narciso Rodriguez is the perfect, romantic subtle scent.”
From a professional perspective, Lambros seems to be living the dream; hers is a position most fashion-lovers can only fantasise about. But Lambros is clearly highly business-oriented, and, while she says she is supported by a dream team at work, being CEO supersedes just sampling fragrances.
“We liaise with the brand owners, and we take global strategies and make them local,” Lambros says. Prestige Cosmetics is responsible for building the presence of these brands in South Africa, promoting brand desirability, and driving sales. It is little wonder, then, that much of Lambros’ recreational time is spent in furthering her leadership skills.
She is an avid runner, but while most of us would lose ourselves in thought, or match our strides to powerballads, Lambros jogs to a podcast called EntreLeadership. “It showcases real leadership gurus,” Lambros says. “I recently listened to Simon Sinek, and then John Maxwell. It’s a 40- or 50-minute podcast. When I listen to it, I usually get an idea or an inspiration.”
In spite of the apparent glamour of Lambros’s vocation — and the wonderful perks she enjoys — most of her style choices are grounded in simplicity and pragmatism. She wears a lot of black, which she diversifies with accessories, scarves, and necklaces. “I’m quite classic,” she says. “I’m not high fashion, but I’ll definitely have a few pieces in my wardrobe that I can wear with my classics. So I’d say classic — with a little bit of a fashion twist.”
Lambros is a self-professed bag and shoe fanatic, and has managed to amass a fairly impressive collection over the years. She can still remember her first luxury handbag purchase, and the charming story behind it. At the time, Lambros was a buyer for Edgars, where she worked for 20 years. On a business trip to New York, she paced the vast expanse of the notorious Saks Fifth Avenue floor that is dedicated to handbags and accessories, weighing up the respective merits of the bags on show. “I finally decided I was buying The Muse Bag by Yves St Laurent; it had just come out, this was a while ago,” Lambros says. But at the last minute, a friend persuaded her to forgo Saks in favour of enjoying the full experience — the champagne, the coddling — at a standalone Yves St Laurent store.
The anecdote culminates with Lambros and her enthusiastic colleague stranded in the middle of an unexpected snowstorm on Fifth Avenue, an enormous Yves St Laurent bag in tow, trying in vain to hail a yellow cab. “But all the Town Cars stopped instead, because we had this huge Yves St Laurent bag. Meanwhile, we were living off boiled eggs,” she recalls, chuckling. “The town cars must have thought we were these rich New Yorkers, shopping in the blizzard, but in reality we were just a pair of South African Edgars buyers.”
CITY THAT INSPIRES YOU? I love Paris. I’m fortunate enough to go to Paris often, for work, but every time I go there, the landmarks are so inspiring — the Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower — you’re just reminded of the history. I love the energy, the lifestyle, the romance, the food. It also inspires me for work, because I interact with numerous brands in Paris — I see both sides of it.
A BOOK YOU THINK EVERYBODY SHOULD READ? I actually love a book by Nancy Kline called Time to Think. Whether you’re a parent, or a businesswoman, or someone wanting self-development, it’s such an insightful book about how we should allow people to think — we finish their sentences, we think we know what they’re going to say. It’s one of the most interesting books I’ve read.
THE FIRST ITEM OF CLOTHING YOU REALLY LOVED? This is quite embarrassing. I was probably about 15 or 16. I was living in Zimbabwe, and when I visited South Africa, I bought a purple “boiler suit”, which is now a “onesie”, I think. I bought it from Smiley Blue, and I just thought that I was a fashion queen. It was so edgy: from Joburg, going back to Bulawayo. So that was the one