Alison Barton Chow honed her fashion eye running a must-visit boutique, Coco Ribbon, in London in the heydays of the early 2000s. She then made the big move back to Australia and morphed Coco Ribbon into a line of her own designs, largely flamboyantly colourful resort and lounge wear. Alison spoke with us about the challenges of brand identity when shifting continents, as well as the career choices she has made in order to prioritise a young family, plus how she got hooked on a certain uber-luxe eye cream.

“One of the most challenging times in my life was getting divorced after only a year and a half of marriage.  My then-husband was a very dashing Englishman who I had met when I was living in Hong Kong. 

I foolishly said yes to his proposal after just four months of dating. We had a large glamorous wedding in Buckinghamshire, so there was extra guilt around my parents and family paying for it and flying over to attend, on top of the fact that the marriage had failed so quickly.

I was alone in London without any family around when we split; it was a very dark time. I’d just opened our Notting Hill store, so I couldn’t up and leave. In regards to the marriage, I should have pulled the pin on it before it happened, but when you’re young the fear of letting people down because you’ve already invested so much and are on a certain trajectory seems worse than the potential outcome.  Being a little wiser now, I would have cancelled the wedding when the warning bells first went off.

Coco Ribbon, my store in London, was born from my desire to feel closer to Australia. 

At the time of its inception, I thought (because my then-husband was British) that I would be in the UK forever.  It was a place to gather all that I loved and a manifestation of the life I wanted to create for myself. It also bridged the gap between London and Sydney, as we started by importing all the best Australian designers under one roof, including Sass and Bide, Zimmermann, Collette Dinnigan, and Willow. We also sold homewares, and for a while we stocked Dinosaur Designs, which Jamie Oliver used to love and come in to buy.  Eventually we branched out into stocking designers from around the world, and buying at that level led to some pretty fabulous moments. I would often go to New York on buying trips and to catch up with friends, or jump on the Eurostar to Paris to see Collette’s shows at the Musée du Louvre.  One time we were even flown first class to Brazil fashion week in Sao Paulo. And we were always front row at the Australian Fashion Week shows.

It would have been nice to have been able to transport the success and recognition Coco Ribbon had as a brand in the UK back home to Australia, or to have the time to build my business to that scale again. 

Coming back to Sydney was like starting over from scratch, and this time it has been a choice not to try to build it to that same pinnacle of success. My time now is so importantly split between my career and having a young family. I don’t have a nanny and do every drop off and pick up myself, so holding my business back a bit (for now, at least) is a conscious choice that I’ve made.

I am Eurasian – my father is Chinese and my mother is Australian.  They met while doing Engineering and Medicine, respectively, at Sydney uni and married young. I embrace my multi-racial background and see being a part of our society’s diversity as a strength.

My mum is a doctor, so she has always been paranoid about the sun. She even pushed back when I wanted to get a convertible car when I was younger (she didn’t succeed though!). I do think her attitude about the sun, as well as me living in the UK for ten years, somewhat saved my skin.

I use La Prairie White Caviar Eye Extraordinaire Illuminating Eye Cream, as I was given a jar at an event and am now too afraid to stop using it! I’ve used eye creams by La Prairie for the last fifteen years.

In the mornings I just splash water on my face, and both morning and night, I put on Apot.Care Hylau.Repair Serum. It hydrates at a deeper level of the dermis than many products do, which I think, at my age, is essential. I follow this up with Go-To Face Hero and either Sunday Riley C.E.O. Vitamin C Rich Hydration Cream for the day, or Drunk Elephant Lala Retro Whipped Cream at night. I can’t live without the Lala, as I find that’s the only moisturiser that really quenches my skin when it’s dry.  It’s made for babies, but my children and I love it. At night I like to use the Frank Body Anti-Makeup Cleansing Oil; I got given a bottle of this and haven’t looked back. I love an oil cleanser as I feel it doesn’t strip your skin.

I have a few products I really love, and repurchase religiously. I enjoy a good multitasker and have been buying Stila Convertible Colour in ‘Lillium’, a tint you use on the lips and cheeks, for years. The colours just work for me and I like the small, flat size of it, which can slip into even the smallest clutch.

At the moment I’m liking the Australian brand Garbo & Kelly’s Brow Pomade, which I use to fill in and define my eyebrows.  It’s waterproof, so won’t budge unless you use makeup remover, so it’s great for holidays or the beach. I purchased it from Lita Brow Boutique.

As someone obsessed with time-saving hacks, I’ve recently invested in the L’Occitane Almond Shower Oil. You use as a body wash in the shower, and then it leaves a fragrant oil on your skin so you don’t have to moisturise afterwards.

My hair is fairly straight and long. It used to be a lot thicker than it has been since I had three kids. I don’t go to get blowdries often as I just don’t have the time, but I feel I can achieve a close enough look myself with the right products.

I rely on Bumble and bumble Hairdresser’s Invisible Oil ShampooConditioner, and Primer and my ghd Curve 2.0 Creative Curl Wand (I find it easier to use than tongs as you just wrap the hair around it). Then I finish the styling with Bumble and bumble Hairdresser’s Invisible Oil Soft Texture Finishing Spray and Bumble and bumble Brilliantine for the tips. For holidays, or times when I don’t have time to blow dry my hair, I love Bumble and bumble Don’t Blow It. You just put it through your hair when it’s wet, but somehow once it’s air-dried it’s all smooth like you’ve had a blowdry.

I have facials with Ana Troccoli in Paddington religiously; I’ve been going to her for a decade now. Ana gives you a bespoke skin strategy and each time I visit I leave with a glow. I have found with her the benefits of consistent skin needling, which is my recommendation for skin that defies your age. Ana also looks after my lashes.

Other professionals I rely on to keep me looking and feeling well include Andrew Griffin for fitness, Sarah Kelt for life coaching and mind therapy, Deanna for a tan in your own home, Louise Saxby for a cut and colour in your own home, and Lux It for last-minute hair, manis, pedis, makeup etc.

I always knew I wanted to do my own thing one day, but never knew exactly what field it would be in.

I did a business degree (Commerce Marketing) at UNSW, and then early in my career I was selected as the ‘Person most likely to succeed in media’ by Cleo magazine. This led to paid work experience at BBDO Sydney, which morphed into working as a copywriter for BBDO Hong Kong. In London I worked for PR in Burberry, before starting my own business aged 30. That first year, we won the Shell Livewire Young Entrepreneur Award for Greater London. At the time I remember thinking, ‘we’re not that young, though!’.  Now, of course, I look back and go, ‘oh, yes, we absolutely were’.  Perspective is a funny thing!

The best part of my work now is the creation and design process, and then finally seeing the final samples when they come to fruition (although sometimes they do not come out as planned!)

I often see this part of my work as an indulgence, even though it’s actually the most important part, simply because I enjoy it so much.

I’m a big picture person and not into the detail and admin work, so having to do dry and boring paperwork is something I do not enjoy.  It is a necessary evil, though, and I did do General Pure Maths while I was at uni, so I don’t mind a bit of number crunching now and then.

About two years ago, my friend came to Sydney and did a session of Rapid Transformational Therapy on me. Ever since then, I’ve been keeping a gratitude journal, and it has changed my life in the most positive ways. 

I thought I was pretty happy and doing well before, but now I’ve reached a new level of consciousness and contentment. I feel that, because I’m more aligned to what’s important, things fall into place more easily now. I start every morning now with a cup of hot water with lemon, which I drink while spending a few minutes writing five things in my gratitude journal.

We always have bacon and eggs on a Saturday and I’m not too strict with what I eat on weekends.

During the week, a few hours after my lemon tea, I have one small oat milk coffee. I don’t then get hungry until mid-morning, at which time I’ll have oat milk or almond milk with a mix of WelleCo powders: the Super Elixir greens and the Nourishing Plant Protein in chocolate. Later I’ll eat lunch, and then a decent early dinner with the children. If I’m going out and I know I’ll be having alcohol, I take two glutamine capsules, both before going and again as soon as I get home. I’ve found this reduces any chance of me having a hangover significantly.

On Monday mornings, I head to Orchard Street Bondi and order a coffee with cacao, cashew milk, and a shot of their immunity powder, and then I order two days’ worth of juices for my husband and I to have at home to start the week off well. 

On Tuesdays and Thursdays I walk out my door to Griffit in Queens Park for their 6am 45-minute HIIT sessions. These have transformed my body (and my mind) even in the short time I’ve been going.  I love the idea of ‘green exercise’, and being outdoors early morning rather than inside a dark gym.

I’m all for being your best self and doing what you feel you want or need to do, within reason, to slow the ageing process down.

However, it’s important to build up your sense of self, your self-esteem, and your life overall in other areas, so you’re not too dependent on your looks. Eventually, no matter how much money you throw at it, beauty in the traditional sense will fade, but substance and confidence is eternal.”

Story by Zoe Briggs. 

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