Were you expected to join the family business? “After I completed my degree in commerce and design, I decided to go to Europe to find a job. My feeling was, if I could cut it in Paris, I could make it anywhere.
“I worked as an assistant designer with Martine Sitbon, until my mother asked me to come back and join her. She is known as the Donna Karan of Australia, and really rose to fame in the late 1970s and 80s by creating the working woman’s wardrobe. After four years of working on my own, I felt I could bring something new to the brand.”
What was it like working with her? “It was interesting because our core values and principles are the same but how we render them is different. She is incredibly sculptural, bold and graphic, with clothing that is very much about women’s form. I have a looseness in my designs, so you’ll always see folds or drapes in my tailoring, along with a touch of the romantic. By bringing something new to the table, we attracted a whole new customer base.”
Why did you go independent last year? “From 2004 to 2009, my designs were under the Carla Zampatti label. Little by little customers wanted to know more and see more, so we eventually launched a separate brand and did a roll-out in department stores before opening our first free-standing boutique. For the past nine years we have been growing but, 18 months ago, I decided I was ready to take it all on my own.”
What have been the biggest changes? “It’s really been about being more courageous in my aesthetic and what we stand for. First, my style has become a lot bolder. Many designers start at their boldest and then try to find a commercial reality. I did the opposite and, once I’d won my customer over, I stretched them bit by bit.
“I’m not an obvious fashion personality and I approach my work like the tortoise, not the hare. I have also started to look closer into this idea of what the customer really needs. My partner is an environmentalist, so I’ve started to question what sustainable or ethical fashion looks like.
“Everything is made in Australia, so I’ve started to look at how each garment can be constructed better, or cut better so there’s no wastage. Now 50 per cent of my collection is made from dead stock fabric. We also work with the Australian Board of Stewardship to assess our mills in China and do audits on water processing, for example.”
Australian designers are having their moment in the spotlight – why do you think this is? “It’s not just because of one thing, it’s been a gradual change. There was always talent in Australia but what’s shifted is people’s perception. A few key people in the industry, such as Yasmin Sewell, have helped change the way people look at Australian brands.
“Also, once there was a big push to put resort collections on the international calendar, Australian designers finally had the opportunity to go to New York and Paris. A growing demand for lifestyle wear has helped – Australia above all countries knows how to do that category well. The relevance of that style and the ease Aussies look for in their clothes have become more internationally prevalent.”
Up until now your brand was available only in Australia – why the push into Asia? “When I was part of my mother’s company she wanted all of the businesses to be domestic, which made sense. When I branched off last year, however, I decided to show my first season internationally and Lane Crawford picked up the collection. We just launched in stores and even adjusted our fit to suit the Asian market.
“I’ve always been fascinated with Asia and, in my opinion, it is going to be the next big superpower. It’s the future, and fashion is about the future. Having a presence here is integral.”