You started out as a designer in Brisbane and subsequently your career took off in New York, and the US is now the primary market for your work. Do you think Queensland has in any way informed your design sensibility, and how does this sit in an international marketplace?
I love this question! Because of course the answer is yes, Queensland has informed my design sensibility… as it surely has for anyone who strives to create clothes that provide a sense of comfort, that have purpose, and perform well in our climate. But more than those very functional aspects of successful design, Queensland demands ‘real’; we aren’t particularly romantic, or nostalgic, we don’t revisit our cultural past, but we are sensitive to street culture and to innovation. This means as designers we bring a new approach to traditional markets, and I think this is what we offer the international market.
Your research hinges on the relationship we have to our clothes, and their role in forming or projecting identity. What have been some of your key findings?
One interesting aspect of my research is how influential the feedback we receive from our friends and even strangers is in determining how we relate to a particular item of clothing. A strong link develops between clothing and our identity through a sort of performance. What happens, how we feel, what people say, or how they look at us when we enter a room can all influence how we ‘bond’ with an outfit or item. By this I mean, the stories that my research participants tell of their relationships with clothing determine how they ‘feel’ about an item in their wardrobe. If they are not noticed, complimented perhaps, then they feel a garment has let them down, and is allocated to the back of the wardrobe, whilst a flurry of compliments will lead to them really ‘liking’ a garment and wearing it over and over…
So the interesting thing here is the suggestion that our projected identity is held in higher regard than our sense of dressing for self-satisfaction. Of course, there are exceptions, but it seems we seek the approval and acceptance of ‘who we are’ through the way we dress by signals of approval from others. I initially thought this would be important for younger women, but my research shows that women aged 40-65 are very aware of this feedback. The implications of this reach into design strategies and marketing approaches, which as an educator I find pivotal to the development of a contemporary fashion business, and I hope to raise student awareness of this, too.
Tell us how you came to be interested in fashion…
My childhood was spent creating complex ponchos for my Barbie doll as I grew up on a cattle station in Western Queensland, and we did not have electricity so draping, wrapping and folding were my first form of moulage. I would sneak the lovely lace trimmed and pastel-floral printed handkerchiefs from female visitors to our family’s cattle station, and then find amazing ways to utilise the bordered lace edges or the small repeated prints for optimal effect. This was all very clandestine, until at one point, when a neighbour’s wife was visiting, I secretly stole her hanky from her purse, took it away to my room and created just the most lovely style. I was unable to contain my pride and ran to the kitchen to show everyone my creation, only to find that stealing wasn’t to be rewarded, regardless of beauty through design!
Where do you look for inspiration on matters of style?
To satisfy the commercial side of design, I pay close attention to all the mainstream prophets of inspiration-WGSN, Promostyle, Premier Vision and the major fashion media moguls. However, if there is one thing living and working in New York City taught me, it is the importance of ‘Zeitgeist’ in driving innovation and timeliness in design. Being aware of what’s happening at a more organic and spontaneous level creates newness and freshness in styling and this is what my clients respond to. Looking at street fashion and finding a commercial stream for it, or interpreting the essence of a major exhibition or literary work… capturing the spirit of our age, that’s what makes design interesting for me.
What is your most treasured dress-related object or memory?
I love any piece that has been made by someone I know, or that has been given to me by a friend because they think I will like it. I support slow fashion, keep pieces for a long time, transform them several times and then often keep them in my archive. I have a dress that American artist Michael Roman made for me—it is a traditional women’s dress from Afghanistan that he bought in a second hand store in the Mission District of San Francisco. He has overprinted it with images of delicate images of Milagros and a stencil of Ché Guevara that creates a very provocative and powerful statement. He managed to bring together so many images that I am very passionate about.
Give us three words, people or places you associate with Queensland fashion…
Summer (It’s 37C today ☹)
Is there such a thing as a distinct Queensland style?
When my career was beginning in the mid-eighties, I felt that Queensland did have a distinct style. Innovation was defined by street fashion and young designers were ‘redefining’ what it meant to be living our lifestyle. With the luxury of hindsight, I think we were lucky to be working in our ‘own world’; we weren’t really following overseas designers and we weren’t being fed trends from overseas. (This was of course pre WWW!) We responded directly to our environment, social events, music, and artists in our community. The independent music scene was so vibrant in Brisbane then, as was the artist run studio art movement. This fed directly into the design aesthetic and reflected the times we were working in as unique-ness.
Today I feel Queensland style is more homogenized. We strive to be international, yet our climate is so unlike other markets in the world. I am reminded of this when I review the international A/W 14 collections and notice fabric choices are luxurious and rich, layering is key, and designers practice higher levels of risk taking. This does not necessarily suit Queensland, so we shouldn’t try to emulate this.
If we go back to your first question, one thing I have been able to do on Seventh Avenue in NYC was contribute a unique point of view, a Queensland point of view—I have a clearly defined profile of who I design for, I market to them and I don’t impose on them. I have been able to take what I have learnt in Brisbane to American women.
Published in Issue 10, on March 11, 2014.