Camilla Franks opened her first boutique in Bondi Beach in 2004 and has since gone on to create a clothing empire recognised internationally. The Australian fashion designer’s label is known for bright silk kaftans with crystal detailing and has just released a new collection, Jambo Jambo. Franks, 40, tells me about Beyonce Knowles wearing her clothes, having tequila shots with Oprah Winfrey, and how she retaliates against fashion “copycats” who steal her designs.
Where is the strangest place you’ve seen one of your designs?
We were in Morocco, somewhere in a tiny town in one of the back streets … We walked into this tiny little shop that had knick-knacks and artifacts and antiques and everything and this guy was like, “You’re in a native costume from Australia. You’re wearing Camilla.”
Who was the most exciting celebrity to wear your label?
The two women that really embody what my brand is about – honest, real, empowering, strong, independent – are Oprah [Winfrey] and Beyonce [Knowles].
What was it like to meet Beyonce?
Oh, it was beautiful, just beautiful. She is very warm, she is kind of just very real and like one of all of us, she just happens to have this extra huge talent. And the same with Oprah. I met Oprah recently and same thing: it was very real. Before I knew it, I was doing tequila shots with her and talking about life.
How does that come about to have big international celebrities wear your designs?
It comes from different things … Beyonce saw it in Harvey Nichols and my sales agent at the time in London said, “Oh, Beyonce has just been in Harvey Nichs and fell in love with it and has bought a few pieces.” And then next minute we saw it [in the press] … When Oprah visited Sydney, [she] remembered the brand … I woke up on a Sunday morning, there she was front [and] centre on the paper wearing [Camilla]. So I think if you put it out to the universe, the universe aligns in some magical way.
When someone like Beyonce or Oprah wears your clothing, what does it do for your business?
It gives you that global attention, that’s for sure. We definitely see a spike in sales … When our online store was a bit of a donkey – it’s not any more – it used to crash the online store.
Your brand has a distinct style. Do you ever feel pressure to follow mainstream trends?
I’ve never wanted to conform to society’s rules … I’m proud of myself and happy that I’ve done it my own way.
How do you feel when you see other designers replicate your designs?
It pisses me off … I get really upset, I get hurt …They are not something you can just mass produce and that’s what a lot these copycats are doing, and it costs a lot of money to fight them. But I fight most of them.
Do you fight back?
Oh, it brings out the lioness in me … Any of our wholesalers that start stocking any of the copycats, we pull from them within two seconds.
You started your brand in 2004. Did you ever expect the success of Camilla?
No, it has gone beyond my wildest expectations.
What do you believe makes your brand so popular?
I think the Camilla vision is about sort of awakening and unleashing that adventurous spirit in the heart that lies in all of us. When people talk to me about my brand, they always say, “It makes me feel alive, it makes me feel spirited, it makes me feel adventurous, it makes me feel like a woman.”
What inspired your new resort collection?
My time [in Africa] truly awakened me. The vibrancy of colour, the beauty of the land, and the spirit of the people. I found inner peace in the arms of the tribeswomen, and was transfixed by the bohemian melting pot of Morocco.
What is your favourite piece from the collection?
That’s a tough one. I really love the Check Mate Peplum Tailored Skirt, which I wore to my MBFWA [Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia] show.
You are such a free spirit. Tell me about your childhood and how you grew up.
I think you always inherit something from your family. My parents travelled the world for many years; they spent eight, nine, 10 years in a caravan. In school I was an anti-conformist. I was a bit of the rebel without a cause. You would always find me in the art room or in the headmistress’s office!
Tell me a day in the life of you?
It usually starts at 6am – I go visit or go catch up with my training buddy, we have that hour of power training, and then I try to fit in about 20 minutes of meditation to put the organised chaos into some kind of perspective and breathe a little deeper. Then I feel like one of those balls in a pinball machine and I bounce from marketing to design to production to finance to board meetings. And then I get home quite late and I just sort of put my incense on and face flat on the pillow, and then repeat.
What do you do to relax when you’re not working?
I’ve got this beautiful meditation coach. We do voice play together, which is wearing all the different hats that you wear as the person you are. He is really a philosophy coach. I train a lot. I do a lot of yoga [and] I’ve got a 60-kilo dog and a 30-kilo dog, which keep me busy.
Who do you admire?
Brene Brown [American author and public speaker] is someone I’m just so addicted to at the moment. I was shown this Ted talk and she basically encourages you to own your story and get real. She has written these books about vulnerability, shame, guilt and everything called The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
It’s not advice that I’ve necessarily been given, but it’s advice that I have taken. I love Richard Branson’s book Screw It, Let’s Do It or [the quote] “You can’t do epic shit with basic people”. So I tend not to surround myself with basic people. My team is full of colourful people.
WE WENT TO Catalina, Rose Bay.
WE DRANK Champagne Pommery Brut Royal
WE ATE Natural oysters, with eschalot and red wine vinegar; Natural oysters, with lime, chilli and tobiko; Crispy skin cone bay barramundi with spanner crab ravioli, enoki mushroom, avruga, sage and eschalot cream; Moreton bay bug, fettuccine nero, sofrito, semi dried tomato and tarragon butter.
CAMILLA WORE a Camilla kaftan