An Aussie brand that’s firmly made it onto my must-have, go-to, list is Aje. There’s just something about the way that they play with interesting silhouettes and sublime finishing details that make their pieces so fresh and modern. I’ve worn the brand several times and just when I think I’ve found a fave I end up falling in love with something else as each new collection drops.
At the moment I’m really loving their take on statement sleeves, with many of their pieces from dresses to shirts featuring a blouson sleeve that adds a beautiful feminine touch. While their current suiting options features some great contemporary details such as an open back and a relaxed, roomier silhouette.
Since her first show in Paris in 2011, Rebecca Vallance has cultivated a brand into a celebrity favourite and one that is stocked both locally and internationally. Her designs have been seen on everyone from Emily Blunt to Rachel McAdams and Chrissy Teigen and is now available at designer boutiques including Harvey Nichols, Net-a-Porter and My Theresa, along with bricks and mortar stores in Sydney and Melbourne. However that’s only just the beginning. As one of Australia’s top designers, Rebecca has her sights set on expanding her brand both at home and globally, and from our chat she’s not about to slow down any time soon. Here I chat to Rebecca about the two women she would love to dress, the one piece she considers to be one of her standout designs and why she only ever wears her own label.
What’s the latest with you?
I have just come back from London. I was there for Harrods and Harvey Nichols, and meeting with press over there. So it went really well. The brand’s on a big trajectory over there, so it’s really exciting to be there and be a part of it.
Yeah. So in that two years we picked up Net-a-Porter, and all the big international majors like MyTheresa. Then we’ve opened our stores now.
Oh yes, that’s right. You had just opened [in Sydney’s] Mosman.
Just opened Mosman. There’s Armadale [in Victoria] as well, which is a beautiful store. We’ve just opened The Strand [in Sydney] last week, two weeks ago, which is beautiful, and the pop-up in Paddington [in Sydney].
Congratulations! So why did you choose The Strand?
We could see from our eCommerce site that we were sending a lot [of orders] to the city, and we just wanted our customers to be able to come to the store and have the full Rebecca Vallance experience. To be able to see the full collection.
When you first started your label did you ever imagine that it would grow to what it has done now?
Look that was the goal, I hoped, but I think from day one, when I launched it in London, I always wanted it to have an international DNA and an international customer. Yeah, that’s always been the focus. We’re thrilled it’s going so well.
Where do you find your inspiration?
It changes every season. Like the collection that’s in store at the moment was inspired by one of Pablo Picasso’s works, The Ladies of Avignon. But then the Resort Collection, I was planning my husband’s 40th in Capri, and [I was inspired by] the colours of Capri. So it really depends what’s going on with me at the time and what I’m thinking about.
Out of all your collections, what has been the biggest stand-out piece that you’ve designed?
Oh wow. Look, I think [TV presenter] Sylvia Jeffreys‘ wedding dress was definitely quite special. But every season we evolve the brand. Every season there’s a new favourite. We’re definitely known for our dresses, but suiting for us is having a huge moment at the moment. You wore the Maya Suit.
Oh I love that suit.
Yeah. I think it’s about evolving the brand to a point where we’re known for most of the women’s wardrobe. You know options for everything. I think too, we’ve just launched Pre-Fall today, and that’s beautiful, that’s really special. I think that’s probably the collection I’m most proud of to date.
That’s amazing. You’ve had so many celebrities wear your outfits. Who are some of your highlights?
I noticed when I was in London last week, everyone knew of the brand, which was really exciting, and all the editors were already across it and already wearing it themselves. I think that’s exciting. You can see it’s obviously picked up an international following, and The Strand’s done really well already, so that’s good.
If you could dress any celebrity, who would it be?
Nicole Kidman or Cate Blanchett.
You are a mum of two, young boys.
How do you juggle work, running a successful business, and having two kids?
It’s so full-on. I am obsessed with my two little boys, they are just adorable. They’re so sweet. I look forward to every day. I love going home to give them dinner, and bath them, and play, and hang out. I think it’s about priorities. There are times where they really need me around 24/7, and there are times where they don’t, so it’s about prioritising, about what I’m doing every day and making sure that I’m available for both. But it’s also too quality over quantity.
So if my boys need me, then being at home, but if the business needs me then being at work. So I just do my best. I’m not saying I’ve got it perfected but I do my best.
What’s your number one style tip?
I think it’s not about what you wear. It’s how you wear it. I think if you wear anything with confidence, you’re 1,000 steps ahead.
What are your wardrobe essentials?
Wardrobe essentials. I think, for winter, a long-sleeved dress, like the one I’m wearing. Long sleeve mini dress. And colour! I always see so much black and charcoal and brown and whatever. I think colour for winter. I’ve tried this season. I made a conscious effort in putting lots of colour and colour palettes.
What are we seeing for winter?
So this [colour] that’s a dark raspberry, maroon, but then I’ve also done lots of blush and ivory. So I just felt even though it’s winter, your personality should still shine through with some colour. So yes there’s lots of beautiful knits that are colourful, and always beautiful coats. I’ve done a beautiful tweed coat this season, which has got bold statement buttons on it, and it’s quite distressed and it’s quite beautiful. There’s always some things that are staple pieces but a little bit different.
How would you describe the RV girl?
I think polished in an undone way.
Where do you see you and your brand in five years time?
I hope we’ll have lots of international retail stores. I hope we’ll have beautiful Australian retail as well, and I hope the brand will continue on the way that it’s going. I want it to be internationally renowned, that’s for sure.
What sets you apart from other designers?
I think it’s our unique DNA. We know who our customer is, and I think it’s our product. Each season we try and refine it more and push it further and making sure when people see the collection, they know that’s a Rebecca Vallence dress.
Is your wardrobe filled with your own collection or do you wear other brands?
I only wear Rebecca Vallance.
Do you really?
Yeah I know. Well this is the thing. I think for me I design what I want to wear to some extent. So, there’s always everything that I want in a collection because it’s what I’m looking to wear. So yeah I only wear my own stuff, and obviously shoes and handbags is different.
Have you ever seen a piece of clothing that you’re like, “Oh, I wish I had designed that.”?
Not yet. I think there’s some incredible wedding gowns. I appreciate other designers, absolutely, but I think I’m so focused on what we’re doing as a brand that I’m kind of stuck looking at that.
You see so many designers that take inspiration from international designers. How do you steer clear from not making it look too trend orientated?
I think that when I launched the brand when I lived in London, I wanted it to have an international DNA and be authentic to who I was and we were as brand, and that’s, you know whether it’s going to Europe and sourcing out fabrications or working to develop that fabrications with the mills.
Will you ever face moving the business overseas?
I hope that if it becomes a problem, that the business is too big to be just in Australia, I hope to see it off in London and New York. Yeah for sure.
Is there anything coming up we need to know about?
I think for us at the moment, we’ve had the launch of the Strands store which is really exciting. They’re putting a tram in George Street [in Sydney] as well, so there will be lots of traffic coming through there. In addition, were launching Paddington, test it to see how it goes. I think we’ll just keep building out online. It’s doing very well at the moment, whether it’s in Australia or our global customer. I think it’s about doing what we’re doing well and refining it and pushing the collection further and further.
We went to: Rosetta
We ate: Grilled market fish with salmoriglio; Burrata with radicchio; Green salad
What’s it like to show at Fashion Week for the very first time? Bella Pereira and Gemma Fitzgerald are the pair behind the eponymous label Pereira Fitzgerald. Founded in 2015 the brand has a focus on luxury fabrics, dramatic silhouettes and strong tailoring and this year marks their debut at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Australia. I paid a visit to the girls prior to their show to chat about the ups and downs of putting on a show, founding a label with a little help from Kickstarter and the one woman they’d love to see wearing one of their designs.
Ladies, congratulations on your debut collection at Fashion Week.
Bella: Thank you so much.
What an exciting time for you. How does it feel?
Gemma: Incredible. It was always in the path for us, I think.
Tell me your story. How did it all begin for you?
Bella: We met through mutual friends. I don’t think I always thought that fashion would be my path. I was studying science at the time.
Studying science? That’s crazy!
Bella: I think we immediately clicked, definitely. I knew that Gemma was an incredible machinist and into designs. I was really interested in learning about crafting a garment. Basically the conversation really just rolled from there.
Gemma: I studied fashion design. I was working for Zimmerman before. It just comes naturally. We were destined to meet.
Bella: Yeah, I think so. I find it hard to think of another person [I’d like to do this with]. We definitely don’t agree on everything, but we can always find a medium.
Why was it so important for you to show at Fashion Week?
Gemma: Just to branch out. I think it’s really important. We’ve done so well, so far. Our friends, our family.
Bella: Yeah, and a very close-knit, amazing group of loyal clients. They have kept us going, but I think we’re at a point now where we’re really ready to take it to another level. It’s also our beginning in wholesaling. We haven’t been stocked anywhere except in our online store, so far. That’s really exciting for us, as well.
What are the benefits of showing at Fashion Week?
Bella: It’s an international stage. It’s like everyone is there. IMG have been incredible in giving that to us in terms of the people that are there are so influential. Whether it’s a buyer or an influencer. It’s a huge stage for us, and everyone’s in the same room at the same time. You can’t really compare that to anything else.
What have you found to be one of the biggest challenges so far?
Gemma: I think it’s just time. Everything’s new. We’re both well and we’ve hired some amazing people to work for us, which is great.
I don’t think everyone realises how much work goes behind a show. What are some of the things that have surprised you?
Bella: [Everything] down to music composition. That’s a massive task and it is so important to have captivating music while the show is happening. Music, as well, that tells a story that’s in line with our collection and the kind of people we are. It’s so important that it makes the audience feel the way that you want them to feel.
The amount of conversations and emails and drafts and playlists that go back and forth. That’s one tiny thing in the whole production. It’s not just everyone shows up and you smack the garments on a girl and run down the runway. Everything is so considered and thought of. Nothing is by chance, nothing is a coincidence, everything is purposeful.
How would you describe your style aesthetic?
Gemma: It’s quite glamorous in a way, but then it’s like everyday glamorous, so you can definitely work with it on a day-to-day basis.
Bella: We love the idea of being really feminine, but also embracing the feel of feminine strength. I think we’re taught that powerful dressing always has a masculine edge and we’re very much about turning that absolutely on its head. You can dress really delicate and beautiful and feel really feminine but still feel powerful and confident and you can do anything. It’s all about those outfits that give you that and for me, I want an outfit that feels like that.
Do you guys feel that you are on the same page for your style? Or does one want a bit more of something else?
Gemma: Definitely, we’re a little different…I’m a bit more girly, feminine.
Bella: I like things long and tight, I guess.
Gemma: We start with one idea and then it goes there and it goes there and then neither of us like it and then it’s just this beautiful thing we create.
Bella: And I think it’s important, as well, because Gemma comes up with ideas that I never would, and I come up with ideas that she wouldn’t and it’s not necessarily something that I would wear, but it’s something that I love and appreciate and think is divine. I think that’s important. We’re dressing for a range of women, not just this narrow focus of ourselves, which is really important.
What would be your advice to young girls wanting to get into the fashion industry?
Gemma: I think just work hard. I mean, that’s a tale as old as time, obviously, but it’s hard when you have to intern and you have to do this and you have to do that and you’re studying, but that’s the real world. And, if your mum’s saying, “oh, that’s too tricky, don’t do it,” just do it!
Bella: Do what you feel really passionate about. You’re gonna end up there anyway, so you may as well. I think it’s just hours and hours of really hard work, but nothing good comes from anything that’s not hard work. No, if you want a boring life, don’t do this!
Do you think it is as glamorous as they make it?
Bella: No, it’s not glamorous…It’s up at crazy hours of the morning and going to sleep at crazy hours of the morning. Obviously it changes, that’s not sustainable all the time but definitely in the lead up to Fashion Week it is that real around-the clock dedication. I think you need to take it very seriously from the beginning if you wanna be taken seriously. I think there’s no way we could have made big sales in the beginning if we didn’t have one-hundred percent belief in what we were putting forward. We wouldn’t have done it if we didn’t have that really propelling us forward.
And so Gemma you used to work for Zimmerman, they’re such a powerhouse in the whole fashion industry. What was the biggest thing you learned from them?
Gemma: Well, I was in the design room, so I saw everything from fittings and cuttings and seamstresses, pattern-makers, everything. It totally helped me.
I couldn’t think of a better learning ground.
Gemma: Yeah, even down to my drawing. But they taught me how to really hone it in and – I don’t know it’s good when the sketches matched what your vision is, sometimes that’s not so easy.
How do you decide who goes to your show?
Bella: We have an amazing publicist. Well, that’s the thing, we are so new, we don’t have those connections, and it’s just been amazing to team up with someone who does and to give us that head start in getting ready for what people that we need there.
Is it a bit daunting to have so many magazine editors and so many important people within the industry front row at your show?
Bella: It’s very much like a pressure, but it also fuels the adrenaline that keeps you crazy, so it’s worth it. It’s really exciting. Super exciting.
Gemma: Our mums will be front row. Really excited [about that].
And can you tell me a little bit more what we will see on the runway, what will we see coming up?
Gemma: Well, we went to France to buy fabrics earlier this year, so there’re things inspired by French silk and-
Bella: Very much like that Rococo [style]. How fashion is depicted in those paintings, that really lustrous, incredible silk, we’ve really tried to capture that. But again, it’s really soft with this kind of contrast of really sharp tailoring, big, oversize silhouettes. We don’t really do anything halfway, we’re very zero or a hundred, I guess, in everything.
Gemma: If we’ve got a ruffle, it’s a ruffle.
Bella: I do think you can really wear these pieces to anything, they’re definitely not like your average everyday casual piece, they are pieces that we want women to really reach for and be excited to reach for it in the wardrobe every morning.
Gemma: And be confident, too. We know a Sydney blogger and she dresses up every day just to go and buy milk. And we love her, she’s amazing. And I suppose she’s got that confidence, and we want everyone else to have that confidence, you know? Dress up, you’ll feel amazing, and you’ll look amazing.
Bella: Even if you’re gonna pair it back with something really casual, it’s that amazing feeling of having a beautiful handmade piece of clothing on your shoulders, and it feels gorgeous and it’s just… priceless.
And if you could have anyone wearing your label, who would it be?
Gemma: We have spoken about this, Cate Blanchett really comes to mind.
And what’s next for you guys after Fashion Week?
Gemma: Well, hopefully we’ll have offers after Fashion Week.
Bella: Yes, it’s just kind of getting into those commitments with them, delivering, seeing our clothes stocked, hopefully internationally at some stage. We’re big believers in owning our way in Australia first, but that’s definitely a long time off for us, to see our clothes hanging in The Bon Marche or somewhere incredible.
So the fashion industry is so hard to get into, what was the pivotal point that you got into a fashion?
Gemma: Well, we started with Kickstarter.
Bella: Our first collection was pretty small, eight piece collection that was made from entirely silk satin. Really heavy, lustrous, really high end premium silk satin. And we had all of these friends and family members that were so interested in what we were doing and we kind of hit a bit of a roadblock in terms of just taking things to the next level and in terms of production, all those things you run into when you start a business in fashion and garment production. And so what we did was through Kickstarter, which is a crowdfunding platform, we started a campaign that basically had all our pieces up for sale, and our friends and family, anyone who knew about us, potential clients, could go on there and purchase at a discounted price with the understanding that the garments would be delivered four months in advance.
Such a great idea.
Gemma: We weren’t asking for money and everyone was so excited anyway.
Bella: We’re surrounded by such beautiful people and our families and friends and everything, so it just meant that they could have a part in our beginning as well, which was really special.
Gemma: We also got some overseas clients from that as well.
Oh, did you?
Bella: Yeah, we did, because Kickstarter itself has its own marketing strategies that involved our campaign so that helped us enormously as well.
That’s incredible. Well, I wish you very best at the show and I can’t wait to see it.
My Day 3 wrap video, interviewing the designers behind Macgraw and We are Kindred.
Beth and Tessa Macgraw first launched their label in 2012 and since then their brand has amassed a celeb following that includes Lorda, Coco Rocha and Karlie Kloss. They’ve won prestigious awards including The Tiffany & Co. National Designer Award, The BT Award, The Regional International Woolmark Prize and The Australian Fashion Laureate for Best Emerging Designer. Macgraw is now available worldwide via online retailers such as Farfetch and Moda Operandi, and department stores David Jones and Lane Crawford. I caught up with Beth and Tessa ahead of their show about how they got into fashion, what it’s like to work with a sibling and the challenges they’ve faced to get where they are.
Congratulations on this amazing collection. How has Fashion Week been for you?
Tessa: Well, actually I think we’re quite calm this year. It’s always got its challenges and issues, but I think we’re handling them pretty well so far.
Beth: We’re having a different approach.
Tessa: We’re trying a different approach,
Beth: Yeah. It’s fashion, it doesn’t need to be stressful, it should be fun. I mean we like all our models to smile and be in a good mood on the runway.
That’s something you don’t always see. Is that something you focus on?
Tessa: We do. Yeah, we cast a smile. Which is kind of tricky. It’s challenging.
The collection is absolutely stunning. Can you tell us a little bit about the it?
Beth: So, we showed our collection at a beautiful gothic revival match in Cold Swiss in Darling Point. And as soon as we saw the architecture of the building we were quite inspired and knew we wanted to entwine that and work that into our collection. So, we kind of created a collection around the woman who would have resided there in its heyday. So, she’s pretty fab. She likes to-
Tessa: There’s an opium room in there, in the house. She’s a bit naughty I guess.
What is your favourite thing about Fashion Week?
Beth: I really love how it brings everyone together and builds, like there’s a lot of pre-events and then we go to our friends’ showing. So we go to their shows and they get to come to ours. The other time we get to see each other is in Paris.
Tessa: I think there’s an energy, I think it’s nice that everyone comes together. It’s an exciting week.
How did you both get into fashion in the first place?
Tessa: I studied fashion design way back when. We’ve grown up loving fashion.
Was that always a plan, to be designers?
Tessa: Pretty much, and to work together. Some people think we’re mad.
As sisters, what is it like to work with family?
Beth: It’s both, I mean, we’re very much on each other’s wavelength, we have a lot of non-verbal communication.
Tessa: I mean we get along, we do like each other. It helps, it does help, and I don’t think we’d be doing it if we didn’t.
Beth: It’s very important, though, that we have the same aesthetic and we gravitate to the same fabrics and if we didn’t, because we are quite honest and verbal about it, it probably wouldn’t work. So you need the personality mix to be right as well.
It must be so nice working together.
Tessa: I trust her and that’s pretty important I think in this industry.
Beth: We get to do it together, like we’re constantly pinching ourselves. And we get to go to Paris and we’re on the plane together and we’re in the shows together and-
Tessa: It’s a lot of time together, it is.
You only started the label five years ago and already you’ve had such huge success in that short time frame. What has been your secret?
Beth: Same focus I think, not growing too quickly for us,… You make a lot of mistakes. and you don’t want to make them in the best store or on the biggest celebrity, and it’s good to just learn and, what are your strengths and what’s her aesthetic, it takes a few years to work that out I think.
Tessa: I think it’s hard work as well, you’ve gotta commit to work till late at night and just all the time, you know, you’ve gotta be passionate. You just gotta love it.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face in the Australian fashion industry?
Beth: We make in Australia, it can be challenging, I won’t lie, but it’s, for us, really important to be mainly made in Australia. And we make some things in Italy and some fabrics in Switzerland and different places but, I think it’s nice and I think a lot of our stores preach it that it’s made in Australia, definitely.
Tessa: The challenge, I think in the Australian industry is that we’re sort of getting a bit smaller in production so making in Australia I think is probably a challenge sometimes.
Beth: Probably the other thing is, I mean, they’re all kind of Australia-focused answers for me, like the fact that we’re so far away, has its benefits but it also can be quite hard for the distance. If you’re from the U.K. and you have to go on the train over to Paris Fashion Week, it’s a much bigger effort for us when we’re outside of the business. And breaking in can be a little bit harder but Instagram and the internet definitely has helped as well.
We have noticed that that’s a huge impact.
Tessa: Absolutely. We’ve had stylists reaching out to us through direct Instagram. If they see us around then they will help.
You’ve dressed some pretty amazing people. What has been the biggest pinch-me moment?
Tessa: Julianne Moore I think we both agree? That was pretty cool. I just loved that.
How does that happen?
Beth: Organic. They actually held an event for us in London and the InStyle editor walked in and she was like, “I’m shooting Julianne tomorrow. I’m going to put that on her.”
You’ve also teamed up with Vittoria Coffee again to create these beautiful Fashion Series cups. Tell me a bit about the story behind these and your inspiration.
Beth: We were inspired by love and love letters.
Beth: Tess draws out all of our sketches, all the love hearts are all sketched out. They’re a little sinister, they’re black love hearts these ones. This one has a little loyal sash and he flies in love. And we love colours as well.
You’ve teamed up with them for a few years now. Why is that so important to you?
Tessa: I think it’s a nice alignment they have the Fashion Series and we do prints in-house and as I said we draw them. I think it just, it’s a nice fit really.
Beth: And they’re a family run business. They’re a lovely team the Vittoria family.
I saw the beautiful campaign. It was shot by fashion photographer Sonny Vandevelde. Tell me a little about that.
Beth: We love Sonny. He’s backstage at every one of our shows. He’s kind of part of the family as well. Yes I hear they’re going to be life size light boxes of us.
Beth: It will be down at Carriageworks for Fashion Week. And then Vittoria also did a really cool art installation which took a few of our items like our shoes, and love letters and created a beautiful piece of art. That was cool.
Tessa: It’s really pretty what they’ve done this year.
Where do you see Macgraw in five years time?
Beth: Good question. Well I think we’ll be probably in here. Maybe we’ll be in a different studio in this space.
Tessa: Maybe a bigger space, yeah? We’ll probably have a couple more staff members I hope. Yeah I mean we want to grow overseas a bit more don’t we?
Beth: Europe and the US are in our sights at the moment. We’re already in a few stores but just a bit more focus there.
Whenever I attend a fashion show I always like to show support for the brand by wearing one of their pieces. I was lucky enough to be able to wear the below Aje dress before it has dropped in stores and it was the perfect vibe for their show which took place in Sydney’s Wendy Whiteley’s Secret Garden.
The gorgeous colour perfectly complemented the lush surrounds but I was all about the beautiful silhouette of the dress. The exaggerated flounces on the skirt and sleeve had great movement and it was just one of those pieces that’s just fun to walk in! The tie front added a sweet and feminine touch. I can see this working for everything from a work event to a wedding so it ticks the versatile box for me.
As the dress is already so striking I wanted to take it up a notch even more and opted to pair it with my Marco de Vincenzo heels. The braided style and the raspberry colour provided the ideal contrast piece whilst being strong enough to make their own statement.
Credits: Dress, Aje (Los Luna Dress not in store yet); Shoes, Marco de Vincenzo
When it comes to designing less is more for Australian designer Anna Hoang. A 2011 graduate of the Sydney Institute of Technology, her label Anna Quan is a perfect example of statement-making minimalism. Hoang has dressed international celebrities such as Kendall Jenner and Karlie Kloss and her range is stocked in Australia and internationally in Paris and Puerto Rico.
The label focuses on women’s ready-to-wear items and is about clean lines, functionality and attention to finishing details such as a strategically placed pocket or a perfectly finished lining. Each piece specialises in strong tailored silhouettes in luxe fabrications. Here I chat to Anna about her favourite trick for dressing well, where she gets her inspiration and how she gets ahead in the competitive world of fashion…
What influences your designs?
Streetwear. I love the way people style their clothes and how they wear common items everyday.
What is your favourite piece from your collection?
Fringed pants from Resort ’16. It adds a little bit of fun and playfulness into everyday dressing.
What is your most loved fashion item that you own?
Currently obsessing over Alighieri earrings from my friend who is a London-based designer. She makes these rough but elegant lost wax cast earrings in gold. They are just one-of-a-kind.
Who do you look up to ?
People who follow through and do what they say they will do.
When you need to escape where do you like to go?
Bed. Sleep is few and far between a lot of the time. I would love nothing more than a nap.
What do you think is the most important trick is to dressing well?
Definitely tailoring. Making sure your clothes are custom fit and taken in or up to your level. Never underestimate a great fit.
What has been your proudest moment so far in the fashion world?
Seeing my clothes snapped for best of street style for Paris, Milan, New York, Copenhagen fashion weeks for Vogue.com.
What is it like to compete in such a competitive industry as an emerging designer?
Like a marathon – it’s a long game – endurance and resilience is key. Sometimes it’s important to be reminded that you can get further with consistency rather than great big spurts and lags.
Which style icons do you look up to?
Pernille Teisbaek – she’s always putting together unlikely combinations that just work. She’s never boring
Anna in a snapshot:
Favourite colour: Red
Ideal comfort food: Hot chips
Most played song on playlist: “Killing Me Softly”, The Fugees
Samantha Wills and I catch up at The Apollo Restaurant, Potts Point
As a 21-year-old, Samantha Wills founded her own, self-titled jewellery company. Her pieces have since been worn by the likes of Taylor Swift and Eva Mendes and appeared in the 2010 movie Sex and the City 2. Wills has been chosen to be a face of marketing campaigns for Optus, Yellowglen, Mount Franklin and Nespresso. This year, she was nominated at the Australian of the Year Awards. Wills, 33, chatted to me about the best advice she has been given, what she misses most about Australia, and how she turned her hobby into a business with $10 million turnover annually.
What is a day in the life of you?
When I’m in New York, it’s very creative focused [and I’m] in design mode. When I’m in Sydney, it’s very much team- and media-focused.
How did it all start for you?
I started the company when I was 21 – 12 years ago. Now we have offices in New York, Los Angeles, Sydney, Paris, Korea and Japan, and it started just as a hobby on my dining room table. I started selling down at Bondi Beach market and launched at Australian Fashion Week, very opportunistically, in 2004 with $17,000 of orders. As a 23-year-old, I threw everything I had, got myself into $80,000 of debt and refused to give up.
Did you always dream of becoming a jewellery designer?
I think when I was younger, I definitely always thought I’d have my own business in some capacity and it was always going to be creative. For me, jewellery wasn’t the be all and end all. It was more something that I could hand make myself without formal training, and so it kind of naturally evolved that way.
You’ve had many celebrities wear your designs. Who are some of your favourites that really stand out in your mind?
Definitely Taylor Swift is a huge favourite in American Vogue. Eva Mendes has to be a favourite. She made our signature Bohemian Bardot Ring [into] a global signature. Ever since she wore it [in 2008], it has been our bestselling item. And to have it appear on Sex and the City was pretty surreal as well.
How did the Sex and the City collaboration come about?
We were presenting to media in Los Angeles and … you hope that the right people come past. Patricia Field, the style assistant for the film, came past. They made some notes and then called some pieces in … You can assume those samples will be gone for a year or you won’t get them back because they go into the wardrobe department. About a year later, I had certainly forgotten about it, and we received a card with an illustration of the four girls on the front and it said, “One hand in the air for the big city, thanks for making us look so pretty. Love, Patricia” … I literally had to wait to go to the premiere of the film to see our products up on the big screen.
How did appearing in Sex and the City impact on your brand?
It kind of like evolves the story I think and adds credibility at an international level.
You are the face of Optus’ Small Business Campaign. How did that come about?
It was quite surreal. I think when you get a phone call like, “We’ve signed Mark Wahlberg on to do a campaign and would like you to sign on to the same campaign?”, I was kind of like, “Do you guys have the right number?”
Did you really think that?
Yes, it clicked to me that you really don’t know who is watching your journey and the team at Optus had done a lot of research on the last 12 years of my career and really felt that my story of an underdog from small town Port Macquarie to New York City would really resonate with small- to medium-sized business owners.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Working in fashion, people expect you to have attitude … [so] I think if you can be a nice person and treat everyone like they’re someone, it really goes a long way.
What would you tell your 19-year-old self?
I think about myself when I was starting the business and the anxiety and the fear and the 20-hour work days … I would try and tell myself that if you look up every once in a while, everything is going to be OK, but I don’t think she will listen.
What would you say has been the biggest challenge you’ve had to face?
There are always challenges as your business grows or you become “procedure successful” – the challenges just differ. In the early days, being $80,000 in debt, as a 24-year-old is incredibly daunting. As the business grows, it’s people issues. You’re only as good as the people around you, so you’re continually managing people as well as the business.
What would your advice to someone starting out in the jewellery industry?
My overarching advice is you don’t want to be that person at the party, three years from now, being like, “Oh yeah, I was always going to do that”. Just start, even as insignificant as the action might seem, do something towards what you’re wanting to do.
Is New York home now?
It feels like home at the moment. I’ve got a great network over here and home is where you build your network. I say New York is my city, Sydney is my town.
What do you miss most about Australia?
Definitely the beaches. I think I was so spoilt growing up in Port Macquarie with these beautiful coastlines and then, in my 20s, in Sydney. When I come back to Australia now I know I look like a tourist because I’m taking a thousand photos of the ocean. I’m in it everyday. It just gives you a whole new level of appreciation for how beautiful our country is.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on a lot of external projects outside of the brand, which is really exciting for a personal career perspective… [It has been] stimulating and inspiring to kind of step outside the business, but still have it as the backbone and, I guess, the foundation of everything that I touch.