Breakfast with fashion designer Rachel Gilbert at L’Americano Espresso Bar. Photo Dallas Kilponen
Australian fashion designer Rachel Gilbert sells her self-named designs in high-end boutiques and department stores including Harrods, Neiman Marcus, Saks 5th Avenue and David Jones. Intricate, hand-embellished designs are a hallmark of the label, renowned for its evening wear. Gilbert is married to television personality Tom Williams and the couple are expecting their second child in November. I caught up with Gilbert to chat about the secret to her success, motherhood and expanding her business.
Your brand seems to have recently taken a new direction. Tell me a bit about it.
Yes, I think [before] it was definitely a lot younger, as was I. Hemlines were a little bit shorter and necklines a little bit lower. So I think we’re just going for more of a mature look in evening wear. It is taking a bit more of a relaxed approach, so less embellishment. A lot of people are wearing separates as evening wears so it’s not quite traditional the way it was.
Is Australia your biggest market?
I would probably say 50-50, to be honest. International is a huge part of our business. We’ve been selling internationally for last five years now. So the Middle East is a huge market for us – especially all the beaded garments.
When you started out, did you ever imagine it would have the success you have today?
No, although I’m pretty determined. I don’t like to stop until I succeed at something. So I definitely had big dreams and big goals. But still to this day – I was in Bergdorf last week and seeing my name on the floor level with all those other designers – I feel quite proud.
Have you ever opened a magazine and been shocked to see a certain celebrity wearing your designs?
Definitely; I think when Heidi Klum was in one of our lace dresses. I really get more emotional seeing a stranger. If I’m out somewhere and I see someone wearing it, I feel like that’s more personal and a bit more shocking and surprising.
If you could dress any celebrity, who would it be?
I really like Charlize Theron. She always looks so elegant.
So many designers come and go. What is your secret to success?
I really try to focus on the business side of things. I’m definitely creative and I love designing but I think it’s really important to run a business and make sure you’re on top of it on things like accounting and sales. I never even finished high school, so when I started the business that kind of thing never really came to me. I had to learn all those different departments and operations and sales and had to learn it pretty quick. So I really invested the time and made sure that I never got too focused on the creative side. I really feel that I contributed to staying alive or staying in business.
You’re a successful businesswoman and a mum, how do you juggle it all?
I don’t think there is ever a balance. Everyone talks about that “balance”, but I still find it really quite hard. When I’m at work, I want to be with Storm, and when I’m with Storm I know how much work I’ve got to do. You’ve just got to find the median and do the best you can. To be honest, I find it a constant struggle. I obviously adore Storm, she is my No. 1 priority, but I appreciate having my own business and I enjoy it as well, so I don’t want to give that up.
I hear you are expecting No. 2!
Yes. It’s very exciting. I’m due in November, so it’s all becoming a reality now.
How are you feeling?
Really excited. I always wanted two children. But I know it will be quite a challenge. I thought I was busy now – I don’t know what I’m in for [laughs]!
Do you know what you are having, or are you tempted to find out?
No, I don’t know but I am tempted. I probably will, to be honest with you. But I don’t mind either way. I’ve got a sister, so I wouldn’t mind another girl. But it doesn’t bother me. I guess they choose you as well.
Is Tom a hands-on dad?
Yes, he is fantastic. He gets up and does all the late nights and early mornings. He’s right in there, very hands-on.
Does Storm recognise her dad when she sees him on TV?
She does. Only just recently. She see’s him and says, “Da da, da da.” It’s really cute.
Do you hope that your children follow in your or Tom’s footsteps?
I’d be happy with whatever they wanted to do. Fashion isn’t the easiest industry. So, maybe not. But if she wants to do it, that’s fine too. I just want her to do whatever makes her happy.
What do you do for fun as a family when you have time off?
We definitely like walking and going for breakfasts on Saturdays and pottering around the house. We’re quite chilled out. We like the simple things and spend a lot of time with our family, going away or to the farm or Palm Beach. It’s nice because with work you are always go, go, go all the time. It’s nice to kind of step back for a minute.
Where do you see you and your business in five years’ time?
I’d like to grow the business and get more stores and develop our business with David Jones as well. We’ve been with David Jones for a couple of years now. I’d like to see us internationally expand and have a store over there and maybe [a show at] Fashion Week as well.
What is next in the pipeline?
We’re really developing our bridal at the moment. Bridal is a huge part of our business. It wasn’t ever intended, it just happened quite naturally. I used to just do white gowns for my evening collection. And we’ve just designed an accessory line. So we’ve done shoes, veils, sashes, headbands and combs. It has been really exciting. So now we can offer that bridal suite and the bride can find the complete look.
If you weren’t doing fashion designing, what would you be doing?
I think interior [design]. I’d love to get into that a little bit more.
WE WENT TO L’Americano Espresso Bar, Coco Republic, Alexandria.
WE ATE Granola with seasonal fruit, nuts and sheep milk yoghurt; eggs with avocado, cows milk feta, tomato and basil.
WE DRANK Vanilla Mint Sky Tea.
RACHEL WORE Rachel Gilbert head to toe.
I WORE a Dion Lee top and jeans.