Let’s start from the beginning – what were you like as a child? Did you always have creative inklings?
I was into textiles. I started sewing at around seven on my great grandmother’s hand-operated Singer sewing machine. It was slow and clunky but good for small hands. My mum is a great sewer and I would go to the fabric store in Warrnambool, feel the fabrics, stare at them, woo over the fancy ones and we’d come home with something to sew. I have three younger sisters and we’re all close in age. My job, as the eldest and chief sewer was to churn out the Barbie clothes my sisters commanded. Often these were small tubular shapes joined together to make dresses, sleeves, pants, boob tubes, leg warmers, one-shouldered disco dresses, balloon skirts, and bikini tops. Besides sewing, I was quite into riding my bike around town on a Saturday afternoon to see what was up. I played tennis, netball and did a lot of swimming over summer, and spent hours drawing.
What are some of your earliest fashion memories?
I remember seeing a picture of an ESPRIT windcheater. The classic one with the logo across the front in the fleece jersey. I don’t think I saw an actual original, but a photo in a magazine. I couldn’t get one in Warrnambool at the time, so I went to the craft shop, bought a pack of Hobby Text fabric markers, bought a white windcheater from Target and created my own very good copy! I took it one step further and changed the colours to what I thought were a better combo. Luckily I was only 11, a time when copyright infringement meant very little.
How did gorman begin?
It began in 1999, which was a time when I was nursing (I went on to complete my nurses training when I left school) and designing for bridal couturier, Mariana Hardwick. I’d already had a double career going on, as I moved into visual merchandising not long after I finished my nursing degree. However, I continued working at the Royal Melbourne Hospital part time while designing the other days of the week. I started gorman after moving into a share house with friends who started the Fat stores in Melbourne. We were all full of big ideas and young and frivolous to try them all. Fat became an iconic store of its time for nurturing young Australian designers, so I designed a collection and tried it out. The idea was to create one collection only, more as an exhibition rather than creating a true and proper ongoing fashion business. But, that was really to be the case. Sixteen years later there are still collections.
Did you ever expect that gorman would grow to become the iconic Australian label that it is now? No. I had absolutely no expectation that I’d make it to the second collection, let alone the 34th. I didn’t want a business, I was scared of the idea of committing to anything to do with staff, overheads or retailing. It took me four years after starting my label to even think about getting one staff member to help me out. To be honest, I don’t spend much time thinking about the business as an iconic Australian brand these days either. I guess I’m too entrenched in it to be able to stand outside and give it a description. Probably because I’m busy with my head in the future (I design ten months ahead) and am not really fond of the idea of stopping to admire yourself in the mirror for too long. I think this can be distracting and dangerous.
Do you have an all-time favourite gorman piece? Or is that like asking you to choose a favourite child?
While I never actually wore them myself, the gorman Fishing Pants were a significant piece of clothing that put the label into action in 1999. I have strong memories of the first runway show I ever did, it was a group show with sass & bide and Ksubi, both of which were launching their jeans. I was doing my fishing pants, and for some reason it must have been a good year to be a new designer because Australians were lapping up all three.
gorman has collaborated with a number of designers over the years – do you have a dream designer you would like to team up with in a future collection?
I do, and I have just spoken with her in the past few weeks and we are putting a collection together for spring 2016. I can’t say who, but she’s Australian and she’s a legend.
As creative director, what is a typical day like for you?
I usually move pretty quickly, creative decisions need to be made continuously and there is not always the time you’d like, but that’s the reality. Generally, I start in the marketing department and we look over the short and medium term marketing plans, which includes what we are focusing on in social media that day, to new product releases in our online store, and how the communication is tying back with our retail stores, windows and visual merchandising. I will meet with the design team to discuss product, which is anything from looking at print strike-offs on fabrics, to fittings, to new season concepts, making decisions about what will stay, what will go and what needs to be changed for any reason. At times, I’m meeting with our architects on retail shop design and working on fresh and exciting ways we can present our product in stores. I’ve started doing some writing from time to time, which is a new thing for me, about my thoughts and experiences on anything to do with the fashion world. While it’s not as creative (but just as important), I check the sales figures daily so I’m across what’s going on in store. I like to see what the customers are wanting, it tells me if the creative side is actually working.
gorman’s whimsical prints are certainly unlike anything else. Where do you source your inspiration?
Inspiration is from the everyday. I have always found day-to-day life the most relevant inspiration for what I create and who I create for. It’s about people going about their daily business in their own way. I like both cultural and nature references in my prints, clothing and accessories and keep a fresh, contemporary feel to what I do because that’s what I see going on around me.
You’re heading to Brisbane for James Street Resort on Saturday October 17, where you’ll be joining Margaret Zhang and Holly Ryan for the ‘Resort Trailblazers – Australia is the Future of Fashion’ forum. What are you most looking forward to while you’re here?
I love James Street. I was up for last year’s event and met a lot of our really great customers in store. I love hearing about their favourites for the season, where they are wearing it to, why they want to wear it. It’s a such a fantastic community in the James Street precinct because the retailers in the street really back it and are proud to be part of such a strong group of brands offering the customers great product. We know it’s unique and has a brilliant marketing team behind it, with a loyal customer following in the area. I’m also looking forward to seeing Margaret Zhang again. It’s been maybe six years since she came to a launch in my Paddington store and she has just gone from strength to strength since. I want to ask her how she does it!
What is your style motto?
Be comfortable with how you are looking. Don’t worry about trends, a confidently dressed girl is fashion in itself.
What is the most interesting piece of clothing you own?
I own a killer Kelly green kid suede slightly circular ankle-length skirt that I found in a vintage market in Manhattan in 1996. I’m actually using the shape in my winter 2016 collection, it’s been waiting for its moment! I’m tempted to run the green suede version now that I think about it!
Can you tell us your idea of complete happiness?
Not worrying. Or realising you are worrying about nothing.
Finally, do you have any words of wisdom to share?
Try it out. If you have ideas give them a go. Many might not work but for the ones that do, you’ll be happy about it. This is the story of my life as a designer. For all the good ones you see in store, there are those that never made it out of the office, or even out of the box they were such a disaster!