Aussie Designers Making Their Woolmark at NYFW: Katherine Keating Interviews Kym Ellery & Fernando Frisoni

Australian fashion designers Kym Ellery and Fernando Frisoni, recently recognised by Woolmark and Australians in New York Fashion Foundation, were invited to showcase their wares in a special pre-fashion week viewing. Billabout contributor Katherine Keating caught up with the two rising designers over lunch at the Crosby Street Hotel in New York to discuss the Australian fashion industry, creating their own labels, and making it as a fashion designer.

Check out the Australian 5 Invade NYC Photo Gallery!

I’ve been friends with Kym and Fernando for many years, long before they started their fashion labels.

Kym is a fun-loving girl from Perth and she has spent the majority of her life in the incredibly beautiful and remote parts of North Western Australia; from this remote part of the world, at a very young age, she aspired to be a designer. She travelled to London to study fashion at London’s Central St. Martins, then moved to Sydney, working at Russh Magazine for several years before launching . E L L E R Y . five years ago.

Fernando, on the other hand, grew up on the bustling streets of St Paulo. A vivacious Brazilian at heart, he spent more than a decade living in Sydney, falling in love with both the city and his partner Sam, and now sees himself as an Australian. Following a stint as a Stylist and Street Fashion columnist for The Sun Herald newspaper, he launched FERNANDO FRISONI in 2008.

Now as established designers in Australia, these young talents are looking to expand their brands into other markets. Billabout is a lover of Australian fashion and we are so excited to welcome two incredible Aussie exports to New York!

Katherine: What made you want to be a fashion designer?

ELLERY: I have wanted to be a designer since I can remember. My mother is an artist so I spent my entire childhood surrounded by artists talking about techniques, composition and design development. It served me well, as it’s a completely natural extension of my mind to be in that realm. The final inspiration for me came when I attended Central St. Martins for summer school. That was where I found my feet and I developed the confidence to focus on creating a brand of my own.

Fernando: It was something that I always wanted to do. I always played with barbies and dressed them [laughs]. I dressed my mom and my friends and I always wanted to change what they were wearing, a little bit shorter a little bit longer, so I think it was something that was always in my mind.

Katherine: Fernando, how did you start out?

Fernando: I was working in retail at Giorgio Armani’s boutique in Sydney and only two weeks after I was there, Mary Chiew, the director of Giorgio Armani said, “Oh my god, you are too talented! You can’t work in retail like that, you have to do all of the merchandizing for Giorgio Armani!” So she sent me to Hong Kong to do a course and in fact I met Mr. Armani, and he trained me. Then I launched a street fashion column in The Sun Herald in Sydney; I did that for 7 years and 3 years ago, I started designing for FERNANDO FRISONI. I started with menswear and then for the last two years I’ve been doing womenswear.

Katherine: What’s your signature look?

ELLERY: It’s a strong look. The silhouettes are architectural and the aesthetic is a mixture of masculine and feminine. We love to create what we refer to as ‘a seamless urban uniform’ where we combine comfort with style. It’s just ‘shit you want to wear’ [laughs]. Our jackets and sequinned pieces have a following.

Fernando: Because my label started as a menswear label, it has a slightly androgynous look. For me it’s about the fabrication and the shape of the garments, and how flattering you look, but as a statement, I like my garments to be very simple. The woman who is wearing the garment should be brighter than the actual garment. My favorite this season is a skirt that you wore last night, Katherine. It’s one of my favorite pieces because it’s sexy, chic and sophisticated; there are all of these different modern elements to it. Fabrics are very important when you’re designing.

Katherine: What fabrics do you use?

Fernando: I developed this fabric which is wool-linen and silk blends– it’s so luxurious and the texture and touch is so beautiful. It’s so soft, yet structured at the same time. It’s also expensive looking…in fact, it’s expensive forme as well! When you’re a young designer, you need to create those expensive fabrics because your brand is going to evolve, you’re going to become slightly more mainstream, and you will need to bring your price-point down. In 2011, I went to the Austrade office and the Australia Wool Innovation office in Shanghai and developed many fabrics. I developed a fabric that’s a wool and bamboo blend, but it feels like you’re wearing a really light cotton. Austrade sent me an e-mail saying that Giorgio Armani bought rolls and rolls of this blend that I created. Isn’t that amazing! I certainly have a passion for fabrics.

ELLERY: The majority of my fabrics that I import are from Italy, Japan and Switzerland. We also work with local (Australian) techniques to create new fabrics through bonding and heat treatments. It is really important for me to constantly be talking to the mill and to push them to find new and innovative ways, so that I can have something unique and luxurious.

Katherine: Can you tell us about the accessories that you have created to compliment your collection?

ELLERY: I have been creating shoes and belts for sometime now, but it is only in the last year that we have really pushed that. The ‘GRAZ et E L L E R Y’ collaboration is an eyewear collection and it’s an entirely different project that I love dearly.

Katherine: How has Austrade and the Australian Wool Innovation helped you as a young designer?

ELLERY: They are such a huge support to young designers; Woolmark are constantly offering a helping hand through introductions to some of the best mills in the world and by flying us here to NY to introduce us to the local market. Austrade are amazing at assisting exports.

Katherine: What’s the Australian Five?

Fernando: Out of 40 designers, five were chosen and the contest was put on to promote Australian fashion in New York. The Australian Marino wool is the finest Marino wool in the world, it’s a symbol of Australian wool innovation, and to be a new designer and to be part of this is pretty amazing. We can only expand our business in Australia to a certain point, so Australia Wool Innovation have helped us organise appointments with Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdales, Barney’s and other boutiques, buyers, Harper’s Bazaar,…it has been a great opportunity for us, as young designers.

ELLERY: I was so excited to be part of the Australian Five, to be introduced to media and buyers is huge for a brand to make an impression on a new market. The Australian Wool Innovation has been around since 1983 (the year I was born!) and has helped launch the careers of such fashion royalty as Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent.

Katherine: How competitive is the New York market?

Fernando: There is a whole branding and marketing exercise that you have to do before you actually want to stock in a US market. You can’t just come to New York for one week and think, “I’m going to break the US market,” it just doesn’t happen like that. It’s a long process and it takes a lot of hard work and effort. However, I think one needs to come to New York for more time, like three months, to break a new market. Five days is not enough.

Katherine: How competitive is the Australian fashion community?

Fernando: There’s a lot of talent in Australia, but it’s hard, particularly now that the Australian government has opened it’s doors to Zara, Top Shop and H&M. It’s going to be really tough to compete with this kind of scale.

Katherine: Tell us more about the state of the Australian Fashion Industry?

ELLERY: The Australian Fashion Industry is incredibly agile and thick with huge talent for such a young and isolated country. The youth and the isolation gives it strengths and weaknesses; the isolation can create some very unique perspectives, but it makes the supply-chain difficult. The youth means that there is not as much culture in the manufacturing industry, but it’s an incredibly supportive environment of young, successful creative-types.

Katherine: Which Australian designers do you admire?

ELLERY: I love Scanlan and Theodore. They have created a perfect brand, their stores are amazing and the product is spot on.

Fernando: Kirrily Johnston– I love her designs and her drive with her business. She started the brand herself and she worked really hard creating it. I find it inspiring and beautiful that she did it so honestly; she didn’t copy anyone she just went and did her own thing. ELLERY is also amazing.

Katherine: What international fashion week would you most like to show at?

ELLERY: Paris Fashion Week, it’s the one that I am working towards and that I think I may be most suited to.

Fernando: Sao Paulo Fashion Week, because there is a history for me over there.

Katherine: Any advice to young Australian designers trying to create a label?

ELLERY: Be ready for the long haul; it’s a crazy journey and don’t take yourself too seriously, after all, it’s just ‘farrshion’.

Fernando: I tell them not to do it! [laughs] Go and be a dentist… There’s no way around the hard work and there is no free ride!

Check out the Australian 5 Invade NYC Photo Gallery!

The Australian 5 at The Crosby St Hotel in New York City

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