I’m not a fashionista or even that knowledgeable about brands, but I do love brands with great stories. Even more, I love brands that are named after the owner (Hello Veuve Clicquot) and even more when the name becomes synonymous with the thing (Hi there Mr.Biro). The story behind the brand is interesting as we get a little peep behind the curtain, looking backstage at what they were trying to achieve and the reason why they were compelled to get off the couch and press play on a new business. Which is probably never as easy as that first ‘entrepreneurial flash’. Knowing the why behind the what.
Growing up in the western suburbs of Melbourne I didn’t have much call for fancy clothes or designer tags. Mum always made sure we had the latest clothes ‘for good’ and we were always nicely turned out in something from Just Jeans or maybe even Rip Curl, but full designer wasn’t a thing on my radar. I don’t even know if I knew such things existed until Mum decided I could do with a little rounding-out and enrolled me in a course of “junior deportment and modelling” at Suzan Johnston.
Tumbling into the car after Saturday morning softball, we would trek from the west to the centre, as I scrubbed the dust of the industrial wastelands from my legs, and shook out the blobs of dried blood or sweat collected in my mane, to arrive at Collins Street less feral, more fancy. Physically. But it’s hard to wipe the west out of a gal, and some days the switch from being down in the dirt to dressed on the dais took some time. I was a catcher back then, so I spent most of my games in a deep squat, with an umpire’s thighs pressed right in behind me. The catcher’s role is to control the game, set up the pitcher, and legally intimidate anyone you can. It wasn’t uncommon for the umpire to whisper “That’ll do now,” if I got on a nice little sledge-roll about the batter’s mum/dad/brother/boyfriend. I’d always smile to myself when that happened, because it meant I’d come up nice and close to the line of social acceptability. I like knowing where that line is, and how much to stretch it.
Which is why I like brands that do that. Ones that have a story of adversity and triumph, of meaningful contributions and of challenging social norms. A couple of days ago a chick I follow on the socials told us she’s in a throuple. I’ve never heard of it before- turns out it’s just three peeps in love- but she immediately lost 18000 followers, and gained a plethora of negative comments, which is probably more interesting than what she does in her own bed. To be honest, my little old menopausal self admires her verve. I can’t even muster up the energy to cast a sleazy side-eye perv to the surfers getting changed at the beach carpark these days. Good for her love, and even more, thanks for the show and tell. I like knowing more about the person behind “The Holistic Psychologist”.
Over in sky-high heels in the skyscraper Sportsgirl building that housed Suzan Johnston I learnt that there was more to branding than buying Adidas Romes because that’s what my cool-crush was wearing, or getting a Jac Pac because everyone at school was wearing them to the Blue Light Disco on Fridays. Branding was about identifying and then isolating a target audience, figuring out what they needed, and then selling them that very thing in a way that lifted their hearts. So as we sat and listened to the model-teachers telling about this product or that, we were buying brands within a brand who fed back into brands. Genius.
We all knew it was genius because any time we told our friends that we went to Suzan Johnston’s classes, or even on one occasion to her house for a photo shoot, we were met with a kind of half-envious awe. To those who knew what SJ was of course. Those who didn’t weren’t our targets anyway.
Over the years Suzan’s gals introduced us to the work of the fashion icons of the 80’s, and one of them was Carla. I don’t know what Carla Zampatti was known for to the adults back then, but we all knew she was an Italian migrant who came to Australia as a kid, and created a beautiful business as a divorcée and a single mum. Gold on all fronts, for kid from the west from one of the very few ‘broken families’ in school.
Back then Carla’s designs weren’t something I wanted to buy for myself, but rather something to aspire to. I thought one day I would have the means and the need for a Carla. Perhaps I’d own a medical practice and I’d swish past my staff smiling with a whisper of chiffon and crepe. Or maybe I’d tell the women in the typing pool to, “Keep up the great work, ladies,” as my clicking red-soled heels kept time with their staccato keystrokes.
Those things never happened. My life went in different directions as I found my true calling, and such outfits were never required. And yet, I’ve always kept a little imagined snapshot in the deep recesses of my brain, of me in a Carla.
This year, Carla Zampatti died, after a whopping fifty six years in the fashion industry. Women turned out in their fave Carla Zampatti designs to honour a woman who made good. There are rumours that the purchaser of her very first design has the outfit still, and wears it to ritzy Sydneyside functions. (Don’t tell me if that’s not true. I like the story.) Carla’s daughter quipped that her mum would have called the funeral the best dressed function she’d ever attended. That makes me smile. And not a modelling smile either, a nice big real one.
So when Carla died, a little part of me was sad that I’d never owned one of her designs. I’d always meant to go to her boutique in New Farm and get kitted out, but days get busy and the need for flowing fashion can be offset by offspring and functionality and Queensland heat. The cape-like folds I fancy the most don’t really lend themselves wrangling a toddler into their car-seat or keeping the draping fabric free of mashed up banana.
Recently my days have changed a little. The kids don’t eat mashed food any more, and one of them even drives himself. I have more time to shop carefully and take my time with my purchases, and I even have a fancy formal function to go to this year, thanks to said offspring.
So this weekend it was Carla Time. Time to (perhaps) get myself something before the essence of her has left the brand. I don’t know what’s next for them, and maybe the look will remain timeless and essentially Carla, but I didn’t want to risk it. I wanted to get something that may have even had her stamp of approval.
Let the shopping begin.
Do you think I got a Carla? I’ll tell you soon…
…From The Ashers…