Australian designer Lisa Gorman tells Viva how her line evolved and about her new Auckland store.
If you’re anything like the Viva team, every time you cross the Tasman for a little shopping, a Gorman store is on your hit list; there’s something delightfully quirky about the label launched by designer Lisa Gorman back in 1999 at the Fat52 Boutique in Melbourne.
Already an iconic part of the Australian fashion scene, Gorman’s newly opened Auckland store will be a must-visit for local fashionistas.
Fans can now get a hold of the ethnic folk detailing and hand embroidery in the autumn/winter 2012 range, which is full of earthy henna hues, forest greens, hearty reds and brilliant sky blues. “Part-mountain climber, part-adventurer, part-dreamer,” says Gorman.
She talks to Viva about the success of her brand and what makes it unique.
When, and why, did you first decide that you wanted to be a fashion designer? You were a nurse before moving into design – how did that evolution happen?
I went into nursing after school, though I wanted to be a designer from a young age. Studying design didn’t seem a very practical career choice when I was 18, so I went for the sensible option.
After living in New York for a few years in my mid-20s, I came home and went to work for Mariana Hardwick in her bridal store. One thing led to another and after three years with her I was in a design role, which eventually led to my own collection. I juggled nursing, Mariana Hardwick and Gorman for three years before it all became too mad. I bit the bullet and decided to give Gorman all my working hours and see if I could make something of it. So far, so good.
You started Gorman in 1999 – how have you seen the fashion landscape in Australia change?
It has become more competitive. There are a lot more high street brands in the marketplace now days, which means Australian designers need to work hard to carve out their own piece of the pie. I’ve also seen amazingly strong talent come though in Australia in the past few years; young designers are getting very good, very early in their careers, which has been well-supported by the the Australian fashion industry with acknowledgements like the Young Designer Awards. Online stores also mean Australian designers are becoming more renowned internationally without having to necessarily show or open stores abroad.
The brand has become an iconic Australian label, and has a big fan base here as well – what has been your proudest moment, in terms of the business?
My proudest moment was the opening of my very first store on Chapel St, Prahran, six years ago. This was a great relief after four years of wholesaleing.
You are based in Melbourne, which is an incredibly inspiring city for creatives. How does that inspire you and your work for Gorman?
I’m very inspired by my immediate surroundings. I have always lived in the Fitzroy area, which is particularly creative – lots of galleries, street art, markets, music, indy shops, people. It’s hard for me to say how this inspires my work, I feel I’m so entrenched in this place that I guess it just comes out in what I do. I design for the girls I see around me and at the same time I am inspired by these people, what they wear, how they go about their day-to-day business.
Tell use about your life there – where your studio is, your home and some of your favourite places and things to do?
My house is in Fitzroy, I live here with my husband Dean Angelucci and my two young girls. My office is in Abbotsford, five minutes away, on the banks of the Yarra River, next to the Carlton United Brewery. My favourite things … eating with friends, sitting on my front lawn, going to the pool with the girls. I like the Abbotsford convent and children’s farm, Gertrude St for shops and food, the Vic Market for serious food.
How big is your team?
My design team is just four of us however the Gorman team would be more like 140 if you added us all together. I work better with a small team, I like to be hands-on with design and am very much a day-to-day part of the design process.
How would you describe the Gorman look?
Fresh, youthful, Australian (and New Zealand too, I hope); an easy, independent style of dressing.
Prints are a big part of your collections – is this a personal thing?
They start with me finding print ideas from here there and everywhere. I love print and start the collections with the prints and colours. I do collaborations with artists like Rachel Castle and Kori Alexander Girard, and soon to release the next one with Rhys Lee. I like working with artists as they bring another element to the process. I’ve found artists also love working with clothing, so it works both ways.
Gorman is celebrated for its organic collection and you were one of the first Australian labels to launch one. Why did you decide to do that?
Organic fabrics are now readily available on the market so it makes sense to use them. It wasn’t a hard decision.
You are also known for having an ethical approach to fashion. What other initiatives do you and the company have?
We look at the process of design, manufacturing, shipping and retailing. Anything from recycled bags to shipping by sea in bulk, to customer initiatives like refusing a bag and we’ll give that cost to an environmental charity instead. We reduced plastic packaging by 80 per cent three years ago, which wasn’t hard but just required some thought. It’s a daunting mission to green up any business, but I think that if you can do something it’s a good start and goes a long way.
What do you love most about fashion?
The freedom for me to design, the freedom for people to dress how they like. I like the change, the newness, it’s an interesting thing.
Tell us about the Gorman bikes?
I thought it would be a fun, non-clothing thing to do. I liked the idea of a spotty bike. We’ve made and sold about 200.
How do you dress? How would you describe your sense of style?
I’m not a fussy dresser, I like comfort, I like street-style mixed with something a little left, like printed pants. I love printed pants!
Why did you decide to open a New Zealand store? Are there plans for more expansion – a store in Wellington perhaps?
Just this one at this stage … one at a time! New Zealand is the obvious choice for our first overseas store, though I’d also love to try Asia in the future. We have wholesaled well in New Zealand over the years and have a lot of online customers there, so we feel the risk is lower than other destinations right now. We are really excited about this new venture.
What are your fitout plans for the store?
Timber, warmth, quite clean, a great big curved ottoman that my husband has had made (he deals in mid-century furniture, so that helps) copper, nice lighting … I’m looking forward to seeing it myself. Each store we do is a bit different, which keeps it interesting.
Tell us about the winter collection, that will be available here when the store opens.
Green, lots of good coating colours and fabrics. Crazy socks and knitted accessories. My favourite is the papaya print pant – in green.
* Gorman is at 25 Nuffield St, Newmarket.
By Zoe Walker
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