Back to Features

We Talk Shop With Australia's Next Big Fashion Thing, Elissa McGowan

Who showed her collection as part of the Independence runway show at VAMFF.
By Rosie Dalton, 25 Mar 2015
1
We Talk Shop With Australia's Next Big Fashion Thing, Elissa McGowan
1

Elissa McGowan is one of Australia's brightest young designers. Presenting last weekend at The Independence Runway of Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival, McGowan once again gave us that insouciant effortlessness we have come to love about her clothing. There were wrap dresses and plunging necklines, sheer panels and slouchy suiting that was both fluid and inherently wearable. The collection was an ode to the work of Dutch artist Bram van Velde and saw something of a departure for the designer. She worked 'backwards', so to speak, putting functional necessity ahead of conceptualism this time around. We caught up with the designer to find out just how hard it is to start your own fashion label, let alone keep things ethical.

elissamcgowan4.jpg

Image: Elissa McGowan on the Independence runway at VAMFF

Can you tell me a bit about the Independence Runway at VAMFF and your role in the presentation?

The Independence runway is styled by Mark Vassallo and I am part of a group of designers like Dress Up, Emma Mulholland, Pageant, Celeste Tesoriero and Salasai.

You presented your Autumn Winter collection for the festival. What were you most inspired by while creating the clothing?

For 'L'ENVERS' Autumn Winter '15 I looked at Dutch artist Bram van Velde. I love his work, which inspired the prints and also the name of the collection. I have a book of van Valde's work entitled 'L'envers', which means reverse in French. This is actually how I designed the collection, in reverse compared to my normal process. I wanted to think more about the pieces that I wanted to include in the collection — like suiting and coating — whereas usually I would develop a concept and then design creatively from there.

There is a lot of work involved in starting a new label from the ground up, isn't there? How have you personally found this experience?

You are absolutely right. Though I was lucky enough to be given an opportunity straight out of school to show my collection as part of fashion week. To have that momentum behind me has really helped to get my name out there and I am still so grateful for the opportunity. Because it is a lot of work and it can become overwhelming. It has been a bit tricky, because not only are you running your own business but you also need to adhere to the deadlines that are set by the rest of the industry.

elissamcgowan3.jpg

Image: Elissa McGowan on the Independence runway at VAMFF

Can you tell me a bit about your time studying at The Fashion Design Studio?

It was a really good experience; intense and all–consuming, but really amazing. The course is great because it strikes a balance between creativity and commerciality, which I think is important.

What have you found are some of the limitations involved for new designers today, especially in Australia?

Sourcing and developing textiles is something I am really passionate about, but I do get a bit frustrated each season with the limited resources in Australia. To go offshore, you have to work with crazy minimums that just aren't feasible as a small business and so, quite often, you end up working with the materials that you started out with.

And in what ways do you feel that this is contributed to by the young nature of the Australian fashion industry?

The textile industry is still really small in Australia, so there aren't many suppliers. It is also unique in that it is quite a different market to Europe, the U.S. or Asia, because we don't have the same history in producing textiles, or the artisans and specialists of fashion. Not having those resources means that people are very protective of the ones they do have.

elissamcgowan2.jpg

Image: Elissa McGowan on the Independence runway at VAMFF

How do you think that events like the VAMFF Festival help young designers to establish themselves?

Creating an experience that resonates with your customers is so important in getting them to remember you. A runway show is such an exciting way to get an understanding of a brand and to create a moment that is memorable. I'm lucky that I get to be part of a group show with some very cool and unique designers, which means that the exposure becomes quite broad.

I've read that you are a vegan. What do you find are some of the challenges involved for you in working within the fashion industry and in what ways do you strive to make ethical choices as a designer?

I am a strict vegetarian. I follow a vegan diet but when it comes to the label itself, I have made the decision to use silk and wool, therefore I feel that I can't really call myself a vegan as a result. I love animals, but I am also passionate about the environment and the fact is that the fashion industry – especially fast fashion – has a massive impact on it. For me, the decision was based mostly on limiting my impact on the landfill that's created by the fashion industry. Synthetic materials can take up to 200 years to decompose, which is horrific. It was not an easy decision for me to use silk and wool; I have done a lot of research on alternatives like peace silk, but unfortunately it is not something that is commercially viable for me at the moment. I really hope that the demand increases though, so it can become more readily available. My goal would be to create a cruelty free luxury label. I think Stella McCartney is amazing and would love to follow in her example.

Some overseas designers use high-quality faux furs in their collections, but often these can be quite costly and difficult to source. What are your own opinions about these fabrics?

I love faux fur, because I love shaggy textures. But sourcing high quality faux fur can be quite tricky. I think real fur in the modern world is irrelevant, because we have alternatives to keep us warm that don't require cruel practices. It is unfortunate that design houses are still using it in luxury fashion.

How would you describe your own approach to design?

As a woman, I definitely want to be able to wear the clothes I design. Practicality is important and the way you feel in the clothing is important. It is a lot about the way I want people to feel when they see and wear the clothing. It is somewhere between a daydream and reality for me.

-

Liked this? Read these interviews with fresh Australian designers:

1) Here's a Catch Up With VAMFF Design Comp Winners, Pageant

2) TOME Talk Returning to Australia and Making it in New York

Have news tips? Send them through to us at info@cataloguemagazine.com.au

1

Follow Catalogue Magazine on Facebook

1

Follow Catalogue Magazine on Instagram

1

You might like this

Gl0$$y

Gl0$$y
1

You might like this

5 Revolutionary Moments in Fashion

5 Revolutionary Moments in Fashion
1

You might like this

Your Quarter Life Crisis is Real

Your Quarter Life Crisis is Real
1

You might like this

Bright Lit Blue Skies

Bright Lit Blue Skies
1

You might like this

The Evolution of the Slogan T-shirt: From Sex, to Politics, to Coachella

The Evolution of the Slogan T-shirt: From Sex, to Politics, to Coachella
1

You might like this

The 8 Most Revolutionary Fashion Campaigns Ever

The 8 Most Revolutionary Fashion Campaigns Ever
1

You might like this

Girls Club x Salasai Winter 2015

Girls Club x Salasai Winter 2015
1

You might like this

Why Dissing Madonna For Kissing Drake is a Problem

Why Dissing Madonna For Kissing Drake is a Problem
1

You might like this

Cool as Ice

Cool as Ice
1

You might like this

Unpacking Some Common Confusions About Cultural Appropriation

Unpacking Some Common Confusions About Cultural Appropriation
1

Show me more
Features

1