You know you’ve arrived at a Carla Zampatti show when, as you walk the long, imposing runway towards your seat you brush past some of the most influential women in Australia. To my left, Gladys Berejiklian sitting comfortably front row. To my right, Kerrie-Anne Kennerley deep in conversation with Ita Buttrose. And then, standing central, alongside the conductor’s stand and a grand piano, Julie Bishop – in a show-stopping silver-glitter gown.
Carla Zampatti is in good company with these women. Not only is she the undoubted queen and matriarch of Australian fashion (having started her successful, eponymous business more than 50 years ago) but she is an ambassador for the arts at large and a staunch advocate of young designers (she lends her name to the Carla Zampatti Foundation which, each year awards a design student the opportunity to undertake an international post-graduate study). Her name is worshipped in the industry, bestowing her a kind of regal status within the fashion, celebrity and political world. She is a champion of women, having dressed them for over five decades, her signature power shoulders and slick suiting (that continue today) were ultimately before their time. Prior to her show, I ask her if she thinks this strong female image is more important today than ever.
“Women have always wanted to be glamorous – whether this be at the office, the theatre or socialising. I have always been around successful women in every field and today we are seeing more equality in the work place – though we have a few more glass ceilings to shatter.”
Last night Ms. Zampatti’s high-brow soiree also marked the finale of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. Held within the largest hanger of Sydney’s Carriageworks, the space exuded a glamorous, almost old-school sophistication. It felt less like a fashion event and more like a high-profile, A-list benefit. The runway design gave hints to the evening’s coming fashion, a giant Bowie-like starburst of metallic stripes emerging from the skeleton of chairs and music stands primed for the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra. And as the lights dimmed and the echo of the orchestra’s wooden blocks tapped, a giant spotlight beamed upon the first model.
Then wham-bam-Zampatti-glam, a micro-length blazer-dress in electric blue sequins set the pace. It forged a kind of disco Saint Laurent refined by the classical symphony and delicate satin finishes. Next, an exaggerated rose-puff shoulder sleeve perched upon a classic Zampatti split dress sashayed before an offering of painterly Australian botanicals splashed on ruffle-collar dresses and silk separates. Soon after the Zampatti disco returned with two wildly shimmering Balmain-esque silver dresses, ones we’re sure to notice on a red carpet or two soon. There was also plenty for the devout Zampatti disciple by way of primary hued suit sets, Deco two-toned halter pieces and fluid silk trapeze tunics in the most glorious shade of marigold. The collection was congruent with her glamorous aesthetic, but with a multitude of generations now turning to her pieces, is it difficult to please everyone?
“I have always said I dress the grandmother, the granddaughter and the mother in between. My customer, whatever their age, has always wanted a great design that will make them feel more confident.”
The looks were eclectic, but upon finale, formed a synchronistic tableau. A sea of classic black and white, with hits of power-yellow and bold metallics softened by the feminine, floaty printed pieces. So, what was Ms. Zampatti’s style inspiration this time? “A long and languid silhouette – skinny trousers with blouses, jackets and under sleek slim-line dresses. I have a bold floral – something that I feel is perfect for the summer months.”
Silhouette is a key word when it comes to the Zampatti aesthetic. The strong shoulder, the tapered skirt, the nipped and belted waist. Her incarnations of this each season has become iconic. And being so sartorially famous, I enquire as to whether people constantly ask her for fashion advice. “My advice is that people have to try and experiment with a brand they like and when it feels right, buy it. Also to spend more for quality, as it will last and give her confidence every time she wears it.” Band-wagonning, I have my own request for advice. I ask what key items every woman should own to create a successful ensemble rotation. “A jacket with a strong shoulder is the basis of a great wardrobe. This season I would recommend a slim trouser with a split front – they are ideal with any jacket or under a dress to create a long lean silhouette”.
The formidable name of the Carla Zampatti brand is one of the most successful in Australian retail history. As a designer she has lived, and worked, through the best and worst of Australian fashion eras. However, there’s no doubt that nowadays is one of the most challenging. Young designers not only need to have creative cut through but there is significant peer competition, the social media and influencer tidal wave to conquer and the near impossibility of keeping costs down while adhering to a necessary sustainability. Does Ms. Zampatti feel the future is still bright for those just starting out? “There is no doubt that the industry is a lot more competitive today – though a great product, an understanding of your customer and a passion will always ensure success.”
As the show completes, Australia’s first lady of fashion emerges for a bow. Dressed in one of her own sleek black jumpsuits, a bouncy blow wave and chic oversized sunglasses, there’s a resounding fashion icon status that can’t be denied. She is the Carla Largerfeld of Australia, perhaps. The crowd of well-dressed well-to-do’s mingle and chat as the lights come up. But perhaps it’s the young women and men who filled the third and fourth tiers last night that were most inspired. With many being students and design graduates, seeing queen Carla Zampatti up close, presenting a collection in her 54th year of designing is surely just the spur they need to believe they could be the next.
Carla Zampatti Resort 2020