Born: 1983 Nationality: Australia Lives: Paris Education: Bentley Tafe, Perth and Central Saint Martins, London
She’s survived the boom-and-bust cycle that plagues many Australian designers. But can Kym Ellery turn her namesake treasure into a global go-to?
Part of the Australian pride is the idea that one of our own can make a big impression on the world stage. Made even sweeter is if that story comes from humble beginnings. Across the seas, for example, Grace Coddington would wait three months for back issues of Vogue to arrive to her small town island in Wales and Alexander McQueen was the son of a London cabbie. When it comes to fashion in Australia though, it’s a tough landscape for our home growns. We’re geographically distanced from global markets, there’s hefty duties attached to importing fabrics, the dollar goes up and down like seasonal hemlines and, make no mistake, this country has some of the most expensive retail leases in the world.
But perhaps the lay of the land looked no tougher than the one Kym Ellery grew up in. Born in Perth, the designer was raised in the far North West Australian town of Karratha – rural, dusty red plains where dwellings were established to accommodate the mining and petroleum trades in the 1960s. With an initial $5000 loan from her rig-driver father Bruce (and a further $15,000 later), the eponymous label Ellery was born amidst hard yakka.
Studying for a year at Bentley TAFE (now Polytechnic West) in Perth, Ellery did a short course in London at famed powerhouse Central Saint Martins, a fashion college that counts John Galliano and Alexander McQueen as alums. She then moved to Sydney and accepted a job as receptionist at then newly-launched Russh Magazine and also worked the till at Scanlan Theodore on weekends to avoid eating just beans for dinner, a common occurrence for cash-strapped junior magazine staff. Both roles helped her understand the ins and outs of the Australian fashion market.
In January of 2007, while working late nights as newly promoted market director at Russh, Ellery had an epiphany. Worried she was leaving her mark on the fashion world too late, she started her brand, with the help of her publisher who also had a textiles company on the side. Four months later, she debuted at Australian Fashion Week. She was 23.
At first, critics were sceptical. Ellery’s avant-garde bent had some claiming her inspirations were too close to the architectural shapes of Balenciaga (now Louis Vuitton) designer Nicholas Ghesquière. Since then, as the designer has grown up, so too have her collections. Bold, experimental silhouettes with an oversized, relaxed structure is Ellery’s signature, one that appeals to (in her words) the “cool fashion girl in Australia” but also lovers of international fashion lover – a fine (and often impossible) line to tread.
Her talent was enough to get the attention of the Federation Française de la Couture du Prêt-à-Porter de Couturiers et des Créaeurs de Mode, the body that controls Paris Fashion Week. Only three Australian designers – Collette Dinnigan, Martin Grant and Ellery – have ever been invited to show in Paris.
Perhaps the designer’s big moment came during Paris Fashion Week in March 2015. Debuting a retro-modern, 70s-inspired signature consisting of wide-flared pants and elongated coats, textures that originated in Switzerland and Italy and were developed in Sydney. “I’d describe my style as classic, understated, predominantly androgynous and almost always monochromatic,” says Ellery.
Today, her label is stocked in Paris, Moscow, London, New York and in boutiques across The Middle East, China and Australia. She also moves product via online retail giants Net-a-Porter and Matches Fashion.