Twenty-five-year-old Melbourne fashion designer Georgia Lazzaro wowed audiences at this year’s L'Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival (LMFF) and is suddenly finding herself highly sought after. Having won the prestigious Australians in New York Fashion Foundation scholarship doesn’t hurt either. Thanks to the scholarship, she’s now interning at Narciso Rodriguez and at Calvin Klein under the guidance of Francisco Costa. James Cameron talks to her about Australian fashion and what she's up to in NYC.
JC: Australia has some great talent; what I’ve seen overseas is comparable to some of our best at home. Australia's problem isn't the work, it’s the market forces – or lack there of. With such a small population, a surviving business has to appeal to a wider variety of people, and therefore gets watered down or relies too heavily on trends. For credible, niche-driven designers this seems impossible. What do you think of Australian fashion and what is your reaction to this statement?
GL: I absolutely agree with what you’re saying. I feel as though we’re on this continual cusp of so much potential: we seem keen to celebrate the new, we’re free from the baggage our more established international counterparts hold, we have incredible light, a varied climate, a wonderful lifestyle, a highly diverse population and influences, and substantial international interest in our “exoticisms” and freshness. But with every fashion week, every first delivery of a new season, and every article that’s written by the major press, all that ambition and possibility seems to disappear and we are left with Jennifer Hawkins in a Lanvin imitation cocktail dress and rip-off Louboutin shoes.
It’s as though our industry is scared or something, which is so strange because we have such a unique, open kind of platform. I think perhaps there is this prevailing conservatism that puts a hold on anything innovative, a monopoly, almost, generated by people in positions of power, certain publications, journalists and people with the financial means who continue to fund, support and profile the trustworthy and the established. So then there will only ever be small communities of dedicated and educated followers of niche fashion, because our press and media is so dominated by celebrity- and sports-driven content, which unfortunately filters through into our fashion industry and the public’s understanding of what fashion is.
On the other hand I believe there is change in the air. There’s so much incredible talent and capacity out there, I just think perhaps we are lacking the means to support it and promote it – and not just for the first few seasons when it’s a “hot new thing” but more sustainably and genuinely.
I’m well aware that companies like Lanvin, Ann Demeulemeester or Alaia wouldn't stand a chance in Australia, because Australia doesn’t seem to do luxury. However, I see your work in a luxury context, and no doubt you want to use the best, most applicable and appropriate fabrics, cloth and material for the job. How likely do you think it is that you’ll be able to achieve that back home?
I agree, luxury in the true sense, we definitely don’t do. And if it is done, it’s on the absolute edge and in very tiny portions. It’s a difficult topic because it concerns both my financially and emotionally steadfast mindsets. I mean Australian women are prepared to line up for hours outside Tiffany’s and Louis Vuitton in Chadstone and spend thousands – but this is not really luxury, not to me or anyone interested in design. I think this situation is due partly to a lack of education regarding notions of quality and integrity, and to the prevailing conservatism. Women don’t seem to mind spending $900+ on a coat with faulty lining if it has the right label on it. They also would rather buy a size 8 than the size that fits them. I know I’m being highly critical and generalising massively here, but it worries me greatly. My mother and grandmothers have taught me a great deal about quality, and how to do quality on a shoestring, but if you’re not fortunate enough to have that advice, of course you are going to buy into mainstream luxury.
In regards to my own practice I am a total idealist, probably because I’ve just come out university. I would love to use the highest quality fabrics and craftsmanship available, however it’s becoming more and more difficult to find people to even manufacture things in a beautiful way, as cutting costs is paramount. Fabric is always an issue because of the distance, but manufacturing to a high standard is near impossible in Australia. Especially if you want pay your machinists a decent wage. The trade is literally dying out.
When I went to my first New York department store and saw all those incredible garments in the flesh it was a wonderful moment. The finishing alone is just exceptional. But you can see how so much of this gets lost in translation and we end up with this vaguely reminiscent rubbish in our local chain stores. Australia doesn’t even compare unfortunately, but there are some labels still holding the fort, such as Melbourne label MATERIALBYPRODUCT.
Saying that, do Australians have to go overseas to achieve success back home?
Since I’ve won this award there’s been so much interest [in me], and I think it’s because of the New York part more than anything else. But I’m so fortunate to be able to have access to such an incredible industry that is so rich in information. To be honest, you can’t really get an education with the same rigor back home – I’m talking more about an industry education, not an institutional one. These are places where fashion is part of their identity as nations. Australia is a little different.
I’ve always believed the signature of a designer is the most important thing he or she can possess. We can all make clothes but the signature is the essence. How hard was it for you to develop your own?
I absolutely agree. I really appreciate designers who set a distinct vocabulary for themselves and just keep adding to it as opposed to transforming their image on a seasonal whim. I think I spent most of my time at RMIT sort of knowing what I wanted it to be, but couldn’t really articulate it. It was only really in 4th year when we have the opportunity to produce a mini collection that I could really see it for myself as a slightly more refined thing.
When I was studying I just kept adding to it and developed this kind of hybrid, all the information that was specific to me and what I have left behind and what I have chosen to hold onto. It’s like an extended editing process, but I also think you can’t help but circle around the same core ideas.
I’ve always worried that my work, or signature, was a bit too abstract and self-indulgent, so winning this scholarship was a very affirming achievement, as the people on the panel have highly honed, commercial eyes. [But] I certainly don’t think my signature is complete and good to go. I’m always trying to improve things. I want maintain its essence but make it lighter. I’m really keen to build on it while I’m here in New York. As it is right now, I would say it’s driven almost entirely by form and silhouette, and is very much about exploring the body in a technical and highly specific way.
What drives you? What makes you love fashion?
I think perhaps seeing all your disparate ideas come together and made tangible through these material things that can become a part of people’s lives.
You’ve been fortunate enough to come to New York and intern with Narciso Rodriguez and Calvin Klein – both of whom seem to have bridged the notion of artistic credibility and commercialism. Is that a hope for your own career?
I am hoping to learn just that: the balance between credibility and commercialism. The commercial side to my work is absolutely something I need to work on. And I think I’m in the perfect place to do so.
What is a normal day in the studio? What do they have you doing?
There’s a lot of errand running, sitting in on fittings – which is really exciting – and organising fabrics and past collections, computer work, that sort of thing.
What are you most excited about, what are your expectations?
New York just keeps exceeding any expectations I have, so I can’t even list them. And I’m finding it so liveable! When I was in my final year an international internship was what I working for, but if someone had said that this would be how I was doing it, and who I would be working for, I would never have believed them.
Have you had any local interest, job offers or supporters of a signature label?
Yes, there have been a few, but I don’t know if I am allowed to discuss this.
So what are your hopes for the next few months?
I’m just going to try and be like a giant sponge and soak up every little ounce of information and excitement this city has to offer.