Courtney Price never thought she’d end up running a fashion label. “I have no formal pattern-making background whatsoever, I literally could not even hem a pair of pants,” the Elka Collective founder tells Broadsheet. “I thought I would go into print or digital media working for a magazine.”

But over the past decade Price has found herself at the vanguard of fashion, creating pared-back essentials for people who want to dress well, every day. You might find her Melbourne label in wardrobes alongside the likes of Camilla and Marc, Sir and St Agni – luxe ready-to-wear pieces with minimalist lines that suit the Australian lifestyle.

After working as a graphic designer for a fashion label fresh out of uni, Price slowly transitioned into womenswear design. She founded Elka in 2014 after noticing a gap in the market for luxe contemporary clothing at accessible prices – without compromising on quality. “I used the resources from my employer at the time and sort of pitched the idea to them, and we created a new brand on the side,” she explains.

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The launch featured a 20-piece summer collection comprising simple cotton and linen silhouettes, and sold to small Australian retailers including independent Melbourne chain Eco D. “It got picked up pretty quickly and probably faster than what we expected,” Price remembers.

Her years in graphic design probably didn’t hurt in nailing the brand’s visual storytelling, packaging and point-of-sale – plus building a website. Buoyed by industry contacts and expert advice, Price began opening her own standalone retail spots. In the past 12 months alone she’s expanded from five stores to 13 – including concept spaces and department store concessions.

Most recently, the brand opened boutiques in Melbourne’s Albert Park and Claremont in Perth – both fitted out with chrome fixtures, marble tops and a tonal colour palette, a nod to the effortless minimalism of its clothing.

Price designs four signature collections a year – each featuring 80 ready-to-wear pieces. A cycle begins by pulling together mood boards to inspire the season’s colour palette and silhouettes. “I started off really designing clothes that I wanted to wear and that my friends wanted to wear,” she says.

Taking cues from her own aesthetic, Elka’s collections are relaxed, elevated and timeless, featuring softly tailored pieces that are not “overly feminine and [instead] a bit more androgynous”. That might mean new-season blazer dresses nodding to power dressing, a twist on the classic knit vest complete with resin stone details or breezy, wide-legged linen shorts that play on ’90s hemlines.

You’ll not catch Price in bold and bright hues, she says. “I just feel cooler in whites, blacks and neutrals.” The same goes for Elka Collective, where collections come in crisp pared-back hues and the occasional muted pop of colour.

Often Price references the Vogue runway archives for inspiration. “It’s always really nice to go back and see how circular fashion is,” she says. “If you research it enough you can sort of predict what’s coming.”

After that, the busy Melburnian sketches garments including beachwear, crocheted knits and oversized shirts in Illustrator and sits in on fit sessions before styling ecommerce shoots and working with her social media team. “I like that I get to do a bit of everything,” she explains.

Despite growing the brand to where it is today, Price prefers to keep her wins low-key. The same doesn’t go for her partner, though. “If I’m out with my husband and someone’s out and about wearing Elka, he’ll stop them and be like, ‘Hey, my wife designed that!’ And I’ll be mortified and curl up in the distance.

“But when you see someone who’s chosen to spend their hard-earned money on something you’ve made, that’s really humbling.”

This article first appeared in Domain Review, in partnership with Broadsheet.

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