For many designers, launching your own label is the apex of a career – the thing that propels you out of bed each morning.
But that wasn’t the case for Alanna Camilleri – the wonderfully frank and honest founder of the new Australian resort-wear label Selfe Studios. “I always thought it sounded a bit stupid,” she tells Broadsheet laughing. “The fact that this has happened now feels totally surreal.”
Camilleri graduated from a degree in textile design in 2015. As a student she had decided she wanted a career designing in-house for other brands. Before graduating, she scored a design assistant position at Sydney’s Bassike, where she was given her first introduction to the A to Z of running a fashion brand – from sketching designs, to finalising samples and the large-scale logistics of production. Those skills which came in handy while she was devising Selfe. “Jersey, swimwear, shirting – I was across everything,” she says.
Later, she moved to another Australian designer, this time Lee Mathews. “I managed quite a big section of the business there, and we were a small team watching as Lee was growing incredibly quickly,” she says. “It was such a great experience, but it was very all-consuming.”
When Camilleri’s mother was hit by a car in an accident, she was on-hand to help with the long recovery – and forced to reassess her priorities. “My plan up until that point was always to work for other people’s brands. But I was working such long hours, I started to think, there has to be a way to pare this back.”
So, she took a risk – she left her job, began managing a boutique, and spent the next 18 months devising and launching Selfe. Rooted in an ethos of season-less simplicity, the brand was designed to be an antidote to an industry dominated by fast-fashion, wear-once, $15 dresses.
Volume I, her first collection, features a curated selection of shirtdresses, ankle-skimming skirts and tunics made with Italian cotton in black, white and cornflower blue. The second collection, available later this year, features similar silhouettes, with the introduction of wide-leg trousers and taupe shirting.
They’re the kind of pieces a person would live in during a European summer jaunt – a painful thought for many of us at the moment. Camilleri agrees. “Oh, I know,” she says groaning.
The brand first launched in November, making quiet waves among Sydney’s Northern Beaches set (the only Australian stockist so far is the Burke Boutique in Mosman) – but Covid-19 trampled hopes that travelling Australians would stock up on the brand for international holidays this winter.
A global pandemic is, naturally, a nightmare for any newly launched business, but Camilleri is taking it in her stride. “I’m never going to be the kind of designer that releases 50 million collections a year – I want people to invest in a piece or two, and then maybe add to it each year,” she says.
“I believe in the simplicity, and I think that will resonate, even through this crazy time we find ourselves in. Sometimes it’s better not to over-complicate things.”