The Australian designer and all-around cool girl on her first fashion memory, working at Rush magazine, and what inspires the Ellery collection season after season.
Born in Perth, Australia, Kym Ellery knew that she wanted to be a fashion designer from the age of twelve. She followed her heart to architecture school and later studied fashion at Swan College in Perth and Central Saint Martins in London. Here she chats with Kirna Zabête Editorial Director Jessica Minkoff about the fundamentals of Ellery, who she would love to see in her clothes, and where she gathers inspiration. —Jessica Minkoff
How did you get into fashion? Were you into it when you were young? I grew up in Perth, which is the most isolated city in the world and my mother is an artist so she always took me to art school or the art studio she shared with her friends or gallery openings on the weekend and for me it was just normal to be around art and artists. When I turned 7 or 8 I asked my mother if I could learn how to sew because I saw her sewing and I was really interested in it and liked clothes. I was a very quiet baby and my mom told me that the only time she saw me show any kind of opinion about anything was when I wanted this frilly white skirt with red polka dots. She said that I hadn’t said a word ever, I wasn’t noisy, I just would suck my thumb and do nothing until I saw this skirt one day and I wanted her to buy it and she said no. I threw an absolute tantrum on the floor, crying, under the skirt in a store. My mom was so shocked that I had such passion for this garment so she bought it. She still has it at home.
When did you realize that it was going to be your career? I think I always knew. I remember distinctly being 12 on the school bus—I used to have to catch three buses to get to school because we lived so far from my school—and on the first bus my girlfriend asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I said I wanted to be a fashion designer and she said ‘don’t be silly, how do you do that?’ I was like ‘I don’t know, the same way a doctor becomes a doctor, I am sure there is a path of education. So I remember at the time thinking that I would prove her wrong. We are still really good friends and she is mortified now that she said that to me.
When we decided to look at the future we also looked back at the past and looked at the people who were looking at the future back then.
So you trained formally? Not much actually. After graduating high school I applied to become an architect. I knew I didn’t really want to do it but my girlfriend was doing it—and I am still inspired by architecture today. I enrolled in the local fashion design school, which is now called Swan College and I studied there for one year before wanting to travel. I left Perth and moved to Sydney. I started working as an intern at a magazine called Rush. I was assisting the editor and doing the desk and returns, and the fashion closet. It was a small team so we did a lot of everything. I decided during my internship to go to London and study at Central Saint Martins for a summer so I enrolled and jumped on a plane and just before I left the editor offered me a job. I couldn’t commit but they held the job for me when I got back. I ended up working at the magazine for a total of 4 years, 2 years into the four year tenure I launched Ellery as a little side project. I wanted my own creative project and do something where I could still make clothes and design and I also felt there was a bit of a gap. I knew that what I was doing then wasn’t what it could be, I was working out of my lounge room and had been making dresses for my friends. Eventually I had someone from British Vogue buy one of the dresses and another woman who is now my publicist 10 years in, and then all of my friends bought them, so this one dress is how I was able to afford to go study in London and then when I came back that experience gave me the confidence that women wanted to wear what I was making. I had also made tights for a shoot when I was styling and they were seen by the fashion editor at Rush and then she shot them and they were seen by the fashion editor and stylist at Vogue Australia, who called them in and shot them and put them in two full pages in the magazine. I was still working the desk at Rush at the time and it was beginning of January so I was at the office by myself and my tights were in the new issue of Vogue so I was like ‘Fuck it! I am going to start a brand.’
How has the brand evolved since you first launched? The first few years it was very much a local, Australian brand and we distributed the majority in Australia. About five years ago we started bringing the collection to Paris and it was at that point that I realized I could elevate the brand to be what I had intended it to be at the very beginning, which was a designer brand. It was at that point that I started steering the collection in a direction that was a lot more elevated and the women just kept coming.
Who is the Ellery girl? She is a very intelligent woman who is looking for something unique but also something that is a modern classic. She values quality and innovation and she is building a wardrobe. She is not buying pieces to wear once, she really is curating a wardrobe to have for many years to come and that can work season after season and with other brands.
Where do you draw inspiration for your collections? It happens often in very unexpected moments. The best ideas come to me when I am resting, which is funny, but that is why I think taking time away is so important. For example, one of our best selling sleeve shapes, the Lolita, I drew on the sand while my boyfriend at the time was surfing. Sometimes when I am just driving on the massive highway through the bush in Australia that has rocks and bridges through space, and sleeve ideas will pop into my head. It must be my self conscious saying ‘don’t forget to design.’ I also get inspired from visiting art galleries, listening to music or learning about interesting social movements, discovering places. Since moving to Paris in January last year, I have really been paying attention to the codes of dressing here and the unspoken rules and wanting to kind of fuck with it a bit as an outsider.
What was the inspiration for Spring 2018? This was very much about the future woman and who she is and the idea that maybe in the future we are going to take our summer holidays on Venus and be at the beach in outer space. I liked the idea of creating a collection that was inspired by Brooke Shields in Blue Lagoon meets the future.
Do you have a favorite piece in the collection? I really love look 1, 2, and 3 the most. I also love the earrings, which are little Venus shells covered in space matter and the asymmetrical shape.