In an industry full of so-called influencers, there are few whose impact can genuinely be felt. But Kym Ellery, an Australian-born designer with a penchant for sculptural, Seventies-inspired silhouettes is one of its emerging catalysts.
In the past few seasons alone, Ellery has been a proponent of such dominant trends as the flared, ruffled pant, the move towards tailored, slick outerwear and the heavy influence of art, something that has been a driving force in her life since she was a child.
“I grew up in Perth, which is the most isolated city in the world,” she says. “I didn’t know anything about brands, I just spent my time with my mum drawing, making ceramics, and printmaking.” Today, the designer, who relocated her design HQ to Paris a few years back (the rest of the business is still run out of Sydney), walks past 20th century sculptor Constantin Brancusi’s former studio on her way to work, and says she still pulls inspiration for her clothing collections from its proximity.
Ellery was recently in Toronto, where she was fêted by the Room at Hudson’s Bay. Before the party, we discussed art, inspiration and designing for women in 2019.
How did art become a part of Ellery?
Art is a big part of the DNA of the brand and where a lot of the inspiration comes from. My mother was an artist and it’s something that has always been around me. We’ve been showing in art galleries from Day 1 – my first show was at an independent gallery in Sydney.
I just took an art course in Italy with my mother and we painted plein air for a week. The moments when you’re not thinking about fashion and clothes and the collection are when you can become centred and really inspired.
What inspired your Spring 2019 collection?
It was inspired by an artwork at the Guggenheim by Paul Kos, called The Sound of Melting Ice. An ice cube was recorded by a series of microphones. From that point, we explored all things related to ice, water and how we can apply something fluid to something like a tailored suit. So we applied liquid silk scarves that drip off garments and used technical embellishments to heat apply beads that look like little drops of water.
Do you prefer to work with most abstract references?
The design process can be so ambiguous and it’s challenging to take something abstract, and in this case, an existential artwork that I found fascinating and deconstruct it into physical items. Fashion can get quite two dimensional and we like to take a more intellectual approach. I find it difficult to make a summer collection, so to make it a bit more interesting, I give myself a little challenge.
Why do you find it more difficult?
There’s less fabric and it has to be quite light – I love fabric that’s textured and heavy, generally. For me it’s more of a challenge to start with silhouettes that are more open. But as the years go on, it’s getting easier. It’s funny because I grew up in a hot, beach town.
Do you pay attention to trends and the role you have in setting them?
Volume is a big part of our DNA, so we’re committed to that. I see it as a challenge to continually evolve it and never really walk away from things, but push them into a new space. People come to us for certain things and it’s my responsibility to give that to them in a fresh way, as well as introduce new and exciting silhouettes and garments that I hope will push forward with what’s happening in the fashion world.
How has moving to Paris affected you?
I find it so inspiring and the European culture so rich and interesting. I have always loved France – I’ve been a Francophile from way back when I was nine and called my rabbit lapin. It was a place I always wanted to end up and when I started Ellery over 11 years ago, my intention was to take the brand there.
How do you think being a woman plays into your design process, especially in 2019?
I think it’s an advantage because I’ve always created things that I want to wear. When I design a collection, I’m thinking about how to make a concise wardrobe that can give you everything you need to live your life. And as a woman, I want to empower other women to be able to feel comfortable and achieve what they want to achieve because that’s what I want in my life as well. Women today are expected to be so many things, so you do really need to have the armour to go out and do that.
This interview has been condensed and edited.