Earlier this year, Team Leiden had the pleasure of attending Fashionation, a fashion event in Cooma showcasing both the local design talent and also the regions amazing wool. After all the excitement of the runway show we sat down with the youngest designer to showcase work on the evening, Charly Thorn to find out more about her design process.
Ledien: What is your earliest fashion memory?
Charly: My earliest fashion memory would be when I was about 4 years old sitting on the floor of our new house, no furniture just a mattress, a box of Barbie dolls, and some coloured paper. I sat there for hours, cutting out shapes of dresses and hats and skirts, taping them together and putting them on the dolls making them all new outfits. I spent a lot of time working with paper as a child, I was very interested in garment construction even from such a young age.
L: What drew you to fashion design?
C: As cliche as it is, I think it’s in my blood to be a fashion designer. There’s not one point in my life I wasn’t dressing Barbies, making clothes, or drawing outfits, as soon as I could pick up a pen I was designing clothes. I pulled out my business plan the other day which Mum had kept from when I was only 5! She said she remembers me coming to her, insisting she help me plan my new clothes shop, so she wrote a structure including who will buy my clothes, how I will finance the startup, my favourite colours and other important things. I emphasised wrapping everything in pretty paper, and financing it by taking all my coins from my piggy bank and putting them in the real bank. I don’t remember writing it which is probably why I find it so funny, but looking back on it, there wasn’t a time that I didn’t know what I wanted to be. I’ve always known what industry I want to work in and I’m among the very few who have such a clear vision at my age, so I thank my lucky stars for all these amazing opportunities I’ve had so far and for letting me start so early because I absolutely love it!
L: What is your background in fashion? Have you studied or are you self-taught?
C: I think I had maybe 3 or 4 lessons in sewing when I was about 7, but apart from that I have had no proper training. My mother couldn’t sew a button if she tried, so I guess I’ve grown up with my older sister as my idol, she is 42 and has 2 kids, technically she is my half sister and we never lived together but she must have passed some sort of creative passion down to me. We are both very creatively driven in many different aspects, as she studied costume design through NIDA she has a lot of awesome knowledge, experiences and ideas to share with me. I’m currently in year 12 at Mary Mackillop College in Canberra and have been here for only 2 years. I am doing double major fashion (meaning two classes of fashion). This is the first school I have been to that has offered double textiles (hence why I chose it) and this has expanded my opportunities as I am closer to the city. I’ve been sewing since I was in primary school and consider myself to have a fairly practical brain when it comes to garment construction and pattern making. I think a lot of my knowledge came from just spending hours and hours with a sheet of fabric and a mannequin, creating whatever came to mind, no design brief or vision just using my hands and learning through that.
Charly Thorn’s designs on the Fashionation Runway
L: How do you approach designing a collection?
C: Usually a collection will be inspired by something very spontaneous, such as a cliff of rocks, a certain pattern, light, colours or visually strange and interesting things I come across. I understand my own design process a lot better now after having completed 3 collections and working towards the fourth at the end of this year. My design process usually starts off with an original shape, idea or look, and further develops into a collection as I explore this idea through illustration and art. I love working with watercolour pencils and paints, I try to be as diverse as I can, experimenting with different mediums to get the creativity flowing. I also try to give a purpose to everything I make, each collection serves a particular purpose and this helps me structure my ideas better.
L: Where do you source your fabrics?
C: My most recent collection was made overseas in Vietnam, I sourced all my fabrics over there and surprisingly, the cost of total manufacturing was more expensive than anticipated. I used a specific tailor compared to a factory for example which focuses on making things in bulk, the tailor will make to measure for every garment. Previously, I have sourced all my fabrics here in Australia. Compared to Vietnam, Australian fabrics will always be more expensive however I found there wasn’t as much variety in places like Cabramatta and other warehouses in Sydney compared to the markets overseas. I have been lucky to have been donated tons of fabric from my awesome older sister, NIDA graduate Brigette. She has really been there to ground me throughout my whole blossoming career. I also have been given lots of second hand clothes to recreate into new exciting garments. I did this more throughout years 7 and 8 when I wasn’t working and now have a large selection of fabrics in my studio that I continue to add to.
L: How are your pieces manufactured?
C: My 2016 winter collection for Fashionation was manufactured overseas in Vietnam. The local Hoi An tailors were extremely helpful and professional in taking me on. This is the first collection I have gotten made offshore, previously, I made every single piece for my past 2 collections and multiple projects by myself. I am very lucky to have been given an industrial sewing machine and overlocker from my sister. I sew everything myself and love the entire process from the original sketch to the final product. I have learned to expect changes from my original sketches when I’m making clothes, the construction process evolves my design concept further and I have learned to go with my gut when my designs change, however with my most recent collection as I had it manufactured overseas, I was forced to be very decisive, organised and have a strong grasp of my overall concept.
L: From where and what do you draw inspiration from?
C: I am very easily inspired by a number of aspects. I may not look at simple objects like most people, but find the beauty or the interesting side of it and sometimes even something as small as a beam of light on a certain plant will inspire me. I photograph that moment in my mind and refer back to it non stop for a couple of days before I realise It actually inspired me so much I need to expand that image. I love exploring form and colour when I design things, sometimes even certain shapes will inspire me and I start drawing the extravagant ball gown in my head before putting it on paper.
L: You also enjoy modelling your own pieces. How important is to you to be involved in all aspects of your brand from the design right through to modelling?
C: I started shooting my clothes when I was in year 9, only because it was convenient for me to fit the clothes to myself and to convey the whole concept of the garment in one shot. I could see the whole vision better than anyone else as the designer and it was just easy more than anything. My sister and I would go out on location shoots in the suburbs of Sydney and shoot through a heap of different dresses in a few hours. Its quite fun changing in and out of all these dresses in the back of a rav 4 in 5 minute parking, especially the big ball gowns. I think its very important to be part of all the photo shoots, even with other models I want to be part of every little step of my creations.
L: What inspired your most recent collection?
C: This collection was inspired by the Monaro, in particular the dry copper colours and vast treeless plains I have grown up in. Also grasping the concept of wool in the Monaro region famous for the highest quality merino wool in the world.
L: Tell us about Anneliese Seubert. How did you approach her to model for you?
C: As crazy as this sounds, Anneliese actually approached me! I have known her and her parents for as long as I can remember. Our families have always been very close friends and she went through school in the same year as my older sister. Her parents used to babysit me in winter when our ski business was busy and my parents were working very long days. I’ve always admired Anneliese as an older sister or as an auntie type figure, her success has inspired me to continue doing what I do and prove that living in a small town has more opportunities than people think. For example, living in Cooma, people know I love designing and making clothes so the community chest approached me when they did their first fashion show in 2014. If I lived in Canberra or Sydney for example, you don’t get the exposure or community relationships like you do in such a small town and finding your way to the top becomes tricky. Big fish small pond type situation. From the Cooma fashion show I’ve had so many other opportunities come up and loads of good feedback, I am also building up a following on social media and will have a cracking portfolio when I apply for university courses. Anneliese has given me such an awesome experience being able to use her success to promote my own brand, I was surprised at first but I’m very thankful she believes in me and wants to see me go far.
L: Who do you design for? Describe your woman.
C: I design for the woman who is classy, independent and sophisticated. She is stylish and confident, and she’s not afraid to be bold with bright colour statements or interesting shapes. My woman ranges from girls my own age all the way up to mature women in the workplace, after my most recent collection I discovered that my designs do in fact appeal to a wide range of women, I had a lot of great feedback from ladies around my mothers age while also staying versatile to girls like me. I do not design for a size 6 model. I design for real women who have real lives and eat real food, I never want to promote an unhealthy or unrealistic body image with my aesthetic.
L: What other designers are you inspired by?
C: I am inspired by a lot of designers its hard to pinpoint only a few, however I was absolutely blown away by Collette Dinnigan’s exhibition at the Powerhouse museum and her book was just as inspiring. Looking at all her mood boards and inspirational images were so similar to the way I structure my own inspiration when designing and really connected me to her work. She also shared similar childhood situations with me and I think studying her career really brought me close to her work. A fabulous quote from her exhibition “you cannot buy a garment without seeing the way it moves”. She had this amazing walking wall of models in slow motion to see the garments in action and that really inspired me just to think about small functional aspects of everything I design. I love reading designer books and learning about their childhood and how the successful ones usually start very early with their careers, it makes me feel like I’m on the right track.
L: What did taking part in Fashionation mean to you?
C: Taking part in an event like Fashionation has benefited me so much in both the experiences I have gained and being involved in the community that has supported me and driven me to follow my dream career. As I have grown up on the Monaro, it was very important to me to promote the local wool industry. Australian merino wool is one of the finest and highest quality in the world and being able to use it in an event primarily focused on promoting this fibre has enabled me to grow my design experiences further. I have also made great contacts in the industry through exposing myself at such a young age.
L: What’s next?
C: I have applied to show at Canberra’s event Fashfest at the end of this year, this could be an exciting project to launch my label in front of a national audience, and I’m really hoping to be selected as their youngest designer ever! I will apply for a few different universities toward the end of this year. Ultimately I would like to study at Ultimo Tafe in Sydney because they have the current best design course in Australia. They offer a bachelor degree in fashion design however this course is not based on ATAR entry rather, you go through an interview process and show portfolios etc. I am hoping after this year I will have an awesome portfolio to present, but I’m keeping my options open just in case.
Read our Fashionation Runway Report here.
Interview: Emma Batchelor
Photography (first collection of images): Lauren McKay
Watercolour: Judy Kuo
Second and Third collections of images provided by Charly Thorn
Photography: Brigette Thorn
Hair: Laine Swain
Makeup: Georgia Alexander