How Carla Zampatti pioneered wearable yet cosmopolitan women’s clothing and became a fashion icon


Carla Zampatti’s sudden death at 78 is a blow to the fashion industry, losing proud feminist pioneer, writes Peter McNeil, of Sydney University of Technology in this article republished from The conversation.

With the sudden death of Carla ZampattiAustralia may have lost its most popular and beloved fashion designer. Zampatti was that rare beast who had intergenerational relevance. She celebrated her 55th year in business before the COVID lockdown in early 2020. She had not retired when she died at 78.

The outpouring of condolence on social media since her death (due to injuries sustained in a fall at the Sydney Opera House) indicates the high regard in which she was held nationally. The comments fall into two groups: a popular designer who made clothes that women wanted to wear; and a woman who supported the next generation as well as those who worked for her.

Zampatti arrived as a migrant from northern Italy in Fremantle in 1950. She was proud of her immigrant status. She has spoken often about the contribution Italians make to Australian life: their food, their culture, their business and their hard work. She believed Australia had strong remnants of Italy.

She also spoke about the opportunity that Australia presented to someone like her interested in designing fashion clothes. The Australian fashion markets and also our broader cultural outlook was transformed in this immediate post-war period when it arrived.

Carla Zampatti emigrated from Italy to Australia in 1950, founding an iconic brand in her adopted country. AAP / Carla Zampatti P / L

Australian post-war fashion

Vogue magazine launched its first Australian supplement in 1959. The country was becoming more and more open to the outside, relaxed and focused on fast fashion.

Household spending on clothes, shoes, and draperies increased dramatically, tripling from 1946–197 to 1959–60. Social change was also underway: the number of married women working increased to 38.3% in 1961. It can be assumed that fewer of them had time to make their own clothes, which created opportunities for ready-to-wear lines that could also keep pace with the very rapid change in fashion after the war.

In 1968, with a higher turnout women in the labor market (around 39%), home sewing was in decline and local manufacturing protected by high tariffs was in full swing. Many post-war manufacturers were migrants, including the large European Jewish population, which accelerated the introduction of casual sportswear, sportswear for men and women, finer knitted clothing and materials. shiny synthetics.

All this reduced the work of women required to maintain the clothes and make them look good. Mix and match, flexible and looser clothing lent itself better to product standardization than old-fashioned fitted clothing such as suits. The industry favored those who knew fashion and style, as well as skilled owner-managers who understood both craft skills and production.

Zampatti works backstage at Australian Fashion Week in Sydney, 2013. AAP / Tracey Nearmy

Birth of a fashion icon

Zampatti had these skills. She benefited and contributed to this cultural and structural change in Australian fashion – and then took it to the next level.

She opened her first wholesale business in Sydney in 1965. Her 1960s work shows a bold graphic touch, with a nod to bohemian, but smarter. Zampatti began displaying his clothes in the window of his Surry Hills studio, bypassing the wholesale and retail division. It opened its first boutique in 1972, at a time when manufacturers were unlikely to be retailers as well. Eventually she had around 30 stores and later exclusive deals with department store David Jones.

Zampatti has been very successful. In 1980 she was appointed Businesswoman of the Year , and she went beyond fashion to industrial design, designing the Ford Laser car for women in 1985.

Zampatti’s call and legacy

Why were her clothes so successful?

Zampatti’s designs were known for their portability. AAP / James Ross

Zampatti has designed extremely easy to wear clothes for working women. In the 1980s, they had metal zippers instead of hard openings and invisible zippers in pants to keep a good line. She then designed practical jumpsuits that could be dressed up with a jacket. She has also designed glamorous evening wear for weddings, red carpets and special occasions. She was aware of the process of maturity: “When you are young you suffer and you try to please everyone. Now I don’t ”.

Zampatti has always emphasized that fashion is first and foremost a business, not an artistic practice, although the business would not be successful if aesthetics were overlooked. Local production was important to her and her lines continued to be made in Australia. She was cosmopolitan, sophisticated and outward looking. She was a woman of the world, but also believed that Australians did not need to be expatriates in the age of jets and had a lot to bring home.

To this end, she funded a scholarship at Sydney University of Technology. The most talented Fashion and Textiles graduate students with a strong business acumen could study for a masters degree in London, Milan or New York, in the hopes of returning to Australia and sharing their new horizon of experience in developing business. a successful line.

In one SBS Interview with Janice Peterson (who often wore her clothes for television), she noticed the impact of Italian art and church frescoes on her as a child. Indeed, you can see the light and strong colors of Renaissance and Mannerist art translated into crisp and looking Australian women.

In Zampatti’s philosophy, women wore the clothes, not the clothes. AAP / Dan Himbrechts

Zampatti was a modernist. Couture for women was paramount in her day wear, and women’s bodies were not obscured by elaborate patterns or trims. Women ranging from former Governor General Dame Quentin Bryce, former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, current First Lady Jenny Morrison, former politicians Anna Bligh and Julie Bishop, Ita Buttrose, Susan Renouf, Princess Mary , Nigella Lawson and countless presenters, journalists and stars alike wore her clothes.

The clothes made them striking, but they wore the clothes and not the clothes.

Zampatti was a skilled businesswoman, pioneering board member (SBS first woman chair, Westfield Group board member; Art Gallery of New South Wales, University of Technology Sydney, among others) and cultural benefactor (Sydney Dance Company and other cultural and performance activities. groups).

She was above all a proud and feminist fashion designer, promoting economic independence and women’s action. What she had accomplished from the 1960s was remarkable.

Australia is the poorest without Zampatti and his pioneering fashion ethic.

Zampatti was a feminist designer with a pioneering fashion philosophy. AAP / Stefan Postles

Peter McNeil, Emeritus Professor of the History of Design, UTS, Sydney University of Technology

This article is republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read it original article.




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