Despite being daughter to internationally acclaimed designer Carla Zampatti, Sydney-based designer Bianca Spender has made her own unique name in the fashion world, building a reputation for intelligent, intriguing concepts into accessible garments that are strong, feminine and modern.
Describe your role.
I am a designer and director of a self-titled label, which when you’re small means you do everything!
What was your formal background prior to launching your namesake label in 2009?
Formal Background – I have both a Bachelor of Commerce and a Diploma in Fashion Design. I worked for 4 years in Europe with 3 years in Paris working under Martine Sitbon as a Junior Designer. I then worked for 5 years as a Senior Designer for Carla Zampatti at which point the collection grew and became strong enough to start my own label.
How do you find creativity? Where do you draw influence for each new collection?
Creativity for me is a bit magical. You never know exactly what it is going to unlock it and how it’s going to unfold. For me nature, and art always resonate strongly and help my mind open doors into new worlds that I can create.
Describe the Bianca Spender woman.
Hmmm. Well. Each season I think she has a difference nuance and I think for this season Winter 16; she has the strength and dynamism of Katherine Hepburn, the modernity of Tilda Swinton and the femininity and allure of Ingrid Bergman.
What has been your career highlight or most memorable milestone?
For me, representing Australia in February at the International Woolmark Prize final in New York City.
Do you have any collaborators or mentors?
I think my biggest collaborators over time would be Tulia Wilson and Mark Vassallo. Lots of mentors; my mother mentored me on how to manage work and family – and that you can do it! My partner on how you can have a balanced life with work and family [laughs!] and I’ve been really excited and loving the mentorship with Woolmark with Alison Veness- McGourty from 10 Magazine, Edwina McCann from Vogue Australia, and Gabriele Hackworthy from the Australian Fashion Chamber [AFC].
What is the most valuable lesson you have learned in business?
Well I think the most valuable was in business AND creativity. For me, the business is all linked to creativity because there is no business in fashion without creativity – you can’t just do what you did last season – you have to feel it and believe in each concept.
One season everyone told me what I should be doing and how to do it, so I did. Of course it was a flop and my mum turned to me and said, “What went wrong?” and I said, “Well I did what everyone told me to do!” She asked me; “well what did YOU want to do” I was like “I don’t know I got lost!” Her best advice was that you always have to stay true to you, so I think the biggest thing I learned about creativity in business is that you always have to stay true to you.
Does Australian Fashion Week play an important role for your band?
Putting shows together is very important. Taking your clothes to another level, making them move – they live when they are on a catwalk – and being able to communicate and translate and evoke, I think is very important and very powerful. The creative journey with Australian Fashion Week is a great platform to do that.
When you put together the music and lighting and the ability of being able to put a narrative behind your work is special. For me the narrative is always there but you have all these other elements into a space, then the way the girls move around that space with lightning etc. means you can build a story and bring everyone into that world. It’s beautiful to present that to media and see how they take your world and create other worlds and stories from it.
What is the key to Bianca Spender’s international growth?
Really having a voice and a unique position. Also finding and reaching out to the people that that voice resonates with. I have always had the idea that it’s not about a demographic; it’s about an aesthetic. It’s about finding those people who are really interested in that story. For me, going international just creates this web of other people and the way THEY translate that story for their different worlds. As a person who has a very strong link with tailoring and with layering and with wool [laughs] and things that are maybe not always appropriate for hot Australian climate, having more ways to express and develop that is really exciting! Creatively it will just stretch and make possibilities endless.
What role does travelling play in your life?
I think environments are very inspiring whether they be an overgrown farm – one of my most inspiring collections came from a friends overgrown farm in this kind of rainforest area, or whether it be the dessert or shells in the reef, or something as specular as the Anselm Kiefer exhibition at the Grad Palais in Paris. I think that travel is about sharing ideas and being exposed to other ideas and that is endlessly inspiring.
With our industry constantly changing, how do you see the future of fashion in Australia?
I think what I am impressed with is that we have a really strong voice, and a unique voice from a unique environment. We are always very outward looking. Australia has a very bright future in terms of globalisation, internationalisation.
Describe your own personal style?
I think my style depends on the day! My personal style is emotive and driven by what I wake up with. That may be that I want to be running around which leads me into a jumpsuit, or I want to be twirling which leads me into a massive full skirt! Or I may want to feel sharp which will lead me into a great coat with a strong collar. It’s an emotional journey.
Which designers do you find compelling or admire?
I admire designers that have a very personal story. That is just coming from my own reference of loving personal stories. Dries Van Noten have an AMAZING personal story – every collection and every time you look at one of his collections he always has a new proposition, but it’s absolutely always true to him and its always absolutely unique to him. After the years and years, it is amazing to stay interesting and compelling. Alber Albaz for Lanvin – I think his take on what a luxury French house is was so new, whether it be raw seams, or using bonded fabrics before anyone else was, or these pieces that are draped in this magical way where you hardly know how they hold together! He just has an incredible hand and there is a romance and a real modernity to his work. I have a huge obsession with Balenciaga. I have thoroughly studies his archival patterns and there like an engineering feat! Again with an incredible modernity with design and what Ghesquiére did with it was just taking it on another level of parallel in terms of technical and design excellence. With female designers I think their stores are more personal, and sometimes more about how women feel in them, and the beauty of the clothes when you wear them – the way that they carry you. Phoebe Philo at Celine is just insanely gifted. She has this ability where she can feel the way that women are going without them even knowing it. Equally, but in a very different ways Stella McCartney; in sticking to lots of principals whether it be about not using leather which I think in this kind of modern luxury world is a very strong principal to hold. So I think there are many people to admire.
Tell us about your connection to nature and art.
I’ve always been very moved by nature whether it be me as a teenager driving to South Bondi to sit at the end of the point, and be flooded by the sounds of the waves crashing against the rocks [which is still something I find myself doing when dining home from work at 1 o’clock in the morning!] My partner and I have this funny joke that whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed and he tells me “go for a swim Bianca and then we will talk about it”. For me nature is transformative. Animals like birds, bugs, seashells, star fish, crabs – all of the amazing creatures that lie underneath and above our heads – they make my sprit soar!
I think art is a different level and a different conversation. I’m constantly uplifted by the ideas people have and how they translate that in form, and what they try to communicate, inspire and engage us with.
How would you describe the quintessential Australian fashion culture?
Well I’m glad to say it has evolved a lot! If you talked about quintessential fashion culture when I was 15, it was just an incredibly ‘surfie” think Mambo, jeans, grunge and flannel era. Australian fashion has taken a complete turnaround. And some really basic things; now people wear camel tones! There were years when people would not wear camel and we have really seen a shift in that! I think we have a good idea of what colours suit and what don’t in our very harsh climate and we are starting to understand subtler neutral tones rather than go for amazing bold swathes of colour that I do love and love to use, but prefer to integrate them with neutrals. There is also a great appreciation for tailoring and coating, which Melbourne has always led. But I don’t know if there is one thing that is quintessentially Australian fashion culture. I think more than anything its an open culture – you can be brand that started six months ago and people can be interested in you so there is a great innovativeness. you don’t have to be an established label for people to buy you. If you have a good proposition they’ll pick you up today.
What are you interests outside of fashion when you aren’t designing?
Love nature – swimming, bush walking, art galleries, yoga, cooking, I love hosting people in my home – its were I really let myself go! I have no rules in the kitchen and have lots f fun with it. Probably the thing I love most is being silly and relaxed! I get very serious at work and I just love being fun and silly and impromptu.
What is next for Bianca Spender?
NYC for the International Woolmark Prize final in February 2016. Paris for my first international showroom with The Australian Fashion Chamber, and of course RESORT for Fashion Week! I have never done a resort collection so am really going to delve deep to find out what that world looks like for me.
Find Bianca on Instagram at @biancaspender