Kym Ellery is the very definition of girl done good.
The 33-year-old Perth native has blown up on the world stage in recent years: Her wares are stocked by some of the most prestigious retailers including Net-a-Porter, New York’s Dover Street Market and Lane Crawford; her designs have been seen on the likes of Chloe Sevigny, Chrissy Teigen and Rihanna. She is only the third Australian to be invited to show on schedule at Paris Fashion Week and the second to be tapped by Paris fashion institution Chambre Syndicale to join their exclusive ranks. Not bad for a girl from small town Western Australia.
Most recently, she was approached by Specsavers to design an eyewear collection that combines her high-fashion aesthetic with mainstream appeal. She nailed the brief. The collection is made up of 14 optical glasses and six prescription sunglasses (which retail from $299 for two pairs) and we can say with the kind of confidence that comes from – ahem – trying on each and every single pair, the collection is going to be a hit.
In Auckland last week to launch her new Specsavers collection, Ellery sat down with FQ to talk about the inspiration behind the designs and to tell us what she’s been up to of late:
FQ: First of all congratulations on your new eyewear collection! When Specsavers approached you about designing a collection, did you already have a clear idea in your mind of what kind of designs you wanted to bring to the table?
Kym Ellery: Thank you! Yeah, it had crossed my mind over the years if we were to do something around ophthalmics, what would we do? But I’ve learned a lot in the process of working with Specsavers – their product team is incredible and for us, it was about embodying the Ellery brand in a range of optics but also making the range broad enough that it would suit lots of different people and still be exciting and new for the consumer.
Your ready-to-wear designs are known for their bold, architectural and androgynous elements – has this aesthetic translated through into the eyewear collection and how so?
I wanted [the collection] to have a nostalgic feeling but I’m also influenced a lot by architecture when designing the ready-to-wear, so that was also a big influence in how the shapes evolved. I looked to a lot of different iconic film personas to bring that feeling of nostalgia in – what these different characters may have worn – while at the same time, making sure we created enough diversity in the range.
Those film personas you looked at include Diane Keaton as Annie Hall, Susan Sarandon in Thelma & Louise and Woody Allen. If you were to pick a muse for now, who would that girl be today?
I think someone with quite a preppy style. I don’t know if she wears frames or not, but Gaia Repossi, the jewellery designer, is a good example of someone with a more classic, timeless style. Or you could look at someone like a Carine Roitfeld who is a bit sexier and could pull off the cat’s eye. Also, Marie-Amelie Sauve – Nicholas Ghesquiere’s partner in crime. She’s probably a bit more modern and bold in that sense.
There are so many fantastic styles in the collection – seriously! What are your favourites and who or what is the muse or story behind them?
The metal circle frame is definitely a favourite of mine – personally I like to wear those. They have a bit of a John Lennon reference, that classic shape that he was so famous for back in the 70s. Also the clear frame which is quite modern and more artful, that’s a bit more of a ‘now-girl’ I think – an Alexa Chung vibe maybe? But the shape is also quite ‘Woody Allen’ – with that keyhole bridge. Then for the more bold squarer style, we had Philip Seymour Hoffman on our moodboard – it’s a more masculine, classic shape. I said to the team at the beginning I’d also like men to be able to wear these frames… We already have men that go into our stores and buy blazers and various things and I like to think in 2016 that gender is a little bit more of a blurred concept.
Gemma Ward, who fronts your Specsavers campaign, is such a fan favourite. What is it about her that people warm to so much and what made you want her to be the face of this range?
Gemma is not just one of Australia’s biggest models, she’s globally one of the biggest models of all time! We’re very proud that she’s also from Perth in Western Australia, which is where I grew up. When we were choosing a face, it was an interesting conversation trying to come up with someone [who fit the brief]. We wanted to find a face that would be iconic and luxurious but also recognisable amongst the broader market and someone that embodies the brand. I liked that Gemma is a mother and loved what she has accomplished in her lifetime thus far. She’s obviously a beautiful girl and the fact that she is from where I’m from, I loved that about her, too.
You grew up in a small town near Perth. What has that childhood brought to the brand from a design or even a business perspective?
I was very lucky to grow up in a place that was so remote so there weren’t a lot of distractions. I look at the lives of teenagers now…. we didn’t have any of those distractions growing up, so I really threw myself into my art and design, sewing, drawing, painting, ceramics and different mediums. My mother did a lot of art, including a fine arts degree when I was 8, so I was always at university with her or going to art exhibitions. All her friends were artists so I was just surrounded by it and had a real affinity with that form of expression. I feel really lucky now because I know I might not have been so focused on design had I grown up in a big city.
You went on to have quite a varied background, completing a certificate in fashion design, working in retail, studying fashion illustration at Central Saint Martins, working at RUSSH and being a freelance stylist. How do you think all of those facets of your experience have played into the success you’ve had?
I think all of it was a quite calculated decision now when I look back. I always knew I wanted to be a designer but I left Perth, travelled a bit. I actually came here and lived in New Zealand for a few months, went to Singapore, ended up in Sydney by accident. Got a job at Scanlan & Theodore by accident! And I got offered the job at RUSSH while I was at Scanlan. By that point I was 21, so I was very young and for me it was a really good place to learn about the industry. Over the four years I was there I developed an aesthetic and got to know people in the industry and just understand how everything is connected. I don’t think it’s a very typical way to start a brand but I decided I could go and do a full degree at [Central] Saint Martins or I could invest that money into starting my own label and practice in Australia and learn that way. [I could] get my hands dirty and the mistakes that people might make later on, I made them straight away! So it gave me a unique point of difference and I had a lot of support from friends who worked in media. I was really lucky in that way because it can be difficult to break into.
You famously took out a small loan from your dad to help get Ellery off the ground. What was the point where you had the self-belief to pursue this and know you were going to succeed?
I always knew it would be a success if I worked hard. I don’t know why, it’s a strange thing to think “oh I can do this” but I just did it, I knew I could do it. After being an editor, I knew there was a gap in the market and it quickly filled in the coming years. At the time I started there wasn’t really that advanced contemporary part of the market that you see now – it hadn’t been filled yet with the Alexander Wangs and the Christopher Kanes and the Richard Nicholls but it became super prominent when I wanted to start up. I was 23 years old when I started the brand so I wasn’t in a hurry and I knew it was a long-term lifelong project – I didn’t (and I still don’t) have an exit strategy. It’s about doing it for as long as I can as it’s what I love to do. They say if you love your work it isn’t work – this is something I get a lot out of and it’s extremely rewarding. Not many people get to have an idea and then see a physical product to show for it at the end of it.
Who would be the dream girl you’d love to see walking down the street wearing Ellery?
Any girl really; I love women and think women are special beings. We [the Ellery team] always talk about empowering women through design so that’s what I try to do. We want women to feel comfortable in clothing, to feel beautiful, but also be well equipped to go and achieve what they want to achieve in their lives. So for me, if I can help them a little bit by making them feel beautiful and confident then that’s my job done! But the dream girl is, well, she’s everyone. But I do love seeing some of my girlfriends when they rock it out!
You’ve made the big move to Paris but your core team and office are still based in Sydney. How does that work and what has led to you setting yourself up there?
It’s a new move, it’s something we felt we needed to do. Over 90 per cent of our sales are from the northern hemisphere but we produce most of our goods in Sydney. All the ready-to-wear garments are made in Sydney so that’s an important reason why our base is there, as we’re really passionate about local production and supporting local industry. But going to Paris is a necessity because we show there and want to be part of the fashion community there. I was welcomed as a member to the Chambre Syndicale this year which means that we’ll be a lot more involved in what goes on.
Paris – it’s every fashion-loving girl’s dream. What would a perfect day in Paris look like for you?
I would wake up and do boxing classes in the Tuileries with a personal trainer – I love that, that’s one of my favourite things to do! I usually do that as much as I can and as my schedule allows. Then I would go and have a late breakfast with my girlfriend Kinga and her little baby Echo. They live near me, so we hang out a bit, usually in the Palais Royal gardens. We’ll go there and take Echo for a stroll and play near the fountain. Then I would go to the Musée d’Art Moderne and go and look at an exhibition there, ride a bicycle back to my area and meet friends for an aperitif. Then usually we just have dinner and my clothes proceed to get tighter and tighter! [laughs]
Lastly, what are the next few years looking like for Ellery?
Definitely focused on setting up the French office and at the moment we’re completing building a new store in Sydney which will be a template for what we roll out globally. So in the coming five years I hope to open more stores around the world.
How about a store in Auckland?
Maybe… we’ll see!
* The new ELLERY eyewear range is exclusive to Specsavers and available from 28 July