FRENCH CON­NEC­TION

NO STRANGER TO TAK­ING RISKS, KYM ELLERY TOOK HER BIG­GEST ONE YET WHEN SHE RELOCATED TO THE FASHION CAPITAL OF THE WORLD. STEL­LAR CATCHES UP WITH THE AUS­TRALIAN FASHION DESIGNER AS SHE CONQUERS THE CITY OF LIGHT

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­phy DAR­REN MCDON­ALD Words SHELLEY SEDDON

As she pre­pares for the launch of her new eye­wear range, Kym Ellery catches up with Stel­lar in her adopted home of Paris.

Sum­mer­time in Paris. A young woman strolls down a street in the trendy Marais district, look­ing chic in black flares and a jacket with long, ruf­fled sleeves that tum­ble down her arm. A pho­tog­ra­pher fol­lows her and she turns to flash him a mega-watt smile. She stops to chat with a flower ven­dor in the lo­cal lan­guage.there’s light­ness in her ac­tions – she’s all joie de vivre as she sings to no­body in par­tic­u­lar. “Sum­mer is here…”

And so is Kym Ellery. The name­sake be­hind one of Australia’s most suc­cess­ful fashion la­bels, Ellery moved to France 18 months ago. Her mood, as she prances around her adopted home­town for an ex­clu­sive Stel­lar shoot, seems to in­di­cate she does not re­gret her de­ci­sion.

She’s opened a new of­fice, is mas­ter­ing a new lan­guage and even found time to land a French boyfriend. “Con­sid­er­ing all of the changes,” she later says as she sits in­side her apart­ment, “I’m ac­tu­ally very set­tled. I find Paris so vi­brant and in­ter­est­ing. At 34, I felt like a chal­lenge.”

Ellery’s new home is pre­dictably well-ap­pointed but mod­est. A bar cart is stacked with fashion and art books; a copy of Jean-paul Sartre’s Ex­is­ten­tial­ism & Hu­man­ism lies on the cof­fee ta­ble. A gui­tar is perched on the couch and a stack of vinyl is piled near a turntable as the sound­track from Boo­gie Nights plays. A rack of clothes is parked in the nar­row hall­way. It’s all very boho-chic, ex­actly the kind of rental you would imag­ine for a ris­ing style star find­ing their way in one of the world’s fashion cap­i­tals.

Since mov­ing, Ellery has had to get her head around per­ma­nently work­ing across dif­fer­ent time zones and hemi­spheres. There are five Ellery staff based in Paris and 45 back in Syd­ney. On top of this, her place is also dou­bling as a crash pad for var­i­ous mem­bers of her team. There is a makeshift bed in the din­ing room for a pho­tog­ra­pher friend vis­it­ing from New York. Ellery’s brand man­ager also re­cently moved over from Syd­ney and is an­other tem­po­rary house­mate. Ellery ad­mits the ad­just­ment has not been with­out its chal­lenges.

“I’m on the phone in bed ev­ery night un­til 1am and make sure I wake up early to be avail­able at 8am,” she ex­plains. “Thank God for iphones and tech­nol­ogy.”

NINETY-FIVE PER CENT of Ellery’s cus­tomer base lives out­side Australia, so her move was a strat­egy to help grow the la­bel. It has not helped that the re­tail cli­mate in Australia for the past few years has been par­tic­u­larly bru­tal.

“It’s in­cred­i­bly sad,” she says. “I be­lieve in the Aus­tralian mar­ket. I know Australia is a strong mar­ket be­cause we sit in the top five to eight coun­tries for Net-a-porter, Match­es­fash­ion and Mytheresa, which are the three big­gest on­line re­tail­ers. There is a big Aus­tralian cus­tomer.”

So Ellery re­mains fiercely loyal to her Aus­tralian base, re­fus­ing to move pro­duc­tion over­seas even if it is more eco­nom­i­cal. She is also pas­sion­ate about pro­mot­ing sus­tain­abil­ity in an in­dus­try where fast fashion and dis­pos­able gar­ments have be­come the norm.

“Most of our prod­ucts are still made in Australia. We fly our fab­ric in from Europe and man­u­fac­ture lo­cally in Australia, which isn’t easy. You lose a lot of time and money fly­ing fab­rics in, but for me it’s im­por­tant to sup­port the lo­cal in­dus­try. We’ll do that as long as we pos­si­bly can.”

She is also keep­ing strong ties via her on­go­ing re­la­tion­ship with Spec­savers. Ellery is launch­ing a new range of pre­scrip­tion glasses and sun­glasses ex­clu­sively to the brand af­ter sev­eral styles from her first Spec­savers range sold out last year. “They were re­ally over­whelmed with the re­sponse, which was ob­vi­ously a thrill for us,” says Ellery. “I was re­ally im­pressed and de­lighted.”

This lat­est col­lec­tion is com­prised of six new op­ti­cal frames and four sun­glass styles that chan­nel Ellery’s sig­na­ture ar­chi­tec­tural lines and bold sil­hou­ette, al­beit for a more ac­ces­si­ble price-point com­pared to her high-fashion run­way pieces. Gemma Ward has been the face of the cam­paign for each col­lec­tion and, like Ellery, was raised in Perth be­fore leav­ing home in an ef­fort to con­quer her cho­sen pro­fes­sion. Ellery calls her “an in­tel­li­gent woman who I felt was the best per­son to rep­re­sent the Ellery Spec­savers col­lec­tion. [And] she’s more than just a model – she’s a beau­ti­ful woman who is in­cred­i­bly ac­com­plished. She’s mother to a beau­ti­ful lit­tle girl, just a very gen­tle spirit.”

The re­spect is mu­tual. “As a fel­low Perth girl, I love see­ing one of our own fly­ing so high with her own colours,” Ward tells Stel­lar. “Kym is a mag­i­cal be­ing, very en­thu­si­as­tic with great flair. I think her de­signs show great pre­ci­sion, but are in­fused with her fun, in­fec­tious at­ti­tude. I’ve been so happy to cham­pion her along the way. You go, girl!”

ASK PEO­PLE TO de­scribe Ellery and they tend to share the same ob­ser­va­tions. They re­mark on her per­se­ver­ance. They sin­gle out her tenac­ity. They mar­vel at her work ethic and drive. In mov­ing to Paris, she is some­what mim­ick­ing the move her par­ents Bruce and De­bra made in the ’70s, when they relocated from New Zealand to West­ern Australia with dreams of build­ing a bet­ter life.

Be­fore mov­ing to Perth, Ellery’s fa­ther drove trucks for Shell in the re­mote min­ing town of Kar­ratha in Australia’s far north­west. Her child­hood was not re­motely fash­ion­able – she and brother Casey spent much of it play­ing in red dirt; she would dodge poi­sonous snakes as she rode her bike. This in­stilled a kind of self-suf­fi­ciency that served her well when she ar­rived in Syd­ney at age 20, with no money or con­tacts, af­ter a brief sum­mer­school stint at Cen­tral Saint Martins

“Emma Wat­son? It’s ex­cit­ing to see in­tel­li­gent, beau­ti­ful women wear­ing your clothes”

fashion col­lege in Lon­don. Ellery se­cured a job as the re­cep­tion­ist at Russh mag­a­zine while also work­ing as a sales as­sis­tant at Scan­lan Theodore.

“I worked seven days a week and five nights a week,” she says proudly. “I was work­ing at Russh and at Scan­lan Theodore on the week­ends. I was do­ing shifts at a cock­tail restau­rant and work­ing the door at a night­club ev­ery Sun­day night. It was so in­tense.”

In 2007, at 23, she started her own la­bel. Luck and con­nec­tions were on her side. Her dad loaned her $5000 to buy fab­ric. Her pub­lisher at Russh hap­pened to own a tex­tiles busi­ness. A pair of sparkly tights she de­signed caught the eye of a stylist friend, who put them in Vogue.

Four months later her first col­lec­tion de­buted at Aus­tralian Fashion Week. In May this year, she came home to at­tend the event once more – this time at the helm of a 10-year ret­ro­spec­tive.

Even she sounds taken aback by what has tran­spired. “When I started I had all these grand am­bi­tions but didn’t re­ally know how to achieve them,” she says. “But with hard work came suc­cess, as well as hav­ing the right peo­ple in my team. I slowly took my time and per­fected my craft in my back­yard be­fore tak­ing my next step into Europe.”

There have been hic­cups. In 2013 while un­der con­tract to Myer, she sold pieces to ri­val David Jones and her com­pany was sued. The dis­pute was set­tled, but Ellery has no re­grets. “I think I did the right thing,” she says de­fi­antly, ex­plain­ing her main is­sue was the terms of her con­tract. “Yes, I made a mis­take [sell­ing to David Jones] and had bad ad­vice. And we shouldn’t have done what we did. I’m glad we were able to reach a com­pro­mise.

“That sit­u­a­tion taught me a lot,” she be­lieves. “As a young woman com­ing up against suits who tell you that you don’t nec­es­sar­ily know the right thing or that you can’t do some­thing… that’s bullsh*t.” Ellery says the dis­pute was a les­son in how to bet­ter stand up for her­self.

More re­cently, her use of fur earned blow­back from an­i­mal-rights ac­tivists in­clud­ing PETA (Peo­ple for the Eth­i­cal Treat­ment of An­i­mals). Ellery pointed out she sourced the prod­ucts from Fin­land­based Saga Furs – be­cause they fol­low strict gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tions and fo­cus on sus­tain­abil­ity – but ul­ti­mately made a call to back away from us­ing it al­to­gether.

“I did not want to up­set peo­ple, re­gard­less of the fact that it was pro­duced eth­i­cally,” she says. As of this month, the com­pany no longer uses fur.

Ellery re­mains one of only three Aus­tralian de­sign­ers – aside from Col­lette Din­ni­gan and Martin Grant – to have been in­vited to show in Paris. Along with her four ready-to-wear col­lec­tions, each year she puts her name to shoes, jew­ellery, denim and Spec­savers eye­wear. She says she “can’t wait to launch bags one day”.

Her clothes have been worn by Gwyneth Pal­trow, Cate Blanchett, Ri­hanna and Kim Kar­dashian. “I was over the moon when I saw Chloë Se­vi­gny wear­ing Ellery,” she says. “Lady Gaga had me on In­sta­gram, Kate Bos­worth looked amaz­ing in one of our tops to an event a few weeks ago. Emma Wat­son? Some­one like her is truly in­spir­ing. It’s ex­cit­ing when you see in­tel­li­gent, beau­ti­ful women wear­ing your clothes.”

Next on her wish list: new French first lady Brigitte Macron. “Oh, yes! Brigitte Ma-crohn,” she says, adopt­ing an ex­ag­ger­ated French ac­cent. “I would love to dress her. That would be amaz­ing.”

ELLERY WAS AT a bar in Paris five years ago when she met Maxime Sokolin­ski, a Gucci model and mu­si­cian who was play­ing in a band that night. Years later, Sokolin­ski was look­ing at Ellery’s so­cial me­dia ac­counts when he re­alised she had made the move to Paris. They re­con­nected, sparks flew and now he is her boyfriend. On the day Stel­lar vis­its the Ellery show­room, buy­ers are view­ing the lat­est col­lec­tion and Sokolin­ski – a bo­hemian, long-haired model straight out of cen­tral cast­ing – is play­ing gui­tar in the cor­ner.

“It’s a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence dat­ing a French man,” Ellery says, laugh­ing. “But I’m re­ally en­joy­ing it. He’s a sweet­heart and so in­tel­li­gent. He has an eco­nom­ics de­gree and reads Tol­stoy and Dos­toyevsky. He loves hav­ing deep con­ver­sa­tions. I got in trou­ble the other day be­cause I wasn’t ‘present’ when he was try­ing to tell me some­thing.”

For all the de­light Ellery takes in her new sur­rounds – the buzzing streets, the his­toric build­ings, the riot of shop win­dows burst­ing with fashion – she still longs for home. Asked how she thinks she might sur­pass her lat­est suc­cesses, she re­torts: “I don’t think I can.”

But then she grows re­flec­tive. “It would be nice to be in na­ture. As I get older, and with more time spent away from Perth, I re­alise how much I miss that stuff. It ac­tu­ally is a part of me, be­cause my beau­ti­ful par­ents made sure I spent so much time in na­ture.

“That is the dream – to be able to en­joy both worlds,” she says. The new Ellery eye­wear col­lec­tion, ex­clu­sive to Spec­savers, is priced from $199 for two pairs and is avail­able in stores na­tion­wide from Au­gust 3.

STYLE MAVEN (from far left) Kym Ellery catches up with Stel­lar in France; in her Paris show­room; with Gemma Ward; show­ing at Paris Fashion Week in March.

EYE ON DESIGN (from left) Ellery be­lieves eye­wear ex­presses per­sonal style; her new col­lec­tion for Spec­savers fea­tures uni­sex de­signs in lux­ury ma­te­ri­als.

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