De­sign­ing women

In draw­ing on her fam­ily’s four an­ces­tral lands, Indige­nous fash­ion de­signer Lyn-al Young isn’t just mak­ing clothes - she is cre­at­ing wear­able art

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Stellar - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­phy REN PIDGEON Styling IRENE TSOLAKAS In­ter­view ADRI­ENNE TAM

Indige­nous fash­ion de­signer Lyn-al Young isn’t just mak­ing cloth­ing – she is cre­at­ing wear­able art with the aim of hon­our­ing women’s bod­ies.

For de­signer Lyn-al Young, fash­ion isn’t just fash­ion. It’s art. But we’re not talk­ing art that’s un­touch­able: Young’s one- off, be­spoke silk pieces are sim­ply a portable, tac­tile – and beau­ti­ful – cel­e­bra­tion of wom­an­hood it­self.

“Ever since I was young, I have felt the pres­sure to look or act a cer­tain way to [meet] dif­fer­ent ex­pec­ta­tions in so­ci­ety, the me­dia, and the fash­ion in­dus­try. And since I was young I’ve tried to chal­lenge it,” the 23-year-old tells Stel­lar. “I want women who wear my cloth­ing to feel like they can cel­e­brate their own story. They can feel em­pow­ered and they can feel Walumarra Nun­gurra, which means they feel safe and at peace. That’s im­por­tant to­day. Women – and men – are feel­ing like they have to be some­thing the world is telling them they need to be, and it’s caus­ing a lot of is­sues.”

The de­signer, whose lin­eage in­cludes the Gun­nai, Wi­rad­juri, Gun­ditj­mara and Yorta Yorta Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ples, says every piece she cre­ates is rep­re­sen­ta­tive of her four an­ces­tral lands. And she de­scribes the mark­ings she paints into her cloth­ing as “tra­di­tional shields” there to pro­tect the women who wear it. But more sim­ply, she says with a laugh, “I just want women to feel good in it.”

Women like David Jones am­bas­sador Jes­sica Gomes, who joins Young at a photo shoot for Stel­lar to model one of

her cre­ations. “I love the sen­ti­ment and mean­ing be­hind all of Lyn-al’s gar­ments to cel­e­brate her Indige­nous Aus­tralian cul­ture and coun­try,” Gomes tells Stel­lar. “It’s amaz­ing to be able to wear an orig­i­nal, one-off piece of art, which has its own unique story be­hind it.”

Young’s own unique story starts with her name, which is an amal­ga­ma­tion of her grand­mother Lynette’s and great­grand­mother Al­ice’s names – they all even share the same birth­day. “My name is my con­nec­tion to [them] and to my story and cul­ture. Since I was a child, I’ve been taught to know where you come from,” she says. “When I was younger peo­ple would be like, ‘Oh, what an in­ter­est­ing name,’ and I would feel a bit un­com­fort­able, but the more I know about my name, the im­por­tance of it and my con­nec­tion to my nans, I ab­so­lutely love it.”

Young was born in Ade­laide, but moved to Mel­bourne as a child. With par­ents who are artists and en­trepreneurs them­selves, she ac­knowl­edges cre­ativ­ity al­ready ran in her blood. “I’ve been around de­sign my whole life. I used to al­ways play dress-ups,” she says. “I would dream of go­ing to big events with red car­pets.”

She be­gan de­sign­ing when she was eight, was mak­ing hand­bags out of “old things” by age 10, and two years later was in­cor­po­rat­ing fab­ric and beads and sell­ing her wares at Abo­rig­i­nal mar­kets. She planned on go­ing to univer­sity af­ter high school, but her busi­ness acu­men soon found her set­ting up her own brand in­stead.

“I never thought I would work for some­one else,” she says.“i spoke to my par­ents and they said, ‘Look, you’ve got the gift and you’ve got our sup­port – set up the busi­ness.’ And I was like, ‘OK, I’ll do it!’ The big­gest chal­lenge for me has prob­a­bly been self-be­lief, so the sup­port of my fam­ily has been in­cred­i­ble.”

In July this year, Young was an­nounced as David Jones’s Emerg­ing De­signer, a newly cre­ated role to sup­port tal­ent in the early phases of their fash­ion ca­reers. The an­nounce­ment co­in­cided with NAIDOC Week, which cel­e­brates the his­tory, cul­ture and achieve­ments of Abo­rig­i­nal and Tor­res Strait Is­lan­der peo­ples. Young’s col­lec­tion fea­tured for a lim­ited time in David Jones’s flag­ship Syd­ney and Mel­bourne stores.

“I just couldn’t be­lieve it,” she says. “When I was still in high school my mum and I would go in [to David Jones] and one year she said, ‘Let’s pick out a scarf and make it a tra­di­tion to buy one every year.’ Now to see my own scarves in there… it’s such an hon­our.”

Now Young is again part­ner­ing with the re­tailer to cre­ate a one- off piece for the pres­ti­gious Na­tional Gallery of Vic­to­ria (NGV) Gala on De­cem­ber 1, for which David Jones is a prin­ci­pal part­ner. This cre­ation, in a shoot for Stel­lar, is in­spired by the NGV’S lat­est ex­hi­bi­tion ti­tled Escher X Nendo: Between Two Worlds, which fea­tures Dutch artist Escher and Ja­pa­nese de­sign stu­dio Nendo. “I was re­ally sur­prised be­cause I didn’t think I’d have any­thing in com­mon with Escher,” she says. “I’m do­ing some­thing I’ve never done be­fore, which is print­ing the wood onto the silk, which is con­nected to Escher and to my own cul­ture – and a tech­nique I’m def­i­nitely go­ing to con­tinue with. It also has a con­nec­tion to Ja­pa­nese art.”

Get­ting big runs like this on the board at such a young age has made Young a role model to her cousins and younger sis­ter, who is 13. “I see their pas­sions and I also see their lack of con­fi­dence and their own in­se­cu­ri­ties,” Young ex­plains. “They say to me, ‘Oh, you can do this, Lyn-al, and you can do that and it’s so awe­some,’ and I say, ‘So can you. You can do it, too. You’ve got the same cul­tural lin­eage as me, the same fam­ily con­nec­tions and that bril­liant en­tre­pre­neur­ial [spirit].’ But they don’t see it in them­selves. I want to en­cour­age them that they can do it, too – if they just be­lieve in them­selves and cel­e­brate their own story.” And while she hopes they em­brace her love of fash­ion, too, she’s wary of let­ting them be af­fected by the wrong mes­sages along the way. “There are a lot of ex­pec­ta­tions af­fect­ing young girls, that the way to feel beau­ti­ful is to look like the mod­els. I be­lieve in hon­our­ing a woman’s body. You can be cool and show off your fig­ure, but you don’t have to be overly ex­posed. I would like to see women feel­ing they can stand tall and dress as who they are – without be­ing on show.” The NGV Gala will be held on De­cem­ber 1. For in­for­ma­tion and tick­ets, visit ngv.mel­bourne.

“Since I was a child, I’ve been taught to know where you come from”

LYN-AL WEARS (top and op­po­site) her own hand-painted silk scarves, Lover camisole top, and Ellery pants,all david­jones.com; her own shoes JES­SICA WEARS (above and op­po­site) Lyn-al’s David Jones and NGV Gala col­lab­o­ra­tion piece in­spired by the up­com­ing ex­hi­bi­tion Escher X Nendo: Between Two Worlds; Mara & Mine shoes, david­jones.com

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