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
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