Talking Fashion with a Design Guru
By JOHN MITCHEL Photos by IVA ROKOVESA
“It’s like ‘oh my God’…like when trench coats first came out. Everyone was doing trench coat. I lived in an area where there’s just shop after shop and one Saturday, every single window had trench coats in it.” Which is why Australian fashion icon, Nicholas Huxley, is emphatic about how lack of creativity affects the fashion industry and financial returns to individual designers. Huxley has been head teacher at the Fashion Design Studio at TAFE NSW since 1990. He’s had a sterling career as an artist and designer and is responsible for the successful fashion trajectories of many Aussie designers. Among the many actresses he has personally dressed is Hollywood movie star, Nicole Kidman. Huxley was in Fiji recently to co-facilitate a hands-on fashion workshop to prepare local designers for professional fashion shows. Fiji’s talented cadre of designers may have come a long way since the early days of the local fashion industry and many had stamped their mark with creations that are unafraid, creative and culturally inspired. But Huxley was straightforward about the copying in the market that kills creativity and style. To compete globally local designers had to think outside the box and create designs that were uniquely their own. “Every international designer in the world is famous because they have something different about what they do, whether it be Chanel, Versace or anybody. They have very distinctive looks,” he said. He believes that to continue the leaps and bounds already forged by the Fiji fashion industry, there needs to be a quality tertiary institution where fashion can be taught and students of fashion can learn. “Basically, I think one of the issues in Fiji is the fact that there is no design school – which is why I am here. So what happens is these guys (local designers) leave school and really want to do design, they love the idea of fashion and clothing but there’s actually nowhere for them to go.” “I also think local designers need to open their minds… the only reason someone will become famous is if they have a point of difference. You do not have to think too hard to name the designer when we open magazines. People know who they are because their designs are uniquely different.” Huxley said while there was creativity in local designs, designers also needed to look at detailing, mixing elements and other aspects of design they may not be aware of. “There are other ways of creating things to hopefully get them more appreciated. Designers need to realize it’s not just hibiscus on a mumu but it’s what else you can do with it or add to it to make it more interesting. “You need to make people take notice of your designs and
realize there’s a great infrastructure in Fiji – that you are doing something different with their culture in fashion.” Drawing examples from back home, Huxley said designers should not get “stuck in a theme”. “I find it very frustrating when we copy from overseas in Australia. For example, you go into a shop somewhere in Bondi Junction or somewhere in Sydney city and find that every shop’s got frills in the window. “On the trench coat thing he explained: “So you pick one trench coat and all the other shops lose out because that type of garment was the same everywhere. If you did trench coats with florals or trench coats with evening fabrics and allow a choice , then it makes things more interesting.” Huxley said designers could look at their own culture for inspiration and adapt designs to suit the needs of modern men and women. “I try to teach my students to, as much as possible, be creative and innovative and think on their own. When you focus on cultures, you never have to worry about themes because all countries, in one way or another, have typically wonderful detailing that makes them exclusively unique.” “Copying can reduce the quality of products. It’s demeaning to the creativity and innovation of the person who did the original design. That is why detailing and design are so important in making you look different from the rest” “So it’s good to still have your heritage, which is very important, but you do have to adapt these clothes so they could be functional in a western way. “I go to Indian fashion parades a lot because I am involved with a lot of design schools. They have these fabulous shows that are all gorgeous but when the garments come out, it’s just sari after sari after sari.” “You are using all these beautiful fabrics but my God you’re still doing it strictly traditional. You’d love to be able to see half of the show with sari and the second half the sari becoming modern so that actresses could wear them to the Academy Awards using the beautiful fabrics.” “You must create a design that has a point of difference making it look fabulous. A lot of designers close their minds to westernizing cultural designs.”
Huxley’s final word? “Most important of all: you have a lot of fun in what you do, if you don’t then change your career.”
Aspiring fashion designers at the fashion workshop in Suva co-facilitated by Huxley.
Australian fashion icon, Nicholas Huxley during an interview in Suva.