Oct 11, 2012 3:15PM

Desert Designs Interview

We speak with the recently relaunched label that carries on the legacy of late Aboriginal artist Jimmy Pike.

Australiana is slowly (but surely) becoming fashions again. We're not just talking about Rodarte's appropriation of Aboriginal paintings for the runway either. Desert Designs, originally a collaboration between art teacher Stephen Culley and late indigenous artist Jimmy Pike [Kurnti Kujarri] in the 80s, has recently relaunched. At the helm of this sartorial celebration of Aboriginal Australia and Jimmy's art is Stephen's daughter Jedda-Daisy Culley and her friends Caroline Wels and Chris Petro. They've also just launched their online store, which stocks the current SS12 collection. We spoke with Jedda-Daisy about Jimmy's legacy, and Australian fashion.

Jerico Mandybur: Why did you decide to relaunch the project and how did you go about it?
Jedda-Daisy Culley: Jimmy's story is important in Australian culture and history. There is an current exhibition on at the University of Western Australia, showing Jimmy's Texta pen drawings, and another national show called 'Desert Psychedelic,' so the feeling seems harmonious across all artistic disiplines. Because the company has stayed in the family and our relationship with Jimmy's family remains, the process of relaunching Desert Designs seemed natural.

How would you describe a quintessentially 'Australian' fashion identity? Is it alive and well, or in crisis?
I think it's tricky not to get misconstrued because retail is hard and the reputation of Australian fashion suffers for that. There are lots of creative and talented people working in Australia. For me, the key to successful Australian fashion is to highlight the line between art and fashion — Romance Was Born and Jenny Kee, do this well, for example. I will say that Australian fashion is still caught up with the big Western creative centers like London and New York. In art there has been more of an opening up to Asia and other cultural influences, but I think fashion has remained more closed to these, and still sees other culture's fashion as an oriental curiosity.

Is it difficult working with the artwork of someone who has passed away?
Jimmy made sure that Desert Designs were not using secret or sacred images. We work closely with Jimmy's family, particularly his wife Pat Lowe. Although it is always sad to have lost a friend, there is joy and honour that comes from continuing his legacy... We work closely with the Jimmy Pike Trust, established by his wife. Desert Designs contributes to the Jimmy Pike Scholarship, which is awarded to Aboriginal artists in the Kimberly region.

What's next for Desert Designs?
A tight little collection titled You Like Desert Country is available now in Melbourne at FAT and in Sydney at Poepke from 1 November.

What's your favourite Australian animal and why?
Last week I was driving through the bush with my friend when we sadly noticed a dead kangaroo on the side of the road that wasn't there earlier in the day. As we drove up to the body we noticed wriggling in the pouch. My friend put his hand into the dead kangaroo's pouch and pulled out a little one. We put the little fella in my beanie and cuddled and cared for the baby until we reluctantly handed him over to WIRES [Wildlife Information Rescue and Education Service]. I love kangaroos, especially little baby boomas!

Jerico Mandybur

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