In 2002, Tina Kalivas burst onto the Australian fashion scene. Having just returned from London, where she had worked for the likes of Alexander McQueen, Kalivas' daring shows, unique aesthetic and bold use of prints - not to mention her tight posse of heavyweight industry supporters - quickly made her a star. Kalivas' long-term collaborator, Mark Vassallo, is one such supporter. A luminary in his own right, Vassallo's talent and clout have made some of our most exciting fashion names who they are today. In this extract from Oyster issue #92, the two friends reflected upon their time together, before Kalivas farewells Australia and returns to the UK.
Tina Kalivas: So, we are at Mark's apartment; it's a Sunday afternoon; we're both very chilled out ? just trying to paint a picture here. Let's have a look at these questions. The first time we worked together?
Mark Vassallo: What was the first show?
Was it that one at the Australian Museum? Amongst all the dinosaurs, and there was a whale skeleton over the catwalk. That was exciting, wasn't it? I remember we found Tallulah [Morton] for the first time.
Yeah, and Sophie Ward as well. We did the show backwards; we started with the finale, and the collection was all black and white. Generally it went OK; really well actually. I can't remember any disasters.
Oh yeah, that's right. No, that show didn't have any disasters. There are definitely other disasters to talk about. My favourite - I've got to say, was the Mondrian show.
The shoes! We put the shoes on for the rehearsal and we had sewn perspex onto the shoes, and that looked amazing everybody wanted the shoes. But after the rehearsal, all the models came backstage and their feet were covered in blood; every model was bleeding.
And then an extra model turned up.
Yeah, we forgot to cancel a model?
And we had to find her an outfit, which was fine. We made it happen; we got her out there. The biggest classic was the poor girl who turned up with a burnt face. She had the most incredible body though, and you were like, "I'm not cancelling her. Her body is amazing!"
We were told her face got burnt from acne cream.
Clearasil overload. How can you do that? Actually, I think I did that once, when I was a teenager.
She must have put a lot on. It burnt her face.
Did you actually see it?
I yelled at the agent, "I don't care, get her down here." Then I saw her, and her face was really bad.
So you just did the S&M masking.
So we just wrapped her face up with S&M tape. No one knew any different; they just thought, "It's just Mark and Tina being weird and arty." People found out afterwards though.
That was hilarious. But the models were amazing; it's amazing what they endured with those shoes. Remember that other show we had at the Hilton? That was quite spectacular. We had a huge budget for that one - that show was ridiculous.
Yeah, with the teddy bears and baby dolls. Diamonds - real diamonds!
Lots of beautiful things. There was that huge monkey that you bought one holiday and you brought backstage for good luck. It ended up going on the catwalk.
You were always so creative with your shows; there was no holding back.
I think that's why I did it. I think that's why I enjoyed it. For me, it was about having fun and working with you and the other amazing people we brought on. And also always trying to do something a little bit different - not necessarily what was fashionable, but something that meant something to us; something that we would all get a laugh out of. It was a really amazing time. The music was always so fun.
It's a big part of it, isn't it?
The preparation behind it is kind of crazy. We haven't done Fashion Week for a couple of years now, have we?
Well, I personally haven't really found it worthwhile. I've had so much fun, but I can't compare it with what we used to do.
Obviously the show was fun, but the business side you didn't find [to be] worth it. I think that's the case for all the creative designers I still work with. I think it's an excuse to do a great show and to have fun. It's not really like it's going to earn us heaps of money. The designer and the publicist are just selling themselves to the devil?
Yeah, you put your cock on the block, basically.
[Laughs] You sell out and you have to work with fucking washing machine and mobile phone companies - which is fine; I mean, at least they're giving you the money to do it all and to be creative.
That part gets hard, though, because you sit and question yourself, especially if you're quite hardcore about purity and art. You end up a bit stinky if you're selling a vacuum cleaner, you know, or wherever the money is coming from. But it's like you said: it's all about weighing it up. I did this project because I hadn't made showpieces for a while and I was obviously quite creatively frustrated.
It also turned into being a bit of a retrospective, in a weird way, because you used fabrics from over the years, and there was the whole realisation that these were the last clothes you were going to make here [in Australia] for a while.
Yeah, it's been more than eight years, hasn't it? I came back in May, 2002.
So, you came back six months before I did, no, I came back six months before you did. So, what do you reckon?
It's been amazing. I'm really looking forward to whatever is next. I don't really know what that is. I think it's obviously important to get to a point where you're nostalgic and grateful for a period of your life, but also really important to know when it's time to start a new chapter.
Generally you've had a great time here. You've had an amazing studio.
Photography: Stephen Ward
Fashion: Mark Vassallo
Hair & Make-up: Victoria Baron @ RP Represents using Ellis Faas
Models: Andrej @ Chadwick, Tiah @ Vivien's, Louise and Samantha @ Chic