Nov 23, 2011 12:00AM

Zimmermann on the Future of Australian Fashion

Young designers are a lot more savvy now about the business and building a brand.

Last year's Spirit of Youth Award recipient Dion Lee recently spoke to this year's SOYA mentors, Nicky and Simone Zimmermann, about the importance of young talent having someone inspiring and experienced to learn from. The Awards, whose previous recipients include Romance Was Born, Dion Lee, Antipodium, Oh Mercy, My Disco, have been expanded to eleven different fields including fashion, visual design and communications, film and video, photography, interactive content and gaming, architecture and interior design, written word and animation. What's more, the awards are now open all year round, with a category closing each month. So, if you're at all creative and under 30, this is an initiative worth your while. Hear what the Zimmermann's had to say and stay tuned for the man himself, last year's winner Dion Lee, coming soon.

Dion: In what ways do you think that having a mentor would have helped you when you were just beginning to establish yourselves as a label?
Nicky: From the time I was a young I wanted to design and make clothes so I always felt comfortable in making things. Like you did, I studied design at East Sydney and started Zimmermann straight out of college but I really didn't know anything about building a business that could sustain what I wanted to do creatively over time. So we just worked it out ourselves really. If we had someone to talk to who understood what we wanted to achieve and the path we wanted to take it would definitely have made things easier and probably would've saved us some time to reach goals sooner. But to be honest, I don't regret not having that support because it really gave us the chance to learn and to refine what we wanted to do and to really appreciate what we were doing. For me, I have always loved the process of creating collections - just working in the studio - so it's never been about the need to have the whole business and brand thing worked out today. In saying that, things are different now and young and talented designers like you don't have the luxury of learning too slowly as you go because the business is tough and people expect a lot (and maybe too much) from you. There's more pressure now. It's not fair in some ways but it's just the reality of the business.

Is there anything about the fashion business that you wish you knew before you started?
Simone: When we started Zimmermann we didn't really know anything about the business of fashion. So yes, lots. Nicky just made things that people loved and between us we worked really hard and had a go at things that we wanted to have a go at. Not knowing a lot probably helped us in many ways because we did things that interested us rather than things that you were meant to do. It was like when we decided to launch swim really early on - fashion brands didn't really create fashion swim lines when we started out so we just pursued an idea that we loved and that made sense for Zimmermann and fortunately it took off. We learnt as we went and we're still learning now. I think young designers are a lot more savvy now about the business and building a brand. The way you talk about what you're doing is really amazing to us - just your awareness and your knowledge.

How do you two resolve conflicting opinions on a collection?
N: We don't really have to because we are mostly on the same page and as the one responsible for creating a collection, Simone supports my judgment. Her opinion is always important but she gives me the freedom to do what I want creatively.
S: If I say that I don't like something she just tells me to go away! Seriously though, we know what our roles are and when it comes to a view on a collection or on a garment then we are usually on the same page.

How far into your career do you think it took you to establish a 'signature' look for your label?
N: The essence of what Zimmermann is has always been the same from when we started. You need to have your own aesthetic and to really forge ahead successfully you need to create your own path for the label. Maybe it doesn't have to be there from day one but you need to find it relatively quickly I think. It's not enough to just do nice clothes or pursue ideas that others have pursued already - you need to take some ownership of a creative space and to live and breathe what you design. I've been doing this for a long time now and I still sit in every fitting for every garment and every swimsuit. I work on everything because I love it. I know what Zimmermann is and we work hard to evolve it and to take it in new directions but always maintaining the integrity of the original signature. It's why people are so excited by what you're doing. It's something new and different and it has such a clear, unique point of view and so early on in its evolution.

Emily Royal