Kym Ellery on eyewear, arguments and French girl style
It's rare to find a designer whose signature aesthetic you can recognise almost instantly, but in the short space of ten or so years, Australian label Ellery has achieved just that. The brand's voluminous bell-shaped sleeves, architectural silhouettes and kick flares are spotted regularly on red carpets, front rows and draped over Sydney's biggest It-girls - but judging by the international recognition of the brand and its inclusion on the prestigious Paris Fashion Week schedule, it seems Ellery is no longer Australia's best-kept secret.
Certainly, based on the speed in which certain products from last year's Ellery Specsavers collection sold out (we're told some frames disappeared in a matter of days), demand for Ellery's directional designs is white hot. And after swapping the brash beauty of Sydney for the elegant streets of Paris, Kym has ensured her label has gone from strength to strength.
Read on as Kym chats to Yeong Sassall about the second Specsavers collection, what she thinks of Aussie versus French style and how she's discovered the art of a good argument.
So this is your second collection for Specsavers. Have you made any changes since the first one?
It's a completely new range. We had such a great success with the first collection, it's exciting to see what our customers and our fans have responded to and we took that information to evolve certain styles but also introduce something fresh and new into the range.
Last collection, you were inspired by screen icons like Diane Keaton. Did you have any particular inspirations for this collection?
We did, yeah the collection is inspired by significant cultural icons and artistic figures, so we looked at people like Peggy Guggenheim, Jerry Garcia, Truman Capote, Iris Apfel, and Carrie Donovan.
So people with big personalities?
Really big personalities from different artistic genres and experts in their field.
Do you have any favourite pairs from the collection?
I love the aviator, which I'm wearing today, and I also love the sunglasses which are kind of a squared off cat-eye. We were calling that [tortoiseshell] rotten banana, during development stage. I love how speckly it is. It's very orange but we put a weighty, chocolatey black in as well to toughen it up.
How are you finding being in Paris? Do you think it's changed the way that you design?
I am very influenced by my surroundings and obviously moving to Paris was an interesting transition for me both creatively and also just from my personal life point of view, and the transition has been very interesting in terms of creatively observing things around me. I think absorbing just that history and culture by osmosis and just being there has really affected how I look at things. Like the unspoken codes of dressing that French women have - seeing that through various age groups, I find that fun.
Has the way Parisian women dress had an effect on you as well?
Yeah of course, I think more from a way of thinking about their point of view and also understanding their culture. I'm sure it's changed how I work...
Has it changed your personal style?
A little bit. I think you have to have more confidence when you go out in something different in France because you do get looked at. You can hear people be like "Oh my God look at her flare" and I'm like, "That's right check these bad boys out." [laughs]. I had a woman stop me, she was so excited about these flares I was wearing. She was much older, I was amazed. She was awesome [and said] "Write down the label, where can I get them?" I was too embarrassed to be like, "Oh, they're my brand".
That's the ultimate tick of approval though, from a French woman.
You know they're very sweet, I find. I remember getting on a train and she was like "Oh, jolie chapeau, jolie", "Beautiful hat, beautiful" and I was like "Aw, thanks." This was just on the train to go to the South of France. It's funny. I was like "Did you hear that?" to Max, my boyfriend, "She likes my hat". He's like "Of course I heard, I speak French first". [laughs]
Do you have any particular sources of inspiration over there that you've found?
I visit a lot of galleries. I love the Musée d'Art Moderne and Palais de Tokyo, which is where we showed our collections. I think in general the architecture is so interesting to me, [because it's] something that I had considered to study before I chose fashion as a career. I think that's also really important in the way that we made this collection of glasses because it's so architectural and so technical. It's kind of interesting to draw parallels and think about both when working.
Has living in Paris made you look at Australian style differently?
Definitely. Just people, the accent and cultural differences. There's a lot I've learnt over the last year or so. It's funny now because I'm educating my girlfriend who just moved here, who works for Ellery as well and she's also one of my best friends, so I've been explaining to her "No no you don't serve cheese before a meal, it's always after." And I'm like "And you don't just drink, you pause." You know, in Australia we tend to just drink after drink... Now I have a lot more pauses and I taste flavours. It's continuously interesting for me.
What do you think the biggest differences are, culturally?
I think the French are very polite with strangers and very formal whereas Australians are very relaxed in comparison. You hear a lot of people on the street just being so sweet to each other but it's so formal as well. And then here everything's a bit more like "G'day!"
And then there's the importance of apéro, coming together having a drink before dinner, sitting down, conversing. Also, debating; Australians avoid, I think, confrontation in conversations and disagreeing whereas in France it's a common thing to argue and say what you think and challenge other people's perspectives. It took me a while to get used to that actually, I'm kind of non-confrontational when in a social environment but now I tell my friend, "Sophie this is a debate okay, you just don't take it personally everyone just says what they think and then it's cool ..."
And then you're all friends in the end.
Yeah! And you're all friends and no one gets pissed off and upset, it's amazing.
How do you think your design signature has evolved over time, are there any elements that you think that you used to do in the past but you're kind of happy to put to bed now?
I think that each collection we continue to establish our DNA and grow and evolve the collection into new places. That DNA is what makes the brand what it is and what has made it a success, but obviously there's all these things you're willing to move away from after establishing and I think that's been a big thing for us in the last year. Especially since the brand's become much more well known and has a lot more, I suppose...
An international following?
Yeah exactly, so it's been interesting for me to constantly challenge that. But working on a collection like Specsavers, you can then say "Hey, this is our DNA and we're going to bring that to this new category of eyewear.
Is there any one woman that you would love to see wearing Ellery that you haven't yet?
I would love to see the First Lady of France wear something. She's been wearing a lot of Vuitton. And Marion Cotillard, I haven't dressed her yet.
Is there any designer whose legacy you really admire?
Rei Kawakubo from Comme des Garcons, I think she's an incredible woman who's established a very well respected, creative and commercial and retail brand globally in her lifetime, so as a female I admire her greatly and hope to follow a similar path.
The Kym Ellery x Specsavers range expands to 14 glasses and seven prescription sunglasses. It hits national Specsavers on August 3 and is priced from $199 for two pairs. Shop the collection at specsavers.com.au
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