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Remembering Carla Zampatti

Updated: Dec 8, 2022

Words by Brianah Smith

We all want to leave our mark, to prove that we once stood and walked the earth. A quote I read once from Carrie Louise Hamilton goes: “Our legacy is really the lives we touch, the inspiration we give, altering someone’s plan—if even for a moment”. Words no truer; for legendary Australian Designer Carla Zampatti.

An Icon, Inspiration and Businesswomen, Carla Zampatti was more than just an Australian fashion designer, she was a movement. Her story starts in Italy but begins when Zampatti and her family settled in Western Australia in 1950. Having decided as a child that she wanted to work in fashion, that is what she set out to do. Producing her first small fashion collection in 1965, to a market that was desperate for someone to change the game. That is exactly what Carla did, with her design ethos “centred around elevated simplicity, characterised by bold, clean lines with an Italian sensibility”. Two years followed with a national launch and by 1970, a star was born, with the establishment of Carla Zampatti Limited.

The lack of awareness for fashion in the Australian market was proven with the appreciation and support that Carla Zampatti was getting through her designs and garments. For some, the brand has become more than just a piece of clothing that they hang in their wardrobe, it’s a celebration of Carla and the legacy that she leaves behind. A Melbourne woman named Yvonne Dite, shared her story behind a Zampatti dress she purchased in 1967, the same dress she wore when she met her husband. Decades later, Dite continues to wear the dress each year around their wedding anniversary.

The next few years were busy for Carla, opening her first boutique in 1972 in Surry Hills, Sydney. This was the turning point for Zampatti, after the struggles of divorcing life and business partner Leo Shuman, she had to restart. Coming back strong was what Carla did to solidify her name in Australian Fashion history, she decided to showcase her designs in the window of her Surry Hills boutique. This meant she was cutting out the middlemen of department stores, reporter Natasha Gillezeau juxtaposed this with “2010s Instagram breakout Australian fashion players—who in recent years cut out fashion’s new middlemen by proving their popularity with social media users directly” during her interview with Zampatti for the Financial Review.

Following the Surry Hills boutique, soon came Mosman, Double Bay and Elizabeth Street. During her interview with Natasha Gillezeau, Zampatti describes the period being “a magic time in a way, because it was a turning point for women”. As women were beginning to find their voice, they realised they wanted a piece of Carla Zampatti, “some people travelled and brought from overseas” she says. It wasn’t just a turning point for women, but women’s fashion in Australia. Zampatti moved into David Jones in 1990 with Myer stores following in 1992. It wasn’t until 2009 did Carla sign exclusively with David Jones.

After opening multiple boutiques nationwide with buyers returning, it wasn’t until Carla won the Qantas/Bulletin Businesswoman of the year award in 1980 did feel like she was successful and that she had created something successful. 1994, she was named Designer of the Year by the fashion industry of Australia. 2008 she was awarded the highest honour in the Australian fashion industry, The Australian Fashion Laureate Award. These are just a few of many awards and honours that Zampatti had achieved during her career.

There is not a woman I have yet to meet who hasn’t been inspired by Zampatti, her drive, passion and persistence have proven to all women that you can have the best of both worlds; you can succeed and have a successful career with a family by your side if that is what you want.

Which was something that Zampatti wanted, “I want to have children, and I want to be married, but I also want to be an individual,” she says to Gillezeau during her interview in the Financial Review. At 22, I, myself have already been asked ‘why if you want a family, are you going into a career that will limit that?’, but long gone are the days where women are being forced to choose between their career and starting a family, and Carla’s success story is proof that both are achievable.

They say with the right pair of shoes any girl can conquer the world. But for Australia’s most influential women, Prime Ministers to Business Leaders, royalty and celebrities, such as Julia Gillard, Gladys Bereekiklian, Nicole Kidman and Princess Mary of Denmark. I think the saying should go, put a female in Carla Zampatti, and she will empower the world.

To me, Zampatti will always be someone that I aspire to be like. A successful businesswoman that makes an impact on the world while inspiring generations to come. But as a student at The Fashion Institute, I know I am not alone when I say that Carla Zampatti is an inspiration. The Fashion Institute has supported Carla Zampatti for over ten years now through internship programs and sending lucky students to assist with fashion week. In return, these students are mentored and given advice and tools on how they can succeed in their field of choice. Most recently, a few lucky students had the opportunity to assist Carla directly during the final design process.

Kaylee Spence was one of the lucky students that got to work alongside Carla during the fitting for her '21 Autumn/Winter collection, “this became an ongoing thing every Monday morning” she says. It became clear to Kaylee that it was more than just something she could add to her resume, during her time at The Fashion Institute, it was the opportunity of a lifetime. “She was so lovely to me, asking if I wanted to take breaks or if I was cold. It is clear to everyone that she loved and cared about her work so much” she says as she talks about her time with Zampatti. But Carla offered more than just fashion insight, as Kaylee explained that “[she] was an incredible mentor and inspiration. I learned so much from her not only about the fashion industry but about being a strong, independent and empowered women”.

Zampatti has encouraged, empowered and inspired women for many years, from fighting woman's rights in the 60s to encouraging and empowering women today in the workplace, in leadership roles and in their homes. She has inspired women to become successful in their own story, wherever that may lead them. Carla was able to capture a nation and build an army of strong, confident and empowered women.

Carla Zampatti has already inspired many women, and she will continue to do so with generations to come through the legacy that she leaves behind. That is her mark, her touch on the world. The world has lost a true icon. From everyone and I at The Fashion Institute, we thank you Carla Zampatti, for what you have inspired within us

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