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Design alumna brings Aussie wool to the runway

Alumni News

For most people, a sheep farm wouldn’t evoke thoughts of runway fashion, but for design alumna Cordelia Gibbs, growing up on a stud Merino sheep farm in Beverley, Western Australia, became the inspiration for her award-winning label COR.D, which celebrates our natural landscape, Australian wool and its cultural history.

Cordelia Gibbs

Most recently, the flourishing designer unveiled her latest collection, ‘past.tense’ at the 2016 Mercedes Benz STYLO Asia Fashion Week in November. Gibbs partnered with final year fashion student Sarah Mah to present a showcase called SPECERE: To Look.

“It was a great experience and something which neither Sarah or I had experienced before,” says Gibbs on attending the fashion week. “We were able to see how these events work for established labels and designers, and how they use the space to negotiate with international buyers.”

Gibbs presented six looks for past.tense from her COR.D label, which featured a collection of leisure/street wear made from natural materials and woollen fabrics, in earthy colours with rust-red detailing.

Models wearing Gibbs' past.tense collection.

Models wearing Gibbs’ past.tense collection.

“The collection explores the use of garments as a medium to create a connection to place,” says Gibbs. “They are strong looks in natural and recycled fabric and utilise wool and felt which I produce by hand. Most garments have natural dye elements, dyed with Australian native flora and rusted objects from my farm.”

Gibbs says provenance is especially important in her work, and her iconic use of wool in her designs, drawn from life on her family farm, has seen her become a bespoke creator in wool couture.

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“There is no doubt that wool is a significant part of my identity – I grew up on a sheep stud, worked on farms and I am surrounded by people who are passionate about wool production in Australia,” she says. “Wool is significant to the historical development of colonial Australia, and is also woven through the culture as a construction of national identity.”

In 2013, Gibbs presented her graduate collection, ‘A Life in Wool’, at Curtin’s Fashion Graduate Show where she received the Sericin Silk and Curtin Research Hub industry awards. Her collection was also shown at the 2014 Australian Wool Fashion Awards, where she won both ‘Young Designer’ and ‘Supreme Champion’ of the year.

“The collection stood out as a celebration of the Australian wool producer … and represented a lot of hard work and soul. It was incredible to have my work so well received,” says Gibbs.

past.tense on the runway at 2016 Mercedes Benz STYLO Asia Fashion Week.

past.tense on the runway at 2016 Mercedes Benz STYLO Asia Fashion Week.

Ever since she started hand-stitching clothes for her Barbie dolls as a young girl, Gibbs has wanted to work in fashion and design. She jumped at the opportunity to study fashion at Curtin after hearing great things about its design school.

“Fashion at Curtin is challenging but it is everything it needs to be to prepare its students for work in the industry,” she says. “From the beginning we are asked to research history, design context and develop in-depth concepts to drive innovation … We are also expected to take part in and organise fashion shows and events.”

The designer has kept close ties with Curtin since completing her course, and has been working with three other graduates to develop her COR.D label with the help of the Fashion School’s Incubator program, The Cube.

“The Cube is exciting,” says Gibbs. “With the technology available through the Incubator, designers are able to design garments with digital patterning and computer simulation. The program allows customers to be body scanned so garments can be made to their specific measurements and shape.”

Gibbs and her alumni partners have been working with The Cube to develop an online store called KayaKiya, which will launch in early 2017 and give customers the choice to purchase custom made, locally produced clothing, or they can opt to be scanned for made-to-measure garments.

Despite her success so far, Gibbs admits it can be challenging to be a designer based in Perth, but the lack of market presents the opportunity to try something new and utilise strong support networks.

“There are so many people, groups and collectives trying something different in fashion, whether it be pushing and promoting ethical practice, or exploring new technology,” says Gibbs of the city’s fashion scene.

Fashion student Sarah Mah and alumna Cordelia Gibbs.

Fashion student Sarah Mah and alumna Cordelia Gibbs.

In this dynamic era of fashion, Gibbs says there isn’t any fashion trend she dislikes; if someone truly loves an item or look, they should feel confident enough to rock it.

“Blindly following trends set by chain stores is a no – I want to see the back of that!” she exclaims. “I would love to see more support and celebration of the hand-crafted. Something that has been thought about and made by loving hands tells a story and has more significance than mass produced and often unethically made ‘fast fashion’”.

To find out about Gibbs’ label and her upcoming events, follow her on Instagram: @I_CordeliaGibbs or visit www.cordeliagibbs.com. You can also check out The Cube’s innovative projects: @_CUBE_x

Graduate snapshot

Name: Cordelia Gibbs
Graduated: 2014 (Graduated on the Vice Chancellor’s list)
Studied: Bachelor of Arts (Fashion) (Honours)

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