From YSL to SYD.
Specialising in well-designed swim pieces with a touch of luxe, Nicole Banning of Ephemera elevates traditional swimwear silhouettes to a level of understated sophistication.
We chat to the Aussie designer about her experience working for Yves Saint Laurent in Paris and what it means to have a luxury designer swimwear label in Australia.
When did you know that you wanted to pursue a career in fashion?
I have memories of designing dresses from as early as eight years old. I was always interested in fashion; however, it wasn’t my primary concern at the time. I was also very much into the performing and visual arts and I dreamed of being an actress or a director.
When I finished high school, I spent a year (2000) in London and that really cemented my love for fashion and desire to study design. The energy of the city and all the creative love that seemed to be pouring out of it was so exciting to me. This was at a time before the internet exploded and access to this world was otherwise impossible from Australia. A good family friend of ours, Margot, would take me to the Portobello Road markets on the weekend and we would talk to the fur dealers and check out the work of the young British designers. London was terribly exciting and played a big role in setting me on my current path.
Did you always want to be a fashion designer? If not, what inspired you to move in this direction?
It was one of the things I always wanted to do. I had a few different dreams – acting, film, dancing, fashion – and I had to choose one. It wasn’t an easy path – I was the eldest of four children and I went to a very academic school. I was academically very capable and my parents insisted I go to university and get a “proper” degree of some kind, which I did (I completed a BA in Communications at UTS). Toward the end of my final year at university, I started to think about getting a job and I just couldn’t stomach it. I also started to think about how I would feel down the track and if I would be happy. I really wanted to make the right decisions early on and avoid a career crisis in my 30s. I knew that I had to go back and study Fashion Design and so I changed course and commenced my studies in fashion at 22 years old.
Wheredid you study fashion?
I studied at the Fashion Design Studio (TAFE) in Sydney. The course is selective and we had a terribly talented year. Everyone has gone on to do exceptional things in their respective careers.
When did you decide to move to Paris?
I moved to Paris in August 2010 and started working at Saint Laurent in October that year. It was one of those “I’ll regret it if I don’t do it” moments. I knew I had to give Paris a go. At 28, I pulled the plug on a great job and a happy life in Sydney to try my chances in Paris.
How did your experience in Paris shape you as a designer?
I always instinctively knew that there were things that I couldn’t learn in Australia and that I needed to go overseas to become a really well-rounded designer. My hunch was correct and my experience in Paris shaped me in so many different ways.
I learnt a lot about detailed research as a tool for aiding creativity. I learnt about quality fabrications and the importance of finishes. I learnt all about creative pattern-cutting, which was something I hadn’t been introduced to previously and a real eye-opener. I also learnt the art of subtlety and how to be confident with a good but simple design that was well-executed.
I spent a lot of time in the Italian and French factories, and talking with the various fabric suppliers in Europe. There is such a wealth of knowledge in the textile industry over there. I was constantly learning new things through dealing with our various suppliers.
Were you always interested in swimwear fashion or was it something that evolved organically?
I had previous experience in swim in both Australia and Paris. It did happen organically in that I naturally felt that I had something unique to say in this category. I love designing dresses, but it felt like there was such an oversaturation of product in RTW and, on the flip side, potentially something new to say in swim.
What inspired you to start Ephemera?
From a design perspective, I was inspired to clean up swimwear and offer some classic, no-fuss, well-designed swim pieces.
On a personal note, starting Ephemera was about the desire to be creatively independent and also a lifestyle choice. I was fed up with 9-7 work and wanted to be the master of my own destiny.
What made you decide to return to Australia and how has that move shaped your business?
The motivation was both a personal desire and what was best for my business. I missed the Australian lifestyle terribly when I was in Paris. After four years there, I felt I had done my dash and I wanted to re-find the easy, lighthearted life that we are so lucky to live here. It also felt easier to be back around my support network as I started a new business.
What inspired the cuts, shapes and colours of the Cruise 2017 collection?
The Californian desert was a big inspiration behind Cruise 2017.
Do you have a favourite piece from the collection?
The Laced Back One Piece is my new favourite in the collection. I’m a big fan of the bare back and the rhythmical lacing detail.
This summer season is all about the one-piece. What are your thoughts on swimwear trends and what is your advice to someone wanting to invest in swimwear this season?
I think we’re seeing a lot of pared-back classic swim. It is a trend at the moment but it’s also so classic that it won’t go out of style. It’s definitely worth investing in a good quality, well-cut one-piece this season.
My advice with swimwear is to always try on a number of shapes and be open-minded about which style will work best for you. Women’s bodies are all so different and you want to find the style that works best for your body – and that makes you look amazing!
What’s next for Ephemera?
We’re working on fleshing out our clothing collection and expanding into RTW.
What’s next for Nicole Banning?
I would love to have room to explore new creative avenues next year. A business is often all-consuming and can distract you from what you love doing the most. I really want to reconnect with my creativity and nurture it on a more personal level.
Taking Five with Nicole Banning:
What is your career highlight so far?
Doing fittings in the lavish rooms at Rue Francois 1er and working backstage at the YSL shows at venues including the Jardin des Plantes and the Hotel Salomon de Rothschild.
Who is your favourite Australian designer?
Scanlan Theodore. I love their quality and confidence in simplicity.
Where would you be found on a Saturday night?
Out at dinner with friends or curled up in bed with a good book.
At yoga, or in my pyjamas making crepes!
Best advice you’ve ever taken or given?
Fear is the thief of dreams.
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