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One to Watch: Hannah Virgo-Colbey

Adelaide girl Hannah Virgo-Colbey recently took out the Australasian Young Designer Wool Award, winning a scholarship to the prestigious Instituto Marangoni Fashion School in Milan. Deputy editor Lucy Ahern spoke to the rising star about her new position at Australian Fashion Labels, the influence of nature on her garments and always trusting her instincts.

TUS: What sparked your interest in fashion?
Virgo-Colbey: Looking back I guess I’ve always had an interest in fashion. Growing up I loved to draw and play dress-ups. One day I started drawing clothes and never really stopped!

I dreamt of designing but never really acknowledged it as a credible pathway.  As a fashion mag fanatic I had the idea of pursuing a career as an editor and studied journalism and international studies straight out of school – for six weeks!

Unhappy and out of pocket from text books that were slowly gathering dust, I soon realised there was no point denying it and journo life wasn’t for me. I wanted to break into the fashion industry but had no idea where to start; shortly after dropping out of uni I discovered the Fashion Design Course at TAFE SA and enrolled the following year.

Natural fibres and vibrant colours seem to have quite a strong presence in your work. Is nature a major inspiration for you?
It definitely was an inspiration for my wool garment, yes.

I’m always looking for inspiration, it becomes a subconscious thing; I never really switch off.  I honestly find the more I overthink everything, searching for ideas, the harder they are to come by. Often the best concepts come from the simplest things and are built up from there.

What can we expect from your final TAFE collection?
The product of a whole lot of blood, sweat and tears!

But seriously, my graduate collection is aimed at catering to guys and gals who consciously follow trends, but like to stand out from the masses.  My design goal was to create a commercial ready-to-wear, transeasonal range that coheres print, texture and pattern whilst communicating skate culture and street layering sophistication through androgynous silhouettes. Think an eclectic mix-mash of tartan, metallic denim, speckled jersey, marle knits and the list goes on!

I’d like to think I’m achieving this but after working on the same garments for half of the year it’s hard to tell anymore. I guess we’re all our own worst critics.

You recently won the 2013 Australasian Young Designer Wool Award and Handbury Scholarship at Victoria’s Sheepvention. How was this experience?
In all honesty when I was told I thought there had been a mistake.  There were some really great entries and I couldn’t believe that my dress had won the evening wear category, let alone taken out the overall scholarship!


Why did you originally enter the competition?
We were given the task at TAFE to design, pattern-make and construct a garment made out of 80 per cent wool in two weeks, to potentially enter into the competition.  By the end of the two weeks I couldn’t stand the sight of my garment, thought ‘gey, what’s to lose?’ and basically sent it away hoping to never see it again!

Taking out the scholarship to Milan’s Instituto Marangoni Fashion School must have been thrilling! What do you hope to gain from your time there?
In all honesty, everything has been such a blur lately that it hasn’t exactly sunk in yet.  It’s truly an honour though and definitely something that I would never have expected, but here we are! It will be a great experience to study in Milan, meet people with similar aspirations and really just soak up the world’s fashion capital; I can’t wait.

Where did this inspiration for your gorgeous cherry red gown come from?
My gown was inspired by native Australian flora such as the red-flowering Hakea Laurina and Waratah along with my curiosity of the textural strengths and versatility of wool.

Who are some of your fashion idols and why?
In terms of designers, Australians always come to mind first; there’s so much talent here. I’ve always idolised the likes of Kym Ellery of ELLERY, Heidi Middleton and Sarah-Jane Clarke of sass & bide purely because of their brand aesthetic, but the list goes on.

Last year I went to Bali for work experience and shadowed Kirsten Sikiotis of Maidenlove, who has since become a mentor figure for me.  She showed in Sydney Fashion Week earlier this year in the emerging swimwear designers category and has been a real inspiration and support. I admire her drive and passion.

How would you describe your style?
I’ve been asked this before and it gets me every time! I’m a pants girl, and probably more of a tomboy as of late. In an ideal world I’d like to say ‘effortlessly cool and sophisticated’ but as a student my wardrobe is far from ideal!

What are your three wardrobe staples for Spring?
Boyfriend jeans, placement print tees & chunky sandals.

You’ve also just joined the team at Australian Fashion Labels. What’s it like to be working alongside local icons like that of Cameo, Finders Keepers, Keepsake and JAGGER?
Yes, I have! I’m so grateful to be a new addition to the very talented AFL team.

There’s this negative stigma around Adelaide and nothing ever happening here, especially in the fashion industry, but I strongly disagree. People presume all work is interstate, but you only have to look at the success and expansion of companies such as Australian Fashion Labels to prove otherwise; there are jobs here, you just have to look for them.

I’ve been doing two days a week along with TAFE at the moment but I’m hanging out to start full-time as a Junior Designer for Finders Keepers alongside Kate Anderson and Amy Hicks in November.

Are there any exciting plans in the pipeline for the future?
As clichéd as it sounds, right now I’m just focusing on the present, but I am excited to see what’s ahead.

Finally, do you have any advice for emerging young designers?
Trust your instincts. Be yourself. Set goals. Picture yourself where you want to be and make it happen. Do whatever you can to get your foot in the door; tastefully, that is!

Network and make friends before enemies and lastly, have a little faith and patience, because nothing comes without effort.


Images courtesy of Hannah Virgo-Colbey.

Published at The Urban Silhouette.

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