Barbara Wilson

Barbara Wilson
Every month the Spotlight is put on a select Australian woman who has either excelled in her career, and/or has established a successful or potentially successful business. Highlighted in Spotlight are business profiles, answers to useful career questions as are some quirky personal points.

Spotlight is designed to give us all inspiration and confirm that anyone can make his or her business dream or that promotion a reality...

This month read on to find out all about Barbara Wilson.

Barbara Wilson's signature label defines success in Australian fashion.

The Barbara Wilson design philosophy is one that warms the heart of many an Australian woman. Her constant globetrotting ensures she sees the best of fashion, fabric and fancy throughout the world but her no-nonsense Australian sensibilities allow her to design and build collections that extol a woman's best features and enhance God given beauty. And, of course, Barbara believes in quality.

"My favourite wardrobe items stay with me for many seasons. I don't believe in having to throw things out after a couple of months because they look so passé. True style is eternal and this is the look I am constantly striving to create. Besides, the fabrics I use are usually of a couture quality. It would be a crime to part with them." - Barbara Wilson.

Barbara Wilson has long had a penchant for designing body loving, glamour devoted to special occasion wear but, as Australian women change their habits, Wilson has begun straying more and more into the day-into-night area.


Fashion Designer/Managing Director

Barbara Wilson Pty Ltd


I've lied so much about my age I've forgotten the truth!

Where did you grow up?
Melbourne, Victoria

What was your first job?
My first job was with Kenneth Pirrie in the early 60's - a young man starting out in the rag trade. I was his first employee and 10 years later I left (2 days before my twins were born). By this time I was head designer and the company was a leading force in the world of fashion with a staff of 35.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?
All I ever wanted to be was a fashion designer or an interior designer.

How did you get to where you are now?
After the years with K.P., I played mother for 5 years and loved every minute. During this time we were living overseas and I was involved in a bit of freelance work for a sanity break. Once my twins started school, I started my own children's wear company but soon moved back into women's wear which allowed me more creativity. My collection was flying along until the recession in the late 80's. High interest rates, small orders and stacks of boutiques going broke owing me thousands. I managed to survive this horrendous experience and resolved to be totally in control of my own destiny. I stopped wholesaling and opened my own shops, therefore becoming totally vertical in design, manufacture and retail. This was the best move I ever made. We get such great feedback from our customers with such an immediate response to new lines; this enables us to tailor our collection into (mostly) great sellers.

What qualifications/experience are required to perform your job?
Design flair, knowledge of pattern-making construction and an infinite knowledge of fabrics. Love and respect the people you work with and choose to work with people who are excellent in their roles. Don't get stressed, have humour, be fair, focussed and dedicated. Have infallible systems, and know your bank balance and your break-even point.

How many hours a week do you work?
About 40 hours a week, but I'm always on call, 7 days a week, communicating with the stores.

Where would you like to be in ten years?
Doing what I'm doing now, only BIGGER & BETTER!

What advice would you give to somebody embarking on their first business or aspiring to achieve extraordinary career goals?
Keep off the drugs, have a plan. Dare to be different, always go on your gut feelings. Don't expect to see instant profit. Understand costings and all the related expenses for running a business. Creative talent means nothing without accounting skills.

What do you class as your biggest career achievement?
Surviving in the rag trade for so long!

What is the best advice anybody has given you?
There is no quote that comes to mind. But I thank my parents for being so wonderful. I have five brothers and all of us have our own businesses. They obviously gave us enough love and confidence to have a go!


Who living or dead would you most like to invite to dinner?
Jack Nicholson - outrageous and so spunky!

Name a movie that actually inspired you?
I can't name one, but I love Australian movies. They are totally unique to this country. They inspire me to be proud of this great land and in turn give me the desire to create original fashion unique to our lifestyle.

Your favourite toy as a child?
I preferred playing football and army with my brothers and the local gang than having a special toy.

What are you reading at the moment?
Paul Marsdon - "The language of bidding" - a book on bridge.

Is there a talent/attribute you wish you had/had more of?
I wish I was better at everything I do, but it gives me something to aim for.

Which song transports you to another place when you hear it and why?
Andrea Bocelli - "Time to say goodbye". It's such a passionate and tender song.

Your favourite place in the world and why?
Melbourne - because over the past 40 years it has changed from being a backwater into one of the most sophisticated cities in the world - great food, great theatre, great shopping, great golf, great beaches. And you can still drive around with relative ease.

What is your idea of the perfect day?
I love my work and the people I work with so every day is a pleasure. For a super-duper special day - being in Venice with my family.

Can you tell us 5 things required for a happy, healthy and enjoyable life (important to you)?
Good food, good wine, good company, lots of exercise and don't take life too seriously.

Are there other related careers to your chosen career?
Interior design feels very natural to me.

Barbara Wilson stores:

465 Chapel St
South Yarra VIC
T: 03 9804 7777

1003 High Street
Armadale VIC
T: 03 9824 7753

Shop 2/22 Knox Street
Double Bay NSW
T: 02 9328 2499

- Annemarie Failla


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