Melbourne designer Natalie Hutton has taken home her first international accolade at the World Of Wearable Art awards in New Zealand. One of only eight Australian finalists in this year's finals hosted at a gala event, Natalie's Claudia Savage was up against 148 finalists from 17 countries. Her debut piece, Echoplex – Goddess of Reverb, took out the coveted Avant-Garde section in the 30th annual awards.
For Natalie, the news that she has won one of the biggest design awards in the world is surreal to say the least. "An outer body experience is the best way to describe it," she says. "It's going to take some time to sink in. I've been an exceptionally hard critic on myself for my whole life, that having such a long standing and internationally renowned creative institution recognise you in such a way has really knocked me into an unfamiliar headspace. I'm not used to feeling 'good enough' and now my brain is having to re-evaluate that narrative right now!"
Part of what inspired Natalie to submit her feature piece – Echoplex – Goddess of Reverb – into the Avant-Garde section was that she resonated with the competition brief: 'dare to defy the boundaries of fashion and create a work that is unique and innovative, rejecting the ordinary and nurturing originality'. "It is literally what I do," says Natalie. "I've never been able to keep myself from going over the top when given a brief, however, in this case, I was already over the top and the perfect brief came to me. The mystical grey area that is my creative life of too arty for fashion and too fashion for art found itself the perfect home."
Natalie's gown took eight years to bring to fruition. The garment itself weighs about 15kg and features 50-metres of hand-stitched honey-combed silk panels. Each individual panel took eight hours to complete by hand and the gown has 40 panels. This balances on a waist cinching corseted bodice that aims to give a four-inch waist reduction. All up, the gown took Natalie about 500 hours of sewing and is part of a seven-piece collection, Synaesthetics, inspired by the term synesthetic, a perceptual phenomenal and the way in which this talented designer derives her inspiration.
In addition to her Avant-Garde section award win, Natalie has received some incredible feedback from her World of Wearable Art experience. "It's been overwhelming in an awesome way," she says. "I attended the pre-show and was blown away by the stage craft and the variety of the performances. I found myself teary when my gown was walked on stage, I don't remember doing so, but apparently, I squealed. It was so amazing to see it move around the stage under the lights and in a setting that it melded so well. I couldn't believe the reception it received, I was just so damn happy. I also attended the Designer's Day where we spent the day meeting fellow designers – it was so surprising to have fellow designers and the competition organisers come up to me to ask about, and compliment, my design."
Winning the Avant-Garde section award has confirmed to Natalie that she is on the right track and she is already planning her next project, a small limited-edition range of statement pieces. "I have been creatively and professionally bolstered by this experience," she says. "It's comforting to know that there is an outlet for the more extravagant side of my work to be shown, but also that being multidisciplinary is not something to hide. It doesn't make one of the things I do the 'real job' or the 'hobby', they all have equal weight and I intend to enforce that by doing exactly what I want to do regardless of people's opinions. Technically I've always done that, but the WOW environment has cemented that mentality even more!"
And of course, she is already thinking of future pieces for the next World Of Wearable Art awards in 2019. This is just the start for Natalie Hutton and her Claudia Savage label, there is so much more to come. Big things are on the horizon for this talented designer.
For more information on Natalie's label Claudia Savage, please visit www.claudiasavage.com
Question: Congratulations! How did it feel to win the World Of Wearable Arts Avante-Garde award?
Natalie Hutton: Thank you. Outer body experience would the best way to describe it. It's taken some time to sink in. I'm an exceptionally hard critic on myself at all times in all things so having such a long standing and internationally renowned creative institution recognise you in such a way has really knocked me into and unfamiliar head space. I'm not used to feeling "good enough" and my brain is having to re-evaluate that narrative right now.
Question: Can you tell us about the piece, Echoplex – Goddess of Reverb?
Natalie Hutton: Firstly, it's heavy – around 15kgs thanks to almost 50m of heavy silk satin which was hand stitched and sculpted into "honeycomb" like patterns that flow into an almost 2 meter train. All of this is held on the body by a tight lace corset covered a delicate beaded French lace and built up at the shoulders with clusters and dripping Swarovski crystals. I first came up with the design in 2010 but didn't start working on the piece until approximately 2015 before finishing it approximately 3 days before the deadline for submission to the WOW Awards.
Question: What inspired the creation of Echoplex – Goddess of Reverb?
Natalie Hutton: All my work is inspired by the shapes I see when listening to music (Weird, I know.) but it's something my brain has always done and over the years I've let it influence my work – it's hard not to. The garment was actually never intended for the World of Wearable Art competition, it was the finishing piece to my current collection "Synaesthetics".
Question: What originally motivated you to start Claudia Savage?
Natalie Hutton: The long of it is I had always wanted to be "an artist" which to me was drawing and painting what I wanted and living off the proceeds of sales. Well, a combination of losing my folio in a fire and the discovery that most people wanted me to draw their partner or pets put me well and truly off the idea of illustrating for others.
I decided it was worth trying to tap into something else I was good at but felt there was more extensive career abilities in the fashion and related industries such as pattern making which is needed in so many areas of life that wasn't just fashion so I had a few not as creative, creative fall backs! I then spent a year building a design folio to use for applications in to fashion related courses and during that time thought I should brand myself with a label name. Claudia because I'd always loved it and Savage because I wanted a cutting sound after the curvy "Claudia", thus Claudia Savage was born.
Question: Can you share advice for up and coming designers?
Natalie Hutton: First up, stop reading about what I'm doing and get back to what you were doing, those garments aren't making themselves! But really, if you're spending a lot of time worrying about what others are doing you'll never get to your own work and you will have a LOT of work. If you're interested in the more high-end or artistic areas of fashion, remember that what you are creating is a luxury product and what you are doing predominantly (to the outside world) is being creative, so be prepared for people to perpetually question what you're doing, why you're doing and no matter how well you think you're explaining yourself, them not understanding and gently offering or insisting you "get a real job". Also, being a luxury product means that people don't need what you're making so get ready to advertise why they should come to you when they do decide they want something special.
Be very prepared to do everything – designing, researching, fabric and trim sourcing, learning new technologies, courses, pattern making, construction, marketing, websites, social media, PR etc but realise there are times you'll have to let go and have others do things for you (I'm looking at you fellow control freaks).
It's not always going to be fun but the fun parts should be worth the epic stresses of it all.
And finally, don't work for free. I repeat: DO. NOT. WORK. FOR. FREE. You will be approached by many people asking to provide them with garments, styling etc for exposure or worse, asking you to pay for the privilege of having your work featured in someone else's event. What you will get is damaged garments, lost garments, a couple of photos that don't say anything about your brand and no ability to use your work for your own purposes because it's covered in makeup, ripped and…..what even is that stain?!
Your time and your skills are worth paying for just like everyone else on that shoot or in that event being paid to be there.
Question: Can you talk us through the ethos of Claudia Savage?
Natalie Hutton: Opulent. Singular. Savage.
Opulent - We want to focus on creating a feeling of luxury through the use of materials such as wools, silks and combine this with patternmaking that moulds the body while still maintain comfort. You my laugh at the prospect of a 15kg gown feeling comfortable but if a garment is made correctly then it will feel amazing regardless!
Singular – We aim for truly unique works which are guided both by our unique designs process, extensive use of hand stitching applications and patience to see them through. Combine this with the influence of our clients and you have something that has never been done before and frankly, you'd have to be slightly nuts to take on again!
Savage – Because sometime you just want to make a statement without words.
Question: What's next for you and Claudia Savage?
Natalie Hutton: I have a capsule bridal range to create; I've been working on the possibilities of a small ready to wear range which I'd like to release as "limited edition" quantities. There are still pieces related to our "Synaesthetics" collection that I would like to tackle thanks to the volume of knowledge I've collected working through the other pieces. Clients, let's not forget my clients!
And somewhere, in the distant future, I hope to sleep but not quite yet.
Interview by Brooke Hunter