Carla Zampatti’s words of wisdom

One of Australia’s most iconic women in fashion, Carla Zampatti, treated Adelaide to a rare interview over the weekend at the Burnside Village Shopping Event presented by South Australian Style.

Words: Carly Vidal Wallace
Photos: Sharmonie Cockayne

With a successful career spanning some 55 years, her designs are worn by the likes of Princess Mary, Nigella Lawson, Quentin Bryce, Jenny Morrison and Julie Bishop.  The in-depth interview covered everything from Carla’s early life, design process, business smarts, and how she spends time with her grand children.

Daughter of a migrant Italian family, Carla arrived in Australia post-war. “Instead of this stigma holding me back, I used it as a motivator and driver to push myself forward,” Carla mused. Having always had a passion for creativity and fashion, Carla used to make all her own clothes.  

In the interview, Carla said she got her lucky break from a conversation on a bus – from that, she became a personal assistant in a fashion house. It wasn’t long however before she was designing her own pieces for the house and, after nine months of sell-out success, she decided to launch her own brand.  With no connections and little savings, Carla  began what is now the eponymous fashion empire ‘Carla Zampatti’.

“The designs have been growing with the needs of women in society over a most interesting journey, coming from the days when married women were not allowed to hold jobs in the public sector,”  she said. “In those days, I worked around the clock and I did everything from sewing the samples to sales visits, and even the debt collection.”

Fast forward to 2019 and she has over 120 staff.  

She talked candidly about how her designs can easily be worn by women of all ages, and when questioned about how she has made it possible to captivate so many generations, she replied thoughtfully: “it is not about age, it’s about confidence. Fashion is an attitude, if you love a piece, wear it.  Have fun with it.”

When talking through the design process, Carla said she has rooms of archives and she loves to re-invent the classic ageless pieces. She then went on to explain how she personally tries on every item, from the first sample to the final item. “It’s very important that my clients know I am designing for them, and I need to understand how a piece of clothing feels when worn.”

Carla spoke on the juggling act of being a mum-entrepreneur. “I missed many sports days and parent teacher events,” she admitted. “But, what my children missed, they gained an understanding of how hard you need to work to be successful.” 

For hobbies, Carla explained she puts much of her spare time into her philanthropic projects, helping the creative industries – from emerging musicians to designers. She also has a deep interest in following the global economy by being part of boards and delegations such as the European Australian Business Council. “I like being aware of how politics affects our lives,” she said.

When asked about what advice she could give others, she responded with a clear and dignified answer. “If you are passionate about something, just do it. Don’t be that person at 60 with regrets. If you have a dream, make sure you pursue it.”