Carla Zampatti, a pioneer of wearable and cosmopolitan clothing

Australia has lost its most loved and successful fashion designer with the sudden death of Carla Zampatti . Zampatti was a rare breed of fashion designer who could appeal to all generations. She celebrated her 55th anniversary in business in early 2020, before COVID’s lockdown. She was not retired at the time of her death, which occurred when she was 78.

Since her death, the outpouring of condolences on social media channels (due to injuries sustained from a fall in the Sydney Opera) indicates the high regard in which she is held in the nation. The comments are divided into two categories: a designer whose clothes women loved to wear, and a woman that supported her employees as well as the next generation.

Zampatti, a northern Italian immigrant, arrived in Fremantle as a migrant in 1950. She was proud of being an immigrant. She spoke often of the contributions of Italians in Australian life, including their culture, food, hard work, and enterprise. She thought Australia still had strong Italian influences.

Zampatti possessed these skills. She contributed to and benefited from this cultural and structural shift in Australian fashion and then took it up a notch.

In 1965, she opened her first wholesale company in Sydney. Her work from the 1960s is bold and graphic, with an edgier bohemian touch. Zampatti displayed her clothes in her Surry Hills shop window, bypassing wholesale and retail. She launched her first boutique in 1972 at a period when it was unlikely that manufacturers would also be retailers. She eventually had around 30 stores, and then exclusive arrangements with department store David Jones.

Zampatti’s appeal and legacy

Zampatti created clothes that were extremely wearable for women who work. In the 1980s, they used metal zippers to replace fussy openings and invisible zippers on trousers to maintain a neat line. Later, she designed jumpsuits with jackets that were practical and could be dressed up. She designed evening wear for special occasions, weddings and red carpets. She understood the maturation process: “When young, you agonise over everything and try to please everybody. “Now I don’t”.

Zampatti has always stressed fashion is a business and not an art form. However, the business will not be successful if it ignores aesthetics. She was a strong advocate of local production and all her designs were still manufactured in Australia. She was sophisticated, cosmopolitan and outward looking. She was a woman who saw the world, but she also thought that Australians did not need to be exiles in this jet-age and could contribute much at home.

She funded a scholarship at the University of Technology Sydney. Students with strong business skills who have graduated in Fashion and Textiles could pursue a Masters in London, Milan, or New York. They would then return to Australia and share their experience with others.

In an SBS Interview with Janice Peterson, who often wore her clothing for television, she commented on the impact Italian art and church murals had on her as a young girl. You can see how the strong, clear colors of Renaissance and Mannerist paintings are translated into Australian women’s crisp tones.

According to Zampatti, women should wear the clothes they choose, and not the clothes that are chosen for them. AAP/Dan Himbrechts

Zampatti was an avant-gardist. Her daywear was tailored for women, and intricate patterns or trimmings didn’t obscure the body of women. She dressed women such as former Governor-General Quentin Bryce and former Prime Minister Julia Gillard as well as current First Lady Jenny Morrison. Former politicians Anna Bligh, Julie Bishop, Ita buttrose, Susan Renouf, and Princess Mary, as well as countless journalists, news anchors, and stars, also wore her clothing.

They wore clothes that made them appear striking.

Zampatti, a successful businesswoman and pioneering board member, was also a cultural benefactor. She supported the Sydney Dance Company, University of Technology Sydney and Art Gallery of New South Wales.

She was, first and foremost, a feminist fashion designer who promoted economic independence for women. She had accomplished a lot since the 1960s.

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