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Women to Watch: Louisa de Smet

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“Every piece I make has a meaning behind it and is meant to inspire.”

Not many people know this about fashion designer Louisa de Smet. She has a tattoo. Of a SAAB. And she’s had it since 2012. Scratching your head and asking ‘Why’?

The answer is simple. ‘I respect the SAAB design. It’s innovative and precise. I bought my SAAB ten years ago,’ says Louisa. ‘I still drive it, feel totally safe in it, and love it more than ever.’

But this story isn’t about Louisa’s tattoo, or her car. It’s a story about her journey as a fashion designer, and a fashion designer to keep your eye on.

She’s Canberran through and through, having been born in Calvary Hospital. Although she wanted to be a chicken farmer (a fox changed those plans), fashion was on the periphery with Louisa crediting her parents for her creative genes. ‘They’re talented in the art department and showed me how to use tools and be self-reliant,’ she says.

Louisa graduated from CIT in fashion design in 2002. While studying, she met her partner Steve and the couple started Corr Blimey in 2001. ‘We share a brain at times,’ says Louisa. ‘Instead of kids, we have cats, Barbara and Cynthia, and our shoe collections.’

Corr Blimey has always designed and created pieces that transcend mere garments. ‘We create wearable, functional sculptures for the human form,’ says Louisa.

The label’s sculptural approach to streetwear always creates a buzz and is one reason Louisa and Steve were accepted to represent CIT as fashion design students at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in 2001. It was a career highlight. Other highlights include Corr Blimey still going strong in Canberra, even though Louisa was told she’d have to leave town to succeed. Another was seeing someone wearing Corr Blimey on the street for the first time.

As a fashion designer, Louisa loves the freedom of creating clothing based on concept and design principles, not the bottom line. ‘Every piece I make has a meaning behind it and is meant to inspire,’ says the designer. ‘We’re privileged to work one-on-one with customers to create something personal without compromising on design integrity.’

Travel is important, and Louisa and Steve have hopped on a plane to Berlin several times, finding each visit more inspirational than the last. So it’s no surprise that Louisa’s 2014 collection, launched at FASHFEST, was entitled Berlin. And no surprise that the influence of Germany, and its reputation for amazing design, is an influence with her 2015 collection, ‘Propaganda’.

‘We’ve appreciated German design for a long time but only recently started incorporating it into our design practice,’ says Louisa. ‘Its utilitarian nature and Germany’s open, practical culture appeals to our sensibilities. Berlin especially had a surreal mix of old buildings brandishing the wounds of the war and modern graffiti. In Germany we found a kindred spirit.’

Another German influence came unexpectedly. Louisa was invited by Canberra’s Designcraft, an award-winning furniture retailer, to study pieces of Walter Knoll furniture to see how it could influence her fashion design. Walter Knoll, an iconic German brand, is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. The invitation led to Corr Blimey’s participation in the ‘WHO IS’ exhibition, launching tonight, at Designcraft in celebration of the cross-pollination between furniture and fashion. Half of the Propaganda collection was launched at WHO IS. The other half is being kept secret until FASHFEST 2015.

‘Propaganda is all about message with an action,’ says Louisa. ‘It’s a call to arms for good design. We’re trying to send a message that clarity of design can create harmony and balance.’

As with Berlin, Propaganda is a collaboration with Louisa’s brother, Aaron de Smet, who studied Gold and Silver Smithing at the ANU School of Art. His sculptural pieces, which can be worn as jewellery or used as objets d’art, are a big hit.

Louisa’s favorite brand is—you guessed it—Corr Blimey. She describes her personal style as ‘edgy but not rock star … punky hair and makeup with a twist.’ Her favourite designers are Alexander McQueen, Iris Van Herpen and anyone who takes a risk in design.

Next steps for Corr Blimey is to take the label interstate, to show people Canberra can compete with the larger cities even with its ‘slow fashion model’, and then ultimately overseas.

Discover the rest of our 15 Women to Watch in 2015 here.

Read about Nellie PeoplesMeegan Fitzharris, Tegan McAuleyBelinda Neame, Zoya PatelHeidi StratfordDr Sudha RaoCarla & Emma PapasTara CheyneSally MoylanKylie TraversKaleidJulie OkelyMichelle Melbourne and Joanna Allebone.

Home page image by Lori Cicchini of Loriana Fotografia . Make up by Ali Price Makeup. Hair by Angela Pavlovic of Kosa Studio. Clothing from Canberra Centre.

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