Australian fashion designer Camilla Franks is as striking and vibrant as you would expect for someone who has made it her mission to “color the world” with art, print, pattern, and “embellishment” through her label CAMILLA.
Launched 17 years ago in Sydney, the label has become the go-to luxury resort and occasion wear brand for many international celebrities, including Gigi Hadid, Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez, Kate Hudson, Olivia Palermo, and Miranda Kerr.
Since opening her first boutique on Bondi Beach, the label has grown to include 20 stores around Australia and 260 international retailers across 55 countries, including Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman, Harrods, Matchesfashion.com, Net-a-Porter, Farfetch, Mytheresa, and REVOLVE.
“We’re a global brand that is bringing our special kind of magic to every corner of mother earth. Our beautiful wholesalers are an extension of our big CAMILLA tribe,” Camilla said.
The designer sees her business as an inclusive worldwide community and talks about CAMILLA customers as her “tribe” and her staff as “retail angels.” Because of this inclusive mentality, the brand has been able to continue operations during the pandemic successfully. It has grown its digital footprint by creating a new Facebook forum for customers and a new TikTok account.
As for her newest collection, Camilla pays homage to England, inspired by her travels – before the pandemic – drawing on all its “mad eccentricities from the posh aristocrats and dames to rockers and royals and counter-culture icons.”
In addition to making chic one-of-a-kind pieces, the vivacious designer recently appeared on the Australian version of Celebrity Apprentice to support her chosen charity, The National Breast Cancer Foundation, which is a cause close to her heart. She was first diagnosed with stage-three breast cancer just months after giving birth to her daughter Luna in January 2018.
In May, she had her ovaries removed as a preventative measure after finding out that she had a harmful BRCA2 gene variant, which significantly increases a woman’s chance of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
“With that diagnosis came a horrible reality,” she said. “Not only did I have to fight breast cancer, but I also had to prevent future cancers from happening – which I was more likely to get.”
To get a better idea about her battle with breast cancer, her illustrious fashion career, and her personal life, she sat down with azureazure and gave an exclusive interview.
The 2021 high summer collection has a strong rock and roll vibe – what was the inspiration behind it?
“Each and every one of my collections are born out of my travel experiences. I immersed myself in other countries and cultures, which become a well of inspiration for my original designs.”
Her current collection, she said, is an homage to England, launched under the moniker, The Mad Manor.
“This was my first travel collection in quite a while, and the excitement of being on the road again was really next level,” she added. “Honestly, my team and I were like a bunch of crazy kids that were let loose, running amok with wild abandon soaking up all the majesty and magic England has to offer.”
As for the collection itself, she said, “The Mad Manor was such a joyful baby born out of this fabulous, newfound freedom. We loved bringing all these social worlds together in a collection that defines our take on English culture. It’s everything we love about England, all wrapped up in its colors, flavors, music, art, and traditions.”
How has the coronavirus pandemic impacted your label?
“Where do I start? Who could have imagined the chaos this pandemic has caused? At the end of the day, CAMILLA is a feel-good brand that shines, even in the darkest times. Because of COVID, we pretty much had to throw everything up in the air and reimagine every corner of the business. I guess the silver lining of this craziness is that it forced us out of our comfort zone.”
The designer credits her collaborative team as one of the key factors to her success during the pandemic.
“Team energy is the heartbeat of my brand. We’re one big juicy creative collective. We’re resilient. Nothing, not even COVID, could break our spirit and determination,” she said. “Everyone moved mountains to try and adapt to these new circumstances and ways of working. I’m so lucky to be holding hands with such a dynamic and talented group of warriors.
Tell us about your new Facebook forum?
“CAMILLA has a strong community and loyal following, and we really wanted to stay connected to them. We created a Facebook forum, CAMILLA Tribe, where our retail angels can connect and engage with our tribe of customers. It is a beautiful space that is thriving with genuine connection and creativity – we’re seeing daily posts of different ways to style CAMILLA – from headscarf challenges to new collection pieces and, of course, old treasures!”
Who is the CAMILLA woman?
“The CAMILLA woman wraps herself in all the colors of life. She embraces the rhythm of her world and everything that comes with it. She is wild at heart, an adventure seeker, and she is brave and brazen enough to challenge the status quo.”
Have you introduced any pieces to reflect the new leisurewear mood in the wake of the pandemic?
“For me, the CAMILLA brand has always been about expressing yourself and your style while feeling fabulous as you do so. We’ve seen our tribe enjoy that freedom of expression throughout these difficult times. We might be pairing our embellished silk pieces with a comfy pair of Uggs these days, but we’re still rocking our favorite pieces. On the top half, anyway!
As for introducing specific pieces, she said, “there was a call for comfortable, relaxed fashion pieces that looked good but also made you feel good. As such, you’ll find a new style called Zenwear that reimagines some of our favorite prints from past seasons into modern active and lounge silhouettes. The perfect mix of comfort and cool, our Zenwear speaks to every type of Zen.”
“You’ll also find more graphic hoodies, embellished tees, and printed leggings in our wider ready-to-wear collection,” she said. “These more relaxed pieces are offset by our heavily embellished pieces that you’ll find each season.”
You’ve always been conscious of making your sizing inclusive – how important is that to you?
“The fashion industry has come a long way in my 17 years, but when I first started, I encountered ageism and shapeism, which naturally led women to feel intimidated and disempowered to express themselves. I’m so glad the industry has embraced a much more forward-thinking attitude towards the wonder of the human body.”
“Since the beginning, she added, “I’ve designed to make women feel good about themselves. Every woman has the right to feel beautiful, no matter her age, shape, size, or color, and when I’m creating a new collection, I want my designs to allow them to feel just that. Fashion should be all about celebrating a woman’s unique identity and celebrating all forms.”
As for her current collection, she said, “we’ve recently extended our size architecture; we now serve from XXS-4XL. You’ll find re-worked kaftan silhouettes, beautiful dresses, blouses, and trouser options that are specifically designed to fit and celebrate the feminine form. We’ve made them specifically for bigger busts, smaller frames, and all the different body shapes in between, which is the core of our brand; inclusivity!”
How did you start out in the fashion industry?
“It’s crazy to think it’s been 17 years now; what a beautiful, colorful, sometimes slightly terrifying rollercoaster it has been. Before finishing school, I created an events business. It was my first foray into a world of the unknown, and I loved the frenzied pace, the people I met, and the experiences I had. Then, I was convinced I wanted to act. My love for characters and the stories that stay with you long after the curtain falls coupled with the costumes was where my love for design was seeded.”
“I began sewing kaftans and kimonos to slip into when I was backstage, and my friends began asking me to make pieces for them,” she said. “They must have been a great walking advertisement because suddenly, I had people in the industry calling me asking for costumes and rehearsal threads. That threw me into a world I knew nothing about. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. It was a ‘screw it, let’s do it attitude.”
Stage forgotten, however, she set off in pursuit of a new dream and found a slice of paradise right on the golden sands of Bondi Beach – her first boutique.
“I tend to learn things the hard way. There have been many bumps, bruises, and hurdles that I’ve either jumped over or face-planted into. It’s all part of the journey. I wanted to go global right from the beginning. I used to schlep my collections around, season after season, rejection after rejection, around the globe. It was terrifying, lonely, and so tiring. Acting gave me the tools to sell myself and my crazy dreams. It’s about perseverance: the rejection motivated me even more.”
As for getting the brand out there, she said, it felt like an uphill battle some days. But, she said, “you grow and face the next challenge. I wish I could go back to that naïve, barefooted Bondi girl and tell her that it was going to be one crazy ride, but that everything was going to be ok.”
You battled breast cancer not long after your daughter Luna was born – what helped you get through that ordeal?
“2018 was full-on, to say the least; the adventure of pregnancy, the magic of birth, the dance with the devil that was cancer, and the raw journey of treatment. When the worst of the storm had passed, it was important for me to take some slow and quiet time away so I could focus on just being a mummy and healing my tired and weary body. I learned to surrender and simply let go. And with that, the battleground became more peaceful.”
Have you become involved in raising awareness of the disease in Australia?
“The thing with cancer is that it never truly leaves you. It becomes a part of your story, and only those who have endured this raw fear will understand what I mean by this. I never want my precious little girl or any other family to suffer.”
Because of this, she said, she joined forces with the National Breast Cancer Foundation and Celebrity Apprentice Australia to further create awareness and raise funds for this cause.
“Throughout the journey, I learned to question everything, to surrender and trust in the pure, raw gut instinct of my hippie’s heart, visualizing my own healing and path towards the future. As I began to understand my inner workings, my battleground became more peaceful, but my determination to fight this beast with every fiber of my being became a mountain in itself and a force to be reckoned with.”