We are a bit in love with the lovely frocks from Petra Vanessie. Stunning fabrics mixed with flattering, vintage inspired cuts – what more could you ask for? She’s been on our radar for a couple of years – since a very stylish friend of mine sent me a link to her website, which I’ve been ogling ever since. One day Petra up and left her day job, decided to design clothes, and did it. So it’s about time we interviewed her. Now you can ogle the pretty dresses too!
The gorgeous Petra Vanessie herself. Photo from Daniel Price Photography.
Official job title: Designer for Petra Vanessie Designs.
How have you come to where you are now?
I started designing dresses in 2010. My background is actually in communications/PR/events management in the not for profit and government sectors. However, I have had an intense passion for fashion from an early age. There’s a photo on my wall of me at 6 years of age wearing the brightest safari patterned jumpsuit that certainly jumps out amongst my conservatively dressed parents and siblings!
I’ve always focussed on my work and career for the longest time. Wherever I worked though I always received compliments about the way I dress and it became sort of a ‘signature’ of my individuality to wear clothes that were a little bit different, very feminine and elegant, almost a throwback to days gone by.
Whenever I shopped for clothing I had the corporate and social image in mind – can I wear this to work and also casually on a day to day basis if I style it differently? It was hard to find clothing that fit this bill and also satisfied my passion for wearing classical styles. I used to day dream in my head about how I would pin, tuck, add, remove aspects of a dress so that it was what I truly wanted to wear.
When I was working in Melbourne and Sydney during 2008-2010, I worked crazy hours and one day came when my contract was due for renewal and I had this gut feeling that I needed to do something else. A colleague at the time asked ‘But what will you do if you don’t work?’ and the first thing that popped into my mind was ‘I am going to design clothes.’
And so I did – packed everything up (left them at my parents’) and spent a year in Jakarta, designing, finding fabric outlets/sources and developing networks and connections. I always wanted to create an element of ‘giving back to the community’ or ‘making a difference’ with my designs so I decided to find and work with seamstresses who I could employ based on an equal pay system.
I lived with my Oma (the Dutch word for grandma) who taught me basic sewing skills and design elements. She used to make a lot of my mum’s and aunt’s dresses in the 60s and from her my appreciation for things vintage, classical and feminine intensified.
After about a year in Jakarta, I had developed a strong passion for designing dresses which are touched with classic, vintage elements. I had also run out of savings by this time, and needed to go back to work and when I thought about where I wanted to be in Australia, the first thing that came into my mind was Perth – it’s always been home, it’s where I am most comfortable and of course where my support base of wonderful friends and loved ones are.
So I packed everything up again, got a part-time job, started selling my dresses to the public (that was scary as I didn’t know what the reaction would be) through Perth Upmarket and met other wonderful creatives who have helped me be part of a community that support all the crazy but exciting dreams we all have!
Petra Vanessie Designs have been in Perth since 2011 now and since then I’ve sold in markets, been stocked in Perth stores, done one out-of-this world fashion show at the Art Gallery, dressed some cool celebrities (including SBS News Janice Petersen and chef Anna Gare) and seen my dresses worn out in the streets of Perth!
I would never have thought this is where I would be when I started two and a half years ago. I’ve learnt a lot about the world of fashion and importantly about myself and have gained personal lessons that will keep me going with achieving my dreams.
Where does your design work take place?
My design work takes place everywhere (and I mean everywhere) that inspiration strikes. I carry a little green book where I jot down ideas or draw things when I see something in the streets, on screens, in magazines, everywhere! I’ve stopped in the middle of running to capture an idea, when going out with friends, when talking on the phone, when walking and even when I am sleeping and having a dream (about going out in a stunning dress!) I then collect these ideas and quick sketches and transfer them to my design paper book, match them with my colour and fabric swatches before beginning the creative process. My studio and creative space has all of my mood boards, papers, inspirational images and here is where the all the ideas and imagination takes shape.
Who or what inspires you?
Strong and resilient people and friends who build their success by also helping others motivate me to work hard and never give up. Equally as important are people I meet who are not afraid to stand out for their values and individuality. I meet people like this almost every day in the most unexpected places and they give me a whole load of energy to always keep going. There are too many to name here but I hope I have told them enough times so they know who they are!
What is the best thing about your job?
When I hear a ping in my email inbox, get a message on my facebook or have loyal customers who make the time to specifically see me, to say wonderful things about my designs and importantly about how great it makes them feel! One of the best ones I keep in my pocket include ‘Your dress had the effect of parting the sea of crowds down George St in Sydney,’ and ‘I received so many compliments wearing your dress and how I looked like a 1920s celebrity starlet,’ and ‘I was walking down St George’s Terrace and at the traffic light, a stranger came up to me and told me she was about to rip the dress off me because she really wants it!’
When I read these testimonials I get confirmation that I’ve achieved what I wanted to do with every design – make every woman who wears it feel special.
What’s the hardest part of your job?
Oh hands down the paperwork!! And finding the time to do the more mundane things like book keeping and business related forms, paper and documents.
Take us through a typical day of your work:
Well I work Monday to Thursday at a day job so in those days I would wake up early and do a run (I am a running junkie and find that running helps me with creating loads of head space for more ideas) then get into work and do my designing at night. Friday and into the weekend, I’d also start the day with a run, then usually head off to Sherbet for a catch up breakfast with friends or a take-away muffin before setting up the work space to sketch out my ideas from throughout the week. Sometimes I have clients come in to do a personal shopping experience, or on these days I organise collaborative photo shoots, shows, a studio open house or I meet up with my mentors/advisers. I have a habit of leaving the bookkeeping and business’y’ stuff to the last minute so I usually end up doing these late into the night before I collapse into bed, ready for another day!
What can we expect from Petra Vanessie in the future?
Lots of crazy and exciting ideas being put into place (hopefully) with the help of some individuals whose creative energies are off the scale! I have a few fashion shows happening throughout Perth and also in towns around Western Australia (soon to be revealed so please stay tuned) and collaborations with some other amazing creative talents to create something different, something unique and something new.
I am dedicated towards creating designs to ‘swoon over’ throughout the year. I am also looking forward to adding new designs to my wedding/bridal collection pieces, putting into paper and production my ideas for divine winter coats and more limited edition hand bags that sold out at the Perth Upmarket event and had two ladies fighting over the last one (what a lovely compliment!) Phew I think I got it all down… although…
Who are your favourite local creatives?
Oh my gosh! I have so many favourite local creatives who are not only super talented in their field of work but are genuinely caring individuals who prop others for success. If can cheat and narrow it down to three it will be the fabulous Mystery Case who helps people find their theme songs, fashion stylist specialist (and inspirational quote giver) Meg Gill, and sweet extraordinaire (and absolute legend at community giving) Megan from Littlesweet Baking.
Any advice for those trying to enter into the creative community in Perth?
Never give up on your dreams and your passion (especially when the going gets tough), take risks and jump into the deep pool lots of times, especially if your gut instinct is telling you to do it. And surround yourself with a community of friends, family and fellow artists that value creativity, support it and help you nurture it. I found the latter through my time at Perth Upmarket and meeting the other artists and designers, and I am since open to more opportunities and am more inspired.
I am also a big believer in the theory of abundance – there are lots of space for success and achievements for everyone and when you help each other and give freely, the journey is more rewarding and filled with more friendships, lots of valuable lessons and plenty of laughter.
And importantly know why you are doing what you set out to do and remember it. Your purpose will keep you going and motivated for bigger and better things.
Where can we find your label?
Currently they are stocked at Society (the pop up shop at 140William) or through my studio in Ascot (appointments can be made by emailing me – firstname.lastname@example.org), and hopefully soon through online shopping.
**Update – Petra Vanessie’s label now goes under the name AVA and you can find her gorgeous womenswear on her website ava-design.com.
What do you love about Perth?
It’s home sweet home where my friends are, where you meet creative and inspirational people, where you can have a more relaxed approach to life. And constantly I love all the new and amazing cafés, performances, art, markets, music, shows, festivals, comedy acts, events and activities that Perth continually surprises our senses with!
What does Perth need?
It has been be great to see, hear, meet and learn more about inspirational and strong individuals, communities, projects (like your blog) that are supporting and helping so many share and achieve their dreams.
So more of these working together, collaborating, making a difference. More of these communities that get enthusiastic about ideas and what you have to offer, that collectively look out for opportunities for each other and pick you up when the going gets a little bit tougher than expected!
Most frequented coffee spot?
Sherbet in Maylands! You will find me there every weekend (in the morning AND afternoon) eating cake and drinking tea. Though can I also add that the cool and simple ambience and gorgeousness of Cookie Dough Café in East Fremantle (plus the amazing cookies and tarts!) is juggling for top spot too!
Best live music venue?
This might sound a bit left field but I went to Hush: An evening of quiet music which was held at the Guildford Grammar Chapel and it was just simply fabulous… and I still can’t get over what an amazing and unexpected venue it is for live music! Of course the talented local Perth musicians and artists behind it made it all work like magic.
I must confess I don’t go to the beach very often but when my friends do invite me out I speedily put on the bathers and run out the door! On my radar of enjoyment are: Leighton Beach, which is stunning and so refreshing and I also enjoy dipping into the cool waters at Mullaloo and Trigg.
Up north or down south?
Oh this is a tough one because I’ve only had a limited glimpse of up north so I am going to have to go by experience ‘to date’ and say down south… love the beautiful coast, cool weather, art galleries and gorgeous little towns and wineries.Petra.
Unless otherwise stated, photographs are by Tony Lendrum Photography, featuring models Jude Gerrardin and Jessica Truscott. MUA – Sarah Corrigan; Make up – Mandy To; Stylist – Meg Gill; and PR and Marketing – Raychael Case.