HELEN O’CONNOR FROM THURLEY

I am one of those lucky people that has been able to work closely with Helen from the iconic Melbourne label Thurley. I have always admired her designs. A strapless crème Thurley dress was one of the first labels I spent big on when I went to my Uni ball back in 2005. I felt so special in her sleek design back then and not much has changed now. Helen is the master of eveningwear, her attention to detail is elite and it’s all about the artful embroidery that goes into each piece.

Helen was the brains behind my Brownlow dress this year and I was so honoured to work with her creatively. There aren’t many pics of the front of my dress from the night, which is a pity as the front was our favourite part. So I thought I would share a pic from Helen’s recent look book that will give you a better look at the front detail.

I recently caught up with Helen to talk about the inspiration behind her upcoming winter collection named ‘Dark Romance’, I am dying over this collection, the colour palette, tailoring and modern lines scream my name. Helen shares her key trends for the months ahead, her top buys for the season and the challenges she faced when she launched her label.

What is the meaning behind the name Thurley? Thurley is an Irish name that has been passed down through my Irish descendants. In recent generations it was passed from my great aunt and author Thurley Fowler onto my mother as her first name and then given to me as my middle name. I wanted to give the label some personal relevance and history and I think a family name has gifted it with that.

Tell me about your new winter collection ‘Dark Romance’? It was inspired by the ill-fated romance of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. The collection aims to capture the heady passion that new love brings and also to explore the depths of despair endured in its inevitable ending.

The sweeter side to romance is explored through pure white, sheer layering, which has been intricately and lovingly hand embroidered.  Pearls have also been appliqued onto pieces for an extravagant touch, much like a gift from a new lover, keen to catch your eye and your imagination. Beading has made a return to this collection to represent decadence and desire.  The beading has been modernized through its application to duchess silk harnesses, structured bodices and accessories, affording the otherwise dark collection with a precious delicateness.

The darkness of despair has been explored through the use of colour and materials. Black is utilized heavily as the collections foundation colour and is mixed with cool metallic and neutrals in rich jacquards and embroideries to achieve textural depth. The collection is framed with elements of leather and harness inspired accessories to give the feminine pieces a tough twist. Traditional lace has been replaced with a masculine mesh, silhouettes are sleeker and proportions have been elongated to introduce a hardened modern approach.

The exploration of sweetness and light versus darkness and despair affords the collection with a refreshing modern twist. There is always so much more to a love story than just a happy ending.

What is your favourite piece from the upcoming collection? My favourite piece is the Oddessy Dress. The reason I love it is due to the hand beaded harness, which I cut in duchess silk and then beaded with a combination of antique glass beads and pearls. I feel the harness is a fresh way to translate my love of embellishment and as its removable so its becomes a really versatile accessory to customise other pieces in your wardrobe such as a shirt of a simple shift dress. I am really trying to address versatility to add value to each piece.

Thurley is renowned for its embroidered evening wear. What process do you go through in developing new collections? Where do you look for inspiration? I always start my search for inspiration in the parisian and London markets. Its there I come across ancient handcrafted techniques that have long since died out, the challenge is to find one of these pieces and revitalise it so it is relevant to today. The next challenge is finding artisans that are willing to manufacture the pieces and spend the time with their teams teaching them the techniques. I find this process and dedication to detail is what sets Thurley apart from the market and mass produced product.

Thurley has recently had a little facelift including luxurious daywear, how did this come about? My first love has always been evening wear and more formal embellished pieces, but as I have grown up with the brand, my lifestyle has changed and with it the demand for more everyday clothes. I start each collection by trying to work out what I want in my wardrobe and what I cant find out in the market, its filling this niche with high quality  garments that has build the foundation for the range expansion.

6.What key trends do you see coming through in the next few months? I think there has been a real shift in silhouette in the past few seasons, I am embracing the longer, more demure mid hem line, particularly in the pencil skirt. I think shirts will also be particularly strong for next season so invest in a few. I think there is also a real trend toward layering a man style coat over a silk dress or a chunky cable knit over a jewelled pencil skirt, it is these unexpected masculine/feminine juxtapositions that will refresh your winter look.

Four key pieces to buy this season?

1) Coat – make it a classic one that will last the decade

2) Crisp white shirt- these is nothing more chic than a starched collar layered under other pieces for next season.

3) Pencil skirt is an easy way to translate the new midi trend, and will ensure you look sophisticated and chic.

4)Layered knitwear – Nothing combines comfort and chic better than layered knitwear.

Being one of Australia’s leading fashion designers, what advice would you give to others wanting to enter into the industry? Remember many have trodden the same path before you and succeeded, so never take no for and answer and always, always follow your dreams.

What did you find the most challenging aspect of starting your own label? I think fortunately in my case ignorance was bliss if I knew then what I know now about the challenges I would never have had the confidence. I think the biggest challenge was finding a manufacturer that was willing to take a chance on me and produce units as small as 10 so I could fulfil my small orders to begin my relationships with my suppliers. Also getting the label name out there takes a lot of time when you don’t have the resources, it took many years and a lot of patience and tireless work for me to get the Thurley name out there in the fashion zeitgeist.

What has been your greatest ‘pinch me’ moment since launching your label 8 years ago? I think it was when Thurley was invited to open the show for David Jones Spring Summer Launch. I always dreamed of being a part of the David Jones fashion family and so admired their stable of Australian designers as I grew up, so to headline the show was a massive milestone for me and I definitely had to pinch myself to make sure I was not dreaming!

10 QUICKIES

  1. WHAT ARE YOU READING? I don’t generally have time to read during the year and only get to indulge in books on holidays, but Elle magazine is beside my bead at the moment. Not only do they feature fabulous local and international fashion but their articles are insightful and relatable.
  2. IF YOU WERENT A FASHION DESIGNER YOU WOULD BE…A zoo keeper, in the elephants enclosure, they would be a best colleagues ever!
  3. FAVOURITE CITY IN THE WORLD? New York, I would live there in a heart beat!
  4. FAVOURITE CAFE IN MELBOURNE? Stokehouse Cafe – Best view in Melbourne…. not to mention the people watching and delicious menu!
  5. THE BEST SCENT IS…Narciso Rodriguez for her
  6. FAVOURITE COCKTAIL?Expresso Martini
  7. BEST PURCHASE EVER MADE? My Chocolate Labrador Bella
  8. 3 (NON-FASHION) ITEMS YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT? My Dog, My man and my chardonnay!
  9. FINISH THIS SENTENCE: IN SUMMER YOU’LL FIND ME… Soaking up the sun and chardonnay at every available opportunity!
  10. 3 WORDS THAT DESCRIBE THURLEY?Look a little closer….

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