Deanna Fanning is an Australian living in London and studying a masters in knitwear
at the prestigious Central Saint Martins. Her designs are a cooee back to her days spent sewing rosettes onto wedding dresses in her grandmother’s Melbourne garage. We spoke to her about the evolution of occasion dressing, the power and beauty of nature and the eternal relevance of Muriel’s Wedding.
Lucy Jones: Let’s start at the start. Who taught you to sew?
Deanna Fanning: My grandmother first taught me to sew when I was little; my sister and I used to spend a lot of time with her.
How else does your heritage play into your designs?
I’ve been thinking about it lately, especially now that I’m here in Europe. I have this fascination with a kind of ancient or baroque aesthetic, and I think it has a lot to do with myth and mythology. That leads me to think about diasporas, and I suppose there’s a large Italian diaspora in Australia… thinking about how you see glimpses of representation but you never really get the full gist … So, you have a gilded mirror, but it’s in a bungalow in Australia. Or you have someone wearing gold chunky earrings, a silk scarf and red lipstick, but it’s in Australia in 30-degree heat. I think that kind of juxtaposition really plays on my subconscious.
It definitely shows in your latest collection, which fuses cardigans and wedding dresses. The idea came from memories of your grandmother and grand-auntie sewing wedding dresses while wearing cardigans, right?
Yeah. My grandmother and grand-auntie lived on the same street, so my sister and I would spend a lot of time in my grand- auntie’s garage. They were both pensioners, so they’d just do it for extra money. They’d stay up really late at night trying to get stuff done because some of it was really over-the-top, there were so many rosettes on it or so much pearl beading, and they’d give us little tasks to do while we were there. I always thought it was interesting as a child, because you’d see glimpses of aspiration in a garage that smelled like machine oil, where they didn’t want to turn the little electric foot heaters on, so everyone would be wearing woolly jumpers. Then you’d have all the Vogue Italias there, so that was like a glimpse into another world, and then you’d look out the garage door and see gum trees and your typical suburban architecture in Melbourne — brick, angular houses — and you’d hear a kookaburra or something [laughs]. I didn’t know how to explain it then but now, being here in Europe, I’m like: “Wow, that’s a weird, surreal situation.” Like a scene from an Australian movie. [Laughs.] One of my English friends, who I went to uni with was like, “Deanna, I didn’t want to tell you while you were making the collection but it reminded me a bit of Muriel’s Wedding.”
That’s a compliment!
Yeah, I was like, “I think that’s a good thing…”
What I find really interesting about the collection is that you’re taking two symbols of female dress and creating something that looks almost organic, like coral.
People have said that to me, that some of the girls look like mermaids, or they look like they could be from the sea. Lots of my peers design really heavy or dark things. It’s really cliché as an Australian in London, but it weighs on you after a while — being in the city and not seeing open space and natural beauty.
By manipulating something as conventional as a wedding dress, are you also trying to subvert traditional ideas of femininity?
I’m really interested in the representation of women and why women have traditionally worn certain outfits or pieces for certain occasions or moments in their lives.
Speaking of special occasion dressing, do you remember what you wore to your year 10 formal?
That’s so funny. I remember I used to love Sass & Bide when I was a teenager. I got a voucher for Christmas, so I saved that and saved my birthday money and I was like, “Now I can afford this Sass & Bide dress!” It was this silk bandeau style dress that was blue and brown tie-dye. It was a little bit tribal and it had this really long bandage that wrapped around your waist ten or twelve times.
That’s so good! Lastly, what’s your idea of utopia?
Being able to create my own vision.