Designer Tanya Carlson (left) and textile designer Julie Maclean (right). Image supplied.
It feels surreal to designer Tanya Carlson to be celebrating 25 years of her eponymous womenswear label this year. She launched Carlson in early 1997, and the label has become known for beautiful tailored womenswear and stunning custom occasion pieces that she’s designed for the likes of Dame Lisa Carrington and Hollie Smith.
The designer’s Winter 2022 collection is in stores and online now and features a special collaboration that honours the heritage of her brand and Tanya’s love of fabric. The collection was designed during the Auckland lockdown late last year, where Tanya did a lot of reflecting on the beginnings of the brand and that essential DNA that defines who Carlson is and what the brand loves to make.
The result is a colourful range that references some of the designer’s favourite 90s influences with silhouettes from the era and classic items such as the waistcoats and pant suits. The range features joyful bold colours of lemon yellow, watermelon pink and cobalt blue which give a sense of optimism and playfulness to elegant dresses, chic coats and appealing separates.
As part of the collection, Tanya Carlson collaborated with textile designer Julie Maclean, who Tanya was introduced to in 2021 through a mutual friend. Tanya had been wanting to create exclusive custom prints for Carlson and together they developed some delightful prints that were inspired by vintage fabric. Throughout her career, Tanya has collected and been gifted many fabrics, that are stored and treasured in her workroom which was the perfect starting point to create beautiful prints of her own and a fitting way to celebrate her 25th year of Carlson.
We caught up with Tanya Carlson to find out more about her brand, how she feels about her 25 year milestone and what the best piece of advice is that she’s received as a designer?
Congratulations on celebrating 25 years in business this year, how are you marking the milestone?
When we celebrated our 20 year anniversary during New Zealand Fashion Week 2017 five years ago, no one would have imagined that a global pandemic would impact us all and make something like fashion shows challenging. But here we are in our new Covid normal, where we really take nothing for granted. Carlson has come full circle, as we move back into wholesaling and continue to grow the brand. The team and I will mark the milestone together and celebrate how far we’ve come.
Look from Carlson’s Winter 2022 collection.
Take us back to 1997, what was the original plan and vision for your brand?
In many ways, the original vision and ethos of the brand hasn’t changed. I wanted to create special pieces for a woman’s wardrobe, made in New Zealand, that would have longevity and be loved for many years to come. I had been running a successful made-to-measure business in Dunedin for years and had reached a turning point where I wanted to build on what I had begun – my clients talked about particular items of clothing that were missing from their wardrobes. Carlson was there to create them.
How do you balance the creative and business demands of your role in your business?
That’s the constant challenge and the struggle every fashion designer has. Some would argue it’s only about the business, but it has to be both if you’re going to enjoy it. The times you’re being truly creative make up for the balancing, and I’ve loved all of the collaborations I have done along the years with dancers, artists and high profile personalities where I have been given a lot of freedom to create something extraordinary. With ready to wear, you still have to make a product that sells and balances out so it’s wonderful being able to remind myself about the joy of creativity, which is great for my head and fun for the whole team.
Over your career you’ve amassed numerous awards and accolades but how do you personally define success and what does it mean to you?
For me, it’s the stories from my customers and clients that really define success for me. It’s the people who come in and tell me about a piece of clothing they purchased 10 years ago that still brings them joy and still looks as good as it did when they bought it. The more time I spend meeting my customers and hearing those stories the more pleasure I get. It’s also very special to help my customers celebrate a milestone or occasion in their lives and I feel very privileged to be some small part of it.
Conversely, how do you deal with failure and what have been some of the challenges of growing your brand?
The fashion industry is a rollercoaster but I’m really good at dusting myself off and getting up again. When things don’t go to plan, I’ve usually got another one and in fact, when I’m really pushed is when I’m at my best.
Look from Carlson’s Winter 2022 collection.
How would you describe your personal style and how does it influence your designs and collaborations?
I think it’s pretty safe to say that my personal style is intricately linked to the Carlson brand. And like Carlson, it is always evolving. It is heavily influenced by the world around me – the natural environment, art, the music I’m listening to, what I’m reading or watching and the people around me. Most of my collaborations have been with dancers and artists who I have a real connection with.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve received that you keep referring back to as a designer?
It was from Nigel Richards from Standard Issue who said to stick to your gut instinct. How you build your brand is your handwriting, don’t get swayed by what’s going on everywhere else because it’s really easy to look at what everyone else is doing and worry that you’re not doing the same. Of course, you’ve got to keep evolving but there’s no point in looking over your shoulder.
Looking to the future, how far ahead do you plan and what makes you excited about the future?
After the challenges of the last two years, we’re focusing on consolidating what we do best and continuing with that. Covid taught us all a valuable lesson in how quickly things can change. We were small and tight and got through it because of that. But as an optimist, I’m always excited about the future.