Identity Matters: Carla Zampatti, matriarch of Australian fashion, Italian style

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Carla Zampatti is the matriarch of Australian fashion, and her sense of design and style can be traced back to her Italian upbringing. In the first of a new series called 'Identity Matters', we look back on people's heritage, to see how it has affected who they are today.

Carla Zampatti is a rarity in Australian fashion.
 
In a world where brands live and die by the season, her namesake label has continued to influence and inspire.
 
In an interview with SBS, Ms. Zampatti said her signature fine tailoring and eye for beauty can be traced back to her Italian roots.
 
"I was born in a village called Lovero, which is very north," she said. "My family left when I was 9, so I have quite strong memories of the area. 
 
"The age of 9 allows you to go to school, learn the language, learn to read and write your mother tongue, but also to have a sense of... your values; I think [they] are already formed. So I have a very strong connection to Italy because of that." 
 
The young tomboy headed to Australia with her mother and older brothers to meet her father, who had moved here before she was born.
 
"It was an adventure all the way," she said. "Arriving in Australia, in WA, Fremantle, in February, in high heat, absolutely, I loved it.
 
"I thought it was exciting. And I loved meeting my father, who was very beautiful and handsome and everything I thought he would be."
 
She ended up building a career on that sense of fun, curiosity and beauty.
 
Her latest collection, shown in her impeccably decorated Sydney home, boasts designs honed over a hugely successful fashion career spanning half a century. 

Fun with frescoes

Her Italian heritage is an enduring touchstone. Memories of her childhood home town, nestled in the mountainous Lombardy region, are interwoven into her collections.
 
"I still use my memory of our local church, which had beautiful frescoes," she said. "I can remember daydreaming and thinking 'wow, blue goes with brown! And pink looks great with grey!'".
 
"So when I'm looking at fabrics and looking at colour mixes, that memory comes back. It's really quite remarkable."
 
Carla Zampatti credits the vitality and dynamism of Italians with overcoming adversity as well as helping to embrace and influence the Australian way of life.
 
"Italians today in Australia are accepted and I think we're kind of revered, simply because we've brought a lifestyle that really suits Australia," she said. "The food, the style, the family, the attitude.
 
"You feel that there's an Italian element in Australia. So they've had a big influence and they're hard-working.
 
"It's a beautiful country and it never ceases to amaze me how enterprising Italians are. Even during the GFC businesses just dropped their prices. Just got on with their work. And managed to survive."
 
The enterprising Carla Zampatti has proved working is not solely a means of survival, but also a thing of beauty.
 
The three-part documentary 'DNA Nation' premieres on SBS on Sunday 22 May at 8.30pm, and afterwards on SBS On Demand.
What makes us who we are? SBS Explores Identity is taking a look at what makes us who we are through a series of stories, news and programs. Discover more here.
 

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