When I first met Leona, the stylish brunette comes across with a sense of fragile femininity, but also with a quiet air of confidence. In her years with Peter Morrissey, her style was more ‘minimalist modern sleek’, but these days she is rarely without one of her signature dresses, hair swept up, always in opaque tights and has an array of chunky bangles which seems to offset the feminine dresses, with a more modern edge.
Starting her career in the 1980’s, Leona Edmiston is one of the few Australian fashion designers who has managed to keep her label independently owned. Whilst the fashion industry is notoriously turbulent, with many fashion labels seeking investors or selling to large corporate groups, the Leona Edmiston brands have managed to stay afloat on its own feet.
A graduate of East Sydney Technical college, Leona teamed up with fellow student Peter Morrissey and formed the highly fashionable Morrissey Edmiston label in the 1980’s. With a huge celebrity following with the likes of Michael Hutchence, Kylie Minogue, Elle Macpherson et al, the pair departed ways after many years and both went off to forge separate careers in fashion.
Forming “Leona Edmiston” in 2001 in partnership with husband Jeremy Ducker, Leona quickly reformed herself to become known as the “Queen of Frocks”. With a love of dresess and realising there was a gap in the market for dresses, the brunette designer managed to fill a niche in the industry which many others didn’t do. She summed up her dress range as ” From Office to Opera”, indicating she understood women no longer got changed in multiple outfits to go out anymore, and created her dresses for the ’12 hour a day’ look.
I sat down with Leona and had a chat about about her career, looking back to the Morrissey Edmiston days, as well as operating her fashion label today and plans for the future.
Leona, you have had an incredible career in the Australian fashion industry, including meeting Peter Morrissey at college and then partnering with him with Morrissey Edmiston, what were those days like in the fashion industry?
Fun, it was very collaborative, lots of designers were starting at the same time – some from the markets while our first store was part of a cooperative. It was a time of great creativity, experimentation and a great carefree spirit.
From a business and creative perspective, after the Morrissey Edmiston split, was it difficult creating your own label it terms of having a different look and feel to what Morrissey Edmiston was?
No, I had gained a wealth of experience form the ME years and knew the time was right to specialise in the dress and be quite focused in the signature of it.
Has the industry changed much since you first started? What sort of changes in the fashion industry have you seen throughout your career, aside from online and social media. Has the customer changed much since you first started?
Apart from the mass casualisation in our society, particularly over the last decade, the biggest difference I’ve noticed is how budget driven the industry is. I am sure it always was but now it’s more important than anything and there is not much room for error.
How many labels do you run in your business and what are the differences in your labels. How do you keep inspired?
We have three dress labels which are targeted at different customers and parts of the market. Apart from the dresses which are still the core product we have brand extensions including – shoes, bags, pins, sleepwear, children’s, homewares to name a few! Our customers are what keeps me focused and inspired as they are always surprising and there is always so much to learn from them.
You have been the queen of the frocks so to speak, why dresses?
It’s always been my favourite item so why not just do your favourite!
Tell me about the Leona Edmiston customer?
She’s urban, she loves style and experimenting with it, often time poor so she needs a product that will work for her and make her feel fabulous and confident.
Your motto for your dresses has also been “ From office to Opera” which is incredibly smart, as these days a customer tends not to buy eveningwear so much, Is this the reason why you mainly use Jersey?
I’ve always loved jersey as its very flattering , easy to wear and care for, travels so well and its perfect for dressing up, dressing down. Its very versatile and fits our contemporary lifestyle
Any plans to expand on your label?
We do have new extensions planned for next year, and I think that is the key to keeping the brand fresh and exciting whilst never straying far from our core product.
Congratulations on your twins, how as the adjustment to motherhood been? And how old are they now?
Its great, its very busy but love it! They are very sweet and 20 months old now.
Do you create your own prints?
I buy a lot from print archives around the world. Some date from the mid 1880s right through to the sixties, seventies and eighties. We then re-colour and re-scale them to suit whatever application we give them.
Any plans to expand further overseas?
We have been focusing on the local market for the past few years, our website ships internationally and we have many loyal customers around the world.
Your husband has been the business component of your business and together you have created quite a brand, what skills did he bring to the business?
Jeremy came to the industry with fresh eyes in so that the traditional ways of conducting business in our industry were not part of his thinking. His foresight has enabled us to act early and quickly to changing conditions.
Tell me about a day in your world, how does it begin and how does it usually end?
I start by getting the girls up and giving them their breakfast. I play with them before heading off to work, but then I make sure im home by 4:30 to give them their dinner, bath and play before their bedtime. Jeremy and I will often then head out for a quick Japanese bite to end the day.
Where next for the label and yourself?
A happy balance between work and home that makes both a fulfilling and wonderful experience.