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Legacy of an icon: Tracing Lisa Gorman’s impact on the Australian fashion industry

IMAGE VIA MELBOURNE FASHION WEEK
WORDS BY CAIT EMMA BURKE

The label’s success ushered in a new era of Australian fashion, one that prioritised fun and comfort and dressing for no one but yourself.

Shockwaves reverberated throughout the Australian fashion industry yesterday evening when it was announced that Lisa Gorman, the founder and creative director of iconic Australian label Gorman, was resigning.

In her statement to the media, she said that “The Gorman label has achieved a level of recognition within the Australian fashion landscape that I could not have imagined”. And she’s not wrong – anyone who’s had even a passing interest in Australian fashion over the last twenty years will be familiar with Gorman.


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Known for its bold, colourful prints and incredibly successful artist collaborations – the brand was one of the first Australian labels to unite art and fashion in this manner – it has accrued legions of fans, who fondly refer to themselves as ‘gormies’.

As a Sydney Morning Herald article declared in 2019, “Gorman is more than a clothing brand, it’s a cultural phenomenon”. And as the woman at the helm of the label for the last 22 years, Lisa’s vision has remained steady, injecting colour, fun and wearability back into the Australian fashion scene.

Lisa was one of those rare designers that became synonymous with their brand; if you knew Gorman, you were likely aware of Lisa. Undoubtedly one of the most famous names in Australian fashion, she got her start in the world of design at a young age. She learnt to sew as an eight-year-old creating Barbie outfits for her sisters and staging DIY doll runways.

After moving to Melbourne post-high school to train as a nurse, she found that her interest in fashion and design didn’t abate. She went to night school to learn visual merchandising, and eventually landed a traineeship with a Melbourne bridal designer. While still holding down a part-time job as a nurse, she worked her way up the bridal brand, eventually becoming a designer.

Her first taste of designing clothing in a more serious capacity solidified her love for it. It led to her designing her own eight-piece unisex collection that was launched at the now non-existent Melbourne-based retail chain Fat in 1999. What followed were years of grinding before she felt ready to leave nursing behind for good and launch her own eponymous label.

In 2004, the first brick-and-mortar Gorman store was opened, and as the years passed by, the number of Gorman stores multiplied. The brand became loved for its flair for bold prints and playful silhouettes, and for its versatility: it was appropriate for the office and for everyday life, and was guaranteed to land you a compliment or two.

I still remember the first time I saw someone wearing Gorman’s iconic vegetable print pants maybe eight or nine years ago. I lived in Wellington at the time, a city that didn’t have a Gorman store, and I chased the wearer down the street just to ask her where they were from. Gorman had an extra layer of appeal for us Kiwis – it was the label your friend brought home after a trip to Sydney. You would probably beg her to bring you back a pair of socks or perhaps one of the label’s much-loved raincoats, too.

It was, and still is, an antidote to the at times overly serious Melbourne fashion scene. For many years, black was the colour du jour if you were fashion-conscious, but Lisa balked at the idea of a wardrobe lacking in colour. The label’s success ushered in a new age of Australian fashion, one that prioritised fun and comfort and dressing for no one but yourself.

It’s undoubtedly the end of an era, but Lisa has made an indelible impact on the Australian fashion industry. She oversaw numerous incredibly successful artist collaborations, and collaborated with Indigenous artists to create the label’s popular Mangkaja collection, which, according to the ABC, “set a benchmark in licensing agreements between Indigenous and non-Indigenous groups”.

And while it was not always smooth sailing, with the label being accused of design stealing earlier this year and at other points throughout its existence, it has brought an undeniable vibrancy to the Australian fashion industry.

Gorman will continue on without her, but her departure statement did hint that a future project may be in the works. “This chapter has now closed for me personally, making way for new creative endeavours,” she stated. We’ll be keeping our eyes peeled.

To read more about Lisa Gorman’s departure from her label, head here.

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