Melbourne label Hydra Opia is the upcycled brainchild of designer Karla Laidlaw and model Olympia Christou


“We wanted to push boundaries, to transform garments that were no longer desired and give them a new purpose.”

As Melbourne designer Karla Laidlaw explained to me, “There are few brands that upcycle really well”. In theory, the idea of upcycling – and consequently, encouraging a circular fashion economy – is brilliant, for both the industry and the planet. But the process of transforming discarded materials becomes obsolete if your customers aren’t interested. So what does it take to make upcycling cool? 

The combination of a successful independent designer and an international fashion model, naturally. Launched at the end of 2021, Hydra Opia is the upcycled sartorial project plucked from the minds of Karla Laidlaw and Olympia Christou. Both multifaceted fixtures in the Naarm fashion community, Karla and Olympia’s inspiration for the sold-out collection was sparked – unsuspectingly – by a discarded couch.

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Transforming the puckered leather into “pirate-punk” miniskirts and artisanal flame-emblazoned corsets, the duo have perfected the ‘desirable upcycled’ formula – and just five months in. Now on the cusp of Hydra Opia’s second collection, Karla and Olympia share more about the brand’s budding beginnings.

Tell us about you. What’s your fashion background?

Karla: I have a fashion brand, Karlaidlaw, which I started in 2019. I went to university to study fashion, but nearly everything I’ve learned has been very much from the hands-on experience of running/starting my brand.

Olympia: I spent most of my childhood in my parent’s design studios while they both worked on their own fashion labels. Watching on from a young age, I learnt an enormous amount about sewing, fabrics and fits. I would always play around with making my own clothes.

For the past few years, I’ve been working as a model in the UK, Europe and Australia. Having such a big interest in fashion design, it’s been a really great experience going behind the scenes of some of my favourite labels.

How did the label get started? Talk us through the process and the challenges.

O: We met at one of our friend’s art shows, and we hit it off instantly. Once we started talking about creative ideas, it was history.

K: Olympia was wanting to design a corset from solely upcycled pieces, and I had just begun a collaboration with Gab Cole. I was loving the process and wanted to do another project. I had started Karlaidlaw only making custom corsets, so I was eager to get back into corsetry. We started off with meetings, sharing sketches and ideas – before we knew it, we had a five-piece collection that evolved into Hydra Opia.

From sketches to sampling it was a fun process; our aesthetics are quite similar and we knew what we wanted the brand to represent. The challenges were in the fabrications – it’s been a constant challenge to get these pieces made. I have local manufacturers I work closely with but due to COVID – and the influx of manufacturing coming back onshore – they’re all very busy.

Hand-cutting pieces (they’re all individually cut from mixed fabrics) is a lengthy process. At this stage, we’ve decided to hand-cut and sew all pieces ourselves, with the help of our intern Django. It’s been a very busy period – with me running my own label and Olympia working freelance – but it’s been the best experience.

What were you trying to achieve from the project at the time? How has this evolved and what are you trying to communicate through the brand now?

K: There are a few brands that upcycle pieces really well; they give the materials a completely new and refreshing look. Olympia and I quickly realised that together, our designs and ideas had very much their own feel to them. We have a very strong sense of identity, which is what we want people to feel when wearing Hydra.

O: We wanted to push boundaries, to transform garments that were no longer desired and give them a new purpose. We look to dying and cutting around imperfections to give the pieces new life.

How would you describe Hydra Opia to someone who’s never seen it before?

K: For me, Hydra Opia is a little steampunk… pirate-meets-punk.

O: It’s very pirate-punk.

Where did the name come from?

O: Hydra Opia is a blend of our letters. ‘Hydra’ is also an organism that never dies, which relates to what inspires me and Karla in our designs. I love the regenerative capabilities. The word also has roots in Greek mythology.

What are you most proud of in your work on your label?

K: The teamwork. This brand is completely split down the middle in how we get things done. Olympia is such a hard worker, I’m actually really proud of her. For someone who hasn’t done this before she’s been an amazing business partner. Everyone works hard in this industry, especially when starting a new brand. There’s so much work involved.

O: We really do bounce off each other and offer support when our schedules become chaotic. I’m really proud to have created a collection of one-off pieces; they all feel so special. I love that people can wear their pieces and know they are unique to them. Working on Hydra has really pushed my creativity; I’ve experimented with skills I didn’t know I had.

What do you wish you knew when you started?

O: We thought it would be a lot easier to nail the fits. In particular, perfecting corsetry with upcycled materials.

K: Making pieces from leather couches. Not as easy as it sounds.

Dream Australian collaborators?

K: I would love to work with any lost trades. I find Hydra’s aesthetic is elevated through trims and accessories. If there’s anyone out there with some amazing hobbies you usually don’t see in fashion, I’d love to find a way to work this into the brand.

O: I would love to do a denim collaboration with my mum. Her fits are incredible.

Who is in your wardrobe right now?

O: Knwls, Maroske Peech, Ashley Williams, my mum’s ’90s pieces (Bettina Liano) and of course, I’ve been dripping in Karlaidlaw.

K: Spider pants, all winter long. I also have this amazing hand-knitted piece by @fresh.maybe.new who is incredible, also Maroske Peech and Ramp Tramp Tramp Stamp.

Browse the Hydra Opia collection through the Karlaidlaw site here.

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