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Meet the emerging designer repurposing her nonna’s pillowcases for Melbourne Fashion Week

PHOTOGRAPHY BY LUISA MARROLLO

WORDS BY AMY FOCIC

“There’s already so many clothes on the planet, there’s already so much fabric out there, I don’t really see the need to buy new or get something made or start from fresh.”

If the intensified focus on sustainability in the fashion industry over recent years has shown us anything, it’s that it is becoming much harder to ignore the industry’s waste problem. While some big labels have taken notice, so too have emerging designers, many of whom are making it their mission to address sustainability (or the lack thereof) in fashion.

One such designer is Melbourne-based Luisa Marrollo, who graduated from Kangan Institute this year off the back of her whimsical graduate collection Lipari. With lockdowns stopping her from seeing her nonna in Adelaide for her 90th birthday (and giving her ample time to create), she found a way to honour her nonna through a collection for Melbourne Fashion Week’s Fashion Capsules.


Discover more up-and-coming local designers in our Fashion section. 


The result is vintage-style garments made from hand-embroidered pillowcases passed down from Luisa’s Nonna. I spoke with Luisa about the joys of upcycling, the nostalgia that comes with using family fabrics, and her exhibition at Melbourne Fashion Week.

Hi Luisa, could you tell us a bit about what inspired the transformation of your nonna’s pillowcases?

I inherited a whole bunch of fabric from my partner’s family – they had all these bedsheets, pillowcases, crochet tablecloths, and things like that that had come from where they lived before they came to Australia. They came from Lipari, which is an island off the coast of Sicily. There was an orphanage there in the 1940s, and all of these young women that were living in the orphanage were the ones that did all this crochet and embroidered these tablecloths. It’s all done by hand and it got passed on to them, then they weren’t using it at all, so they passed it on to me.

It was really great timing because they gave it to me in maybe 2019, and then when we went into lockdown in 2020 I had to do my graduate collection. Obviously, a lot of the shops had closed and even though I could still buy things online, I sort of thought, ‘You know what, I’ve got all this fabric here, I’m going to just see where I go with this and build the story’. The fabric already had such a beautiful story and history behind it.

Then this year, I was approached for the Melbourne Fashion Week capsule and the woman who was the creative director, Marissa Wood, initially, she wanted to see my graduate collection but I thought, “You know what, I’m in lockdown again, I’ve got an opportunity to be a part of fashion week, I’m going to make something new”. My mum had found some of my nonna’s pillowcases that she had embroidered and I wanted to use them in my graduate collection but it wasn’t fitting in, and this is where it came in.

Capsule Seven is all about celebrating the inspirations and support behind designers. Is your nonna a strong influence on you?

Yes… growing up, definitely. My nonna taught me how to knit when I was like seven. She always had crocheted blankets and her embroidery work around the house. It was always something that I grew up around. For me, there is that element of nostalgia when I’m making this kind of stuff. I know that that’s the case for a lot of people, I think everybody’s got that in their family somewhere.

The pieces have a strong vintage feel to them. How would you describe your design style?

I would definitely say it’s upcycled vintage, it’s a little bit eclectic as well. I love to style my designs in a bit of a crazy, kooky way. That’s kind of how I dress anyway, I love vintage fashion and I’m really into that. I think it probably comes through my work without me really noticing.

Upcycling is a big part of your work. Has that focus come from a sustainability perspective?

Definitely. I think upcycling was something I was introduced to while I was at school and I was studying fashion. It always made sense to me, because I just thought, ‘There’s already so many clothes on the planet, there’s already so much fabric out there, I don’t really see the need to buy new or get something made or start from fresh’.

 

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A post shared by Luisa Marrollo (@luisa.marrollo)

I think as well from a design perspective, I do find that kind of overwhelming to have so many endless options when you’re designing something. I kind of like having a bit of a limitation. I think for me, the upcycling is just a bit more exciting, I just find something then I look at it and try and imagine what can I do with it, how can I transform it? I think that’s one of the most enjoyable parts for me – it’s a bit of a creative challenge.

What does it mean for you to have your work exhibited as part of Melbourne Fashion Week?

I was so excited when Marissa first called me. I was actually on holiday, I was lucky enough to get away on holiday before we went into lockdown. It was the best call, I was so happy. After that my brain was just buzzing, I was running with ideas of what I was going to make, what I was going to do. It was such a great opportunity. I think any emerging designer would be grateful for that opportunity. It feels great.

What’s next for you?

I got a new job in the middle of lockdown. It’s honestly my dream job. I’m working for this company called Future from Waste Lab. Basically, it’s a collaboration with Kitx. She’s [Kit Willow] the one who’s organised this project, but we’ve got various different designers coming in and the whole brief for these designers is to upcycle.

We travel to Upparel, which is the textile recycling place, we pick out all the different garments – at the moment it’s denim, we’re picking out all these denim jeans – and we’re there cutting patterns out of this denim, and reworking it and making new garments. It’s great, I’m literally just upcycling for work which is incredible. That’s what we’re doing at the moment.

But in a few months time, they’re opening it up for emerging designers to come in and use the space. But at the moment, it’s Kitx. I’m working with the team – we’ve got a machinist, I’m a production assistant, we’ve got Lauren who’s my manager and she runs the project from Melbourne. We’re just in there working throughout the week making these garments which are then being sold for Kitx. Then I think the next brand we’ve got coming in is Romance Is Born. I’m so excited to see what everyone comes up with – it’s very creative.

You can find more from Luisa here and visit her Melbourne Fashion Week Fashion Capsule until November 16.

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