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How Melbourne-based label Perna is redefining luxury in Australian fashion

IN PARTNERSHIP WITH PERNA

WORDS BY IZZY WIGHT

“A timeless piece is a considered and thought-out design that will serve as a ‘forever garment’ in your wardrobe.”

In the age of the internet, contemporary fashion is at a constant battle between the timeless and the trendy. While some designers have realigned their business models to cater to a trend-focused customer base, others have slowed all the way down, choosing to make the classics their point of difference. For Melbourne designer Carla Perna, the choice was a no-brainer. 

“I make pieces you can pair back with the rest of your wardrobe seamlessly and endlessly”, Carla says of her namesake fashion label, Perna. Learning patternmaking from her mum and having been “immersed in the fashion industry from a very young age”, Carla held the long-time dream of being a designer. With no formal training and limited money, her dream came to life in the depths of Melbourne’s 2020 lockdown.


Looking for more ways to procrastinate? We’re with you. Come on over to our Fashion section. 


While Perna may be relatively new to the fashion space, Carla most certainly is not. In a designer sea of colourful, avant basic maximalism, Perna’s delicate silk pieces float to the top with refined elegance. I chatted with Carla to find out more about her timeless approach to design.

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

I’ve been immersed in the fashion industry from a very young age. My mum is a patternmaker by trade and she taught me the craft of garment construction and the ins and outs of the industry – which ultimately led to my obsession with fashion. 

I got my first retail job and worked my way up to a management position by the time I was 19. I then worked as a stylist, helping women curate their wardrobes and develop their personal brands. Controversially, I actually never studied fashion formally. 

I want to show young designers that – contrary to popular opinion – you don’t need a degree to start a label. There’s a lot of misconception that you need a degree or a certificate to be successful in contemporary creative industry. I hope I serve as an inspiration to those who want to start designing but are hesitant due to the restraints of this outdated social construct.

You launched Perna at the start of 2020 when the world was a pretty uncertain place. How did you get the label started? Talk us through the process.

Starting my own label has been a dream of mine for a long time and the pandemic allowed me to go after that dream wholeheartedly. The uncertainty of work was definitely stressful, but my time at home provided me with the tools to get my designs off the ground. 

With very limited money, I did most of the work on my own – website design, packaging, branding, sketching and fabric sourcing. I taught myself how to use Photoshop and CSS code on Shopify to create my custom website. 

From the very beginning, I knew I only wanted to work with Australian makers. I made sure everything was sourced locally, down to the Perna packaging and labels. The ‘local’ element has very much become part of the brand’s identity.

Your collection has a very romantic, feminine and sensual feel. Who or what are your design inspirations?

My collection is inspired by classical art; it heavily influences my choice of fabrics and the movement of my garments. I also take inspiration from architecture in terms of the silhouette and structure of my pieces. For me, the most important element is to design with the female form at the front of my mind.

 

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You’re a big advocate for using slow fashion principles in your work. Tell me a little bit about how you create your pieces.

Being so immersed in the fashion industry, I’m constantly thinking about new designs. I always begin my creative process by sketching on paper. My sketches start rough and vague – this is the idea phase. I’ll then complete technical drawings based on my final sketches and take them to my incredible pattern maker in Fitzroy. This is the most important part of the process; perfecting the fit takes multiple alterations to a pattern and toile.

From here, samples are made. We use these samples to analyse how the fabric falls and then make changes accordingly. This part of the process is lengthy and costly but an essential step to get that beautiful fit. After that, I source my fabrics from local textile mills.

It can take a surprisingly long time to find the right fabric; I can not emphasise enough the importance of getting this step right. I won’t settle for anything less than perfection when it comes to fabric – I think that’s what makes Perna unique. Once the patterns and textiles are finalised, I take everything to my ethically accredited maker in Kealba, Victoria.

I love that your collections aren’t dictated by seasons or trends. What do you believe makes a piece feel ‘timeless’?

A timeless piece is a considered and thought-out design that will serve as a ‘forever garment’ in your wardrobe. I make pieces you can pair back with the rest of your wardrobe seamlessly and endlessly.

Who do you think is most exciting in Australian fashion right now?

Esse Studios is very inspiring to me. I love everything [the founder] Charlotte stands for in terms of sustainability and slow fashion. Her designs are leading the way in a new era of conscious Australian design. 

 

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How do you want Perna customers to feel when they put on one of your garments?

They should feel a different level of luxury. Every detail of my pieces has been thought out and executed carefully. I want my customers to feel bold, striking and feminine – Perna is for making an impact. I hope wearers also feel good knowing their garment was ethically crafted by Australian makers.

What about the Australian fashion industry needs to change?

I believe sustainability needs to be much more heavily monitored and enforced. We need a more transparent and honest standard of production. Consumers deserve to know the ethics of the business they’re buying into.

Shop the full Perna range here.

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