The daughter of hippies who couldn’t quite decide where in the world they wanted to live, Natalie Encarnita spent her childhood moving every few years between the sun-drenched city of Perth and the chilly climes of Edinburgh, Scotland. When the time came to chase her dream of fashion, she chose the University of Leeds to embark on her studies. The sojourn saw her stay in the UK for the next nine years, building a successful fashion career with her namesake label (stocked locally at Blonde Venus). A year ago, after a two-year hiatus from fashion, Natalie, 27, finally moved back to Australia, embarking on a new chapter in her journey with Melbourne as her home.
My mum was a seamstress … not professionally, but she was always making clothes when I was a kid. And her mum was a professional seamstress in London, so ever since I was small, I’ve been sewing. Even my brothers can use a sewing machine and they used to make sleeping bags for their action figures!
I really liked Japanese designers … when I was a teenager – people like Issey Miyake. I was interested in the way things were put together, particularly the techniques that Japanese designers used for their construction. It was really a time of discovery for me.
There’s definitely an influence … on my designs from having studied and lived in England for so long. I don’t really use much colour, whereas it seems as though a lot of other Australian designers do.
I’m very hands on … with my designing and I really love making stuff. A lot of people who study fashion love it for the design side of things and seeing the collections on the catwalk, but they’re not actually makers. I think because I’m also a maker of my designs, it’s allowed me to do things differently. It seems sometimes as though everybody thinks that it’s beneath them to sit down at the sewing machine, but I like feeling that I understand what’s going on with the garment. And I also really love that I can make whatever I want for myself.
I started selling my designs … to independent stores while I was still a student in the UK and it sort of had a mind of its own. I didn’t have a plan for what I was doing – it all just kind of happened.
I didn’t have a clue about anything … when I first started out when I was 18, and I think it all just got on top of me and became too stressful. Then I got picked up by ASOS and Topshop approached me to do a diffusion collection for them and I remember I was just this little girl in the Topshop offices thinking: ‘What the hell are they talking about?’
I took two years off … from doing my fashion label, which was in about 2010. Because I had started working on it when I was a student and then it kind of continued on without a plan, in the end I didn’t really have any control over it. And because of that I ended up doing what other people thought I should be doing rather than what I really wanted to do. So I just had to stop it and cut it off completely. I’d had a few bad experiences andat that point I didn’t want to even design anymore. I started work as the production manager for the UK label, Aqua, which I did for about a year. Then I had another year when I didn’t really do much at all and kind of just went travelling around on holiday!
It feels really good … to be back in it now and to have a fresh start and have had that time away from it all. I’m really enjoying it again.
What I’ve learned about myself … as a designer is that I don’t need to overthink things as much as I used to and that it’s not the be all and end all of everything in life. You can’t let it control you. It should be a more natural part of your life – it’s much more enjoyable and useful that way. And you’ll be a lot happier.
My old designs are drastically different … from what I’m doing now. I definitely design things for longevity and I like more classic things. I’m really proud of the fact that now I feel like I can be really low key in my designs, rather than being really ambitious or feeling like I have to try really hard to be successful.
My creative process … is very visual. I’ll have a starting point for an idea and there’ll be one little thing that I’ll kind of be fixated on and I’ll visually research that. It’s really about putting everything together in a kind of visual language. I really like the challenge of then working out how to turn that into a nice garment.
For my autumn/winter collection … it was less about what I could add to the garments and more what I could remove from them. It really was about trying to simplify things.
Success to me … is being able to work every day in a way that I am comfortable with and that I enjoy and can be creative in –however that can be interpreted into a commercial venture.
If I could give my 18-year-old self a piece of advice … I would say just to chill out about everything and not get too stressed out about it all. Also, you need to work out the production side of things really early on so that you know exactly how things are going to be made – it’s not just about drawing a picture or making a pretty dress.
What really inspires me in life … is going on holiday and really being surprised by places. I went to Cambodia about a year ago to stay with a friend of mine who lives there and it really was the most backwards country I’ve ever experienced. They’ve had civil war until quite recently and it seems like they’re rebuilding everything from scratch. The horrendous atrocities that happened there were quite recent and it’s still really tangible when you go
there to visit. There are people who are the same age as me who went through it all.
My dream now … is still to be able to live in other countries. I’d like to be able to spend a few months a year working overseas and then come back home and work. I’ve never actually been to the United States, so I’d really like to go there and visit New York and the south, and also Mexico and places like that.
I really find peace … in being in a new country and having that feeling of being somewhere that you’re not familiar with – getting lost in a city where you don’t know anyone at all. It’s peaceful because you’re not thinking about any of the things that you’d normally be thinking about.
The wisdom I live by is … that mistakes are okay. I had a teacher at school who was
a bit of a hippy and she doesn’t know this, but she’s actually one of my biggest influences in the way that I approach things. She was my art teacher and one day I made a mistake in the way I was doing something and I was really flustered about it. But she just said to me: ‘That’s okay – now it’s just something else.’ I really love that.