The Dreamers.

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Tovah Cottle

Brisbane fashion designer and former international model Tovah Cottle is currently putting the finishing touches on her autumn/winter 2013 collection. It’s her fourth collection since launching her namesake label, TOVAH, in 2011. Tovah is inspired by art and architecture, and weaves these influences through her beautiful creations with geometric shapes and structures, daring colour palettes and new fabric technologies. Her effortless talent is wowing many in the fashion industry, including iconic Australian designer Camilla Franks, who worked with Tovah as a mentor. Tovah’s motivation is to make a better life after enduring a turbulent past.

Like many young fashion designers, Tovah Cottle chose to ignore lecturers’ warnings against starting a label straight out of fashion college. Rather than practise on someone else’s business, Tovah launched her label, TOVAH, soon after graduating from Metropolitan South Institute of TAFE in 2010.

“I was pretty determined to do it and when I get an idea in my head, there’s no stopping me,” Tovah explains of the impetus behind her label. However, she notes, it wasn’t a rash move. Tovah researched diligently and sought business advice from her mentor, iconic Australian fashion designer Camilla Franks, as well as other industry gurus available to her through QUT’s Creative Enterprise Australia Fashion Incubator program.

Tovah’s hard work and innate talent is paying off as she proves she is one to watch with her art-meets-architecture approach to fashion. This adventurous aesthetic has been her signature since graduating from TAFE when she impressed with her first design – an avant-garde lingerie piece created for the Australian category of the Triumph Inspiration Awards. The award challenges students from all over the world to conceptualise and design a unique lingerie showpiece.

Tovah’s design submission consisted of boots and headwear made from white leather and silver sequins, including a layered wing-like fixture worn on the back. It walked a fine line between architectural sculpture and wearable art, and the judges were suitably impressed. Tovah won first place in Australia and her design went on to be worn by supermodel Helena Christensen at the international finals in London. Audi also snapped up the piece for a television commercial.

The Triumph Inspiration Awards enabled Tovah to dig deep into her creative wells, but the launch of TOVAH in 2011 required a more restrained aesthetic. Making her debut at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia in 2011 and showing again this year, Tovah explains that her label is evolving as she strives to tame her creativity.

“I really like lots of panelling and lots of different fabrics, but it wasn’t something I could keep doing commercially; it was almost more art than wearable,” Tovah explains of her past creations. She is enjoying the challenge of balancing the creativity and the viability of her designs. “And I guess that’s where the print came in. That for me was a way to still bring that creativity in through the print and keep my silhouettes a little clearer.”

The print Tovah is referring to is the result of a collaboration with innovative German digital artist Holger Lippmann. Tovah approached Holger to help create her first art print on fabric for her spring/summer 2012/13 collection. Tovah explains she stumbled across Holger’s work online and fell in love with it. Among other art forms, Holger throws ink onto liquids and photographs the result.

“As soon as I saw it, I knew straight away we needed to get these photos onto fabric,” she says of Holger’s multimedia work. “It’s really vibrant and lovely,” Tovah gushes of the print created for her clothing.

The experience of collaborating has helped Tovah realise that she enjoys connecting with other creative folk. “I really like the team effort and working with somebody else, especially with other artists and creatives. It adds to the whole process.”

Tovah says creativity has always been a part of her life. Greek-born, she grew up in Cyprus until the age of 12 when she immigrated with her mother and sister to Australia to live in Brisbane. She has many happy memories of her childhood. “Cyprus was a great place for a kid to live; we had a lot of freedom. Beautiful food and beautiful beaches – that’s what I remember the most.”

She credits her mother for fuelling her creativity. “Although she’s never had a job in the creative industries, she’s a very creative person,” Tovah says fondly. “She always made my clothes as a child. And I’m told that apparently her dream when she was younger was to be a fashion designer.”

Tovah recalls that at age 13 she, too, dreamed of being a fashion designer while sitting in the Queen Street Mall watching models strut the catwalk for the RAQ Fashion Design Awards. She was introduced to the world of fashion the following year when she was discovered as a model by a scout at Priscilla’s Model Management.

Tovah became an international success as a model, however she entered a dark place in her late teens and early twenties when she very publicly tumbled from grace, becoming a heroin addict and committing armed robbery and fraud offences. She was jailed for six years in 2005, but was released after 27 months. While in prison, Tovah committed to treating her addiction once and for all through rehabilitation programs – and, fortuitously, a chaplain taught her to sew. Her journey featured on Australian Story in May this year and she notes that she was surprised and heartened by the messages of support she received from viewers after it aired.

Tovah says her greatest life challenge has been the task of overcoming her drug addiction. “But I never considered giving up,” she shares. “My motivation was to make a better life for my son. I just knew there had to be more to life.” Tovah counts her greatest achievements in life as her son, aged 12, her partner in life and business, Warren Jopson, and her fashion label.

Tovah loves her work because the explorative and creative process of design fascinates her. “Starting with an idea in your head and turning that into a three-dimensional garment – I love that whole process of using the creative side of your brain.”

While she tries to keep Sundays free, Tovah’s fashion label consumes most of her waking hours – so it’s fortunate she finds peace in her home studio. “That’s where I go to relax,” she says.

Asked if she considers herself a success, Tovah says: “Yes, because I measure success by my happiness – by how I’m feeling and if I’m happy within myself.” She is now in a good place and intends to keep taking it one day and one collection at a time. Her dream is to grow her label and her creative potential. “I just want to continue to expand the label and keep working with more creative people. I love the collaborations. That’s the fun part for me.”

Her words of wisdom for herself are that anything is possible. “If you are willing to work hard enough for it, you can do it. Get up and give it a go.”