Camilla: trading kaftans for campfires

For Camilla Franks, it all started during her actor training days when she designed costumes for her glaringly lengthy stage performances. “Firstly I did terrible plays and then I hated the costumes they made for me. It was so boring. No colour, no fun.”

It was seven years ago when she was stereotyped for being a “hippie and a flamingo dancer”. Today, with her brand Camilla, she has created an exceptional niche that still falls under the “gypsy” outlook. Albeit a luxurious gypsy.

This internationally acclaimed designer has done it all, from working in Los Angeles at the Grammy Awards to launching a charity-driven coffee table book that raised over AU$80,000 for UNIFEM. “We used the money raised from Women of the World [the book], and built a school in Lao. We’re teaching women how to work with silk there. I have been on the most fascinating roller coaster ride. I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly,” says Franks.

Ironically, Franks wasn’t always enamoured by her infamous title of the Kaftan Queen. But her disapproval didn’t last long. “When I first got that title, I was still trying to evolve as a designer and it really frustrated me. But now I’m really comfortable with it. At the end of the day, it brings me back to what I do best,” she says.

To coincide with the debut of Camilla’s autumn / winter ‘Woodstock Collection’ and to find out exactly what it is that the designer has done best for this new season, sat down with Camilla Franks to discuss what she has for the Camilla girl this season, and what the future holds for the brand.

A Camilla girl is intelligent, confident, playful and mature. Her colour-stained wardrobe might scream out for attention, but isn’t afraid to exhibit her raw female aesthetic. However, this winter, Camilla has steered away from her vivid colours and dived into a moody, undertone palette. The Woodstock Collection has embraced dark monochrome silhouettes by introducing new fabrics into the range.

Apart from the palpable and expected use of silk crepes and chiffon, this season Franks has worked with cashmere, modals, angoras and leather. “I wanted to create the feeling of playing guitar around a campfire and drinking red wine. That cosy and wrapped up feeling you get in winter. But I wanted to create the freedom to delayer. Woodstock all about cosiness and multi-layering,” she tells us.

With three and a half metres of fabric in every garment, this 150-piece autumn / winter 2011 range has an injection of new styles, featuring silk harem pants, cotton cardigans and chunky knits layered with silk crepe. The collection is rich in digital prints, hand-beading on silk, and studded-Swarovski crystals.

But the already sold-out piece in the collection is its leather vest. The exquisite piece has been sculpted with semi-precious stones, replicating Camilla’s trademark jewelled neckline. “It’s an old art form that hasn’t been done in ages and only two people in the world can do it. I tracked down the freak who does and worked with her to create this,” says Franks.

With her debutant attempt of incorporating a traditional winter palette of black, navy, khaki, mustard and slate-grey, Franks wanted to showcase the “earthy side” of her personality. “Everyone told me ‘Camilla, you are Miss Colour’, but then I thought I am also about Mother Nature, you know. She is the most amazing artist with her colour, symmetry, and texture. So the OTT Camilla loves wearing the psychedelic colour and then there is the hippie, relaxed, gypsy Camilla.”

That chilled vibe comes across loud and clear in the label’s flagship store on Bondi Beach in Sydney. With Bob Marley, Cat Stevens and Jimmy Hendrix humming through the iPod speakers, this ‘Beach Shack’ as the designer calls it, is a replication of Frank’s home. “When my customer walks in through those doors, I want them to get a feel of what my lifestyle is. What the brand stands for,” she says while sipping a sparkling wine.

Lover of all-things Italian, Franks gets her inspiration from everywhere. Really, everywhere! “I was shopping in Europe and I was inspired by the Babushka dolls. So I started learning that art and it will be in my next collection. Then I was deep sea diving in Maldives and the tropical fish inspired me. So I started working with Marine Biologists. And India is my second home.”

This humbled, chirpy designer surely travels the world, but her label is the real globetrotter.

Her celebrity fans include the likes of Beyonce, Elle Macpherson, Jennifer Lopez, Nicole Kidman, and of course, Oprah Winfrey.
“The celebrities we dress really showcases what the label is about. It is about celebrating women and their body no matter what age, shape or size they are.”

“But sometimes you get women who you don’t want wearing the label, like Paris Hilton. But you can’t control that,” she laughs.
After seven years of fame, Camilla (the brand, not the designer) is set for a facelift, with home wares, body care, eyewear and even daybeds, being added to the brand. “You walk into the store, you get Camilla-fied and you walk out. That is the future for my brand.”

You can see pictures of the Camilla autumn / winter 2011 Woodstock Collection by clicking on the thumbnails. You’ll find the range stocked Australia wide in David Jones and in Camilla’s boutiques in Sydney. Elsewhere in the world you’ll find Camilla stocked at Harvey Nichols (UK, Dubai and Riyadh), Calypso (New York), Boutique 1 (UAE) and online at