deanna fanning’s designs are inspired by suburban garages and wedding dresses

Following her Australian Fashion Foundation scholarship win, the Central St Martins student and knitwear designer talks Italian grandmothers and happy work.

by Wendy Syfret
19 January 2017, 4:25am

Fashion has always been part of Deanna Fanning's life. She and her twin sister Laura spent their childhood in an Australian suburban garage watching their grandmother and great aunt make wedding dresses. Those memories of women in her family, bundled up in cardigans against the concrete cold, stayed with her. 

Now living in London and studying a masters in knitwear at Central St Martins, she has returned to these totems of childhood. Considering the interconnecting roles of women and wool, her work draws of familiar themes and infuses them with lingering rays of Australian optimism. Recently, Deanna was awarded the prestigious Australian Fashion Foundation annual scholarship. Fresh off her win, we caught up with the Australian in London to talk about her journey so far.

Before starting at Central St Martins you didn't have a formal fashion background. In fact, you'd been studying law and international relations in Melbourne. Was it a bit of a culture shock arriving at such a prestigious fashion school on the the other side of the world?
It wasn't such a shock because I was immediately really enjoying it. I know I'm in London, but I could count the number of English friends I have on one hand. There are so many people from other parts of the world that I kind of feel like we're all going through it at the same time. Saying that, I did have to re-skill. I'm doing knitting as my specialty but I didn't even know how to hand knit. I had to start from scratch and I nearly failed my first year. But I ended up getting there in the end.

Why focus on knitting when you had so little experience with it?
To be honest, I didn't think too much about it. I got into Fine Art at Goldsmiths and I thought that looked really interesting, but I'd heard really good stuff about the knitwear course here — that it wasn't a traditional fashion course, it was really open. I just thought 'cause I'd moved all this way I wanted to do something that would give me a job when I finished. I thought fashion was slightly more vocational than fine art, although I don't know now [laughs].

So how did you catch up?
It was tough. I was working part time while studying, and trying to intern as well. You don't really get taught technical skills when you're here, so it's a lot of YouTube tutorials, borrowing books, speaking to friends. I cried a lot in my first year.

Your work looks at archetypes of femininity, perhaps most specifically at wedding dresses, which your grandmother used to make when she worked as a seamstress. Tell us how her work has fed yours.
I used to spend a lot of time with her as a kid; she always wore red lipstick and gold jewellery when she left the house and had special things she would show us from her wardrobe. With her we looked at clothing in a way we didn't with mum. She's always been a subconscious influence; I like things that are slightly baroque, that goes back to my Italian grandmother.

Your recent designs are about combining cardigans with wedding dresses, that image came from her right?
My grandmother used to help my grand auntie make wedding dresses in their garages in the 90s — they would get pattern books in from Italy. It was a lot colder in there and they'd always be wearing their woollen jumpers. I just remember them in their chunky jumpers making dresses and really frou-frou kind of stuff. I suppose aesthetically that influenced me. Compared to my peers I have a bizarre take on mixing baroque glamour with natural Australian flora and fauna — you can see the taste of my grandma mixed with what I saw as an Australian growing up.

So you feel an Australian influence in your pieces?
I think they're very colourful and have a certain amount of optimism. I work at Aesop on weekends and there are a lot Australians working there and coming into the shop, and I always feel like they have a sense of optimism that maybe the locals don't have. You can see that in the work, it's not depressive work, it's happy work.



Text Wendy Syfret

Central St. Martins
fashion interviews
deanna fanning