Interview: Gary Bigeni

Gary Bigeni interview, Catalogue Magazine Autumn 2013

As a boy growing up in Blacktown in Sydney he used to design clothes for Barbie dolls and G.I. Joe. Now he runs his own label and is famed for his meticulous draping and love of colour. Interview by Chloe Sargeant.

Well before we start, let me say that I have a ridiculous amount of the Bigeni Basics in my wardrobe. So now I have you on the phone, I can thank you personally for clearing out my bank account!
[Laughs] You are more than welcome! 

Tell me a bit about your background. Where did you grow up?
I grew up in the Western suburbs of Sydney. In Blacktown, which is like, the suburbs. I the youngest of four, two older sisters and one older brother… I went to East Sydney [Technical College] in 2000, and graduated in 2002. I still keep in close contact with so many of my friends from East Sydney too. We all support and keep an eye out for one another. If I have an event on or something, they'll all be there to this day, and vice versa

Who or what first steered you towards fashion design? 
It’s something I’m still trying to find out! My mum and dad are from Malta, so I’ve always wondered whether there’s something there that influenced them, then me. My mum was a single mother, and so she definitely taught me that if you want something, you work for it. She taught me to push myself. In terms of design, I was always fascinated with creating clothes for Barbies and G.I. Joes as a child, y’know. Then it evolved into sketching, and so on. And here I am. 

Was there an actual moment when you realised you wanted to be a designer?
I don’t know… in a way I kind of knew I was going to be in that field. I was always in my own little dreamland, creating puppets and making dolls clothes. I had a sewing machine at 12.

Who were your main inspirations starting out? And now?
I don’t really have a muse or anything. I get inspired by movement, motions, everyday things. I don’t really have design inspirations.

Can you summarise your vision or mantra for the Gary Bigeni label?
Well I always imagine strong women wearing my clothes. I’m more attracted to strength in women, women who only get better with age. Like Angelica Huston, or Madeleine Ward. And also some of my friends who have been in the industry the same amount of time as me, they’re so talented and strong. I just think they are so beautiful and amazing. They way they hold themselves. I suppose that’s my vision, that’s who I design for. 

I think that’s my favourite ever answer to that question Gary. You win all the interviews!
[Laughs] Awww thank you! Many designers go for a specific muse, you know, ‘oh I like her because she’s cool and hot!’ And that’s their perspective, everyone’s different.

You are well-known for being the master of the artful drape. Is this something that is always at the forefront of your mind when you are designing? Or does it happen fluidly in the design process?
Oh I wouldn’t say master! I’ve kind of steered away from it recently though, I focused more on tailoring. I miss it, I’m wanting to combine the draping and the tailoring together for Spring/Summer. I like those clean elements. I’m all about the 3D kind of thing. 

This is a weird one, but I think this would be my biggest paranoia if I was a designer: Have you ever spent hours and days and weeks on some phenomenal piece, only to look at the finished product and you stand back and go, ‘f**k, I hate it’?
It happens all the time! You get to shooting the lookbook, you’ve spent dollars and hours on this piece, and you see the photo, and it’s like ‘urrrgh that’s really bad.’ There’s one dress I did last summer, it was leather panelling and silk, and I ended up looking at it and realizing it was just bad. It’s hard when it’s the statement piece of a collection, really irritating. But it’s all trial and error, you cut it, grow from it and move on. 

Tell me a bit about the Bigeni basics collections. Why’d you do it? Who was the target market?
Well I’m going into my fifth season of the Basics, throwing out a bit of menswear now too, which is all small things like clean casual pants, and custom-made stripe shirts, that kind of thing. I had a lot of friends who were really into fashion, they’d always buy my mainline. Then it all got to the stage where they were buying houses and having children, so obviously all of those luxuries for themselves start to drop off a bit. So I realized there was a massive market for stylish casuals! One of my close friends had a baby not long ago, and throughout the pregnancy she pretty much only wore Bigeni Basics. That’s why I did it, for normal everyday women who need to be casual, but still look stylish. They love it! 

If you could create a piece for any one particular person, who would it be and what would you create for them? Anyone in the world. 
Probably Angelica Huston, I just love her, she stuns me. I think I could see her in a drape shirt with really clean classic pants. With that really classic fringed bob she had in the 1970’s. I just love her awkward beauty. 

Can you tell us anything about the collection you will be showing at MBFWA in April? Or is completely secret? 
Working on a lot of colour and prints. I want to combine a lot of different elements, like the tailoring and draping we mentioned before. My winter collection to come out February focuses on more tailoring, it’s very clean, and it includes a beautiful paisley print. 

You don’t seem like the type of person to follow trends, but is there any particular fashion 'trend' that you completely hate?
No I don’t, I’ve always just kind of done my own thing. But I’m not a fan of thongs. Or those legging and t-shirt combinations! It’s just sloppy, it’s what you wear to bed. I don’t get it.

If you could give one piece of advice to the normal Australian women in terms of dressing themselves, what would it be?
Always be yourself, know your body type and what suits it. People try and focus on what’s happening overseas and what the trends are, but I think you should put your own personality into things! Mix it up a bit; make sure your personal style includes elements of yourself!

What's your personal style like? Do you find that part of your own style seeps into your design, or is completely removed?
I love my polka dots! I’ve had coloured hair for years – I’ve got candy pink and fluoro yellow right now, I look like a candy shop! I like creepers and colour. Really different things excite me. I love dressing up. You have to do that for yourself, if you can do those small things in life that make you happy, do them! 

What's the latest piece of clothing you've bought for yourself to wear?
I’m so excited! I ordered the hot pink pants with the black hand on the crotch, by Yoko Ono for Opening Ceremony! And I just got the comic book shirt from Romance was Born, with all the superheroes on it. I think I’m going to wear those two pieces together actually. 

Just to finish things off, lets do a nice little 'think fast' exercise. Tea or coffee?
Tea. I’ve never had a coffee in my life!

Black or white? 
White, because you can mix it up.

Present or future?
Future! Yep.