Homegrown fashion and jewellery designer, Celeste Tesoriero, grew up on the Hawksebury River, and enjoyed a childhood marked with adventure and sisterhood. After originally studying Entertainment Design in Sydney’s Newtown, Tesoriero worked for five years with other fashion labels before launching her own eponymous brand, and hasn’t been deterred from her vision ever since. The foundations of her label are the notions of ‘the romance of nature’ and ‘the nature of romance’, a deep appreciation for both being fostered from a young age. The narrative, mystery and beauty found in nature are where she derives the majority of both her personal contentment and design inspiration, manifesting in designs that are equal parts classic and contemporary, sexy and innocent and always effortlessly chic.
The label remains a small team of incredibly talented and dedicated individuals, and Tesoriero sources her fabrics and raw jewellery materials from all over the world. Her design process is meticulous, and she designs for someone who is the ultimate version of who she strives to be: global, confident and free. Those girls who don’t feel the need to try too hard, who make you want to relinquish any pretences to nature alone, and always possessive of that little touch of magic, much like Celeste herself. She is honest, intelligent, and obviously incredibly talented, but something about her speaks more to me than anything else… her inherent sense of freedom.
Hall of Furs: Firstly, can you tell me a little about yourself? Where did you grow up?
Celeste Tesoriero: I grew up in Freemans Reach in the Hawkesbury River, north west of Sydney. It was such an epic place to grow up. We would leave the house as soon as we woke up and go adventuring in the surrounding bush lands until the sun was going down…and for some vegemite sandwiches in-between. I have three sisters, all of similar age, so we would meet up with the only other kids that lived on our dirt road making up magical games, trying not to be trampled by cows or sink into the neighbors quick sand whilst we were spying on her (we were all convinced she was a witch). Having that upbringing has given me a huge appreciation and love for nature and open spaces. This is my biggest influence on my work and lifestyle choices.
Let’s start at the beginning. What made you pursue a career in fashion? Where and what did you study?
I had always been attracted to fashion, and loved using it as a way of self-expression. In high school I started trawling local op shops for things I could sew up into something new. I remember when I was working retail, one of the girls asked me if I would ever be a fashion designer, and I was totally against it. I remember saying “I enjoy piecing together things for myself, but I don’t think I would be able to actually design and make things professionally. Fast forward a few years down the track and I began studying Entertainment Design at the Design Centre Enmore in Newtown, Sydney. It is a course that is not specific to fashion, where you also study product design, set design, costume design, film, CAD, illustration (and probably a few other subjects I had 100% no interest in and therefore can’t remember). This was the perfect course for me, as I wasn’t sure which direction I wanted to go in, so doing the numerous subjects helped me see what came to me naturally. Fashion being the winner. At the end of the first year, I was lucky enough to be offered a job designing for a label I had loved for a very long time.
What is your definition of beauty?
Nature and happiness.
How did Celeste Tesoriero, the label, come to be? When and why did you launch your eponymous label? How would you describe your aesthetic?
I worked for other labels for 5 years, with the notion in my brain that the aim of the game would be to eventually start my own brand. I made a promise to myself that I would not rush into it, that I would gain as much experience, as I found necessary and wait until the moment felt right. That moment ended up punching me in the face, at a point in time that I wasn’t sure I had the guts to do it, but I did. Everything lined up in my life, so I took the leap and haven’t looked back. I was also lucky enough to have a couple of people tell me that I wouldn’t be able to pull it off. That ended up being the perfect push and the extra incentive that I needed. It feels pretty good to mentally be sticking my middle finger up at those people right now. My aesthetic is relaxed, simple yet detailed, and uses luxe fabrics in Japanese inspired silhouettes.
The underlying energy of your collections is ‘the romance of nature, and the nature of romance’. Can you explain this notion?
These are the elements that drive the brand and give it it’s finger print. They are notions that I am constantly exploring. I think I am drawn to nature and romance, as they are both vast and unexplainable. They are constantly evolving, and everyone’s experience with them is unique and special. There is nothing more romantic than nature, and there is nothing more mysterious than the nature of romance.
Who is the archetypal Celeste Tesoriero woman? Do you design with a particular woman in mind?
To me she is a very complex individual, and yet the clothes appeal to a very vast customer base. I love that about the label. I love that people can take on the pieces and make them into something I could not have even imagined. To me she is a half Japanese base player who lives in the mountains in seclusion, or perhaps even a cult. She is someone who keeps to herself, is a no-nonsense girl and goes travelling to far off places to live with monks for years at a time… She is the ultimate version of who I would want to be.
How would you describe your team? Would you say it’s quite close-knit?
My team is very small, and made up of a bunch of super awesome humans with really great attitudes. I prefer not to work with interns, and rather focus energy on finding people who will stay with the brand as it grows and develops and commit to it to the point where they feel like the label is also theirs. No one is really in charge of anyone else; everyone just does their thing and also happens to be really good at it. Good vibes all round.
Do you have a favourite of your collections? Perhaps a favourite piece?
It changes all the time. It has been nice to look back on my first ever collection lately with fresh eyes, and I really really love it. So much of me and my personality went into that range. I am still very proud of it. I also got a DHL delivery at 7am this morning with my new Spring Summer pieces and I am super excited to share them with everyone too.
Where do you source your fabrics and materials for your jewellery?
They are sourced from all over the world. Certain crystals are from specific areas. For example, I really love the Himalayan quartz, and my favorites are opals mined in Lightening Ridge in Australia.
Thank you for saying that, that is a very nice compliment and I really appreciate that. Having a clear brand aesthetic is something that I think takes some time for people to grasp, so now, in my fifth collection, it is great to know I have been around long enough for people to understand the CT vibe. I find the imagery by mainly Googling the things that interest me the most, and things that fit along the personality of the label. Things are clean, simple, and beautiful. Things like raw crystals, nature, the fashion photography of the 90s, large open spaces, and images that explore a relationship.
When did you first make your foray into jewellery design? What should jewellery mean to its wearer?
I stumbled into jewellery design and am so happy I did. I only officially started doing it for my own label, and so it has been a fun learning curve for me, and something new to explore whilst doing apparel at the same time. Jewellery is a very personal affair, and I treat mine with the highest regard. I want others to view their jewellery in this way also. It can be pieces that you pass onto your grand children. I don’t believe in wearing cheap pieces that will date, you are better off investing in something that is of high quality that is not trend driven and that will last.
What’s the story behind the title of your AW14 collection, Vanilla Strawberry Knickerbocker Glory? How do you come up with the names for your collections?
This is the name of the song by Fujiya & Miyagithat was an influence on the collection. It has this dark beat and naughty schoolgirl lyric. I find song titles to always be perfect representations of the mood of the collection. If you can listen to the song, whilst you are viewing the clothing, it gives you a deeper understanding of the aesthetic.
What is the design process, for you, from start to finish? Do you create mood boards, perhaps, or indulge in the ever-stressful sampling process?
My design process varies for the apparel and the jewellery. The apparel design and development process is around four months, whereas the jewellery is maximum two. I [take] design-inspiration trips a few months before I need to start designing, so I can have the chance to mull over ideas and themes before I commit to them. My first ideas are always, without fail, completely scrapped. At design school I remember them telling us that for every hundred idea’s, only one will be outstanding. So I try to take as much time as I can to put a heavy filter on my ideas before I begin sketching. The sampling process is stressful, but it is also completely enjoyable too. The first time you see something you have sketched put into an actual 3D garment is a pretty exciting moment (if it has turned out correctly). On the flip side to that, sometimes your idea dies right there on the spot because the sample is beyond workable.
What role does colour play in your designs? And texture?
Colour is what brings a collection together. Creating a colour palette is always the first thing I do, and the first thing I get excited about. I love mixing together colours you wouldn’t usually pair together and making them into something new. Texture is a biggie for me. The texture of fabrics is the most important aspect of getting a garment to fall the way you have designed it. I love discovering new textures, or new ways of creating texture by means of printing or working two different fabrics together.
How does Australia’s fashion industry differ from that of our Northern Hemisphere counterparts? Do you think it is shown enough support by sponsors?
This was quite an interesting topic of conversation over fashion week this year. It is more expensive for a label to do fashion week in Sydney than it is abroad, and I believe they are looking at new ways to improve this to help the growth of the industry here. It is impossible to compare us to other nations with much more extensive populations. The demand for fashion is just not as great in Australia. I believe Australian designers have a very prestigious reputation abroad and receive a lot of international support, which is a positive. Hopefully the industry here will grow, but it is really a ‘supply to demand’ situation, so unless the public starts supporting Australian labels not much is going to change.
Who are some of your style icons? Do you find the work of certain designers or artists particularly influential?
Chloé Sevigny, Liv Tyler. I like girls who don’t try too hard; girls who don’t care about trends, and are just comfortable in their own style.
Where do you source inspiration for a collection? Do you aim to tell a story through your pieces or your campaigns?
All of my stories always come back to the underlying current of the label, which is based on ‘the romance of nature, and the nature of romance’. Inspiration is always pulled from many varying places each collection. It could be a shade of concrete, or the texture of an orange. Anything.
Do you have any words of tried-and-true advice for aspiring designers?
Get as much experience as you can. Don’t jump into starting your own label until you are confident you can process what comes and have the skills to deal with it.
Is travel a major component of your work as a designer? Can you share your ultimate destination?
Travel is important for everyone, and most especially for anyone creative. If I don’t have time to get overseas I’ll often just do small trips to somewhere else to get a new fresh perspective. Travelling is, for sure, one of the best things about the job.
If you weren’t designing apparel and jewellery what would you be doing?
I have no idea! I guess that’s a good thing, that fact that I’m not sitting here wondering what I would prefer to be doing!
You’re currently stocked internationally, which is a great feat! I have to ask, what’s next for you and your label? Where do you hope to be in let’s say, five years time?
You are constantly told it is crucial to have a 5 year plan with any business, but I have been happy to just coast along for the first two to see how quickly it would grow etc. before I got too ahead of myself. My goals with where I want to go are constantly changing, to be honest, and I like the freedom of that. In a very broad perspective I would love for the label (which at the moment is run by only a few people) to grow into an extended family of like-minded people, all [of whom are] striving towards the same goal – to extend the CT experience to the world. At the moment I am doing a few collaborations with other labels in different areas, which is very exciting for me. I love being able to work alongside other designers and collaborate [on] ideas. It’s such a nice way to refresh your creativity.
Photographs by James Whineray courtesy of Celeste Tesoriero.