The Designer Bringing Wangaratta (And Magpies!) to NYFW

Melbourne designer Tara Whalley is still buzzing, having just sent her super-sweet designs down the runway at New York Fashion Week. This isn’t her first rodeo – Tara has previously shown in New York and Paris – but this collection is particularly close to her heart. Called ‘Wangaratta’, it’s inspired by the Victorian town where she recently spent a year, attending CWA meets and lapping up the local lore.

The result? Pretty prints brimming with Australiana and old-world nostalgia (think: granny squares, doilies and vintage tea towels). Tara paints each element then the designs are digitally printed onto natural fibres (to reduce water use) and stitched in Melbourne. Most pieces are made-to-order, with sizes ranging from XS to “10XLovely” (size 32).

Being the good sort she is, Tara has taken time out of her NY schedule to talk us through the process and her favourite bits from the collection, including a rather sentimental sack of potatoes… 

First things first, tell us all about NYFW!

It has blown my mind. I’ve met a lot of people who I’ve admired for a long time – like Alexa Chung, Jason Wu, Caroline Vazzana and Kristen Bateman – so I’m unsure if I’m actually just dreaming. And I was so excited to present the ‘Wangaratta’ collection.

What is it about Wangaratta that inspires you?

It’s a really special place for me. My grandad grew up on a farm on Whalleys Lane in Myrtleford and he used to travel to Wangaratta for school. When the flood waters were high, he’d trade a bag of potatoes for lodging. Those potatoes feature in my Wangaratta print!

Moving there was an amazing experience – I made friends with local artists and connected with the CWA. The warmth and friendliness of the community was beautiful and I wanted to capture that in my artworks. My artworks are like a journal; I love to capture what I see and the feeling of a place. Each one of my textile prints has a story and a personal meaning.

When the flood waters were high, he’d trade a bag of potatoes for lodging. Those potatoes feature in my Wangaratta print!

Can you tell us about some of your favourite pieces in the collection?

I love the brown linen jacket and pants in the Wangaratta print. It’s so eclectic, comfortable and cheerful. One day, when I was in Wangaratta, I was smelling some roses that were hanging over a fence, and the owner popped out and we burst out laughing. I was busted smelling the roses! She was so lovely and snipped off two Turkish roses for me. It’s an example of the warmth of the community and a bit of the layered story behind the print.

And the other gorgeous prints…

Wangaratta is known for its passion for textiles, so I wanted to incorporate that history of wool with crochet elements, plus doilies and, of course, my own take on the classic Australian tea towel. The CWA was kind enough to show me their collection, which was amazing to see. 

The doll’s house and the mint print featuring vintage makeup are inspired by some of the lovely things that can be found in the town’s antique stores. And, of course, walking by the river every day and being surrounded by native plants, kookaburras, cockatoos, magpies, fairy wrens and parrots had a heavy influence on the range.

Let’s go back to the early days: what inspired you to start Tara Whalley?

After university, I moved to Guatemala for a year to work with war-affected Mayan women, designing new products to help them generate more income for their families. A product that sells well can help them send their children to school and pay for basic medical expenses. 

Working with the weavers there ignited my passion for local production. I moved back to Australia and after doing some amazing collaborations with Alas the Label and on Rebel Yuths’ Vienna Fashion Week collection, it felt like the right time. So I started my label, creating collections from artworks I did during my overseas travels.


How do you incorporate sustainability/ethical practices into your brand?

I love working with local producers and being able to visit the makers who create the collections. Most of the range is made-to-order at the moment, so production is based on demand, which minimises wastage and means we make the right quantity of clothing. 

We make patchwork garments with offcuts from the collections, and most of my accessories and homewares are made from offcuts, too. Scraps that are too small are utilised for my workshops and activity packs where you can create your own paper doll clothing range.

What kind of changes would you like to see in Australian fashion?

I love wild prints. Dressing up brings a lot of fun and delight to other people’s days. Wear the print! Wear items that delight you!

What are some of your favourite local labels?

Squint and Kate Dansey

I love wild prints. Dressing up brings a lot of fun and delight to other people’s days. Wear the print! Wear items that delight you!

Tell us about some of the other standout moments of your career.

I organised the runway show for The Big Design Market last year, which was incredible. And running my pop-up Shop Gal, a place for people to buy Melbourne-made labels, was another wonderful experience – watch this space!

I love collaborating with different brands and painting for others – it’s a thrill to see what they do with my artwork. More collaborations please!