In 10 minutes I'll be interviewing leading Australian fashion designer
Lisa Ho when my mobile phone suddenly rings. It's Adam Worling,
Ho's publicist. 'Hi,' I say surprised. 'Is everything okay?'
As it turns out Ho, 44, is more nervous of me than I am of
her, but she is prepared. Worling arranged for her to do media training
to overcome her fear of interviews for a recent nationwide tour
of Australia. 'It really used to stress me out and I'd end up with
a migraine,' Ho confesses. 'I remember one year more than 10 years
ago I received an award and when I went up to collect it I burst
into tears and couldn't speak. I thought I have got to do something
about managing this phobia so I have come a long way.'
'Just ringing to make sure everything is on track,'
he replies. I assure him I'll be on time. He tells me he'll wait
for me in the foyer and that he's wearing a marl T-shirt demonstrating
he's not only an on-to-it publicist but also fashion literate. I'm
impressed and a little nervous.
Born on the border of New South Wales and Victoria
in a town called Albury, Ho remembers a happy childhood growing
up in rural Australia where her mixed ChineseEnglish heritage
was never an issue.
She began sewing at age four inspired by her grandmother,
a tailor, whom Ho says she 'probably drove mad'. Ho made patterns
out of newspaper and by age 10 had a sewing machine at the end of
the kitchen table 'that nobody was allowed to move,' which she used
every day to make things for herself and four sisters. She later
trained in fashion design at East Sydney Technical College, graduating
in 1981 and spent a year working for another company, which she
'hated', before going out on her own.
Working out of Paddington Market, her business quickly
grew when she began taking on wholesale orders and could no longer
manage making all the garments herself. Ho now employs 70 staff, which
doesn't include outworkers, who man 11 signature stores and head office.
Her label is also stocked in more than 250 boutiques worldwide,
and she is seriously thinking about opening a store in Los Angeles.
It would be a smart move for Ho, whose frocks belong on the red carpet.
She can already claim a celebrity following. Delta
Goodrem wore 'the pink dress' at the 2003 Aria Awards, Sarah Wynter
wore Lisa Ho at the 2003 Emmy Awards in Los Angeles, and Jennifer
Lopez chose to wear Lisa Ho during her 2002 Australian promotional
tour. Other famous fans include Nicole Kidman, Olivia Newton-John,
Toni Collette, Elle Macpherson, and Gemma Ward.
Her international reputation was recognized at
the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games' opening ceremony, which featured
a special Lisa Ho-designed segment celebrating her role in Australian
Ho also landed the auspicious position of being the first show of
Mercedes Australian Fashion Week 2004, Sydney. Choosing the Sydney
Town Hall for the backdrop for her Peggy Guggenheim-inspired collection
Exotica, 'because its ceiling and magnificent chandelier reminded
[her] of the interior of a Fabergé egg,' models were transformed
into beautiful birds of paradise as Ho successfully brought together
an array of sophisticated prints in a kaleidoscope of florals, ocelots,
tie dyes and ombres. MAFW also saw
the launch of two new Lisa Ho accessory lines: Italian-crafted evening
shoes trimmed with stones, and a collection of glamorous sunglasses,
which she also styled with eccentric vintage jewellery. Exotica
set the standard that most designers showing that week couldn't
While delighted the collection was a hit with the
fashion pack, Ho admits the critique element of Fashion Week is something
she doesn't enjoy. 'There is a lot of pressure in it. Everyone is
judging it and waiting to tear it apart, and you think, "Oh God,
I don't want to do it," even after all these years,' she says.
'I'm lucky that everyone got this collection and I've had great feedback.
I have had other collections I have been really happy with and
people just haven't understood them. Then, six years down the
track a stylist going through the vintage archive will say, "Wow,
this is an incredible dress," and when that sort of thing happens
it can be soul-destroying.
'You have to keep going and believe in what you
are doing and persevere.'
A mother of three children aged 10, 8 and 5, it
could have been easy for Ho to find excuses to give it all up, but
she's made of tougher stuff. Her driving force is 'being able to
work on beautiful things and make people feel good in the clothing'.
'It is something that I love doing and still enjoy
after 22 years,' she says. 'Seeing it get to a level like this makes
me feel it was worth it.'
more about Lisa Ho on motherhood and her next collection in
the February 2005 print edition of Lucire, out in New
Zealand on January 31.
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Delta Goodrem wore the
pink dress at the 2003 Aria Awards, Sarah Wynter wore Lisa
Ho at the 2003 Emmy Awards in Los Angeles, and Jennifer Lopez chose
to wear Lisa Ho during her 2002 Australian promotional tour
ABOVE FROM TOP:
Lisa Ho and models backstage at Sydney 2004. Her springsummer