Interview: Designer Kym Ellery & Director Patrick Pearse Talk ‘Première’

One of only three Australians in twenty years to have been invited to Paris Fashion Week, designer Kym Ellery has taken the international fashion scene by storm with her classic, yet innovative designs. In his new documentary, Première, Australian director, Patrick Pearse, has captured Ellery’s refreshingly unpretentious personality, unflagging dedication to her craft, and beautifully candid moments during the gruelling schedule she kept in the lead-up to this prestigious Paris show.

Thanks to the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, we had the opportunity to speak with both Patrick and Kym about their creative processes, thoughts on fashion, and their reflections on collaborating to create this insightful and poetic documentary.

Presented in conjunction with Melbourne Spring Fashion Week, Première will be shown from August 30 – Sept 7, as part of ACMI’s Fashion on Film week.

SR:   Hi, Kym and Patrick, thank you for talking to us.

Both: No problem!

SR:   First of all, congratulations on an amazing documentary. Can I start by asking how you met?

KE: Thank you, Nikki. Patrick, maybe you go first.

PP:   How did we meet? Well, I met Kym through her boyfriend, Luke, actually. I’d previously made a film, and Luke was a part of that. It wasn’t about him, but he was participating in the film. I met Kym through him, and I was talking to Kym about participating in a separate film, which I’m working on. It’s a fictional piece, and I was asking her to contribute some costumes to the film. And then, I think over a few wines on a Sunday afternoon, she floated the idea, in Sydney, about the documentary in Paris, and if I’d be interested. And I was about to move to Paris, so it all worked out perfectly. Then we met briefly on Skype, from the other side of the world, and I got to know her a little bit better over Skype, and her charisma was just coming out of the computer, so, I said, ‘Let’s do it.’ And the next time I saw her was when she got to the airport in Paris, when we were in production.

SR: Well, you’ve made a great film.

Both: Thanks!

SR: Seeing the film and researching your other work made me realise what a great fit you were. Patrick, you have a great eye for composition, and, Kym, your classic designs are marked by an incredible understanding of impact and harmony. Did you have an instinct you’d make for a great collaboration, or was it a happy discovery as you went along?

KE: I think it was such a happy discovery. I think Patrick’s energy and natural hardworking demeanour, and his approach to the project made the whole experience so enjoyable, even at one of the most stressful periods of my career. To have a camera in my face the whole time… It was a relaxing sort of energy, and we’ve become really good friends since the project, and I think that shows how excited we were to be able to work together, and see such a great result.

PP: Yeah, I think it was a fantastic discovery as well. The whole project evolved organically, and the highlight, for me, was actually the experience of just watching Kym go through the whole lead-up to the show and achieve something so great. It was actually really inspiring. It wasn’t just about making the film, it was about being part of the experience as well.

SR:   Well, I’ve read that you spent most of the time filming about thirty centimetres from Kym’s face, Patrick. It’s made for an intimate cinematic experience, but how was that proximity in real life?

ACMI_Fashion on Film_Première Ellery in Paris (3)_300dpiPP: (Laughs) Well, I think Kym was so busy when she hit the ground that she barely noticed I was there. Probably the slowest moment in the entire film in the production was in Paris at the airport, or in the car on the way to her studio in Paris. Now I’m not sure, Kym. You’ll have to answer that one. How did you like having me so close to you? I don’t know, we sort of had that trust and connection straight away.

KE: Yeah, it was confrontational at first, but I think that first car journey from the airport was a nice intro into what was to come. Actually, I was saying to Patrick yesterday, when we were speaking about it, it really helped me remain calm, in the process, knowing that he was there filming every moment… Because I couldn’t throw a total tantrum like I might in that situation, and I had to remain somewhat composed. Well, I didn’t have to – he was actually hoping I’d throw a tantrum and cry, and crumble, to get some good drama.

PP: (Laughs)

KE: But, it was a really nice, extra, additional dimension for me, in having him there.

SR:  Well, we could feel the underlying pressure of the event anyway, so I think he did a great job conveying that, without the tantrums.

Both: Laugh.

SR:   How does it feel to be screened as part of ACMI’s Fashion on Film season, in connection with Melbourne Spring Fashion Week?

KE: An honour.

PP: Yeah, an absolute privilege.

KE: Really exciting. My family, and Patrick’s family, are super-excited for the film to be screened; and it’s almost surreal, I think, in a way, knowing all these people will be watching our work, or Patrick’s work, and me, in the process of creating a collection.

PP: It’s all about filming someone so creative… And the subject matter, you know, is an artist in herself. It’s great to be part of that. It just feels like one big collaboration. I’m really excited to be there.

SR:   You must both be proud of the brilliant response to the film. Can you share some of the feedback you’ve received, personally?

ACMI_Fashion on Film_Première Ellery in Paris (1)_300dpiPP:   Yeah. I’ve had a low-level response, from friends and family, passing it around, and the media that’s thrown it around with some online screeners. I’ve had a lot of young people say how inspired they were to just go out and get something done, and shoot it in any way they want, any way they think is possible. From a film perspective, I’ve also had some people just say to me it was really inspiring watching a young Australian in Paris…Such an ordinary human being…It’s so refreshing, I think. In all the feedback so far, I’ve heard how refreshing, and just how real and honest Kym’s personality is. And I think that just shows so many young Australians in a crazy industry, and across the arts – I don’t know, it just brings everyone down to earth. And I think it’s a good reminder that anyone…if you’ve got a dream about something in the arts, you can really achieve it. Because I think Kym’s personality just reminds everyone of that, on film. That’s probably the biggest feature of the film. Throughout the feedback, and any form of continuity, it’s definitely about Kym’s personality.

SR: Yes, it’s sometimes hard to believe that when someone makes it so big – especially considering an achievement like Paris Fashion Week – they can remain grounded, and that they’re still a ‘real’ person, like the rest of us.

KE:   Mmm.

PP:   Totally. Yeah, that’s what I found, during the week. We went in, with really no script or idea how long the film was going to be – what the underlying narrative was going to be. We had no idea and were absolutely rolling with it. And Kym’s personality just blew me and my crew away from the very start, and we decided to make our focus on that: how real she was, a regular human, and how refreshing she was. So, that’s what we decided to focus on in post-production, and that’s what was just naturally captured.

SR:   Kym, as a huge fan of fashion myself, I find your design work incredibly inspiring. How does it feel to know that Première is going to be a resource for designers, particularly for those who are learning the ropes?

KE:   Thank you! Oh, it’s really such an honour to know that there are young, aspiring designers out there that will see the film, and will feel a pang of what they can achieve. Hopefully, they’ll feel that the world is there for them to take, and they shouldn’t have to sit back, or feel that they can’t achieve something. I mean, as a young woman – as a child even – when I was – I can’t remember how old I was… I was very young, though, when my mother showed me a documentary about Collette Dinnigan showing in Paris. I would’ve been maybe only twelve. As a kid, I knew I wanted to work in fashion, and I saw this documentary about Collette, and it made me feel really inspired to go out there and become a designer. So, in that sense, I feel like what the film will hopefully pass on to the next generation of young designers will be similar to what I felt when I was a kid.

“As a kid, I knew I wanted to work in fashion…”

SR:   Kym, you’re one of only three Aussies to have been invited to Paris Fashion Week in the last 20 years. How does that feel, and does the reality of it ever really sink in?

KE:   It was so overwhelming when I first knew that we were to show in Paris, and it was quite a hard thing for me to process. I felt really disabled by the anticipation and wanted to make sure that I projected the right message to the international stage for my very first runway show. That came with a lot of questioning about what my aesthetic is, and what my brand is, and how I was going to communicate that through this show; and, to be honest, it was really hard. And, with the support of my team, it was so… Yeah, we went about it the hard way, but we really got there in the end, I feel. And it was very much about getting this first show done – like setting a benchmark of where we’re going to work from; because fashion, and the arts in general, is such a journey. You’re forever trying to find your handwriting and perfect it. So, for us, it was about having that first event and then knowing that from there, the pressure’s off. We’ve done the first one, and we can just have the freedom to grow from that point.

SR:   With every fashion show you do, does it get easier? Do you feel you become more organised, or is it still sort of semi-chaotic every time and kind of nerve-wracking?

KE:   It’s always semi-chaotic and nerve-wracking.

(All laugh)

KE:   What you learn, with each show… You know, you might learn a lesson and correct it next time, but then forget about it the third time, because you learnt so many other lessons the second time. Then, come the third time, you correct those, and you’re like, ‘Oh shit, I forgot about that!’ Yeah, it really is about learning and having a team of people around you that are willing to work towards the same goal, who are agile. I don’t think that it will ever become easy, but the hardships certainly change in so many ways.

PP:   Yeah, I was totally blown away by what goes on behind the scenes. I had no idea what was involved in putting a fashion show together. I think I would’ve been an absolute miserable wreck if I was Kym.

KE:   Yeah, it was not easy, that’s for sure.

ACMI_Fashion on Film_Première Ellery in Paris (2)_300dpiSR:   Well Patrick, we all understand what a huge undertaking filming a feature-length documentary, connected to an international fashion event must be. What were some of the challenges you faced along the way, behind the scenes?

PP:   Oh, the biggest challenge was probably not having a schedule. I think Kym was due to fly in, originally, two weeks before the show, so we were all here in Paris, ready to go. And then, she was having some last-minute hurdles with the designs, to get them all ready. And I think she arrived five days before the show. And it was literally…The schedule was that we were up, filming until 3 or 4 a.m. And we’d have about an hour or two back at home, which I was using as a production office, recharging batteries, emptying media, having a look through rushes, having a shower, and getting ready for morning. It was just probably the manic schedule – we were on Kym’s timetable. We had really no idea what was going to happen next – we were just rolling.

” …I had no idea whether it was going to be a feature-length, or a short film before we started rolling.”

And also, I think, not so much terminology, but just the processes of learning along the way, about what exactly goes into a fashion show. The narrative was just evolving. So, you really lose that safety blanket of a script – and, to be honest, I had no idea whether it was going to be a feature-length, or a short film before we started rolling. But, as the week evolved, and I saw all the gold being captured, I just thought, ‘Well, let’s go with this and keep going on Kym’s timetable.’ It was a little bit exhausting, as I said, not having that safety blanket, and just throwing ourselves in the deep end and capturing whatever would happen. But, at the same time, it was a very inspiring, what we were capturing, so it carried us along, I think.

SR:   Well, it was a fantastic result. Can I ask you both which your favourite scenes from Premiere are, and why?

PP:   Ooh, I’ve got a couple of favourites (laughs).

(All laugh)

PP:   Kym, you might have to go first on that one.

KE:   My favourite scene? Um, I really liked the parts that had my immediate family. Yeah, just seeing my Mum onscreen and sharing her pearls of wisdom, or her insights more so, that I had the pleasure of growing up with, on a daily basis. It was really nice to see her communicating with Patrick, and how she speaks, and how she talks about art, and what’s exciting about it, and how it relates to fashion. That was a really touching moment for me, to also see the reaction of my peers when they saw my Mum speak, and just being all, like, ‘Wow, your Mum’s such an interesting lady.’ So yeah, I’d have to say that one, as well as, of course, Brucey and Casey, my brother and dad. (Laughs) You know – the opposite of Paris Fashion Week – the salt of the earth and men of such few words. That was also a beautiful part of the film for me. I was really excited when Patrick said he was off to Perth to meet my family and interview them all. I was thinking, ‘Oh gosh, this is going to be interesting.’ (Laughs). ‘Let’s see what he comes up with.’ But yeah, it was really excellent.

PP: (Laughs)

SR:   That was one of our favourite scenes, with your mum talking about your early interest in art, and showing us some of your work. How did your family respond to the finished product?

KE:   Well, I showed it to my mother when she came to Sydney, and she was very emotional, and she absolutely loved it. I actually was concerned about the introduction (laughs).

PP:   (Laughs loudly)

KE:   The way Patrick opened with Leandra Medine, the Man Repeller blogger, talking about how I was able to hold my alcohol…I thought, ‘Oh God, my mother (who is also somewhat very conservative) is probably not going to like that at all.’ But she seemed pretty okay with it. But yeah, the rest of the film made her very emotional and proud, and I haven’t actually shown my father and brother yet. I just sent them the link, actually, last night. So I’m yet to hear what they think. I tried to send it to them when I was in Perth, but we had Internet problems with the Vimeo link, but I will very much look forward to hearing what they say, I think they’re very excited. My brother thinks he’s going to be a superstar.

SR:   So, what was your favourite scene, Patrick?

PP:   My favourite was probably Kym at 4am, just alone in Paris – the self-reflection on the bed – the interviews we did there. It was the only time of the week that I really got her alone. And it was after the show, and she had time to think and slow down. And it was really great to get one on one. It was very intimate and, I don’t know, I could just see all the thought processes portrayed in her expression and her mannerisms in the bed. You know, she’d had a huge week. And that was probably my favourite scene. I knew, as we were capturing that interview, that it was really special.

And I’m really, really glad and thankful that I visited her family in Perth, because I felt they went parallel – they went fantastically well in post-production together. And it was great to get such honesty and emotion out of Kym in that interview, and yeah, it was portrayed really well on film.

The other scene that I absolutely love is when the end of the show happens – when the realisation’s on Kym’s face. She claps and this huge grin comes on her face as she realises what she’s just done. The last model’s walked out onto the runway and she’s clapping, and it all hits her at once. I remember that personally so strongly, because it hit me at the same time, but I’d had the camera as a barrier there. It was an emotional week and I’d just been focussing on capturing it all. But the emotion hit me – I remember I had a bit of a tear in my eye (laughs), just from watching a young Australian’s amazing achievement. I got to Kym so well, so quickly, in a matter of days. And that scene, for me… I won’t ever forget capturing that. That was absolutely amazing.

SR:   You worked so well together, and I found the bedroom scenes so touching and profound. Do you think you’ll work together again?

KE:   Oh, I hope so! I hope there’s a Part Two!

PP:   Yeah.

PP: I like floating the idea of a TV series, but that might leave me utterly exhausted.

KE:   (Laughs loudly)

PP:   I think definitely we will. I’ve got something in the works at the moment – a fictional piece, which Kym’s going to hopefully – fingers crossed – contribute some wardrobe and some costume design to.

KE:   Yeah! Can’t wait!

PP:   Yeah, creatively I love collaborating. It’s a big passion of mine… With anyone creative, in any form of the arts. So, I’d love to continue our work together.

SR:   Is this what I read about on your website? A surrealist film, featuring contemporary fashion and costume?

PP:   Yeah.

SR:   Can you tell us a bit about that project and how you feel about fashion, in general?

ACMI_Fashion on Film_Première Ellery in Paris (4)_300dpiPP:   Yeah, well I wrote the screenplay about… almost about two years ago now, and I think it’s had about a dozen rewrites. And again, it started off really organically as an independent film, and now it’s got some corporate investment. And I just really love the idea of collaborating across the arts, and I really love fashion and the way it portrays one’s personality on the street. And that really – not fictional characterisation – but you can be anyone you really want to be with the use of fashion. And that’s what really stood out to me: was where Kym gets all her inspiration from. And it’s across the arts. And I like that form of collaborating, so I’m having some designers put together some pieces to really highlight… There’s four major individuals in this screenplay, and I’m going to have some really heavy characterisation, and I’m hoping that the fashion element, and the design element, will really increase that element of the film…really highlight it. So yeah, it’s really experimental. There are some really experimental elements in the film. I can’t give too much away about the narrative at the moment, but I’m looking to infuse the two: fashion and film.

SR:   Fantastic. I’ve always believed that fashion is art, and clothing, to me, is not just an article you wear – it’s a part of how you express yourself on a daily basis. That project sounds so interesting and we’re really looking forward to seeing it.

PP:   Oh, thank you very much. Yeah, hopefully, all going well, I think we’re going to start rolling on the 1st of November, in Paris.

SR: Oh, in Paris again?

PP:   Yeah.

SR: So, what were both of your favourite shooting locations?

PP:   Ummm…

KE:   Bed! (Laughs)

(All laugh)

PP:   Personally, for me, probably at home with Kym. They were probably the most intimate and completely honest and stripped-back scenes in the film for me. And I would say backstage, because it was just so interesting to see how much goes into, I don’t know, what is it, a fifteen-minute show? Kym?

KE:   Oh, not even. Eleven minutes. Eight to eleven, depending.

PP:   It absolutely blew me away to see what goes into the production, behind the scenes. So it was interesting to be back there… And all the emotions, and all the individuals involved. Not just the fashion design. Kym’s got to handle so many different personalities, and you know what creative personalities can be like. To handle all of that is just like directing a film. Yeah, to get all those people working together, you know, just for the love of what they were doing, was really cool to see.

SR:   So Kym, your favourite location was bed?

KE:   Yeah, definitely. I really liked filming in bed because it’s my favourite place in the world. And it felt really relaxed as well, with Patrick, because he would just sort of come up, and I’d be winding down from a really action-packed day, and it just felt like an unguarded place to be talking about the process, and what stage we were at, and all the philosophical thoughts came out. I didn’t even remember them until I saw it afterwards. I thought, ‘Wow, that was quite – I sound very succinct for someone who doesn’t remember filming that scene and doesn’t really recall talking about those things.’ (Laughs). So, that was cool as well – to watch that back.

SR:   Patrick, what do you feel are the qualities of a good director?

PP:   I think when it comes to documentary, you’ve really got to be a people person and love people; because, when you’re dealing with other humans, you’ve really got to gain their trust quickly, and in the short time on a film like this, you have to allow your subjects to feel unguarded and get the most out of it.

I think a director has to have, you know, not only a good eye and knack for storytelling, etc. etc. You’ve really got to be a people person; because, traditionally in film, you’re dealing with huge crews and all these different elements together. You know, you’ve got lighting and sound – all these people you’ve never met. But also, the subject matter. And, if it’s a documentary, and if it’s a fictional piece, you’ve got to get to know your cast pretty quickly and know how to work with them so you can really get the best out of them and everyone involved in the project. You’ve really got to be able to adapt to any kind of person.

SR:   Kym, besides fashion week, what would you say have been the major highlights of your career?

KE:   Let me think – what are the highlights of my career? Gosh. I get really excited when a great editorial image comes out. I don’t know if that sounds silly, but I feel that that’s such an achievement, because, as you know, there’s so much work happening behind the scenes. And, all of a sudden, this excellent picture will come out. For example, we just had this great shot in Russian Vogue of this model, Isabeli Fontana, wearing Ellery, and all the pieces of the international luxury brands. And to me, that’s such a highlight, because it makes me feel like we’re on the right track, and people are understanding what we’re trying to achieve, and the messages from the pieces that we’re creating.

“We did two screenings: the first screening was media, and the second was family and friends.”

SR:   I’ll have to have a look at that shoot when I get off the phone. So, Russian? You’re out there everywhere. It must feel amazing?

KE:   Yeah, it really is. Especially when it’s models and stylists and photographers that I’ve admired since I was an intern at a magazine myself, you know? Wanting to be in the fashion industry and starting at the bottom, you’re reading these magazines and wanting to be involved in the images that are created for them. And then, when that happens, and it’s that calibre, it’s a super-exciting time and feeling.

SR:  What was it like, watching the finished film on the big screen, with an audience, for the first time?

KE:   Oh, it was nerve wracking. (Laughs).

PP:   (Laughs)

KE:   We did two screenings: the first screening was media, and the second was family and friends. And they couldn’t be more opposite groups of people. And reactions and feelings, as well, I think, from sitting watching it in the first screening. Patrick and I were… I mean, I sat next to the fashion director of Vogue, and she’s quite a harsh critic; and I was sort of nervous about what she’d think, and I hadn’t thought about it either. I’d just thought, ‘Oh yeah, this is the film and I can’t wait to see it.’ And I’d only watched it, briefly, at two in the morning a week beforehand. So, I’d watched it by myself at work and had a few tears, you know, of joy, about how beautiful the project was. And then, the next time I saw it, I was in this room full of fierce fashion folk. And, after the screening, I’ll never forget the looks of some of these women that are in the industry that are really tough critics… They were honestly gushing and felt so excited by what they saw. And Christine said to me – the girl from Vogue – ‘You know, that was really ballsy – for you to show what is such a raw experience… The footage, the behind-the-scenes… I mean, everyone in the industry knows that that’s what it’s like, but people don’t really tend to show it. So, bravo!’

So, I thought, ‘Oh, you know, that’s such a good point.’ And from that experience, it was her feedback and others of the same sort of tone. I felt really excited by the project and my nerves subsided. And then following that, our family and friends…Patrick’s family and friends came to the second screening. And it was just hilarious. Everyone was so emotionally involved and had seen us both work over the years, pursuing our separate industry goals, and it was really nice to have them all in the room together, and meet Patrick’s family, and his mother, and sisters and brother, and to hear their excitement about the project as well, and to see how proud they were of him. It was beautiful. I wish my family could’ve been there too. They would’ve all gotten along like a house on fire.

PP:   (Laughs) Absolutely. Yeah, it’s always the anticipation. It’s always interesting to see how different people react to different parts of the film, too. Because I edited the whole thing myself, and there were parts I didn’t know were as humorous as they were… It was interesting to hear the audience burst into laughter at times which I actually thought were quite serious (laughs).

KE:   (Laughs). Yeah – really different.

PP:   And other times in the film, which I thought was interesting to see people’s perception of really intricate detail, like mannerisms from Kym (Laughs). Yeah – and the way they interpret the film in different ways. It was really cool to watch people’s reactions. I think I watched faces, throughout the entire two screenings, rather than the film, just seeing everyone’s reactions. And it’s always surprising.

I remember, in the first screening, the media … I got up and said a few words at the end, and there was a pause, and then a really huge applause. I don’t know. That’s probably what I get most out of the film. It’s not so much how many people see it, or where it’s shown, it’s to have people clap or to have engaged someone for 90 mintes or 80 minutes of their life and actually be happy for that. (Laughs). Yeah, it was really humbling just to have people smiling and laughing and enjoying the film – it was, yeah, really humbling.

SR:   You should’ve made a short film of audience reactions at the premiere.

PP:   (Laughs). That’d be a great idea for an installation piece, actually.

KE: Yeah.

PP: I’m actually conceptualising something at the moment based on that, so it’s funny you said that. So yeah, it was great, just watching people’s reactions. So different, some of them, so it was fantastic.

SR: That’s great! Thank you both so much for the interview. Patrick, good luck with your next production. We’re looking forward to seeing it.

PP:   Thanks so much. I really appreciate it.

SR:   And Kym, I’m really looking forward to seeing your next season, and I’ll be keeping a lookout on your website.

KE:   Oh, thank you.

PP: Thanks so much for watching the film and taking the time. We really appreciate it.

SR:   Well, like I said, it’s an area of interest and I really enjoyed it. And I hope you do continue to work together.

PP:   Maybe a TV series.

KE:   (Laughs). Yeah – Part Two.

SR:   ‘In Bed with Kym’. That would be it, right?

Both: Laugh loudly.

SR: Thank you, guys!

Both:   Bye!

  • Première: a documentary of Kym Ellery in Paris
  • Released: April, 2014
  • Director: Patrick Pearse