My Ode to Kit Willow
My heart has broken; I feel that my dream and my achievements over the last 10 years have been taken away from me (...) It is hard to describe the relentless work, love, nurturing, dedication and motivation that it takes to build a business like this. It starts with a unique vision, and it requires unconditional love, unfaltering support, incredible people and a whole lot of hard work to turn that dream into reality and build a fashion brand. I began this business with incredible passion and it has not wavered over 10 years.
- Kit Willow
This is my ode to Kit Willow, fashion pioneer, former creative director, designer and founder of the Willow label.
In November 2013, Ms Willow was coldly dismissed from the label she launched a decade ago. In September 2011, Apparel Group, which also own Sportscraft and Saba, acquired a majority shareholding in the Willow business and appointed Ms Willow creative director. Now, several years later, the company abruptly terminated Ms Willow's employment as creative director at Willow.
Ms Willow, who grew up in Melbourne, launched her Willow label in 2003 when she debuted at Australian Fashion Week. She has since shown her collections internationally including London Fashion Week and New York Fashion Week.
With six stand-alone boutiques across Australia, nine concession stores at David Jones and more than 80 international stockists including high fashion e-store net-a-porter.com, Willow label was recognised worldwide and had a extensive customer following.
I was deeply saddened by the news that Ms Willow will no longer be a part of Willow. The label was one of my favourites and although not always affordable, I managed over the years to collect some truly unique pieces that I will cherish forever. I admired Ms Willow's design aesthetic, her use of fabric and shape which differentiated her work from the hordes of other designers in Australia and the world. Her collections were original, unique and timeless. Each piece could be worn season after season, never dating.
I am interested to see how the Willow label will take shape after its life and soul of the brand has been removed. Apparel Group are poaching top designers from around the world to design for Willow, but the garments will not have the same Kit Willow touch. Perhaps the new collections will be exciting, innovative and creative, akin to what the Willow customers have grown to love. But I have a feeling they won't. I believe Willow will become less about the essence, style and the customer and will sadly become a generic brand focusing more on the revenue at the end of the day.
I wish Ms Willow the best in her next adventures, and like everything she touches, I have no doubt they will be golden.
When asked for comment, a spokesperson from the Apparel Group provided the following statement: “Kit Willow has ceased being the creative director of fashion brand Willow. She has ceased to be an employee and has left the business. It’s business as usual.”
The year of 2013 one of change for Australian fashion seeing a string of fashion departures. Collette Dinnigan shut up shop after 24 years for family reasons. Lisa Ho went into liquidation in July after incurring debts of more than $11 million. Flamboyant designer Alannah Hill announced she had terminated her employment with Factory X, the brand's owner. Meanwhile in November, sass & bide co-founders Sarah-Jane Clarke and Heidi Middleton resigned as directors after Myer purchased the remaining 35 per cent stake in the label it did not already own. The department store bought a 65 per cent stake in February 2011. Ms Middleton will stay on as creative director and Ms Clarke as brand director, but they will have limited control over the financial and strategic direction of the brand.