Words – Kerryn Moscicki
Art Direction, Photography & Production – Holly Graham for SIY Studio
One of the most rewarding aspects of running our brand over the past few years has been the opportunities we’ve had to collaborate with so many interesting creative women through the stories we present on Yes! Journal. This is one of those stories that is really special to me to realise.
Natalie Wood is a designer whose work and influence I have followed for many years, especially through the early part of my career (early 2000s) when she was leading well-known independent labels Sample and Something Else by Natalie Wood. A seasoned design director, over the past 15 years Natalie’s career has since traversed some of the country’s most prominent brands Veronika Maine, Country Road and Camilla.
Well known in the industry for her incredible talent, her signature feminine-masculine sense of style and exacting eye in capturing the zeitgeist before it happens, Natalie is now a one-third founder in Wolfgang Scout - a brand that is again speaking ahead of the curve with a pioneering approach to responsible and sustainable manufacturing within the Australian wool industry.
We caught up with Natalie and her gorgeous 5-year-old son Louie at their art-filled Clovelly home to talk fashion, the state of the industry and the importance of making garments that bring people joy.
Natalie, it’s a real honour to share our products and radical flat-shoe vision with you. Thank you for the time you have given us taking part in this shoot and story.
Thanks for having me…such an honour to be considered for this.
Going way back, I remember buying a sleeveless high neck tee from the SAMPLE collection you and Vanessa Coyle created and at the time, feeling like there was literally nothing like it. It was a washed sleeveless tangerine tee with red SAMPLE printed in tiny words all over it. I must have had that tee shirt for close to 10 years and to this day I really remember the handle on that garment.
Ah that’s amazing that you have a piece from way back then. I remember that tee well, as I hand stamped that print. I’m so glad you held onto it for so long. Sample seems to be one of those labels people still remember to this day what they owned, or often even still own it. I love that a lot. It’s brilliant to have created something that’s remembered and was cherished.
At that time, back in 2001 you won the National Design Award for Sample and it set up the frame work for an inspiring career in the industry that has spanned both independent and major label design work. How are you feeling, 19 years later about the state of the industry? What do you think are the biggest changes you have seen in your career?
How time flies when you’re having fun, or should I say working hard? I would definitely say I’ve had an interesting career that has seen me work in some varying and diverse markets/brands within fashion, each one teaching me something different and really interesting. I love that with each brand I learned something new about women and what they like to wear and feel. I enjoy absorbing myself into a new market and working out what might make that woman tick.
I would say the biggest changes in the industry are around the rise of technology, online shopping and social media. Before all of this you could put all of your creative energy into actually designing, do a great lookbook and campaign shoot, take it to market, and then jump back into design again. Now so much time and energy is spent chasing your customer around and trying to get their attention in a very noisy space. Images are up and gone, and it feels less about quality and more about sheer quantity, being prolific, and having to advertise to keep your audience. I actually find it a bit sad, in running a small business now there is so little time for the designing part. But it’s the world we live in, so you need to adapt fast. I do think something important in the process has definitely been lost along the way though.
In a 2009 Harper’s Bazaar interview you were quoted as saying “Always remember that it is a special service to design clothing that makes people feel happy and good about themselves.” I love this quote and this idea resonates with me so much in my own process, but I wonder in 2020, in a world that has veritably exploded in product, how do you feel about that now? Do you still think the designers task is to make people feel happy and good, or do you feel the service has to extend beyond that? How is that influencing where you are taking Wolfgang Scout?
Yeh all these years later I still stand by that. I truly think that if there was ever a day I didn’t feel this way then I have to stop working in fashion because that would mean I’ve lost the joy of what I’m here to do. I mean we’re in the business of designing and making clothes (which isn’t an easy task to say the least), and clothes are to be worn on a body, they become and intrinsic part of a person’s life, and they tell an important story about that person – what color they like, what fabric they like to wear on their skin, could say something about what music they listen to or maybe what they do for a living, do they like it relaxed or fitted, do they want to reveal or cover their body up. Are they loud or quiet? Do they want to stand out or blend in. Clothes really represent a person in the world – they communicate something about that person, and how they are feeling on that particular day. Of course, not everyone cares about what they are wearing, but even then, that persons clothes still say something.
Ultimately, I deeply believe clothes should make you feel brilliant. Good clothes really can enhance your life, they can bring you joy and confidence in how they feel on your body, as well as a moment of happiness to others who might also appreciate your outfit (wear a full pink outfit for a day and experience what that does to people around you). It’s pretty important stuff, after all we all have to get dressed every day to leave the house. It’s a huge part of our identity – all clothing designer’s mission should be to make someone feel utterly wonderful in whatever way they desire dress themselves in, which of course means something different to everyone. Which is what is the really exciting part of fashion.
With Wolfgang Scout it’s primarily about creating long standing, beautiful and effortless fashion pieces that are fully sustainable and traceable. It’s about bringing to the world something super luxe and also ticks all the boxes for being produced in a positive considered manner that’s earth friendly in every way. We celebrate colour and the positive emotions that can support. We love the texture of soft pure wool with the silky satins. It all feels very delicious to wear, and you could be dressed up or down. The perfect combo of masculine and feminine and soft and hard, pretty and cool.
You wound up the very successful Something Else label in 2013. What was that experience of wrapping up a brand like and how did you know when something that had been so successful, needed to end?
That was a very interesting time in my life. And a very stressful one. I’ve actually never spoken about why I left my brand and I’m not sure too much needs to be said. It was super sad to see not only my brand Something Else, but also the other 2 brands we had under the umbrella company of Bleach (Insight and Ksubi) close down and be sold off. What can I say, sometimes people at the top can lose sight of what’s important and chase the $’s for a quick fix rather than focus on brand integrity and working on common goals. I was a part of that company for over 10 years, and they were some of my favourite times working with a seriously incredible group of people whom I still love and respect to this day, many of whom have gone onto other great projects.
I really think in business/design, you truly have to be aligned with your business partners, and when things go in a direction that doesn’t fit with your moral compass – then it’s time to find a new home.
Tell us more about the ideas behind Wolfgang Scout? Starting with the name… (I have to ask that because my youngest son’s middle-name is Wolfgang and so naturally I’m curious how it originated)?
The name came interestingly from a list Carla and Marianne had written down – the list was about a page long, and had lots of different words that meant something to them personally.
I picked out those two particular words because I really like them, how they sounded and what they were like to write. It turned out it was the names they had saved if they were ever to have another child, and this seemed fitting for a brand because you can liken a brand launch to having another baby.
As a brand, Wolfgang Scout are working hard on traceability, provenance of materials and sustainability. Your garments are hand knitted with some taking up to 50 hours to complete all of which of course results in a higher-level price to reflect that artisanal production investment. Do you ever foresee a time for the brand when you will interpret these ideas into more scalable (volume) manufacturing approaches and if so, how would that look? I’m curious if you believe it is possible to make this level of sustainability a more accessible proposition affordable to more people? Or do you think by the nature of the way things are produced the two ideas run counter to each other?
That’s a really good question.
Our production methods at Wolfgang Scout are really unique – and our processes are very hands on, and super time consuming. Nothing about our products are mass produced and quality is always of upmost importance.
The biggest difference between our knitwear and anyone else’s is we actually buy the wool in its raw state direct from an amazing farm in Victoria, and then every process is managed within the business. No chemicals are ever used on the wool, it’s combed to clean it, and then it’s shipped to NZ for a very special process of spinning it into our own unique yarn.
This yarn is the purest most amazing soft wool you could ever feel, quite different to any other wool sweaters you might have tried on. All the yarn (and silks) are hand dyed by Marianne using certified dyes, again a lengthy gentle process that maintains the wool’s pure integrity. Then as you mention, each sweater is hand knitted in India taking over 40hrs. Most knits you would buy would be knitted on a machine in a matter of hours. So that’s a really big difference. All of the above take an enormous amount of time, incredible experience, many hours and dedication to make a sweater come to life. They are investment pieces that we see people buying for a lifetime of wearing.
I think one of our beliefs would be to buy less but chose more wisely. If you ever get the chance to try one of our sweaters on, I think you could really tell the difference, and why they are so special, which of course reflects in the price. There is a very good reason why super high-quality garments cost what they do.
We totally get that this doesn’t make Wolfgang Scout accessible to everyone. It’s a shame that making product like this (especially with processing so much of in Australia which does add a lot of expense – we need to support our industry but it does make the costs super high) does cost a fortune, hopefully one day that might change. We are introducing a new machine boiled knit into our Winter collection that is a bit more of an affordable price – it’s 100% grown, spun, knitted and hand dyed in Australia. I’m not sure there’s much clothing that could claim that.
But yes, we would also be able to make products that could also be a little more affordable – we’re definitely looking at options with that.
I think as far as sustainability and fashion goes; it will actually one day become the normal to be honest. It has to. It’s a big buzz word and if you have a fashion label and you’re not looking at ways you could do this – then you will really be left behind.
All businesses need to take this on and incorporate it in their business philosophy and ways of manufacturing, and I truly believe that consumers will absolutely demand it.
At Wolfgang Scout we are all very passionate about working sustainably and with full traceability. And we just wouldn’t do it any other way.
Now let’s talk about the shoes! You selected 4 pairs from our collection to style with your incredible silks and knits. Can you talk us through your selections and how you are styling them? Where will these flat shoes take you IRL?
Firstly, I just want to say your shoes are so comfortable. I was amazed when I tried them on. Comfort is my number one, and your beauties really ticked that box.
I’m pretty particular when it comes to my shoes, and I have to say I am probably a little bit of a designer label snob about footwear. But I was super stoked when my selects arrived, and I tried them on. The quality is also really amazing, and they all have a very considered, yet paired back aesthetic, and every single detail, leather quality and proportion is right.
I selected the Liberation Tassel loafer – which feels super cool with a silk pant. That perfect mix of a little bit masculine back with the feminine is something that I really love. Super easy to wear to work and out to dinner.
The (Utopia) square toed slip on shoe – I have since worn these loads as it has to be the most comfortable shoe ever – comfortable and cool. Perfect combo. I even had a friend ask if they were Jill Sander – best compliment you could ask for. I could wear these everywhere and with everything.
The Neptune Velcro sandals in navy are a great casual easy to wear fashion shoe, very of the moment. They have a really good proportion; the strapping detail is awesome. I love this back with a long sleeve silk dress from the Wolfgang Scout winter collection launching next month. Navy with navy is my favourite.
And the white Journey trainers. I have a fairly serious sneaker collection but love yours because of the cool writing on the back heel, and apart from that they don’t have branding. Nothing beats a fresh pair of super clean white trainers – loved these with my pink Wolfgang Scout slip and wool jersey tee.
What does being radical mean to you?
For me….it means believing in something that’s really important in the world, in your life and other people’s lives, and then making sure you participate and involve yourself in that.
Stand for something, have a voice, an opinion and contribute.