Rachel Gilbert
Credit: Rachel Gilbert

Rachel Gilbert is one of the most enduring occasion-wear designers in Australia. It’s hard to put into words the way wearing one of her creations makes you feel; the plumes are glamorous, the sequins are festive and flirty.

Launching in 2007, Gilbert’s contemporary approach to ready-to-wear, evening-wear – and then to bridal – is founded on her acute and deft understanding of what the modern woman wants, an ethos that has served her well for 15 years. But it hasn’t all been easy. When she first began her label, Gilbert was all of 24 years old.

“Being so young, I took a huge risk in starting my own business,” Gilbert explains to GRAZIA. “With that, there have been many hard lessons. However cliché, I do believe that the hard times are when growth propels you personally and professionally.”

Today, Rachel Gilbert is stocked in luxury department stores and highend boutiques all over the world including Harrods, Bergdorf Goodman, Nordstrom, Moda Operandi, FarFetch, Saks 5th Avenue, and David Jones.

Tomorrow, the designer will be front and centre as a nominee in the Designer Of The Year Category at the 2022 Australian Fashion Laureate Awards. We caught up with Gilbert ahead of the event.

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Rachel Gilbert
Courtesy of Rachel Gilbert

GRAZIA: Congratulations on your ‘Designer Of The Year’ Australian Fashion Laureate nomination! How does it feel to be recognised at this level? 

Rachel Gilbert: Thank you so much, it is a huge honour to be nominated for Designer Of The Year alongside some of our amazing peers in the industry. The last 18 months for the business have been extremely pivotal in our path for the future, so I’m extremely humbled to receive this nomination.

GRAZIA: When you first started your eponymous label, what did you have in mind for its trajectory and how did it evolve/change? 

Gilbert: I had just come back from living in New York, and I had a vision of creating an occasion-wear brand for women, allowing them the space to feel confident, empowered and strong in what they are wearing. These are the core parts of why I started the brand and the underlying DNA has always remained:

“For me it’s always been about ‘her’. Her event, her day, her life.”

I had goals of entering the international market and establishing a retail presence in Australia. Of course, there have been parts of my journey and the brand’s journey that have evolved, and in some ways changed our course – I’m not alone in saying that the COVID-19 era was a huge learning curve for the way we do business. That, along with many other positive influences and ideas,  have shifted and propelled Rachel Gilbert to be where it is today. To be in the industry for 15 years, our trajectory has naturally evolved as the fashion landscape has, but I’m extremely proud to say the initial ambitious and goals I had, have more than come to fruition and I am excited about our new vision and for the next chapter of the brand.

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Rachel Gilbert
Courtesy of Rachel Gilbert

GRAZIA: Growing up, were you always into designing? Do you have a memory that perhaps cemented your drive for wanting to become a designer?  

Gilbert: Growing up, I had always been creatively-led and driven. I didn’t always know I would land in design and I think in some ways when I look back, I think I was fated to do so. I had thought about pursuing photography, however during the application process I was instead met with an opportunity at the White House of Design. Honestly, I fell in love with design and creating in that way. Conceptualising an idea and making it a tangible reality and the way that made me feel was the moment I knew this is what I wanted to pursue.

GRAZIA: You were 24 when you created this label – which is something to be truly marvelled. What’s a hard lesson you learnt in the past 15 years? 

Gilbert: Being so young, I took a huge risk in starting my own business. With that, there have been many hard lessons. However cliché, I do believe that the hard times are when growth propels you personally and professionally. At 24, like most of us, I was naive to certain business aspects.

“There were moments early into the brand where wearing many hats showed where my strengths were and, certainly, where my weaknesses were.”

I remember the all-encompassing overwhelming feeling I had. For me the biggest lessons happened in those early years when the reality of having to learn – quickly – how to operate a business. I promised myself early on that I would do whatever it took to make the brand succeed.

GRAZIA: When you sit down at the drawing board to start on a new collection, what do those initial conversations look like? How do you evolve the Rachel Gilbert woman while keeping true to the brand’s DNA? 

Gilbert: Something the team and I return to every season is ‘her’, the collections are always about her, who she is, where she is going, how she aspires to feel. I look to my surroundings for inspiration, environmental landscapes, architecture… a certain feeling. I have an incredible team who are passionate about creating, initial conversations about themes, colours, shapes. It organically takes form from, starting broad and then ending up with a collection that speaks to the moment.  The Rachel Gilbert woman has evolved and will continue to evolve, in a way the brand has also, I see the DNA remaining true by servicing the ongoing mutual affinity to dress to the occasion. To use style as a form of self-expression, embracing refined exaggeration and bold simplicity, this is what underpins our collections.

Rachel Gilbert
Courtesy of Rachel Gilbert

GRAZIA: How does the Australian Rachel Gilbert consumer differ to the international consumer? 

Gilbert: Our international consumer is a little more daring. Trends start and evolve internationally before making their way to Australia. Additionally, every region has their own ‘social-norm’ in style. Internationally, more is always more.

GRAZIA: There is no other evening-wear quite like yours in this country; spangly, elegant, show-stopping, feminine, modern silhouettes which celebrate the female form. What do you enjoy most about designing occasion-wear, knowing your consumer is choosing one of your creations for a special event in her life? 

Gilbert: There is nothing quite like picking out your outfit for the monumental moments in your life; birthdays, weddings. It’s so special to be a part of our customer’s journey in this sense. The purchases have more emotional intent and truly mean something, which is the most amazing thing about designing occasion-wear. I think the term ‘investment piece’ rings in a new meaning with Rachel Gilbert. To have built a wider community of individuals coming to Rachel Gilbert for this, is extremely rewarding.

thoughts?