Let’s set the scene: springtime in Paris, the air crisp on a March morning earlier this year, the Parisians stony-faced and frustrated. The “circus” was in town – Fashion Week had begun – and the city was overrun with the stiletto-clad style set, darting back and forth across the Jardin des Tuileries, racing between the runway shows and the exclusive viewings held in tastefully appointed apartments.
It had been three years since Kit Willow Podgornik was last in the style capital as a fashion designer. Back then, Podgornik visited Paris to woo buyers and the media, unveiling collections from her eponymous label, WILLOW, founded in 2003 – first as a lingerie brand, and then with a cool, covetable ready-to-wear line. Podgornik devoted a decade to the business, which, at the height of its success, staged runway shows in New York and London, was adored by stars such as Nicole Richie, Olivia Palermo and the sisters Delevingne, and feted by the Australian fashion industry as the “Next Big Thing”.
But this year, the designer was in Paris under a freshly minted guise: to launch her new label KITX.
Her schedule was booked out. David Jones, a long-time supporter of WILLOW, made an appointment. So did Lauren Santo Domingo’s trunk show website Moda Operandi. “It’s been like a great big cuddle,” says Podgornik of the response to her new brand. “That’s probably the best word I can use to describe it. Embracing.”
It has been almost two years since the Australian fashion industry was rocked by the news that Podgornik had been removed from WILLOW by her business partners, fashion conglomerate Apparel Group (who brought a majority shareholder stake in the business in 2011). That was 2013, a period in Podgornik’s life she now describes as “very dark”.
It was also the year – Podgornik’s own private annus horribilis – that she threatened the Apparel Group with legal action, a skirmish that raged for months until the parties reached a settlement before the matter was taken to court. Ultimately, Podgornik lost the rights to trade under her name. The WILLOW brand continued, run by her former business partners.
Podgornik says the idea to start a new brand under a different name had been germinating since she was first given her marching orders at WILLOW. “I didn’t know what was going to come out of [leaving WILLOW],” reflects Podgornik. “But I knew I was never ready to stop creating. I knew that I wanted something good to come out of the process.”
"I knew I was never ready to stop creating"Kit Podgornik
KITX is all about goodness. The cornerstone upon which the brand rests is fashion with a conscience. Podgornik spent the better part of last year researching sustainable fabrics, from pesticide-free cottons to soil-friendly textiles, such as hemp. The nylon used in the corsetry and bustiers – a Podgornik signature – is in fact recycled plastic that’s been pulled from the ocean. The brand’s metal buttons have been fashioned from detonated Cambodian landmines. Artisans are important, too, says Podgornik. One of the key fabrics used in the label’s first collection is an organic silk, with twists of gold thread handwoven through.
“Fashion is about choice,” explains Podgornik further. “If I hadn’t had that year off, I wouldn’t have been able to get my head around just what you can do with [sustainable fabrics and ethical business practices].
The first collection comprises 145 pieces of effortless, quietly confident separates spliced with a measured dose of good old-fashioned sexy. Blouses come slashed at the sleeves for added movement and wool pencil skirts lace up to the waist. Those sandals – a ‘70’s-inspired cut-out style with a chunky stacked heel – are already Instagram famous. There’s a lot of the old WILLOW in there – all the sculpted draping that became Podgornik’s signature abounds, but there’s also something new: a hard, steely edge. These are comeback clothes.
“Strong, modern, sensual,” is how Podgornik described the KITX aesthetic. More than anything, she explains, she wanted to make clothes that real women would wear. The highest price point is $1450, which will nab you a beautifully cut silk crepe dress. ‘It’s not about couture,” says the designed. ‘It’s about great design that you’ll love to wear constantly.”
Already, Podgornik is working on securing a retail space and building an online store. Stockists have jumped on board, and Podgornik admits she never dreamt of in those dark, hellish months following her exit from WILLOW.
“One thing I did in that year off was that I reflected on [WILLOW],” muses Podgornik. “I was always looking ahead. Being forced to step back I saw the enormity of what I had done, building a brand. I felt proud of myself. It was the first positive thing that came out of [leaving WILLOW].
KITX is the second.