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  • Writer's pictureDavid Connolly

Carla Zampatti passes, Australian fashion designer

Updated: May 27, 2021

Australian fashion designer Carla Zampatti has died in a Sydney hospital a week after a serious fall at an outdoor opera event.

The 78-year-old legendary designer was attending the premiere of La Traviata last week when she fell and lost consciousness. She was rushed to St Vincent's Hospital.

On social media, her daughter Bianca Spender paid an emotional tribute to her mother.

"Today I lost my mother, my inspiration, my mentor and my friend," she wrote.

"I am lost for words and totally heartbroken."

ABC chairwoman Ita Buttrose said she was at the premiere of La Traviata too, and knew someone had fallen.

"I didn't see Carla fall but it was apparent someone had fallen and was only later I learnt it was Carla. The stairs are very dangerous at the opera and I think they need to do something about the safety and install some rails, otherwise someone might fall as well.

An obituary on Zampatti's business website paid tribute to "Australia's most successful and enduring fashion designer" and thanked the team at St Vincent's Hospital for their "support and excellent care".

Messages of condolences have also been posted on social media from politicians and people from the media and fashion world.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that her contribution to our nation will be timeless, while former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull said he was sad to learn of the passing of his dear friend.

"One of our greatest Australians — brilliant, innovative, elegant, creative. Embodying the success of our remarkable multicultural nation. Our sympathy and love are with her family," he said.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian praised the "talented, generous and inspiring" trailblazer, while actress Magda Szubanski said her "style was divine".

'You have to present your very best image'

Zampatti was born in Italy and settled in Western Australia in 1950 before moving to Sydney in her 20s.

There she produced her first small fashion collection in 1965 and released her first national collection in 1970.

She was passionate about fashion from an early age, which she attributed to her Italian heritage.

"Coming from Italy, one is aware of fashion, of your own presentation when you leave your front door," Zampatti said in an ABC radio interview in 2009.

"You have to present your very best image, so that is a visually important part of Italian society. What I noticed in Australia; fashion didn't play a big role in that time."

But all of that changed with the counterculture sweeping the world in the 1960s, paving the way for Zampatti to open her own business.

"Daughters before that went shopping with their mothers when they turned 16 and bought almost a replica of what their mother was wearing," she said.

"Before starting my business, people used to stop me in the streets and ask me where I had got what I was wearing, which was usually made by me, so that was an indicator that there was a market," she said.

Her designs have been celebrated for making "Australian women feel confident".

Ms Buttrose said Zampatti was important for Australian women, designing clothes that were timeless.

"You could buy something a few years back and still wear it a few years forward. She designed clothes that were feminine and appealing to women," Ms Buttrose said.

"I think that is why she had such a wide appeal. I know she dressed Princess Mary of Denmark. I know that Joan Collins considered getting some outfits when she visited Australia last. Delta Goodrem is also a Carla Zampatti wearer. She was a pioneer."

Achievements recognised

Zampatti's business acumen, leadership skills, commitment to women and multiculturalism were well respected, gaining her a number of awards.

In 1987 she was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for her services to the fashion industry and in 2009 she was elevated as a Companion of the Order in the Queen's Birthday Honours List.

In an ABC interview following her Companion of the Order award, she dedicated the award to those close to her heart.

"This award is not only for me but also for all the newcomers that come to this country and create a business or create their future here, and contribute to the general economic wellbeing, creating jobs," she said.

"[This award] also represents that women today are contributing enormously to the wider community in many ways including business, so I feel like it's not only my award but an award for others."

In that interview she also spoke of how her profile in part drove her decision to accept the role of SBS chairperson, which she undertook from 1999-2009, and her work with the multicultural foundation.

"I have witnessed … how much the newcomers have added to the rich culture, and economic culture exporting to places that we may not have had any contacts with and creating products that perhaps we didn't have the skills to do, it has been enormously beneficial," she said.

Zampatti is survived by her three children: Alexander Schuman, Bianca Spender and Allegra Spender from her marriages with Leo Schuman and Australian lawyer, politician and diplomat John Spender.

She also has nine grandchildren.

Author: ABC

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