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Amanda Testa

Amanda Testa

Amanda Testa is Sydney-based visual artist, designer and expert maker with a background in fashion, jewellery and a special talent for costume. We sat down to discuss her debut collection of dreamy, Rousseau-inspired accessories that romp along the boundaries between fashion, textile, art and object, laughing as they go. 

 

Can you tell me a bit about your background?

I grew up in Lismore, NSW but have lived in Sydney since leaving high school. I remember catching a show on the ABC once when I was a kid, and they were doing a look inside the East Sydney Technical Collage's fashion course (now Ultimo Tafe) and I distinctly remember thinking 'yep, that's where I'm going to go after school'. I've always been very curious and loved to make things, I taught myself to sew and have always been drawn to textiles, fashion and clothing - in part because I innately knew these things were part of a broader language of 'style'. 

You’ve had lots of creative pursuits and also have a few businesses under your belt. Can you tell me about some of your past creative projects and jewellery line?

I do seem to be continually experimenting in one way or another, and seem rarely content to stick with one thing. I've enjoyed being involved in projects as diverse as costume design for film and theatre, fashion styling and window displays, and was inspired to create my own fashion accessories line after a trip to Europe. I'd always wanted have my own brand and think I enjoy doing things just because I can! I was excited by all sorts of interesting materials and techniques that I hadn't seen in costume jewellery at the time. My first collection was a kind of modern baroque affair with intricately laser engraved leather pieces, velvet bead necklaces and silk scarves with interiors from the Palais Garnier printed on them. I later added chunky carved resin pieces with scarab beetles and spacey brass framework jewels powder coated in bright colours. I had no training in jewellery but that sort of helped in a weird way, so I was coming at things quite freshly I suspect.

Your Halloween costumes are legendary! Can you tell me some of the highlights from years gone by, and what this year’s costume will entail?

I swear I live for a good dress up.  Give me a theme and I'll get to work! I'll often do something or someone everyone knows (and then try to nail it!) and a character that's some piece of my own personality.  Carmen Miranda, The Nanny's Fran Fine, Madonna's 'You can dance' look.... I'm equally drawn to pop culture or the more cerebral. One of my favourites to do was Krishna (the Hindu deity) because that required a complete transformation with powder blue skin, flowers for days and divine wisdom. My friends dressed as Shiva and Kali, so we looked absolutely incredible together!

What inspired you to begin your line of clutches? 

I had made this awesome dress for a friend for her birthday which was like a surrealistic homage to her: I had appliquéd an image of her in her signature look and turban onto the dress. I was really captivated by this appliqué technique I'd used, it was so effective and beautiful, that I started mucking around with some designs, not really knowing what I was doing with any of it. I'd simultaneously been admiring the irreverent and playful worlds of accessory designers like Yazbukey and Olympia Le Tan, so that was brewing somewhere in my mind when I looked at channeling the appliqué into a clutch range. 

How would you describe your aesthetic?

Playful, elegant, vibrant...someone once told me my aesthetic was 'optimistic' which I quite like!

You’ve spoken about the ‘umbrella’ under which the collection comes under, including Rousseau and referencing a 1970’s vibe.

Rousseau was a reference point for this range because his well-known paintings are so lush and vibrant, like a magical and dreamy jungle.  It felt like a good note to hit while developing a range of creature clutches and it inspired a beautiful look for the campaign images we made.

How did you come up with the different designs?

I had designed this very trippy, art nouveau butterfly piece at first, and then thought, ‘Maybe I could extend this out to be jungle collection.  Just animals for this one.’ So I started sketching out a bunch of designs, and then edited down to four pieces. I chose a tiger and gorilla because they were fierce and unusual, but then the cobra and butterfly are more jewel-like and intricate, and I liked that balance.

Can you talk me through your making process?

It's a lengthy process! Each coloured section of the design is cut from different fabrics, layered and assembled together.  An iron-on backing makes everything stay in place. Then the edges are satin-stitched in place (a type of machine embroidery stitch) and this is known as appliqué. The gorilla design also has some lovely quilting. I produce all of the appliqué, and then the structural make of the clutch is handed over to a local leather-goods craftsman and craftswoman duo, who are adorable, expert and are as exacting about quality and detail as I am.

What do you love about these clutches?

I love that it is a bit of magic in an object. 

What has been one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced since starting this project?

Getting anything made is always hard and with a fair share of behind the curtain stuff-ups before you arrive at an effortless piece! Anything I'm drawn to has an element of innovation to it, so one challenge I've faced is trusting my ideas and where I'm going with it before I know whether it's going to come together or not. 

What about one of the biggest achievements? 

I think I achieved my subconscious aim of making creative and luxurious fashion accessories.

What does your dream Sunday involve?

My dream Sunday would start with strong coffee, a yummy breakfast, reading the (physical!) paper, some leisurely time in somewhere like the botanic gardens and a sunset picnic or cocktail with friends.

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Amanda Testa’s clutches are available now.