Liz Casella: Patterns Hidden in Plain Sight

Much of haute couture feeds off textile print designer Liz Casella’s creativity.

Liz Casella works in a part of the fashion industry few people know exists. She's been designing textiles for the past 15 years, and, in that time, she estimates she's had her hands on tens of thousands of prints. And, remarkably, she says she still recognizes them all.

Liz Casella: Terrible memory for everything else, but for prints, pretty good.

Casella now heads her own eponymous brand, based in Los Angeles—something of a dream come true for this lass from the remote Australian city of Perth.

Casella: It did feel incredibly isolating. And both my parents are European, and I'd experienced going overseas from a young age. And I just wanted out, and I wanted fashion. And fashion was always...it's always been a way that I've been able to express myself. I'm not the most confident person walking into a room, and I don't wanna just strike up conversation with anyone. So I think the way that I dress is almost like a way of trying to project a confidence.

AJC: What were your parents thinking as you were committed to the idea of becoming a fashion designer? What did they think about what little Liz was doing as she was growing up?

Casella: I missed a lot of school. I was very naughty, very young, and I really got it out of my system, because once I went to college, that was it. And I've just been so committed ever since, and I think my dad's pretty happy with the way things have gone.

Not that things turned out exactly as young Liz had planned. She originally wanted to become a clothing designer. But once she got to college, discovered she had other strengths.

Casella: I didn't get great grades in my pattern making and my actual clothing designs, and I think that also meant, like, I was less confident. Because I didn't have the support of my lecturers and that, whereas my textile lecturers were just so encouraging and supportive. One of my lecturers at college, he had a side business where he owned a print studio, and he would ask his top students to design prints. So I was 18, and he would fly to New York and sell designs. I can't remember what I got paid, but I don't think it was very much. But it was an incredible foot into the industry.

Today, Liz Casella is one of only a couple of hundred textile designers in the world. She says her greatest strength is her use of color. Handy, given how much emotion a single hue can convey.

Casella: Color is a hard thing to teach. I think you kind of have it or you don't. I will always go for what visually pleases me. You might hear from a client that a print is angry, that's a very common term in our world.

AJC: And what does angry look like?

Casella: It's more certain flowers can be angry. Again, it's like shape and angle. If something's too pointed, it can be angry. We often talk about wanting to make prints happy, because we can often make prints a little...our color tends to go a little more muted, which I would say is more feminine. So softer colors, more feminine, but brighter colors are happy. So for us, we're always looking to go brighter.

AJC: Are there sad patterns?

Casella: Sad doesn't really come into play, it's more angry that you need to steer clear of.

AJC: What do you feel when you see somebody wearing your print, out in the world? Does it happen often?

Casella: Yeah, it does. You get a little buzz inside. And obviously we all look a lot online, and we look at the brands, and we collect all the imagery, and we'll buy pieces and wear them.

AJC: So you will actually go to the website or the person that you sell the fabric to, and buy the finished thing?

Casella: Yeah, sometimes we end up paying more for the clothes than what we got paid for the print. But we also have clients that are really generous, that either give us pieces or give it to us at wholesale. So, it's a bit of everything.

And through the years, there's one piece in particular that still stands out.

Casella: One of the first prints I ever designed, it was hand-drawn onto silk, and it was really detailed. And it sold to Sass and Bide, who are a really big Australian brand, and it opened their new Fashion Week show. And that was, I think I was like 24, and my mum and my nana actually pitched in, and bought me that dress. And, I could still wear that dress now if I wanted to. It hasn't really dated, and it's a beautiful piece. So that, you know, it stood out for multiple reasons.

But for every finished piece that Casella collects, hundreds more of her designs never see the light of day.

Casella: Probably 40% of what sells never gets used, or something could get used, and it gets changed so much that you may not recognize it.

AJC: It's all work for hire.

Casella: Mmm-hmm. So, basically, someone comes to us, they like a print, they buy it, they take it that day, and they can do whatever they want with it.

AJC: Really? Does that not annoy you? I mean, a lot of people would be very upset about that.

Casella: We produce a hundred prints a week, so we can't—

AJC: You don't have time to get upset.

Casella: No, no.

AJC: Any sense of regret about the fact that all of those people are creating beautiful work off your artistry, but had you been better at pattern-cutting, you wouldn't have needed them?

Casella: Had I gone down that path, life could have been so different. I could still be in Italy right now, working for a high-end fashion house, and probably have no life. I'm feeling pretty good and pretty grateful for the position that we're in right now. I think we have a lot of creative freedom, and that's the best thing about what we do.