Posted by: Debra Kolkka | September 4, 2013

My fashion past

I have just finished working backstage at the Mercedes Benz Fashion Festival in Brisbane.  For 20 years I had my own fashion retail shop in the centre of Brisbane. I designed and made most of the clothes in the shop. When we bought our house in Italy 10 years ago I decided to close the business so I could spend more time there.

I had a great time in the fashion industry and made lots of friends, so once a year I get to go back and work with some of these wonderful people behind the scenes

Many of the people I work with in the festival are too young to remember my shop and were curious about my designs. I have gone back through photos, some of them more than 20 years old…here is the result.

I don’t often post photos of myself, but the one below, taken about 12 years ago, is one of my favourite reminders of my time in fashion.



  1. I love that your designs compliment “real” women….not just waif-thin models.

    • Some of those clothes were made more than 20 years ago. I think they stand up quite well.

  2. Stunning work. And yes I agree they pass the test of time. Love the last shot! Best, cat

    • It was fun looking back over those old photos. I remember every stitch.

  3. Not only you are a great interior designer, but also for fashion! WoW!

    • I enjoyed my years in fashion and I also enjoyed decorating Casa Debbio.

  4. What a wonderful collection….you are amazing….what a talent!

    • I have been sewing since I was a child…and I am still doing it, but just for myself now.

  5. Love the photos. Many timeless designs and the tans are very Italy 2013!

    • Some people who bought things from me tell me they are still wearing them, which is very nice.

  6. What elegant, timeless pieces Debra! You are such a talented lady!! 🙂

    • Thank you, I did enjoy my time in fashion.

  7. Fabulous

  8. So many memories in these photos for me. Can’t remember modelling for you, but I see many of my model mates there. I always loved that shot of you with Dani modelling too. I recall many of the RAQ garments of yours from out the backstage and from out the front in the audience. Fantastic pics Deb. xx

    • Bernie features in so many of my photos, and did you notice a young Miranda Kerr? By the time I started entering the RAQ I think you were already heading towards the organising side of things. As is usually the case, the best part of my fashion past is the people I met along the way…I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.

  9. Debra, I remember your career, but thanks again for the reminder and how gorgeous are they still, nothing looks dated – it looks timeless but not in any conservative way, some of the out there cut away designs would be wanted by those thin young things in the music limelight today. You must join my Fashion Forward Friends group in Facebook, I think I have invited you already, can you check? I don’t think you do a lot on Fbook but it is a group to share fashion news, fashion museums etc. Roz

    • I will look out for Fashion Forward Friends. I have signed up for Nadia Buick’s new blog. Even though I am not closely involved in fashion, I do like to know what is going on.

  10. Aaahh the memoriles of Brisbane Arcade, thats where I first met you. I still have the pretty jumper I bought from you in the 80’s. your styles were very creative and timeless.

    • The Brisbane Arcade was a big part of my life for a long time. It is a gorgeous arcade in the city and I still love to visit.

  11. Beautiful and timeless designs Debra. They cannot be “dated” and this is the best proof of professional excellence. And I love your photo!

    • At the time the photo was published I was a bit bothered by the fact that my eyes were closed…but now I love it.

  12. Great Memories.. Love the photo of you x

    • I have lots of great memories of my fashion days. I don’t miss my shop, I am having a great time travelling.

  13. Very very beautiful fashions, Debra! That last shot is a real stunner. Do you miss the work??

    • I don’t miss it. I used to work 7 days a week, starting early in the morning and not finishing until late at night. I still like to sew, but now it is just for me.

  14. Debra, what a marvellous fashion journey for you! – clever, quirky designs as well as the timeless classics. I love the shapely white wool outfit on the model on the right in the second photo, the black and caramel wool outfit with the tassels in the back and the gum-nut hat, the delicate green cobweb dress, and the photo of you with the model who looks almost like Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast in Tiffanys” (love the dress!). Really, all your fashions reveal your artistic talent, which you’ve extended to interior decorating, writing and your travel blog. Bellisimo!

    • I remember all of those garments and the time taken to create them. I am happy to have moved on to other things.

  15. Deb, you constantly amaze me. I knew about your fashion past, but it’s wonderful to see some examples of your work. LOVE the final photo! xx

    • The shop was a big part of my life for a long time. I enjoy making things, I come from a very practical, hands on family. I still love to sew. Now I make curtains and things for our new house as well as my own clothes. I also cherish the friendships I made along the way.

  16. Hi Deb I’m embarrassed to say I had no idea. Beautiful collections, agree with the above comments on their timelessness. Love learning new things about people, pretty amazing. xS

    • It has been 10 years since I gave up my shop so I am not surprised. I don’t talk about it all that often. My life is quiet different now.

  17. Fabulous Deb – such a wonderful collection and so original. Cheers to you my friend – the industry lost a gem when you bought your place in Italy! F xx

    • Thank you. It was time for me to move on. There are some wonderful new designers out there, and it is much harder now for local designers. They now have to compete directly with the whole world.

  18. What a fun event, Deb. Seems like I remember you doing this last year, as well. However, I had missed that you had done some designing yourself. That’s really cool!

    Hugs from Ecuador,

    • I have been doing the backstage thing for 10 years now. It is less stressful than being on the other side.

  19. I was hoping to see a photo of you Debra! Celia tells me how stylish you are! 😀

    • That photo is quite old now, but it feels like yesterday.

  20. Wow! I remember watching the RAQ awards on television, but not being a Brisbane person I have to admit I wasn’t aware of your fashion design background. Some gorgeous designs and I love that last image, what an amazing life you have and are leading.

    • My 20 years in fashion required lots of hard work, but there were lots of fun and exciting moments.

  21. You have great talent! I love the polka dot skirt!

    • Those skirts were made from beautiful Italian cotton. I only used natural fibres.

  22. These are beautiful clothes, I am so glad you shared the pictures with us. That photography of you is amazing, it captures the essence of creating and making.

    • It is a lovely photo. It was taken for the local paper.

  23. Your aesthetic sensibilities have found new roads to pave…different but no less creative and with the same exquisite taste and talent…living life!

    • I have enjoyed using my skills to decorate our new house.

  24. I remember your exquisite and fine beading and gossamer fine fabrics. Your shop always seemed like an Aladdin’s cave. However I can understand too your pleasure in Italy and travelling – so much life to live and only one lifetime. That last photo is great – I think the closed eyes suit it.

    • The little shop took up a large chunk of my life and I had fun there.

  25. Wow! You are amazing! I often wondered about your career and now I know you are as talented as I suspected! Love the photo of you.

    • Thank you for your kind comments. It was a great part of my life.

  26. Now as the only male commenting…… Can you design a nice pair of fashionable jocks for me? LOL All looks very nice, I am happy to see you designed clothes people could actually wear not like some you see on catwalks which makes you wonder who the heck would ever buy those and wear them. Now I can see why those curtains in your new house look so nice. I want some for our new house whenever that will come. Artistic lady Deb

    • I’ll pass on the jocks, but I will make some curtains for your new house in BdL.

  27. So which of the models is you ?
    Lucky your not still in retail as I would have to file an anti discrimination charge , due to the total lack of MALE designs .
    Jill has a compliment though — reckons they’re most contempory indeed !

    • I’m the chubby one in the last photo. I must have been about 48 at the time. I did do the odd male outfit which my son grabbed.

  28. Debra that last photo is fabulous!

    • Thank you. We had fun doing it.

  29. Add cooking to Debra’s list of talents of photography, interior design, fashion design and creation (mighty fine sewing and knitting). Her drawing is pretty good too.

    • I have to admit to a little bias here, Nifta is my sister (she just happens to produce some of Australia’s finest Chardonnay and Pinot Noir at her Curly Flat vineyard and winery)

  30. Wow! Some beautiful and very stylish creations, Debra. I also love that last photo. 🙂

    • Thank you. I enjoyed that part of my life and it is fun to revisit fashion each year at the festival.

  31. How exciting! Don’t you ever feel tempted to go back? Italy must be such an inspiration.

    • I don’t want to go back. I enjoy my life in Italy and wouldn’t change it for anything.

  32. Beautiful, diverse and timeless design, Debra. Another side of you that I was not aware of. Your many talents have culminated into your wonderful life and you are so blessed to have the good health and physical ability to continue to enjoy! Many thanks for sharing with all of us!

    • I know that I am very lucky to be able to enjoy an interesting life.

  33. Hi Deb – great memories for me too – loved every moment of the awards and always loved your collections.

    • Thank you for your kind words. I loved my RAQ years, it was very exciting to win, especially the first time.

  34. Wow!! What a fabulous collection Debra! I am so glad I caught this post. xx

    • I’m pleased you stopped by.

  35. Beautiful Deb! Absolutely loved going through some of these images! xx Thank you for sharing!

      1. Thank you. It was an exciting part of my life.

  36. HI Deb, I finally got to see your blog post, thank you for sharing your wonderful memories. Love that pic of you – you look gorgeous. Hope you are keeping dry with all the rain. Dx

  37. Marvellous, love the combination of knitting and beautiful materials. Too right your designs passed the test of time Debra! I think Jill would have become a regular if you still would have the shop, and she knows quality!
    Makes my fingers itch, but for now I better start getting rid of my collection of materials and see how much room we will have in Ponte…. I can always start anew here, collecting cottons and silks. When I have learnt how to drape a more advanced figure, grin.
    Curious to see what things beautiful you will make with the paper threads.
    Thanks for everything Debra. Buon Auguri cara!

    • I can show you where to buy some excellent fabrics here at a great price.

      • Yes please! Once we made our move…..

  38. Bellissima!!👏👏👏😍😍😍

  39. […] life I had a shop in the city centre of Brisbane. I designed and made most of the clothes. (Click here to see something of my things). Over the years I have managed to collect a room full of […]

  40. Wow amazing the designs are still popular now. Love the knitting too.

  41. […] in the shop I had in the city until I gave it up about 15 years to spend more time in Italy. Click here to see more on my fashion past. Now I do the occasional Pop Up shop because I like making […]

  42. You have done so well. I am in hospitality and trying to move on to the next phase of my life if the business will allow. I love that you are still very connected but in the way that you choose. I am enjoying your blog very much and it gives me hope in the lovely Highlands of Scotland. There is a big world out there to explore and we have just started……..

    • Thank you for your lovely comments. I don’t do backstage anymore, but I am now sewing again. When I am in Australia I do a Pop Up once a week at a friend’s shop. It’s fun. I like to sew and this gives me something to do and is productive as well.
      I wish you well in your new ventures.

  43. You’ve had an interesting life and career. How lovely to share your life in two places. Sharing with my granddaughter in the fashion business.

    • I loved my life in the fashion industry. It was fun and I made many friends.

  44. Oh Deb, I remember most of those images and I remember your dedication to your brand ‘Cotton Wool’and all your successes. A great time and a few Trophies and Fashion Awards. We became friends through our different but fabulous careers/roles in the fashion industry – I treasure the memories. Di

    • Me too. It was a fun time, lots of hard work, but I made great friends and enjoyed my time in the Brisbane Arcade.

  45. […] I am particularly interested in the small artisan shops tucked away in corners all over Italy, probably because I ran my own tiny business for many years. I designed and made most of the clothes in my shop and I was there every day to sell them. I can appreciate the work involved in hand made pieces and the effort required to be a sole trader. My fashion past […]

  46. […] Je suis particulièrement intéressé par les petites boutiques d’artisans nichées dans les coins de toute l’Italie, probablement parce que j’ai dirigé ma propre petite entreprise pendant de nombreuses années. J’ai conçu et fabriqué la plupart des vêtements de ma boutique et j’étais là tous les jours pour les vendre. Je peux apprécier le travail impliqué dans les pièces faites à la main et l’effort requis pour être un commerçant unique. Mon passé mode […]

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