Sourcing the Muse


Well, I left school in 1965, so it was the generation that girls really didn't have careers. I mean you became a teacher, a nurse or a secretary. So I became a secretary. Always, you know, you want to get married by the time you're 23. And I got to the age of 26 and I thought, 'My goodness, I've got to find something I'm good at'. So I started working for the Squire Shop in Double Bay. Just as the assistant to the buyer. And two years later I became the international and the local buyer for all their menswear and womenswear. Travelling around the world three or four times a year. And I started designing pieces I couldn't find - that there was a need for that I couldn't find overseas or locally. I actually started my own label when I was still working for Tony. He wanted me to do that. He said, 'You do your own label but still do the trips for me'. And that's what I did because also in that time I was married and moved to the country 100 kilometres out of Sydney. So that was really interesting buying and then getting my own label.

I started with only six pieces, to feel the market out. And it just grew from there. It became too much. I left the Squire Shop and just concentrated on Tea Rose - and that was 21 years ago.

One of the features of Tea Rose is the fabric; the quality of the fabric. A lot of the fabrics I use are couture fabrics. So they're just stunning fabrics. So I get my ideas from the fabrics. Then by draping the fabrics around me or someone and see how they fall. And using them to the best advantage. Well, I love to make women look beautiful.

I think women should look feminine. That doesn't mean they should look frilly. But I get a great sort of thrill out of making, as I said before, any woman can look lovely. It doesn't matter: size, age. But just knowing what they can wear.

I do start with the fabric. And my first piece, if it's a fantastic piece, it can be the idea behind the whole collection. So, you know, from designing a couple of garments, the collection evolves. And I really like to do that, to get a feeling from one piece or a couple of pieces. And that also gives you inspiration for the rest of the range.

And also, you can have an idea, you can have a vision, and we always try on the garments half-made because your vision mightn't work, so you've got to be very adaptable to change. So we're all talking all the time. It's not, you know, I'm the one who makes all the decisions. I'm really listening to everyone's thoughts.

I sit down with Nicolette, the patternmaker, and we talk about ideas. She's very good technically, and she will suggest you know some technical way of doing something and then with the shop, of course, with Julia, who manages the shop, I mean she keeps me totally in touch with how the garments are fitting, what women are looking for. I'm down in the shop almost every day, just briefly. We're constantly talking about satisfaction of the customer. We do a lot of made to measure. So a lot of women are in here being measured up. Again, with Nicolette, she's telling me how the customer's feeling and about the satisfaction at the end of the garment. How the customer's feeling, what they particularly like about how they look. I've always loved old clothes. I just wish I had the time to go to all the antique shops and op-shops, but it was such an inspiration going to the Museum because they were so beautifully presented. It was like all these old clothes being presented in just a beautiful modern space. Which was really inspiring because I think that related back to today, to now. Instead of them just being all cramped together in an old shop.

So, yes, I think that I was inspired to do a wedding dress because I obviously do wedding dresses, but just the delicateness of the fabrics and the fineness and the beading and the embroidery. People will see where I've got my ideas from - even if it's only the colour or the beading and, they're all things that I always do. I think the flowers, the lace cut flowers, were very inspired to me from the lace fabric. I found the fabric after I'd been to the Museum. And the fact that it was on the tulle, and this dress I'd seen was totally sheer. It presented as sheer in the Museum. So the flowers on tulle was a flow-on from that. And then the beading on the beautiful satin dress - I decided to bead the flowers.

Dressing women and, yeah, highlighting their good points is something I feel very strong about. Everyone has got good points and I like to highlight their good points and flatter a woman's body.

- Rosemary Armstrong