Styling is a part of Bettina McIlwraith of Appetite for Decoration - thanks to the way she was brought up, she says. “But it runs deeper than that, now styling is a vital communication tool for better ways of living and always in support of sustainable, ethical art forms. My work too has always been about a massive appreciation of tribal culture, especially ritual and ceremony... a celebration of life in the everyday.” Bettina enjoys the collaborative elements of it: exchanging ideas with photographers, retailers, designers, artists, models, and other creatives. She is based in Sydney after living for many years in London where she consulted on trends and prints for fashion, lifestyle and interior brands. Since returning to Australia, she has worked with companies such as One Another (interviewed here). “What I do is not just about creating beautiful images but communicating better ways to live, specifically an ethical, sustainable, more fulfilling and forward-thinking way of life.” As for the styling that was in her blood? “Style just oozes from my mumma’s veins and both my grandmothers too; their lust and sense of colour and flair for design in all things was super inspiring to grow up in,” Bettina says. “That was my leg up into this world, you could say.”
Which five words best describe you? Creative, optimistic, adventurous, extremist, naughty (but nice).
How did you get your career start and what path have you taken since? Justin Abrahams of the Husk stores fame gave me my first break back in the year 2000, I had moved to Melbourne to study fashion at RMIT and I started working in the flagship store in Malvern, which led to a role in buying, particularly the introduction of new brands into the fold. Also, the concept and styling of each seasonal campaign and the curation of seasonal wardrobes - personal styling sessions - for our VIP customers. It was a really exciting time for me, personally and professionally. Justin’s unique vision for retail was way ahead of its time - so strong and authentic in its approach and in support of labels that embodied the brand’s ethos. This is where I became passionate about really great retail. He was an awesome mentor and introduced me to the people and brands I’m still incredibly passionate about - especially Pam and Lydia of Easton Pearson.
What’s the best lesson you’ve learnt along the way? Fight the good fight. I use these words a lot, it’s about staying true to your vision and having belief in yourself, no matter what. Sometimes life/work is difficult but you have to keep on keeping on. It’s also about fighting the mainstream for me, fighting for fair trade, keeping fit physically and mentally and being a warrior for the eco. Gloves on then.
What’s your proudest career achievement? Consulting on trends and print for fashion, lifestyle and interiors brands in London when I managed the Beyond Retro print and textile archive; travelling between London, Paris and New York; and from there setting up my own business in London’s East End - BlackDot World Archive - an archive of vintage garments, textiles, objects and artefacts from around the globe that enabled travel and to consult on print, trends and aesthetics with a very strong graphic, mostly African and global point of view.
What’s been your best decision? Moving back to London in 2004 and bringing that knowledge/life experience back here with me to Sydney. Learning transcendental meditation.
Who inspires you? Li Edelkoort, Iris Apfel and Vivienne Westwood: strong women with strong vision who have stood the test of time. How long have you got? The list goes on... I’m constantly shouting out about those I love and those who inspire me on my Instagram. Also, my sister, my friends and the awesome creative community that is Instagram.
What are you passionate about? Sharp edge. Big heart. Celebrating life, telling my friends and family that I love them.
Which person, living or dead, would you most like to meet? I wish for a long, lavish seafood dinner at Ricky Ricardo's in Noosa with lots of wine and loud conversation after a day surfing National Park beaches with my Dada, who passed away almost two years ago. I miss him/us.
What dream do you still want to fulfil? Continuous travel and eyes open, working with cooperatives, smart brands and people with an inspired vision for better ways of living. To still be working and collaborating well into my 70s.
What are you reading? Magazines - The Hand of Fashion, a digital magazine created by Black Magazine in support of the ITC Ethical Fashion Iniaitive. Print-tastic wise - Bite Me magazine, Nourished Journal, Majestic Disorder, Riposte and GUP. Grew up with Vogue Living and still love it. Books - Vivienne Westwood’s biography by Vivienne Westwood and Ian Kelly.