World at her feet

Talia ShuvalovMost young designers could only dream of work experience at Alexander McQueen or a role at Narciso Rodriquez – but for Talia Shuvalov, that dream is a reality. Meet the ambitious New York-based UTS graduate who's taking the fashion world by storm.

If you want to change the world, you should start with a load of passion in what you're doing, says UTS graduate Talia Shuvalov. But as the Sydneysider starts her career in the fashion world's capital of New York, she knows that leaving her mark on the world also takes a lot of hard work and perseverance.

"I've just moved into my new apartment in Soho, two blocks from Ruby's Café," says the 25-year-old Bondi native. "But I don't get to spend much time here – I'm too busy."

Busy is an understatement. Having attended Reddam House school in Sydney, and determined not to follow in the footsteps of her knitwear designer mother – Sandra Steiner – Shuvalov's avoidance of her mother's profession disappeared when it came to selecting a university and a degree.

"I loved design, loved clothes and wanted to work in an industry where I could express my creativity. Like many young people, I want to have an impact on the world and my creativity is how I can express that."

Enrolling into the UTS Bachelor of Design in Fashion and Textiles course, Shuvalov realised early that she'd made a lucky choice.

"The course was right for me because the emphasis was on breeding careers, rather than breeding labels," she says. "So it was about making us hone skills and become confident with what we wanted to express rather than being too commercially minded."

Shuvalov says with the well-equipped Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building , she found herself drawn to her mother's expertise of knitwear.

"In the second year we had a knitwear teacher come in – Alana Clifton-Cunningham – and she really got me interested in not just selecting fabric, but designing and making it myself. I started spending a lot of time on the equipment, finding what was possible."

What was possible was eventually a four-month holiday work experience placement in 2009 with Alexander McQueen. She spent these months in London, working on photographs of hats for an upcoming show from the fashion doyen, and helping with several knitwear 'looks', three of which ended up on the catwalk for a McQueen show.

"That was an eye-opener," she says. "To see how hard they all work in the fashion world, when there's a show coming up, was amazing. People were exhausted but they'd still be working, trying to make everything perfect."

Great expectations

Shuvalov graduated from UTS with first class honours, which gave her the bonus of having her collection exhibited at the Powerhouse Museum that year, a collection that gave a glimpse of her developing signature style.

"When I look back on that show, I can see that I'm leaning to graphic, modern fashion – textile-based knitwear: clean, minimal, architecture. I wasn't doing cardies and sweaters. It was high fashion."

Designs by Talia ShuvalovMany students would have rested on the first class honours and the Powerhouse exhibit, but Shuvalov had already set her sights on the world. At the time, Parsons The New School for Design in New York was initiating a new fashion design course called the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Fashion Design and Society, which would be overseen by Donna Karan. The Donna Karan MFA was a conscious effort to develop a course as focused on creativity as on industry-induction, and Shuvalov was offered a place in the two-year course.

"It happened very quickly," says Shuvalov, who was one of 18 young designers from around the world selected for the Donna Karan course. "I was accepted by Parsons in July 2010 and I moved to New York in August."

During those two years, she was given the chance to learn under some extraordinary people, most notably Donna Karan herself and Calvin Klein. As she was exposed to people from other countries and the high level teachers, she realised the UTS degree had been a very good grounding for her career.

"That degree gave us the confidence to express ourselves the way we wanted to, while also giving us a good grounding in technique and even things like anthropology. It's a fantastic foundation."

Relishing opportunities

As her time at Parsons drew to a close, two career-making events happened for the girl from Bondi: she managed to have nine 'looks' in the MFA catwalk event that closed the New York fashion show at the Milk building in September; and she was offered a job as the knitwear designer at Narciso Rodriguez.

Her days are now spent at the fashion house at Irving Place, selecting swatches and buttons and developing the looks that will be in the next Narciso Rodriguez show: the 'pre-fall' show in December followed by the fall show in February.

And because this is New York and a major fashion house, Shuvalov is designing for the world.

"A lot of time, effort and thought goes into a look," she says. "And when retailers pick it up and people start wearing it in the street, the world is changed."

Shuvalov says the environment is perfect for someone who loves fashion: she works in a small group with fast, constructive feedback from Rodriguez and his senior team. Even the hours are not so bad, although Shuvalov does warn others who want to try it that seven-day weeks are normal in the New York fashion world when a show is imminent.

Words: Mark Abernethy
Images: Talia Shuvalov