Australia’s Only Aboriginal
Formal Wear Label
She’s an Aboriginal Aunty who lives in Cairns and designs couture evening gowns exlusively in black from recycled fabrics. A direct descendant of the Gunggari, Pitta-Pitta, Bindal and Quandamooka People, she’s also a warrior against waste. Cheryl Creed designed Aboriginal formal dresses are exactly what the world of formal fashion is asking for. Her gowns are highly individual, stylish and elegant, yet infused with meaning. Her label Murrii Quu is the only Aboriginal label to be featured on the catwalk in Milan, selected from a hundred applicants. Murrii Quu is Australia’s only Aboriginal formal wear label.
How did you get started?
Becoming a designer wasn’t on my career path. It wasn’t something that I was working towards. It came from an opportunity when I was modelling for an Indigenous fashion show. The organisers asked if anyone wanted to be a designer and I said “Yes, me!” Their response was “see you on the runway next year with a collection.” That’s how it began.
During the early days of moving into the fashion industry, I had no idea that I was stepping into a space as a couture fashion designer and that I would basically be the only one. I remember thinking about what sorts of designs I could create, but at the same time I didn’t think that I would be around this long and have a label. I thought I would only create that one collection for the runway as a novelty collection and that was it. But I realised I had something and I fell in love with it. I had no idea that I would be the only Aboriginal formal dress designer. I only knew I loved long gowns, gloves, hats and high heels.
I really wasn’t expecting to be where I am today.
What were you doing before you started Murrii Quu Couture?
Before shifting careers to become a fashion designer, I went to university and got a BA in Visual Communication & Fine Arts. I was a in love with portraiture. In 2013 I entered a portrait into Australia’s most prestigious Art Award The Archibald.
Holding a Masters Degree in education, I was sure I wanted to be an academic and teach Polical Science, but the pull towards fashion left me with no option but to head in that direction instead.
What sets your Aboriginal formal dresses apart?
I reach back into my childhood and there are always those images and stories in my mind: how our women struggled. Fashion was not what made them feminine. Being a woman was about taking care of her family, her husband, her home. And living under the invasive eyes of the government, Aboriginal women had to live up to white women standards. Yet they weren’t allowed to be their individual selves. They couldn’t just go into a shop and buy their dream dress. They couldn’t even own such things in many circumstances. There was no such thing as fashion for our women where I grew up. Clothes were selected for them. There were no catalogues, just government order forms. In our poverty deprived world our women were made to look impoverished and wearing hand-me-down clothes was what she was worth, when women in the outside world could dress in brand new fashionable trends and admire themselves.
I wanted to create that elegance that our women missed out on. And these were some of the things that couldn’t be passed down to their daughters because they didn’t experience it themselves, and this is what I wanted to bring back
Murrii Quu Couture was about bringing beauty to our women in the beginning – and using the wastes from discarded clothes that were once someone else’s.
“I only design black evening gowns. The black is representative of my heritage as an Aboriginal woman. It’s classy, timeless and everyone can wear it.”– Cheryl Creed
Why do you only work with black fabrics and why only recycled?
A quote from my maternal grandmother, Ruth Hegarty, sums it up. As a young mother, with her parents and siblings, they were forced to go to Cherbourg where the family was separated under assimilation legislation. She said: “We were like an old rag that had been torn in three parts. It was never to be put back together again.”
I source my raw material, discarded garments from second-hand shops. Unlike other designers, I don’t work from a pattern. Inspiration to design is drawn from the garments I find. I look for black quality garments and fabrics. When I find the right clothing, I proceed to deconstruct it, separating skirts from dresses, unpicking sleeves, removing buttons and zips.
Creating a single gown may involve the dismantling of up to three separate garments, sourced from different outlets. There’s a search process to consider, time, energy, creative thought that goes into designing a Murrii Quu Couture gown. It’s quite involved. I only design black evening gowns and all my pieces tell a rich narrative, reflective of my Aboriginal heritage.
““We were like an old rag that had been torn in three parts. It was never to be put back together again.”– Ruth Hegarty (Grandmother)
I call my design technique “Assimilated Fashion”, an analogous reflection of the enforced assimilation practice, a radical procedure to extinguish the traditional make up (DNA) of my people’s existence, re-programming our people for the new world. “Assimilated Fashion” defines my design process involving several garments to produce a finished gown, with each garment undergoing a metamorphosis of fashion manipulation to transform into a high-end gown.
As a lover of second-hand shopping, my design philosophy, focuses on lessening the pressure on the environment. Having a sustainable label is a reflection of my traditional life and connection to country and caring for the environment.
I only design black evening gowns. The black is representative of my heritage as an Aboriginal woman. It’s classy, timeless and everyone can wear it.
As an Aboriginal couture designer, are there expectations you have to overcome?
I live in tropical north Queensland, Cairns, and given that the evening gowns I design are only in black, they are not ideal for the tropical climate. I am in a location better suited to casual cottons. By showing in Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney, Perth and Milan, I’ve managed to overcome this to some extent.
“Because you are an Aboriginal fashion designer, people want you to create pieces that have Aboriginal artwork on it. They think that somehow this makes authentic Aboriginal designs.”– Cheryl Creed
Because you are an Aboriginal fashion designer, people want you to create pieces that have Aboriginal artwork on it. They think that this somehow makes authentic Aboriginal designs. You’re questioned: Why don’t you have Aboriginal art on your designs? If you’re an authentic Aboriginal designer, then you should have artwork on your designs? It’s taken some years to establish myself and to create a label and brand that does not carry artwork. I think even our own fashion organisations found it tricky to categorise my design style that is void of art work. I had to work hard convincing many that I was in a space of my own and that they needed to create a space for me because I didn’t fit in. I sense that many thought I looked to mainstream.
I have created this new look in style, design and concept of “what is an Aboriginal design”. I’m outside of the box.
What sets you apart from other Aboriginal Designers?
As I ventured into the fashion industry as a designer and I began to get serious about this new role that I had created for myself. I knew I had to create a signature label that would stand out from what everyone else was doing.
I only saw sportswear: t-shirts, swimwear and casual oversized Aboriginal type bohemian wear. I realised there was no evening wear for women. I realised we were still in the shadows of mainstream designers and I so wanted to prove to the world that Indigenous designers, particularly from Australia, have the vision and ability to leap forward.
Would you like to name-drop who’s wearing your gorgeous Aboriginal formal dresses?
I like to think that I am a celebrity stylist, having dressed some amazing women.
Most recently, Queensland’s top lady, Her Excellency The Governor Dr Jeanette Young wore an original Murrii Quu Couture to two high-profile red-carpet events.The gorgeous Yolonde Entsch, wife of the Australian Politician Warren Entsch of Cairns wore a custom designed gown when she was MC at a fashion event in Cairns. I was also honoured to style Aboriginal singer Emily Wurramarra, who has been nominated for Best Blues & Roots album at ARIA Awards.
What is it about the whole business that excites you most?
The same thing that annoyed me actually excited me. I love being different. I love that I have my own style. I love that my work is unique and exclusive. I love that I don’t mass produce. I love that my label is a conscious label. I love that my designs are for all and everyone and that everyone can see themselves in my designs and feel beautiful. I stepped out of the box about how Aboriginal designers are perceived to have to design in a certain way to maintain identity and that that was the authentic way to create fashion from an Indigenous creative perspective.
“I stepped out of the box about how Aboriginal designers are perceived…”– Cheryl Creed
I love when people look at my designs and then look at me and you can see them trying to either put you back in the box or applaud you for breaking out.
I love that I am not interested in trends and that my creations don’t come from patterns and that I still have my cultural connection. It exists even though the distinctive Aboriginal patterns are not visual, but it is still visible through the creative process in producing Aboriginal formal dresses.
Advice for other Aboriginal creatives thinking of getting into fashion?
Find a signature style that’s your own. It’s ok to be different so give yourself permission to be an individual. Allow yourself to make mistakes. Don’t say no to opportunities. Accept advice. If it’s your dream, don’t give up on yourself but always have a plan B-C-D-E. Many things in life are hard work and so too is trying to build a business. You will always find support and if people see that you’re passionate and working hard, people will support you.
Feature Image: Lucas Dawson Photography
See more at: Aboriginal Fashion Designers