Icon Carla Zampatti AC is Australia’s most successful and enduring fashion designer, launching her eponymous label in 1965. Executive Chairman of Carla Zampatti Pty Ltd, Carla has long been celebrated for making Australian women feel confident and elegant through her exceptional design, tailoring and understanding of the modern woman.
Born in Italy, Carla settled with her family in Western Australia in 1950. After moving to Sydney in her 20s, she produced her first small fashion collection in 1965. Two years later she launched her collection nationally and in 1970 established Carla Zampatti Pty Ltd.
A champion of Australian women and a multicultural success story, she continued to thrive as a businesswoman through enormous radical and social change, designing clothes for women fighting for liberation through the women’s rights movement in the 1960s to empowering women today in leadership, the workplace, in their home and at major life events.
It was during the early 1980s Carla was approached by Ford to design the interior of the new Ford Laser aimed specifically the women’s market. Her first Laser produced in 1985 was followed two years later with another collection of Lasers plus Meteors that are still remembered as examples of design innovation in Australia.
She went on to expand her retail network to create a chain of boutiques across Australia and New Zealand and her clothes are truly considered a distinctive part of modern Australian lifestyle. Her designs have been worn by Australia’s most influential women from Prime Ministers and Premiers to business leaders, dignitaries, award-winning journalists, royalty and celebrities. They include Princess Mary of Denmark, Dame Quentin Bryce, Julia Gillard, Gladys Berejiklian, Julie Bishop, Nicole Kidman and Cate Blanchett.
In 1965 Carla Zampatti launched her first collection with photographs in front of the Opera House, when it was still under construction. Fittingly 50 years later in May 2015 Carla Zampatti celebrated its 50th Anniversary with an Australian Fashion Week runway show under the sails of the same building. The year was commemorated with the release of her autobiography and monograph. In 2020 the Carla Zampatti brand celebrated its 55th anniversary with a collection that featured the brand’s icons reinvented for the modern women -- the jumpsuit, tailored jackets and satin evening dresses.
Outside of fashion, Carla is a celebrated Australian businesswoman. She was the Chairman of SBS Corporation and a Trustee of the Art Gallery of NSW. She was a board member of the Sydney Theatre Company Foundation, UTS V-C's Industry Advisory Board, Westfield Holdings and McDonald’s Australia. Carla is currently a member of the Australian Multicultural Foundation, and a board member of the European Australian Business Council and Sydney Dance Company.
In May 2014, Carla Zampatti was granted an Honorary Doctorate of Laws at the Faculty of Arts Monash University. In addition to this, she also holds an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from the University of Western Sydney for outstanding service to the University as a member of its Board of Governors, Honorary Doctorate of Letters from the University of Wollongong and Honorary Doctors of Design from the University of Technology Sydney. In 2018 Carla established the Carla Zampatti Foundation Design Award at the University of Technology Sydney. It supports creativity and innovation and provides a talented student with global ambitions, with generous financial support for postgraduate study at a top ranked international fashion school, with the support of the Carla Zampatti brand and culture.
Carla has been recognised with a number of Australian and international awards for achievement and excellence. She was named the inaugural Australian Business Woman of the Year in 1980. In 2004, the Italian government appointed Carla Commendatore (Commander) in the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic. In January 2005, Carla was honoured by Australia Post and named a ‘2005 Australia Post Australian Legend’. In 2008 she was awarded the Australian Fashion Laureate in recognition of outstanding achievement in the Australian fashion industry. A Member of the Order of Australia (AM), Carla was appointed Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) as part of the Queen’s Birthday Honours in June 2009.
Carla Zampatti is the mother of three children Alexander Schuman, Bianca Spender and Allegra Spender from her marriages with businessman Leo Schuman and former Australian lawyer, politician and diplomat, John Spender. She is also the proud Nonna of nine grandchildren.
On the 3rd of April 2021 Carla Zampatti passed away in Sydney, Australia. Carla’s contribution to women, multicultural Australia and the fashion industry was honoured at a state funeral on April 15 2021 at Sydney’s St Mary’s Cathedral. It was attended by more than 1200 mourners including, former Prime Ministers, former Governors-General Dame Quentin Bryce and Sir Peter Cosgrove, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, NSW Governor Margaret Beazley and her predecessor Dame Marie Bashir, and Government ministers, including the former Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Also in attendance were industry leaders in fashion, the arts, multicultural and business communities.
Carla Zampatti Arts and Culture Medal
In March 2022, the NSW Premier announced the inaugural Carla Zampatti Arts and Culture Medal at the Premier’s Harmony Dinner. This award recognises the achievements of an individual who has promoted cultural understanding, and artistic endeavours within or between communities of different cultural and/or linguistic backgrounds.
Carla Zampatti was a passionate Italian, but she was also a very patriotic Australian. She represents the very best of Australia. She arrived as a child, a non-English-speaking post-war immigrant. She worked hard and eventually became an icon for immigrants, women and the arts. The international media acknowledgements after her death owed less to her fashion and business skills than to her extraordinary success story from such unlikely beginnings. It is an honour that she has been recognised by the NSW Premier in this way, both with her inclusion on the Honour Roll and the annual Carla Zampatti Medal for Arts and Culture.
The Carla Zampatti Arts and Cultural Medal will continue to positively impact the community in the years ahead by fostering new talent encouraging designers to follow their dreams and show both women and migrants that they can achieve anything if they put their mind to it.