Nicky Zimmermann on making party dresses in a pandemic

The Australian designer shows her first collection on home turf in seven years.

Zimmermann dresses fashion week
It was all colour, lace and botanical prints in Zimmermann's spring/summer 2021 collection

Back in January, when she decided  to make Australian botany the inspiration for her spring/summer 2021 collection, Nicky Zimmermann had no idea that her catwalk would be transposed from New York Fashion Week to a Sydney studio filled with local bush flowers. But making the show and the accompanying video – which were released today but shot on Monday – Zimmermann felt everything click into place.

“It was just right,” she says over Zoom from her home in Sydney, a bunch of wildflowers propped up on the windowpane behind her. “Despite the hideous circumstances, for this collection it was probably exactly the right thing. We worked with an entirely local crew of amazing talents, people I’ve known for years and years, and the feeling of being back together here in Australia was rather incredible. It’s made me love where I come from even more.”

It goes without saying that this is going to be a very odd fashion month. New York Fashion Week began with more of a whimper than a bang a few days ago, while the rule of six has seen nearly all London fashion events cancelled and replaced with appointments. But for designers like Zimmermann, who are based in countries far from the four fashion capitals, the pandemic has been a chance to breathe and to create something really personal for once.

Nicky Zimmermann at home in her studio

Remote shows mean they can finally work with the make-up artists, set designers and hairdressers they know best, without worrying about losing out on publicity. As Zimmermann – who founded the label with her sister Simone in 1991 – talks me through her memories of Australian bush trips as a child, and then describes putting together a show on home turf for the first time in seven years, it is clear just how much she has been enjoying herself.   

“It was a mammoth task,” she says, “but we worked with a florist who has an incredible reputation here in Australia. She and her team made the set together and it was magical watching it in real time. Just the change in colour alone was wonderful: yellow flowers for the sunrise, then grey gum for midday, and then pink for the evening light. Oh, I just loved it.”

The entire production is Australian to the core. Fabrics were printed with illustrations by local 19th century botanist Ellis Rowan while Mandy Walker, one of Baz Luhrmann’s cinematographers, shot an atmospheric video that sees Zimmermann talking florals in a series of ever-more beautiful locations. It all looks like such fun – but making these videos must have been a bright spot in what has otherwise been a difficult year.

A lace top on the catwalk with a swathe of pink wildflowers in the background

In June, during the height of the Black Lives Matter protests, fashion watchdog Diet Prada published a post on Instagram accusing Zimmermann of insisting employees wear their hair in “soft textured waves or blow-dried straight” – a rule that is difficult for black women to adhere to. Former interns made further accusations, causing a controversy at the time, but Zimmermann later said that the document Diet Prada referred to was old and had been updated months earlier.  

Add to that the simple fact that the brand designs dresses for parties and holidays in a year where both are, if not banned, then definitely a rare occurence. Their boutiques are based in glossy holiday resorts like Capri, and the sisters have made a lot of money from selling clothes that make you want to jump on the first flight there or to Ibiza – all tiered ruffles, swishing hemlines and puff sleeves with plenty of eyelets. Their most famous dresses are a hybrid of glossy occasion gowns and beachy prints, conjuring up memories of happier times spent drinking cold cocktails and dancing outside.

“I talked to my design team about it, and we decided not to deviate from our path,” Zimmermann says. “Instead we put in as much effort as we could to create clothes people love. We want our customers to buy something that makes them feel joyous, and that’s in the detail and the silhouette of how a dress makes you feel. I’m a mood dresser and it’s all about who I am that day: some days I want to look like a little boy and others I want to wear lace and frills.”

Backstage shots of one of Zimmermann's more romantic creations

This collection, with its oversized tiered skirts, ruched seams and laser-cut petal flourishes give the dresses an almost 3D quality, and definitely cater to lace and frills side of the brand. There are hand-stitched floral, butterfly and dragonfly embellishments and plenty of pretty pastel fabrics, all of which probably work better on the long ethereal dresses with cinched-in waists and tiered skirts than on the mini dresses. The standout piece of the collection is a canary yellow dress with the bow at the back that looks like a particularly tempting present. 

The prettiness of Zimmermann’s designs means they have long been a celebrity favourite and a regular on the party circuit. Margot Robbie, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jourdan Dunn among many others have all worn the brand regularly – and Jennifer Lopez was spotted earlier this week in one of their oversized hats. When Princess Beatrice chose a particularly romantic moss green and pink Zimmermann print dress for her engagement photographs last September, it illustrated just how popular Australia’s most successful brand has become in the UK.

Princess Beatrice in Zimmermann in her engagement photoshoot Credit: @princesseugenie/Instagram

“Oh that was a complete thrill,” Zimmermann exclaims. “It’s always a great moment when someone wears your dress, and I thought Beatrice looked fantastic. As an Australian, you just love the royals – I’d love to dress more of them. They’re all so gorgeous.”

This flowing, floral collection would be ideal royal fodder, but sadly not even the prettiest prints are going to bring back party dressing or long-haul travel for a good few months. Australian wildflowers, though, will be something to look forward to. 

For more news, analysis and advice from The Telegraph's fashion desk, click here to sign up to get our weekly newsletter, straight to your inbox every Friday. Follow our Instagram @Telegraphfashion