FEW Australian designers can lay claim to the eloquence and endurance of fashion powerhouse Carla Zampatti.
The Italian-born designer celebrated the 50th anniversary of her eponymous label at Sydney Opera House last month, recreating an earlier runway show while the iconic structure was still being built.
From a single store in Surry Hills, the brand has expanded to more than 15 boutiques nationally and is stocked at David Jones.
Along with countless collections of womenswear, she has designed sunglasses, jewellery, fragrances and even a range of Ford Lasers and Meteors.
Speaking at a high tea hosted by Bond University, Zampatti confirmed why she is renowned for her entrepreneurial prowess as well as her sartorial sense.
Zampatti is considered a pioneer for establishing her business during a time of traditional gender roles.
However she credits the introduction of the contraceptive pill to Australia in the early 1960s as a catalyst for change.
"I think it was then that we grasped that we could actually structure our lives and be in charge of when we had children," Zampatti says.
"It encouraged many more women to do what they wanted to do. They wanted to participate in the world around them, not just in child-rearing or support.
"It's a very wonderful and noble thing that women do by being supportive in so many different ways, but some of us want to go out and be scientists or engineers or dress designers."
Zampatti has a son from her first marriage, as well as two daughters with former husband John Spender. Allegra is managing director of the label, while Bianca is a designer in her own right.
Zampatti says she was blessed to have full-time help to balance family life with a demanding career, but also learnt the importance of compromise.
"It's very hard to be a perfectionist in everything and I'm sure I wasn't a perfect mother or a really good cook," she says.
"You have to realise that if you are trying to do many things at once, you can't be really fabulous at everything."
Zampatti's commitment to her work has delivered several accolades throughout the years, including an Order of Australia medal in 1987, being named Australian Fashion Laureate in 2008 and her face on a limited edition stamp as an Australia Post Legend.
The one she regards as the most important was being named the first Bulletin/Qantas Australian Woman of the Year.
"It made me realise that I was running a proper business and not a rag trade business," she says.
"It also gave me the confidence to know that my business was respected, and gave me the opportunity to meet a lot of the other contestants."
Her timeless designs have attracted a wide demographic of women between the ages of 17 and 70, although she says her market is becoming even younger as she gets older.
She attributes her staying power in the fickle fashion industry to understanding her customers and trialling garments to gauge how they feel.
"I try it on and if it's not perfect we make an adjustment," she says.
"Half of the reason why I do this is to see if it's flattering, but the other half is to see if it makes me feel good.
"I've kind of lived the life of my clients and I am as busy as my clients are, so I appreciate their needs.
"That has been one of the reasons I have been able to design for women over such a long period."
Zampatti will launch two books chronicling her journey later this year, including a photographic coffee table book and her autobiography.
Article images taken from Instagram.