She may have been working in fashion since she was 18 but Charlie Brown fears for her future as a designer.
With big-name Australian designers Lisa Ho, Kirrily Johnston and Alannah Hill recently walking away from their prolific labels, the 50-year-old San Francisco native, who was in Perth yesterday to front The West Australian’s Fashion Friday lunch at Parmelia Hilton hotel, told AAA Weekend she had concerns about how her eponymous label would continue to thrive in the troubled retail climate.
“(Ho, Johnston and Hill) are all from my era, so it’s very frightening,” she says. “I’ll wake up some nights and I’ll think to myself what else can I do?
“I don’t know if I could do something else. There was a time where you made money in this industry but now it’s all about survival.”
While high rent and rising manufacturing costs have driven many Aussie designers to close their doors, Brown also has concerns about the growing popularity of online shopping.
“I find it a real problem that people buy stuff on the internet and that there’s no GST,” she says.
“And I know people would hate for me to say that, but why should they be able to get something cheaper online off the net?
“I still have to charge GST because I’m here, why should they be able to buy something from overseas without GST?
“I think it’s not right. I don’t think the government is protecting businesses. Art and fashion is not considered important, you never hear them ever mention it.”
Although in the past few years she has managed to fly under the radar, Brown has been no stranger to controversy during her 18 years heading up her fashion empire in Australia.In 2007, she pulled out of Australian Fashion Week amid a public dispute with the organisers and has also been known for her heated rows with British-born, Australian-based designer Wayne Cooper.
But Brown makes no apologies for her forthright approach, not even when it comes to speaking her mind to her own staff.
“Today all you have to do is say ‘boo’ to someone and they can get you (for bullying), which is another thing that’s not right,” she said. “You basically can’t tell a person how it is.”“I employ 300 women and I find that ridiculous. Take it on the chin. It’s like, don’t work for me if you don’t like what I say.”