Fremantle designer Natalie Donovan "definitely did not" have a speech prepared when her label, Wild Horses, was announced as the winner of the Designer For Tomorrow Award at the WA Fashion Awards earlier this month.
"I was surprised because I was up against two really good labels, Monster Alphabets and Dyspnea, so I was over the moon and very appreciative when they called out my name," the 29- year-old mother of two says.
"I'd like to think that young designers who are just starting out can look at emerging labels like mine and hopefully be inspired to push on with their work."
Designer For Tomorrow recognises emerging labels tipped by the local fashion industry's voters to do well (winners in previous years have included Zsadar and Ange Lang). It's a strong vote of peer confidence from Perth's notoriously close-knit, supportive industry.
The word about Wild Horses has been quietly bubbling away since Donovan launched the label two years ago after studying fashion and textiles at Fremantle TAFE. She started out making chunky, colourful statement jewellery and vibrant clutch bags that were immediately snapped up by local stylists for fashion shoots, then quickly branched out into womenswear, guided by a desire to create clothes that were "cool and easy to wear, but also a bit edgy".
"Initially I did jewellery because it was easier and the materials were more accessible," she says. "But ultimately I want the label to really focus on women's clothing, and I'll do the odd accessory to complement the outfit."
This diversification has paid off. Donovan's label has already appeared on the runway at Perth Fashion Festival, and tomorrow night 15 pieces from her autumn- winter 2014 collection will be shown as part of Melbourne Fashion Festival's Cosmopolitan Runway 5 event, alongside the likes of popular youth-oriented labels Talulah, Cameo, Rodeo Show and Finders Keepers. Not bad for a local brand that is still in its relative infancy.
"Women shouldn't have to think too hard about what to put on in the morning," she says of her design aesthetic. "They should be able to just pull on a cool pair of pants, a T-shirt and a leather jacket and just run out the door. Wild Horses is for women who are busy but want to look stylish. I like really simple classic cuts, but with slightly raw details, or giving the classics a twist with my own self-designed print."
Donovan is hoping the collection, which mixes up printed skirts, dresses and bustiers with chunky knit cardigans, metallic crop tops, relaxed-fit jacquard pants and tailored, wear-anywhere leather blazers, will pique the interest of Eastern States buyers.
"I only know what it's like to be based out of Perth, and I know a lot people say 'Oh, it's so far away, it's so isolated', but there are really good support networks here," the designer says. "You just have to break through that barrier. It's one thing to be well-known in Perth but then you have to get through to that next level of recognition in Sydney and Melbourne."
In the next 12 months Donovan says she wants to focus on just that but she is not limiting her sights to national exposure. Midyear she will combine a family trip to Canada and Hawaii with some detective work, investigating the possibility of stocking Wild Horses in overseas boutiques.
"I'd really like to go and see some agencies, get a feel for what the fashion industry is like over there," she says. "There are lots of Australian labels that are beginning to enter that market. I've only been going for two years, so I don't want to rush things. But I am dreaming big. I do eventually want to have my own boutiques, to show in New York or London or Milan."
As for how Donovan manages to juggle a fashion label with the demands of looking after children aged one and six, she says she has never known any different.
"I'd already had my first child before I launched Wild Horses," she says. "It's pretty full-on but somehow we manage. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and quickly write something down because I don't want to forget it the next day. I'm well known for sending emails to people in the middle of the night."