If I were to describe Angela White in one word it would be Free. Angela exudes a sense of freedom, which is not something that is easy to do in a society that constantly judges you. Not afraid to dress flamboyantly in head to toe colour and sequins or go against the grain with her career path Angela is an inspiration to others afraid to step into their true selves and own their individuality.
Her style and flare for fashion has seen her work with Jessica Mauboy, Mel B, and Courtney Act, just to name a few. As well as TV shows including Australia’s Got Talent, The Voice, and Dancing with the Stars. On top of that she has even won a Sydney Theatre Award for Best Costume Design for Heathers the Musical. She has carved an incredible career that all started with a love for all thing colours and design.
Angela shows that daring to do things a little differently can really pay off. A woman that feels like she has always been a little different. Growing up in a small town in Tasmania, where sport was the main hobby she always knew she was destined for bigger things; a trait that can be hard to come to terms with before you discover your calling. Although life hasn’t always had a clear direction for Angela she has met every challenge with a smile and continues to do so to this day. Warm and sunny as always I sat down with Angela and spoke to her about how she got into the industry, what she has been doing and what is next for this talented woman.
L: How did your career start? Have you always wanted to work in Fashion?
A: Costume and fashion was something that I was always into. I remember as a little girl certain fabrics and colors I would get so excited by. My heart would race when I saw certain fashion and it usually had to do with colour. I was also really obsessed with Boy George, and Cyndi Lauper and I couldn't really explain why. But I know work with so many drag performers it makes sense why I loved Boy George, I knew what I liked in the early 80s.
I feel quite fondly about that now because I have so many memories from when I was young. It’s like Angie, when she was four knew who she was. Somewhere in the middle there you kind of lose yourself in the teenage years and your 20s. Then you start remembering in your 30s who you are.
L: So when did you study Fashion Design?
A: I actually finished high school and studied to become a primary school teacher. My boyfriend at the time was going to be a high school PE teacher and someone told me I would make a good primary school teacher. I wanted to stay with him so I became a teacher.
I was teaching in Thailand and I just wasn't really feeling it because I wasn't passionate about the content that I was teaching and then I went to Ibiza for a summer. I was 25 and it sounds cliche, but it's the summer that changed my life. I was making costumes for podium dances. I just remembered how it felt to see your things on stage. I experienced that feeling in high school and I felt it again when I saw the dancers come out. I saw the crowd react to them. I saw how it elevated the party. I saw how the girls reacted when they put the costumes on. I loved being part of that and having the ability to create that feeling.
I knew how it made me feel and I decided that when I got back to Australia, I would study fashion. So I did! At 26 I started changing careers. I had hoped to travel again and live overseas, but I knew that it would take me away for a couple more years. So I decided to sacrifice the working holiday visas overseas and I started studying and building my career.
I was in Brisbane, and it was a great city for me to excel in; I ended up being a bit of a big fish in a small pond. I was really lucky. I got a lot of great experiences there with a physical theatre company. They basically let me create Avant Garde fashion shows for their productions. So I had a great portfolio and eventually, by the time I got to Sydney, I was employable. I was very lucky because I took a job at Belvoir theatre. It was Australia Day, and they needed someone to come in to work to help get their show finished. It was The Sapphires and Tim Chappel was the costume designer. I was new so they thought let's get this girl in, if she's comes we know she is keen. I came and met Tim and we hit it off. He loved my work and we've been working together ever since. It was fate. I actually had a clairvoyant tell me that I was going to meet Tim. She described him to a T, that he had won awards that he would mentor me that he would take me around Australia. That's exactly what happened! We have travelled all over Australia including putting on drag shows from Sydney to Alice springs for reality TV show I will survive.
L: That’s so amazing! How did you get into costume design from studying fashion?
A: My TAFE College loved what I created. But they weren't really sure how to categorize me because I was Avant Garde fashion. My designs were never meant to be recreated. I love the idea of couture and hand decorating but there isn’t a huge market for it in Australia so that’s where I have come more into costume. With certain shows, you get a budget to create beautiful one off pieces. I also work with a lot of pop stars, because they're looking for those wow outfits.
I made an outfit for Jessica Malboy for Mardi Gras and I cried when I saw her in it. It was so rewarding knowing that I had created something that made my heart ache.
L: That outfit was Iconic, a true work of art. Tell me, how does it work when you're working with celebrity stylists and creative directors. How much creative freedom do you get?
A: It's different with different people. If I'm working with Tim, he's usually the designer, and I'm interpreting his designs. I'm making the outfit to look like his picture although if I think something's going to suit the client more he's very open to me making suggestions. We're a great team like that. When I work with Trevor Ashley, I pretty much get free rein, which is really fun. Rhonda Burchmore and I do great collaborations together. She's an ideal client. She really encourages me to take every outfit to the next level. We create really special pieces.
When I worked with Mel B, Scary Spice. I had a bit more free rein. Her stylist Jules Sebastian contacted me and gave me some inspiration images. She wanted a gold jumpsuit; she liked the sport luxe etc. But Mel was very open to me drawing up designs and creating something unique for her. She was so lovely. She was interested in my contribution; it was a really great experience. I mean I dressed a spice girl! I don’t really have many goals bigger than that.
I have other goals in life right now. I feel like I've achieved all of my career goals. I’ve sacrificed so much during my 30s to achieve what I have and I'm really grateful for that. But I'd love to have a family. I'd love to meet someone and I need to make time for that. I'm happy to take a bit of a step back from the many hours of sewing and creating so that I can create something else in my life. Of course… my passion for designing and sewing will always be there to return to. I’m never going to retire from that!
L: So what’s next?
A: Funnily enough, I've just finished a qualification so that I can teach fashion. I'm really interested in getting back into teaching. I already teach private sewing classes and workshops in high schools about revamped fashion; I teach kids how to take their old clothes and revamp them. Now I'm qualified to teach at fashion colleges as well.
I'm from Hobart originally and I would love to go and even just teach a term in Hobart at the fashion school there. Give back to my local community. The local paper has always been so supportive of me and my career and I would have really benefited from meeting someone who had achieved the things I have when I was younger.
Who knows, at this stage I am stepping into new territory and excited to see where it takes me.
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See her ADORABLE dog @missdaisylovesu
Photos by Lila Marvell