A fashionable country upbringing

Jonathan Ward at the RM Williams 2011 Winter presentation. Photo supplied by RM Williams.By Dominic Geiger

As a young boy in the 1960s Jonathan Ward would sit down at the kitchen table on his family property in Tottenham and sketch.

Unlike his peers however, whose primary concern might have been colouring between the lines, Jonathan would sit and draw elaborate clothing designs for the celebrities he found photographed in his mother’s copies of Women’s Weekly.

Even then, before he was old enough to jump on the bus and travel the twelve miles to Tottenham Central School, Jonathan knew this was what he wanted to do when he grew up.

Now recognized as one of Australia’s leading couture and fashion designers and also currently working as the Executive Designer for the iconic Australian brand R. M. Williams, the boy from Tottenham has never forgotten where he came from.

Speaking to The Argus from his Sydney office last Friday, Jonathan said that his exposure to natural fibres such as wool and cotton on the family farm had given him an incredible advantage in the fashion industry.

“I really learnt that there is no better quality cloth than that made of natural fibres, especially wool,” he said.

“Coming from the country has given me a very practical view on how to design; it’s given me a great understanding of how people from the country wear their work clothes compared to how they wear their dress clothes.

“When I began designing I had a passion to be creative however I have always believed that clothing should be designed to suit your personality and lifestyle or for a special occasion”.

As the son of a sheep and cattle producer, Jonathan naturally faced some pressure during his early years to take over the family business.

Despite this, Jonathan said once people became aware of his talents, he found the local community supported his desire to follow his dreams.

“Someone once said to me that everyone is born with a gift, some people realize it while others spend their entire life unaware of it,” he said.

“In the beginning there were expectations to work on the property which I did for a couple of years.

“I loved working on the land, it gave me an appreciation of the elements and the simplicity and beauty of the bush.”

Since cutting his teeth designing for celebrities in his mother’s magazines, Jonathan has gone on to design clothing for the likes of Nicole Kidman, Elle McPherson and Kylie Minogue.

“In the beginning it was pretty daunting designing for celebrities,” he said.

“Despite this initial feeling, I was excited by the challenge of creating a piece to suit the occasion, complement the figure and encapsulate their individual style.

“And of course friendships come out of the professional relationships and that leads on to other people being referred to you.”

Dress by Jonathan Ward for Magic Millions. Photo supplied by RM Williams.Despite the list of celebrities Jonathan has professionally designed for including some of the biggest names in popular culture, Jonathan said the luminary who has given him the most satisfaction working with is one he has been designing for all his life.

“As a young kid I was very influenced by Barbie Dolls; my sister had them and it was her dolls that inspired me to create and design clothing,” he said.

“That inspiration, strangely enough, lead Barbie to follow me on throughout my career and in 1999 I was one of only six Australian Designers asked to design for Barbie’s 40th Birthday Celebrations with a Jonathan Ward Doll.

“I often joke that Barbie is the best client I ever had because she is the only one who has never talked back.”

After over 20 years in the Fashion Industry Jonathan Ward has become one of the leaders in contemporary Australian Fashion Design.

While embracing new styles and techniques throughout the years, he has maintained a quintessential bush influence in his work, especially with R.M. Williams.

“That Australian country sense of classic style fits into premium brands around the world,” he said.

“I am a strong believer in quality, longevity and simplicity and it’s those ideals that have helped me get to where I am today.”

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