Kit Willow Podgornik: Magic Kingdom

It’s been a month of highs and lows for Kit Willow Podgornik. Here, the Sydney-based designer reflects on family life, her new home and the courage that has unexpectedly come from exiting her label

  2. Photographed by Hugh Stewart | Sittings editor Victoria Collison 
  3. Hair and makeup Nadine Monley | Words by Natasha Inchley
  5. It was a grey and melancholy day when news broke that Kit Willow Podgornik was exiting the eponymous label she founded a decade ago. The Sydney-based creative director thought the sleeting rain was fitting; a sign even. Having built an aesthetic around corseted silhouettes and sharp-edged tailoring, Kit Willow has found herself in the unlikely position of having to depart the fashion brand that bears her name due to conflict with her company’s majority shareholder, Apparel Group. It comes at a time when the designer should have been relishing the move into a newly renovated home she shares with her husband Mark, daughter Misia, 8, and son Rocco, 3.

    “The situation is heart-breaking on many levels; the label is such a part of me, it has my handwriting all over it,” Kit Willow explains. “In the beginning, my friends worked for nothing in order to help me and there have been so many people along the way who put great passion, energy and soul into it. I feel incredibly sad for all of us and especially for the customer.”

    Much of the label’s success can be attributed to Kit Willow's singular vision of how a woman should feel: confident, sexy and effortlessly stylish. That viewpoint seemed to resonate from the beginning. When she made her debut during Australian Fashion Week in 2003, filmmaker Baz Luhrmann and Catherine Martin turned out in support. Kit Willow went on to build a following for her well cut dresses, billowy skirts and rakish jackets; the designer made a point of moulding and draping her designs by hand in order to enhance a woman’s form.

    Over the years the essence of that romantic vision remained the same, however her silhouettes reflected a growing maturity that comes only with experience and good taste. The designer also had the intuition to collaborate with influential It girls the likes of Poppy Delevingne and Paris Vogue stylist Melanie Huynh, which further cemented Willow’s particular brand of cool. For now, however, the creative direction of the label seems uncertain. Kit Willow says, “I’m being pragmatic, I have everything inside me: the knowledge, the skill, the care and the vision. I am free and that is a relief, anything is possible in the future. Knowing that my children will see me stand strong and have the courage to stay true to what I believe in is very important to me.”

  1. Above: Home is where the heart is, the designer Kit Willow Podgornik with daughter Misia. Image gallery below: It's playtime, Misia and Rocco with their mother in the open-plan kitchen and living room; the designer's children play dress up.



  2. The flipside to all this, is the completion of Kit Willow's harbourside home: a modern architectural space that she and her husband began transforming two years ago. “When we bought it, the garden was a rainforest and there was practically a small river running through the bottom of it,” she says with a laugh. “But we moved in and it surprised us just how much we loved living in this mad square house.”


  4. What followed was a labour of love for the couple. “We were very clear on how we envisioned it: we wanted to modernise the house by adding another level while also maintaining its original stamp, it had so much character,” explains the designer. Hence, its architecture incorporates exposed beams pinned with industrial screws, black steel-framed windows, an open-plan kitchen and living area with steel benches and tall cupboards with elegant grated doors. The wide oak floorboards were transported from Melbourne and left raw and unstained, while the ceilings on the lower levels retain their ornamental mouldings. "The functional elements inspire the design on the new level creating a masculine, industrial feel with an organic touch. It is a comforting space which is bright and open,” says Kit Willow. “We wanted the space to feel airy and without clutter.”


  6. To capitalise on its sea views, the designer decided the top floor should feel cosy, her “cuddle zone” as she describes it. She decorated the room with white linen sofas, Moroccan pillows and a giant diamond-weave Beni Ourain rug. Her art collection is equally compelling: on the wall hangs an antique mirror, a gift from Kit Willow's husband to mark the birth of their first child, together with oil paintings by Clemens Krauss and Andrew Macdonald, and a limited-edition print by Brett Whiteley entitled, The Willows. Kit Willow says, “The couches are a ridiculous luxury considering we have children but the rug was a great find. I love the idea of having a nesting area where the children can lie down or roll around and play games.” Indeed, the doting mother has a habit of interrupting our conversation to scoop up her son and daughter in order to smother them with kisses.

    Despite the comfort of her new home, it is the garden that has become Kit Willow's true sanctuary. “It may sound weird, but I feel like I have this strange kind of synergy with nature right now. Over the last few weeks, my children and I have discovered wonderful magic spots in the garden, perhaps it’s just more of an awareness to my environment,” explains the designer. “It feels amazing, it’s very calming and peaceful and, best of all, the timing is perfect for us to be here.”

    Kit Willow’s scoop on motherhood: “My children have taught me so many things. I think the most important lesson has been to live in the moment. I also know that the more love you give them and the softer you are, the more they look up to you – all you need to do is feed them with love, affection and support and they just blossom. That’s an amazing thing.”

    On balancing career with family life: “After I had children, I learnt to be very focused and super efficient in the job – lunch was always at my desk or had during a meeting. It allowed me to be completely devoted to my children when I was at home, and there’s nothing more important that that.”