A Kaleidoscope of Bejeweled Eye Candy
An exclusive interview with Australian designer Colin Heaney
By Robin Jay
On the easternmost point of mainland Australia lies Byron Bay, a small beachside town celebrated as the capital of Aussie-land’s relaxed ‘haute bo-ho’ lifestyle capital. Any given morning, you may catch a glimpse of resident Colin Heaney as he paddles out on his surfboard to catch a wave. And on any given night, you may see him in the vibe at one of the town’s many dance parties. What you may not have guessed is that in between dawn and dusk, Colin returns to his home-based art studio and becomes engrossed in transforming photographs of nature into unrecognizable, vibrant, pixel-perfect designs that he’ll then transfer to luxurious silk fabric before scurrying off to his cutting room to create a custom pattern for a stunning hand-sewn kaftan or yoga ensemble.
Even more remarkable is that Colin Heaney started his career not in fabrics, but in glass – and then fine china. All the while, his unique – and now iconic – style is uncannily recognizable across all his platforms. “The fact that my work is recognizable in different mediums surprised me! When I switched from glass to fabric, I had random people tell me that they saw some clothes that looked like my glass – without knowing it was my work,” said Heaney, who was born in Vancouver, Canada, moved to Pomona, California, at age 8, and then at 18 left for a surf trip to the Pacific that landed him in Australia in 1968. He fell in love with the uncrowded surf and the laid-back community and decided to call Byron Bay home. Heaney has been honing his remarkable creativity ever since.
The Unexpected Artisan
“When I was young, I had no idea what I would end up doing, but it was not art!” Heaney said with a chuckle. “My mother was very creative, but no one ever mentioned the possibility of making your living from art. When I arrived in Australia, my world opened up. One of my friends taught me leatherwork, and I discovered I could make my living from creative craftsmanship. I have made candles, furniture, surfboards and then launched into glass when I was 34. Glass it is a magic material. It is worked as both a liquid and a solid, and when it is liquid, it requires absolute awareness at all times. It is like a meditation that goes on all day.” Heaney worked in glass for 25 years and had gallery exhibitions in Australia, Europe, Japan and the United States. And then, out of the blue, Heaney started entertaining a new medium.
The Move to Fashion
“One morning, I woke up early with nothing to do, so thought I would try to use Photoshop to make an invitation for a dance party,” Heaney recalled. “I started playing with a photograph of my bedroom, and the next thing I knew it was 11 p.m. When I woke the next day, I couldn’t wait to continue my exploration. Over the next months, I would do glass by day and use every extra available moment to work in Photoshop. I researched and found I could do digital printing on fabric. It was appealing to print on something that is both three dimensional and animated. Learning about the fashion world was challenging, and discovering the tricks of the trade by trial and error was, in retrospect, crazy!”
Heaney looks at colors in nature and sees the harmony. “Colors have a very clear effect on my nervous system; they can relax or excite me. When I am designing, I create without a plan and let the feelings the colors induce be my guide. I suppose I am looking for beauty as I create,” he said. “The process is more ‘joytaking’ than painstaking. I enjoy making silk kaftans because they make women look and feel like a goddess. I have had many women cry when putting one on, they feel nurtured, centered and beautiful.”
What’s Heaney’s most treasured accomplishment? His answer might surprise you. “My favorite accomplishment is the house I designed and built called ‘Casa Blu.’ I worked on the finishes, all the curves, the textures, mosaics and painting. All of the bathroom taps and basins were made by me in glass. I worked with many friends who are artists and craftspeople to make Casa Blu truly unique. Together we made sculptured bathtubs, vanities and furniture. Some day I may return to glass, but for now I am concentrating on my ‘Art of Luxury’ kaftans and my “Art of Phoenix” yoga line. I would one day love to design a boutique hotel. Anyone interested?”
View more Colin Heaney silk kaftans at colinheaney.com or his yoga apparel line at artofphoenix.com.au.