How Camilla Franks Captivated the World With a Kaftan
In honour of our co-founders Hillary Kerr and Katherine Power’s latest book, The Career Code: Must-Know Rules for a Strategic, Stylish, and Self-Made Career ($19), we’re running an interview series featuring 17 questions (to parallel the book’s 17 chapters) about the work lives of inspirational female leaders who are at the top of their fields. So far, we’ve tapped Lisa Gersh, Pip Edwards, Kelly Wearstler, and more. Up next? Camilla Franks.
From the very second you meet Camilla Franks, you instantly feel as though you’ve know her for a lifetime. She’s vibrant, warm, engaging, and radiates an energy so uplifting you feel fortunate to be in her company.
Franks is, of course, best known for her eponymous fashion label and her iconic kaftans, which have been a staple in the wardrobes of some of the world’s biggest celebrities (we’re looking at your Oprah, Beyonce, and Olivia) and fashion-loving women around the globe since, its launch back in 2004.
Now with a lifestyle range (including swimwear, kids wear, surfboards, and rugs) to complement her coveted ready-to-wear collections, 17 CAMILLA boutiques across the country, and a multi-million dollar 2000sqm head office (to house her 200-plus staff members) swinging open its doors early next year, it’s clear that Franks is showing no sign of slowing down after already having one of the most successful fashion careers in Australia’s history. Which is why this creative mastermind and impressive businesswomen was a clear choice for our final Career Code profile of the year. Read on and take a step into the dynamic world of Camilla Franks.
Intense [laughs]. Everything from the ringmaster, the conductor, and the performer. I wear every hat—I’m everything from the CEO, the COO, the CFO—I tick every box.
People probably wouldn’t know that I’m not just the designer, I’m actually so many hats and I’m very heavily involved with my baby, there’s never a dull moment. It's seven days a week. I think my social media looks like it tells a different story sometimes, but I work hard.
My first job was working for John Singleton—he’s still a mentor to me. It was 21 years ago and Mum and Dad bought me a whole lot of suits to wear and, oh my god, they were tragic! I remember there was a white one with a three quarter length jacket with white panelling—it was so not me. Some of the skirts were way too short and inappropriate for the offices. But yes, I had a group of suits that I would mix and match—so wrong.com.
Can I split it in two? My first choice would be Brené Brown who is an amazing writer—I love her book The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly—I think I’d love to spend a little time with her. I love a good public speaker and I’ve listened to her TED talk, so for me that conversation would be about vulnerability, guilt and shame, and humanness—which I love. I spent a lot of my time outside my work world developing myself which I’m passionate about.
And the other one would probably be Richard Branson. I’d love to get stuck into that magical mind of his and probably get him to challenge me on certain things. He’s so adventurous and courageous with some of his choices, so I’d probably want him to make me a little bit more adventurous even though I already am quite adventurous, but I want to be more! You know, like jumping out of a chopper into crocodile infested waters, just all that.
I’ve never really been an industry person—I haven’t followed trends or tried to conform to what a fashion designer is meant to be—and I couldn’t even if I tried. So for me, I’d have to say my team—my team are some of the best leaders in their fields in their business. I think that’s why we’ve been successful.
Not mastering work-life balance. A couple of years ago, I had what I like to call a spiritual, emotional, and mental awakening, which was a complete meltdown. I basically had been driving myself like a racehorse for so many years. When I was working from my factory and showroom in India, my whole face dropped and my body was literally forcing me to stop, I thought I had a stroke. It made me re-evaluate that work-life balance and wish that I had been taught that from a young age. I believe schools should really teach it, especially if you’re a high achiever and you often run yourself to the ground. I’m in a much better place now.
That’s a really interesting question because, it’s so important that you hire people that are in line with your vision, and our vision has always been to awaken the adventurous heart that lies in all of us, as we believe everyone has a right to feel freedom and joy. So for me, it’s someone that really gets that. It’s also important to hire people that are in line with our values, an adventurous and courageous spirit who has a sense of community, and isn’t just a solo soldier. We’re all about community and it’s a group effort, a team effort. And with love, harmony, and respect. They have to tick those values, and they can’t be lazy!
It changes depending on if I’m feeling a little bit vulnerable and when I’m feeling human. When I need security, I wear my Tibetan prayer beads and I just hold on to them. I’ve also got this particular ring that I wear when I’ve got to go into busy meetings—it’s an antique native America ring which was a gift to myself. I strongly believe energy is passed on through jewellery, and this was once owned by a powerful American chief, and I feel that energy—I don’t know, whether it’s a psychological thing or whatever, but it works for me!
[Franks prompts her assistant, Scarlett, to answer.]
She’s fun. She’s Intense. It’s a good energy, everything is exciting. She’s spontaneous. Every day is different, new, and always fun. Even if the day is tough and quite hard, she’ll make the effort to finish on a good note.
It happens to all of us and it’s a scary thing to be someone who needs to inspire others or use your inspiration to design. It’s a thing I struggle with sometimes because I do get burnt out and I need to find that thing that keeps me going. I had a week recently where I really struggled and I know what I have to improved things—I’ve just got to slap myself on the wrist and do it. It’s yoga, meditation, pilates, then repeat. It’s as simple as that for me and going back to practising gratitude and asking myself what I’m grateful for? Because there’s so much to be grateful for and sometimes we forget that due to stress and being controlled by the day-to-day running of the business.
With respect, and fairly. I think we have one hundred and fifteen in our team now and I’ve seen it all. I’ve got plenty of stories to tell and I always try to say to my team and my girls, it’s just as important how you exit a job as it is when you enter. Some people leave with their head held high and a lot of those girls come back in my business. I have one of my favourite angels from when I first started the business who was with me for four or five years, who left for a year and a half and now she’s back with me. I love seeing that. I love seeing them go and spread their wings and then come back. Then you’ve got some people who throw their toys out of the pram and a lot of the time regret it later, so no matter what you’re going through, go out with your head held high because you never know what’s around the corner.
It changes weekly. Either muscles or spaghetti bolognese at Bar Reggio, or Sushi on Stanley. Oh and also, beef pho from Vietnamese.
It’s one I used to make all the time—beating ourselves up when you make a mistake. You take that home like the world is ending and you just need to let it go and shake it off. I think it’s important to make mistakes, I still make mistakes. I’m human and I’ll continue to make them and I think it’s more about learning from them. It’s important to make them, embrace them, learn from them, and move on.
I’ve got a few favourites that I follow—Saramai Jewels—she’s very eclectic, calm, and definitely walks to the beat of her own instrument. But more than that, she’s just beautiful, wild, adventurous, spirited, and proud of who she is and I love that. The other one would be Advanced Style which is the same thing. Hopefully I become a part of the Advanced Style! Rachel Hunter is another one that I’ve been closely following and her Tour of Beauty, you know I think is she is radicalising the beauty industry. She and I see synergies of worlds and that’s who I start to follow—people I see a synergy with. She recently got in contact with me and we’re looking forward to meeting very soon. There might be something in the pipeline later on, we don’t know what it is. But there’s definitely something there.
Morning: I wake up to my dog literally spooning me. I’ve got two—one that lies in my bed (and yes I’m proud to say that!)—he’s a 60kg Cane Corso which is an Italian mastiff named Beau and he’s just delicious. So I wake up to him, have a moment with him and then the girl, Gypsy, a Shar-Pei cross Husky, comes in and we have morning cuddles. Then, it’s either Pilates or yoga each morning and followed by a mediation and I light my incense.
Evening: I usually finish work quite late, so Scarlett and I usually have a glass of wine together and debrief. She hands over my pile of work and I go through it. I just get settled into the night and go through my work that I need to complete—whether it’s public speaking the next day or it’s media appointments, having to design—whatever it is, I just take a couple of hours as I’m lying in bed and then I put brain numbing TV on to unwind. I always say to myself I should just read a book, but I never do.
There’s so much! There’s sometimes when you’re just debilitated by the stress or by life or the world and one of those beautiful things that Brené Brown talks about is courage. Just having the courage and knowing that it’s not without fear and having a willingness to show up no matter how we feel inside. That’s something that I totally resonate with and it’s something that I love telling my team about because it’s not always about going “I can do this”, it’s about challenging yourself and faking it until you make it and then magic happens. It’s about having the balls to put on that brave face and something inside you changes and enables you to know for next time, “I did it before so I can do it again.”
My new office. With the growth of the business it obvious means the growth of the team, and we’re literally on top of each other, so I wanted a new home of for us and I’m really excited about that. I’m proud and excited that we have found a space in Alexandria. I’ve been busy building her and she’s big—she’s 2100sqm. I’ve been working with an amazing architectural firm as I wanted my place to not only be a place of business, but a place of business infused with free and creative spirit, so I want everyone to feel like they can go to break off areas. I want to create a temple that’s sort of inspired by my travels, my dreams, and a place where I really want to work myself—it will be the poetic infusion of my travels and my workspace. I want people to feel that they are born into our world and all it represents, a home to house our tribe and our vibe.