Young designer Sophia McMahon is thrilled to be mentored by a South Australian stalwart in designer Liza Emanuele.

The TAFE SA designer behind ATLAS the label is a finalist in the inaugural Premier’s Design Award, to be announced at next week’s Adelaide Fashion Festival.

McMahon talks about her ready-to-wear label, her designer favourites including Kym Ellery and Dion Lee, and why she thinks South Australia has a bright future for young designers.

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TUS: Congratulations on being selected as a finalist in the Premier’s Design Award! How do you feel and what do you hope to get out of this opportunity? 
McMahon: Thank you so much! I am incredibly excited by this new opportunity available to us and felt very honoured to be chosen as a finalist. With Liza as my mentor I feel that I have already gained so much insight from her and her team, and I am looking forward to learning more from them. So really, I have already gained a lot. Of course, it would also be incredible to win and have the chance to take part in the year-long mentorship program.

How have you found the TAFE course and how do you hope to apply what you’ve learnt in the years ahead? 
Having previous completed university studies, I was unsure as to how the TAFE experience would compare, but I have been so pleasantly surprised. I love the hands on learning experience, and I’ve discovered I find it so much easier to learn by doing, so that resonates really well with me. The lecturers have also been amazing; they become more like incredibly knowledgeable and supportive friends than lecturers. I hope to apply much of what I have learnt to my label’s expansion – I am so excited at the prospect of putting a lot more time and energy into it after graduation.

AFF is changing this year! Are you excited about the growth of the fashion industry here in SA and have you identified particular niches or areas of opportunity?
I think it’s fantastic! I love that I see SA growing, changing and finally coming into its own. I think a big part of is that the creative and interesting people with fresh ideas are finding it easier to be supported to stay in SA, particularly within the fashion industry. I think that as long as you have a strong work ethic, vision and aesthetic, and stay true to that, there is ample opportunity to become successful in your own right, without having to take your ideas elsewhere.

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What do you love most about your mentor?
Liza and her team have been extremely supportive, down-to-earth and accessible, which is particularly special given how busy she and her team are with Liza’s range. It’s really lovely for me to have people with such a wealth of experience and knowledge help me so much.

Tell us about your design aesthetic! What can we expect to see from you? 
My design aesthetic for ATLAS is a pared back and more minimal version of my final graduate collection, which consists of some special, one off pieces. However, both ranges are based on the idea of contrasts: curves vs edges, feminine vs masculine and strength vs softness, structure and clean lines.

Who are some of your favourite designers?
I really love designers who think away from the norm, but particularly those who can make something seemingly simple, minimal and pared back seem interesting, inspiring and different. In particular I love Hussein Chalayan, Alexander Wang, Kym Ellery, Dion Lee, Toni Maticevski and Stella McCartney.

Who would you love to have wearing your clothes some day? 
Anyone who loves and appreciates classic clothing, but is able to add their own edge. To see my designs on Solange Knowles or Margaret Zhang would be heaven.

Where do you hope to take your career in design in the future? 
My initial goal is to expand my label from its current small scale and take it as far as I can go. Hopefully, the sky is the limit!

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Photography: Images 1-3: Neon Theory;  Images 4-5: Matthias Pfeil