Willow Darling is the creator of Australian born label Wet Nature, the experimental futuristic neo goth streetwear brand that is adored by iconic artists and creatives alike worldwide. Wet Nature is far more than just a label, it is a lifestyle, a collection of core beliefs and values that are reflected within the community of those who support and wear the garments. We spoke to Willow about Wet Nature, her influences, inspirations and beliefs. This is her story:
Wet Nature is my creative empowerment project and a platform for honouring my skills and vision. I am a stolen generation woman of First Nation and Asian Pacific descent, a queer woman, a feminist and ecologist. I am many embodiments of energies and beliefs unnameable in the English language. My fetish is fabric. I was raised by my strong mother, Wendy Darling, she fed me with a natural disobedience towards the patriarchal colonial system and a deep respect for nature, life, creativity and love, all many words for the ‘one energy’. As a woman from a loss of culture, country and identity I found a brokenness in speaking honestly of who I am, so my visual and performative creativity has been my most comfortable language with which to communicate and connect with others.
Much of Wet Nature is inspired by my early years of life, immersed in the rainforest of the Galibal people of Bundjalung. The nature that remains and what has reclaimed the space is soaked in moisture and covered in the darkness of abundant growth. This is the genesis feeling that inspires Wet Nature. I was and am a child of the circus, with gratitude to my mother, Wendy who was a pivotal figure in Spaghetti Circus, a dance and circus teacher, performer, set creator and makeup artist, always giving with love to nurture a creative life for the youth. Wendy who embodies female creativity and generosity is my greatest inspiration.
Grandma Mo (RIP) is also one of my greatest inspirations, Mo brought many people together into her boundless heart. Mo is the founder of Kids Off The Street (K.O.T.S), which was activism from a place of love. Mo’s dream was to build homes, dance studios and music studios for youth suffering from homelessness. K.O.T.S was a space of welcoming and non judgement. I am so honoured to have been impressed upon by so many women of strength, altruism and creativity, women who have taught me to open my heart, and speak to the world with inspirational creativity.
I trained and performed circus for 13 years, my first show I performed at age 5, I have travelled nationally and internationally. It was in my earlier years of performing as a child, under black light in fluro lycra, heart pounding to the progressive house that filled the rave era of the northern rivers during the 90’s, that nourished my imagination of other worlds, and the ability to create them. I spent a decade training and performing under the mothering eye of the founder, Leonie Mills. How her heart felt commitment to Spaghetti Circus fuelled my obsession for bending my mind/body and breaking the rules. Some of my fondest memories are of dressing up in Leonie’s hand made costumes and feeling them bring me into a madness of movement and theatre, and a feeling of euphoria. I have continued to run with the DIY mentality shared with me by my mother, mother figures and sisters.
I have an innate drive to manifest, create and fix, and the mentality to question and avoid the imposed need of acquiring new materials. Love and creative empowerment was the driving force behind Spaghetti Circus and K.O.T.S, money was never the purpose, nor was it involved much in the process. I prefer to keep my creative practice inspired by this independence and the art of giving. Avoiding the trope of bullying manufactures and suppliers for their cheapest price, avoiding bulk buying fabrics and shipping costs, removing my creativity from being bound to this oppressive structure. I travelled to India, Indonesia and China during my early 20’s and there I saw a tip of the iceberg of how the brutalist fashion industry abuses the lives of workers. I couldn’t sleep at night thinking of the women and children working in those conditions, feeling helpless I took the first small step in choosing not grow my creative passion upon this apathetic system of slavery. Decolonising fashion for me means boycotting third world manufacturing, highlighting the injustice of mainstream mass produced high priced fashion, removing gendered styles, avoiding collections based on northern hemisphere seasons and remaining a sensitive creative woman. I make what I want to see in the world and not what I think the world wants.
I ran away from training in the circus, beginning a journey to reclaim my body and soften my touch to it. I moved to Wurundjeri/Boonwurrung Country [Melbourne], I started studying art before moving into fashion. I connected with my family of queers, tidda’s, brotherboy’s, non-conformists, sex-workers, activists, artists and freaks. I developed a part of my identity I had not given life to. I am forever grateful for this time and the direction into learning and unlearning. I live to reclaim my power and share it with those resilient individuals of marginalised groups who are held to prescribed societal prejudices and face the resulting abuse of mainstream brainwashing. I have had to leave the city and get back to nature and quietness, I was losing sight of the natural cycles of life and rebirth; the tides of the ocean, the births of spring. Being back on my birth country I wake with the sun and to the laugh of the kookaburras.
Learning the art of harnessing and directing the heat of my creative fire is how Wet Nature began in Sep 2015, birthed from my initial fashion project xWMDx of 2014. I began growing a structure to build my skills upon, a creative space to direct my learnings, a platform to showcase my skills and bend some minds. My ultimate aim being to give space to people who deserve it, to inspire, and to pass on my craft and knowledge, to guide others into these skills so they may empower themselves with their own creativity, to look inward for their inspiration, and enjoy the freedom and pride of creating their own visual identity. We live in a system built on destruction, so being creative is a rebellion. I will always do what I do, create and speak my creative language, regardless of trends, regardless of industry appraisal. My craft will thrive because I work not in a capitalist mechanical system, but one of personal achievement and skill sharing, which will keep growing and feeding me as a person.
My mother Wendy and I have recently collaborated on a photo shoot, some of the photos you have seen are of me wearing Wet Nature on Gubbi Gubbi country. With deep grounded respect to all Ancestors from the past to now and beyond for this powerful land and all life of it that has nourished my own. With thanks and love to my sister Avalon for supplying the camera, and sister Imogen for the home and food.
Are your custom pieces a mindful response to the wearer’s energy and/or aura?
Yes, together we collaborate on the design, I harness my creative vision and personalise it for the artist I am working with, taking into consideration what they have shared with me that makes them feel comfortable and powerful in wearables. I am translating the beauty of the person into the designs, it’s a special experience, to honour my skills and share them with artists I respect. Designing in response to someone’s energy and being inspired by it expands my design influences and directions, so I’m grateful for the challenge and inspiration of custom collaborations. I’m designing and creating for Miss Blanks currently which is mad! She is so powerful, so there is a lot of energy embodied in the designs, I look forward to seeing her tear it up in the looks!!
Despite refusing to give in to the demands of mainstream fast fashion Wet Nature has developed a strong following worldwide with its distinctive aesthetic. Has it been difficult to maintain the anti-mass production stance, if it means that Wet Nature may not grow at such a fast pace in comparison to other mainstream brands?
Wet Nature is currently a one woman show, which is liberating but not sustainable. My focus is not on making money, therefore mass production is not a path for me, my purpose is to create unique looks for individuals. I am grateful to be growing Wet Nature slowly and mindfully. I have taken my time to refine and expand my craft, to travel to see the operations of manufacturing, and to engage with the fashion/able individuals, industry and community. I have used the time to develop and expand my purpose for Wet Nature, which keeps evolving. I am at a place now where I am more open to growing my brand through outsourcing manufacturing locally, in order to have my designs accessible and to leave myself with more energy to direct to outlets that bring me joy.
My anti-mass production standpoint comes from being an humanitarian and ecologist. It comes from my ambition that my creative vision be positively charged by those who create it. It isn’t found through people who live and work in suffering conditions, like so many garment makers do. I would like to manufacture locally, to support local employment, and keep my time and focus on my immediate community and environment.
I have seen heaps of toxic entitlement from celebrities, stylists, photographers and models toward me as an independent designer. So I took a big step back from aiming to dress people and directed my focus back into designing and creating, and to being true to myself. In a way that has slowed me down in my ‘growth’, because so much of the popularity of a brand is about who wears it, and how visible/influential they are. I am not concerned with celebrities, I’m actually quietly disgusted by celebrity culture, how it perpetuates individualism and elitism, so my ambitions to dress and collaborate are directed toward local stars, unapologetic misfits, and strong people who survive despite the oppressive world around them.
It is extremely rare to come across a label whose political stances are so strongly embedded within the fabric of the designs and clothing. Giving a voice back to marginalised groups is at the foundation of Subvrt and we stand by what Wet Nature represents in its entirety. Was there a certain point when you realised the importance of using art as a tool to educate and promote change?
I have always been an artist. I was raised by artists and creativity. I had an alternate upbringing, where I was free to express myself. So from a very young age I have been creating, drawing upon the abundant inspiration of life and filtering that through my mind and body. When I, in recent years had support and education to begin understanding my black identity and my queer identity I started to realise the importance of art and self expression for cultural and personal survival. I became more aware that so many people are silenced, unseen and shamed within the prevailing society. So many are wrongly spoken for without being awarded the space or privilege to speak for themselves.
Is there a process that is involved for you when designing and creating, or is it more of a fluid, natural occurrence?
It is a combination of the two. There is an idea and there is also an openness to free form. Everything begins as a dream, an image in my mind, a drawing, and then it transforms. I have a very active creative mind, there are always ideas falling out of my head into my hand and onto paper. My ideas in fashion originate from how I pull outfits together and how I alter clothes. As a kid/teen I used to wear clothes upside down back to front, that’s the genesis really, in the wearing, with the ambition to fuck it up a bit, to make it creative, to make it personal. The Wet Nature design and creation process always involves a private space, nudity, a mirror, machines, material and music.
If one of your garments could speak what would it say and why?
All my pieces are exhibitionists, pushing for the centre stage and the best light. They would all be screaming for your attention… “bring me to life”, “I am here for you, wrap yourself up in me”, “stand tall and walk with me… now dance bub”, “come on sissy its time to dress up”. I think they speak when they are worn, they give a new vocab to people who wear them, they inspire people to speak in a new way, they inspire the inner bitch! Of no innerbitchions.
How important is sustainability and recycling within your designs?
Growing up I mostly wore second hand clothes so recycling in fashion is innate for me. My mother taught me to be resourceful so I carry that with me and it governs how and what I purchase.
I collaborated with my friend Halszka, we named the project SHADOWISH, we created these beautiful bras from hides of leather that a big Australian brand was throwing out. The project fulfilled us creatively, politically, and spiritually. SHADOWISH has continued to inspire me to be more resourceful of materials I use as a way to honour the lives that are involved in their creation.
What are you currently working on, and what inspired you to create it?
I am currently studying fashion so when I learn new sweet techniques, I’ll rush home excited, bend all the rules and make the designs my own. It’s fulfilling to see the finished work to a standard that inspires me. I have been getting back into dance and circus so I am designing looks inspired by performance and movement, the inner showgirl is alive! Music is amazing! It opens the soul! Makes me move and ignites my imagination. That’s one of my biggest inspirations and forms of nourishment when I am creating. I’m listening to Moses Sumney and Ngaiire a lot at the moment, I listen to artists that I listened to obsessively as a teen like Ms. Dynamite and Janet Jackson as they ground me.
Photographer: Wendy Darling
Model & Stylist: Willow Darling @muvawater
Interview with Willow Darling by Sara Nicolette.
Check out more of Wet Nature’s custom designs on their Instagram