Good on paper: Lisa Gorman is writing her second act

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Lisa Gorman is wearing neutrals. This is not a commentary on her fashion sense, but for a designer who rose to fame for the bright, whimsical prints she created for her eponymous label, it feels like a step-change. Could the designer who broke the “Melbourne black” dress code be turning her back – literally – on colour?

“Colour is super important to me,” she says, reassuringly. Phew.

Prints charming … Lisa Gorman has taken over the creative direction of stationery brand Kikki.K.Credit: Simon Schluter

We’re meeting at Chadstone shopping centre in Melbourne’s south-east, where Gorman, 52, wants to show off the new store design for stationer Kikki.K, where she has just taken over as creative director.

Green flooring has replaced the old, monochrome colour scheme and Gorman’s first collection, which lands in stores in February, reflects her lifelong love of colour. She can’t reveal much more at this stage, but offers this description: joyous, sophisticated, more print.

But it’s not Gorman 2.0, she cautions. “Many people out there have only known me as a designer for the Gorman brand,” she says. “That was a time and place for me and the interest that creating something new at Kikki.K holds for me is why I’m here.”

Nor is she embarking on a complete overhaul of the brand, which Swedish-born Kristina “Kikki” Karlsson launched in 2001. Its current owner, Peter Lew’s Brandbank, bought it out of voluntary administration about two years ago. According to Gorman, Lew began courting her for the role not long after she departed her fashion brand in the spring of 2021.

“What I thought needed to happen was a complete refresh, but what I hadn’t learnt yet was the nostalgia and the heritage of Kikki.K,” she says. “It’s on such a good footing.”

Kikki.K’s founder, Kristina Karlsson.Credit: Josh Robenstone

That will be music to the ears of diehard fans of Kikki.K’s notepads, pens, greeting cards and other paper-adjacent products, which dominated the market for nearly two decades under Karlsson.

When asked about the appeal of stationery over, say, fashion, Gorman grows animated as she describes the joy of learning about the construction of a notebook, including all the components she is enjoying designing and playing around with. In time, she wants to treat it more like a fashion brand, designing up to 18 months in advance to incorporate the latest trends.

“I want to explore what makes paper and pens beautiful … the different ways we can represent a stripe,” she says. “I think 99.9 per cent of the notebooks in the world would have straight stripes, and grey lines, but I think we can really play with that.”

She says there’s also something quite freeing about stepping away from the constraints of designing clothing, at least for a while. “There’s something completely delightful about working with products that don’t need to be fitted on a human body.”

Artist Mirka Mora wearing the Gorman dress she collaborated on in 2016.Credit: James Geer

Since leaving her fashion brand (Gorman is still involved in an ongoing legal dispute with Gorman’s owners, Factory X, over the sale of her remaining shares in the label), Gorman has also been focusing on her sculpture art, which will be exhibited alongside the work of the late Mirka Mora in a show opening this week at the Warrnambool Art Gallery.

Gorman says that not only is she thrilled to show alongside Mora, with whom she collaborated on fashion capsules in 2016 and 2018 (Mora died in 2018), but also to be showing in her hometown and the birthplace of the Fletcher Jones fashion label, where many of her mother’s family members had worked as seamstresses and cutters.

Her art practice, she says, was a nice break from commercial design, “[which] is both a joy but also the wrath of your existence because there are so many constraints”.

“I hadn’t worked solo for 20 years, so that was a big adjustment,” she says. “It set me up with a new vision of what I could do creatively and personally. Now that I am back in [commercial design], I love the balance.”

Lisa Gorman with an example of acrylic sculpture work.Credit: Wayne Taylor

Gorman says it took her a while – time she acknowledges she was privileged to have had – to plot her next step after leaving her “life’s work” of 23 years.

“Starting something from scratch for me was not going to be the right choice,” she says. “I still have so much to learn … I feel really inspired again. You know when your time’s up in certain places doing certain things. It’s sometimes hard to put your finger on why that is until you’ve let it go.”

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