I’m a big advocate of doing the work that you love. Camilla Olsen decided to do just that when she decided to exchange her career as a microbiologist / marketing executive to something completely different. At 53 she decided to become a fashion designer, attended the Academy of Art University and launched her line Camilla Olsen at age 57. Since then she has managed to get her designs on the red carpet of the Oscars and established her brand. Let’s find out more about this fascinating woman!
Hi Camilla. Thanks for taking the time out to answer a few questions for 40PlusStyle.com. Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself?
I started my business a few years back in 2010. There has been a bit of a learning curve moving into such a creative field, but I welcome the opportunities to continue learning.
As a point of reference which age group do you belong to or perhaps you are willing to share your age?
I will turn 60 this year, I guess it’s a big one but I certainly don’t feel the age I imagined 60 would feel like.
You started a completely different career at age 57 by setting up your label Camilla Olson. Why did you decide to do that?
I was feeling unfulfilled creatively, I took my daughter to the Academy of Art University to look at the fashion program, it was not right for her but I was seduced by the possibility of learning better craftsmanship and design principles.
It seemed the perfect fit for me; it took the science and melded perfectly with the creative. I always had an interest but I was not in a place to cultivate it.
Who do you design for?
Women of all ages but the baby boomers (my generation) hold a special place, I was disappointed shopping at some of the bigger department stores, and I felt like there was a lack of modern wearable looks for my generation.
Can you tell me a bit more about the kind of clothes you design and the way you produce them?
Women’s wear and accessories, during school one of my mentors was the former textile designer to Alexander McQueen, Simon Ungless. I worked closely with Simon where I developed the iron transfer imprinting process, which yields a soft and unique effect every time. It has a stunning elegant effect when applied to silk and I love the idea of using various shapes of metal to imprint upon the fabric. I have figured out a way to do this that is non-toxic and uses kitchen-table ingredients. Our print is our signature look.
You invested quite a lot of money into your business. Has it been paying off? Did you feel that you took a big risk? Are you happy with the way things are going now?
It’s all a learning curve, you may try something that is right for one company but does not fit yours. I think anything you are passionate about takes time to cultivate. We have been gaining a steady stream of clients and things are looking great. We are more than doubling our gross revenue from last year.
As a beginning designer you achieved what many designers can only dream off. A celebrity wore one of your dresses to the Oscars! How did you achieve this and what did it mean to you?
Fortunately, Betsy Franco is a friend. She is an accomplished author and mother of actor James Franco and she is a fan of our line. I was introduced to her through my book club and friends of my son who are active in the local theatre! I am so grateful for her support and I am very happy to make her clothing for the awards shows.
Can you tell me about your own style? How would you describe it? Do you design for yourself at all?
I always ask myself would I wear this? Yes I would wear everything I design and have. How I would wear it would really be the question. I will wear an Adjustable tunic as a top and not as a dress and I wear scarves all the time. Right now I am in love with color. I wear bright pops of color in the summer and in the winter. Long ago I learned the trick of adding color to disguise feeling tired or to add the exclamation to a feeling of excitement.
Can you tell me where you live and what distinguishes your regional style to that of the rest of the world?
I live in Palo Alto just south of San Francisco. I have been here about half of my life now and I love the weather and the California lifestyle in general. Although I am smack dab in the middle of Silicon Valley; it’s the hub of where everything is happening in technology right now. The town I live in, Palo Alto, is a place where you’ll find most moms in modern athletic clothing during the day. It is a pretty conservative place in the evening, generally more on the casual side. Women in the office can be rather casual or in high quality pieces for executives.
What inspires your outfit choices the most?
Usually what I have to do that day. If I am meeting my husband for dinner maybe a dress. If I am at a trunk show all day, I’ll choose my black Ponte pant and our bestselling sheer tops with a brightly colored cami underneath.
Do you take things like color profiling or body type into account when you dress?
Absolutely, I pride my collection on being modern and very wearable. We have so many pieces that can be customized for any age. If you like a shorter length or a longer length on dresses, the Adjustable tunic looks great on any size and any age. I’ve noticed that some people take a color profile to be absolute. These analyses can change by season and as one ages. I try to look at the person and experiment with color and design to watch her transform into a happy confident woman.
Would you say you have a signature style? And if yes, what are the main elements?
Color, form, print and transparency.
Has your style changed at all after turning 40?
I think I have defined my style after 40, I realized there were not enough original pieces in the market and felt a need to fulfill what I feel is an area so many women after 40 still need.
Do you believe in dressing ‘age appropriately’ and what does it mean to you?
I don’t understand that statement. I think you should dress how you feel most comfortable. If you are confident about a certain area show it off. If you have great legs show them off in a shorter dress. If your arms are toned wear a cami etc..
Would you say that at this stage of your life you are now more, or less interested in fashion, style and the way you look?
I am definitely more interested in learning how we can look our best. Fashion is more than high drama. I have had the privilege of going to some of the shows in Paris and felt inspired to see great designers turn out beautiful collections. Still, I want women to be able to find choices in how to dress, and to feel comfortable experimenting with lines and color.
Why is the way you look important to you?
Clothes enable me to feel my best and convey confidence. It can make or break me in any business meeting. I am the brand, I wear my clothes, I want my client to be just as comfortable wearing my designs as I am.
Which outfit from your collection or personal collection is your favorite outfit and why?
I adore the adjustable tunic we call it the “AT”. It’s the most versatile piece we have for summer and it’s a fresh look. In addition to the luxuriously soft feeling of the silk chiffon, the sides have drawstrings so you can adjust the top for a shorter look to accentuate your curves or longer, for a more modern feeling. Some girls are wearing it as a dress with boots and leather jackets. I love that kind of a mix of silk and leather. You can also pair it with one of our slim pants that are the most comfortable pant out there.
Do you follow trends? And if yes, which trends excite you at the moment?
Only to a certain degree, when I watch the shows I am interested in line, pattern and texture since we hand print all our silks.
Do you have any fashion and style tips for women over 40?
Color and print and don’t get stuck in a rut; its so easy to. Reevaluate often. Try on new pieces and color, then take a long look in the mirror with and without a smile. Then take a look from behind. See for yourself, and make your own decision!
What are your plans for your business and how do you see it develop over the coming years?
The print is our signature but I am finding that our shirts, tops, and tunics are being really well received in the warmer climates and our business attire more in east coast. We are really concentrating on the Internet at the moment and direct sales. I would love to expand my business to international retail in the next few years.
Anything further you would like to add?
We are producing a series of short videos with actress Tanna Frederick. I am so obsessed with wanting to make short videos. Tanna and I are in the process of planning a few. Look out for them this summer. I am also working on a new web series with a summer intern, “Camilla explores her own closet”
More information on Camilla and her collection can be found on her website.
Do you ever think of making a career change? What would you do?
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