5 Minutes With ... Chiquita Searle, Chi The Label

It all started in 2011 when beautiful Brisbane-based Designer and Stylist Chiquita Searle (aka. Chi) studied fashion in Paris and it ignited her desire to launch eponymous label, Chi The Label. Inspired by classic, timeless European work wear that doubles as styling fashionable designs, Chiquita returned with a drive and desire to not only design gorgeous pieces but also educate women about dressing for success in the workplace. I discovered Chi The Label in 2012 after a fashion insider recommended I check out her collection and since then I have been following the label's growth, including its debut at Fashion Palette. Chiquita recently shot Chi's SS13 collection and the campaign images (and designs) and too gorgeous for words. We chat with Chiquita about Chi The Label...

Since studying in Paris you returned home to launch Chi The Label which has been strongly influenced by timeless European fashion. Why is that so? If you ignore the fashions you see on the runway, many European styles are classic and timeless and can be worn for years rather than months. I am a big believer in identifying your own style and cultivating a wardrobe, both work and weekend, that defines you as a woman and is true to your sense of self. European designs for me are always 'in', regardless of current trends which is a big factor in dressing for work. You want styles you can wear for years rather than months. It’s an investment in your career and vocation. A very important investment as you only have 7 seconds to make a good first impression so you need to make it count!  

Why did you choose to dress such a specific market? The fastest growing industry is women starting their own businesses and there is a massive push towards women entering the boardrooms and moving into executive roles. For these women who are often 30+ there are very limited corporate wear options apart from the masculine pants suit. Corporate women wear my label as it’s strong and bold but it also is feminine and timeless and they feel powerful when wearing it which is an important factor when dominating a room!

In 3 words, how do you describe the Chi consumer? Strong, feminine, elegant

Which Chi design is your current favourite? This is a tough one. As a designer I am not sure we are meant to have favourites. When I am feeling sassy I might wear the Business Blouse with the Not the Secretary Dress. When I am feeling powerful, I will wear the Woman in Power Jacket with the matching skirt. When I am heading out for a catch up with girlfriends, I might wear the Corporate Diva Cap Sleeve T with the Corporate Diva High Waist Skirt and the Leather Peplum. My favourite at the moment is probably the Affirmative Action Peplum Blouse with a new design, the She’s the Boss Cropped Pant as it’s a bit playful and looks a bit like a catsuit with a peplum!

Your designs are so versatile! Is versatility an important factor when designing pieces? Versatility is one of the MOST important factors as the women I design for are busy, they are constantly on the go between work, clients, friends, family and they need styles which they can wear to the office and then out for socialising afterwards without having to go home and change. My styles can all be worn to work and will transition beautifully to an after work occasion. I often just take a clutch with me in the morning and swap shoes and I am ready to par-tay!

Where did you gain inspiration for your stunning SS13/14 collection? I am constantly inspired by the amazing women we have in Australia who are pushing boundaries and doing things that have never been done before. They are tough, inspired, inspiring, fair, driven and fierce. I wanted shoulder pads and structured lines with tailoring to demonstrate the daring natures of these women and what they are achieving. I haven’t actually named it as yet but when I think of it I think of them as Women Pioneers!

If you could choose anyone to be the face of Chi, who would it be and why? I have a great admiration for Anna Wintour, not because she is the editor of Vogue but because she is tough, knows what she wants and makes it happen. She is uncompromising in her standards and while demanding, gets a great result. I admire her resilience. She’s a tough cookie. Plus she has great style which is hers and hers alone. She knows who she is as a woman and style wise she gets it right every time. She is a woman to be reckoned with!

Who would you most love to see wearing Chi designs? Someone who is very much on my radar at the moment is Lisa Messenger, head of the Messenger group and Founder and Editor of The Collective magazine. Lisa is something of a 'heroine' for me in the business world. She epitomises everything about women I design for and would love to dress her. She’s incredible.

Which do you prefer...
Timeless style or current trends? Timeless style every time.
Hair worn up or down? Hair worn up for work.
High heels or ballet flats? High heels – they elongate the calves and make your legs look slimmer.
Fine or chunky jewellery? Fine jewellery for the office. Statement pieces for after work.

You’re a fashion stylist as well! Why do most clients see you? My clients come to me as the majority of them are frustrated with the lack of options in the market for stylish work wear but also because I help them to define a corporate image unique to them based on their body shape, personality and style. A lot of women come to me as they’re frustrated, time poor, and they don’t particularly enjoy shopping but they want to look good. So I help them look and feel amazing.

What is it that you love most about fashion styling? Working with women. I love women. I think we are in the process of taking over the world and I am blessed to be able to help make them look fabulous while doing it! I also see so many transformations when I work with women. I meet so many women who don’t know how beautiful they are and finally, after a styling session, they start to see themselves in a different light and truly appreciate how amazing they are.

What are your best tips to help women discover their personal style? Take the time to understand your body shape and find styles that work for it. Ignore fashion trends as they come and go and you want to choose styles that match who you are as a woman but also that you can wear for years. If you aren’t a fan of shopping and don’t want to take the time to learn yourself, find a good Stylist who can help you and take the frustration and angst out of the process.

Chiquita, what makes you feel Spoilt? Wearing my label Chi, being able to dedicate my time to something I enjoy so much and that adds so much value to the women I work with, shopping, pedicures, spending time with my family and catching up with friends after work for a nice glass of shiraz.

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