‘It’s like finding a long lost love’: Haute couture designer who had to give up her business on the cusp of fame 10 years ago finds success once again after showing at Paris Fashion Week
- Hajar Gala, 53, had to shut her couture business in 2005 due to family issues
- Had just shown a collection in Florence and was getting interest from magazines
- She worked freelance for a decade before opening shop De Challie again in 2015
- This year she showed her collection in Paris and has found success once again
Just as she was on the cusp of fame in the fashion world, Hajar Gala was forced to close up her Sydney haute couture shop for good.
Invitations to show in New York and have her collection featured in international magazines were given up as Hajar dealt with a number of family problems.
It would take 10 years, and a move to Canberra, for the 53-year-old designer to feel ready enough to give the fashion world one more try.
And, after showing her collection at Paris Fashion Week last month, it seems Hajar is finally getting her chance to shine.
Haute couture designer Hajar Gala is finding fame once again 10 years after she was forced to close up her successful Sydney shop and moved to Canberra
Hajar as won international acclaim after showing her collection at Paris Fashion Week in October this year (pictured)
From before she can remember, Hajar was always captivated by clothes.
‘Honestly, I think I was born with it,’ she told Daily Mail Australia. ‘My sister was a dressmaker and I was always fascinated with what she could produce.’
‘I was never allowed to touch the sewing machine, so I would sneak behind her back and use it. She would find out because I would leave thread on the machine and it wouldn’t work properly.’
Hajar, who grew up in Azerbaijan, would also cut out material from the curtains in her formal living room to make velvet dresses for her dolls.
‘My mum wouldn’t notice until she had to wash the curtains,’ she recalled with a laugh.
Although Hajar’s love for fashion was already strong at such a young age, she excelled academically and her father had different dreams for his daughter.
From before she can remember, Hajar was always captivated by clothes. She used to go behind her sister’s back to use her sewing machine and make dresses for her dolls
Now Hajar is making gorgeous couture creations that are being photographed for editorials in international magazines (pictured)
‘My dad wanted me to do medicine,’ she said. ‘There was a mall near our house with medical centers, and he always said; “This is where you’re going to have your clinic”.’
But Hajar pursued her passion, training at the International Fashion Academy in Europe before migrating to Australia with her family.
It was in Sydney that she began working with a high-end womenswear designer, who was fascinated with her unique skill and encouraged Hajar to launch her own brand.
So in 1993 she opened her own store in the Strand Arcade, creating couture and one-off evening and bridal wear.
It was an instant success. Hajar was named one of the top 10 couture designers in Australia, dressing celebrities and receiving an invitation to show her work in Florence.
‘It was growing really fast,’ she said. ‘I was getting invitations from New York agencies who wanted to present me in the US, I was featured in many magazines, and the business was going really well.’
‘But family issues were getting bigger than I could handle, so I had to give it up. It was really tough, because it was a dream come true.’
‘Call me emotional, but it was like a lost love.’
Hajar trained at the International Fashion Academy in Europe before migrating to Australia with her family and opened up her own shop at Strand Arcade in 1993
Family issues forced Hajar to close up her shop in 2005 at the cusp of international fame and she moved to Canberra hoping for a ‘simpler, fresh life’
Hajar’s creativity was drained and she felt numb.
She disconnected her phone, packed up her Sydney shop in 2005 and moved to Canberra, hoping for a ‘simpler, fresh life’.
But she never stopped making clothes – at first working as a freelance designer from home.
‘I wasn’t going to start a shop until I felt ready,’ she said. ‘But I kept doing bridal dresses and established a good clientele base in Canberra again.’
She never took her website down and kept her brand live, but didn’t do any publicity. Instead, she let the ideas begin to build up naturally.
It wasn’t until 2015 that Hajar decided to once again launch her brand De Challie, finally feeling emotionally ready to start all over again after closing her business.
Hajar did her first show at the Australian National University that November, an ‘amazing night’ that she said was a ‘turning point’.
The designer was approached by a London couture consultancy agency, who said they wanted to present her work internationally.
Soon Hajar was receiving an onslaught of invitations to show her collection in the likes of Rome, New York, and Milan.
But she never stopped making clothes, working for a decade as a freelance designer from home. And in 2015 Hajar launched her brand De Challie once again
Hajar did her first show at the Australian National University that November, an ‘amazing night’ that caught the attention of a London couture consultancy company
But there was one city that immediately captured her heart.
‘I decided my passion was in Paris,’ she said. ‘I think it’s the home of haute couture. If you prove yourself there, the rest will come.’
Hajar had the option of showing in either October or the following January and decided – even though she only had two months to prepare – to take the earlier date.
‘I just thought, “Okay, you can’t delay it,'” she recalled. ‘But I was extremely nervous. You want to do justice to your name.’
And so many sleepless nights at the studio followed, as Hajar and her team worked on a collection where most pieces required around 200 hours of labour.
But it was all worth it once Hajar saw her work floating down the runway in Paris.
‘It was almost like I picked up right where I left in Florence, I caught up with all the lost time,’ she said. ‘It was a big relief.’
As soon as the show finished, Hajar was once again approached by magazines that wanted to shoot some of her collection.
Although it may sound like an overnight success story, Hajar said her work is the result of a decade of ‘unexpressed designs and ideas’.
Hajar and her team worked on a collection where most pieces required around 200 hours of labour, enduring many sleepless nights before the October show
The designer prides herself on being original, working to make sure each of her pieces never looks like the last.
‘I always want to create something that’s different and unique to me,’ she said. ‘I never want to copy or repeat something that’s been done before.’
That has made couture the perfect outlet for Hajar, who has always been drawn to the art form that is completely created by hand.
‘Couture, I think, speaks,’ she said. ‘It has feelings, it has character, you know? It’s beyond just a piece of art you put on your wall.’
‘It’s expressive, and you can express yourself as well in what you present. It speaks and moves and connects to a person.’
‘Every dress has a DNA, every creation has a story to tell.’
Hajar plans to stage this collection in at least one more fashion capital, and also hopes to help lift up Australia’s own fashion industry and its upcoming designers.
She is also planning to produce a high-end ready-to-wear evening collection, and build up the brand she gets to watch flourish once again.
‘It’s very fulfilling and I feel like this is what I deserved,’ she said.
‘I didn’t want to be hiding and be lost. I just feel like I’ve found my long lost love.’
Hajar plans to stage this collection in at least one more fashion capital, and also hopes to help lift up Australia’s own fashion industry and its upcoming designers