Nat Turnbull is a quiet achiever. When I first met her, in around 2012, she was working 4 different casual jobs whilst completing a degree in sculpture at VCA, whilst also running her own accessories label, WITU (her distinctive neoprene bags are still going strong, stocked at a bunch of amazing local and international stockists, including the NGV Store!).
These days, Nat spends a couple of days a week producing and styling our shoots here at TDF, and the rest of the time she’s in hot demand styling shoots for clients including NGV, Laminex, Kester Black, Porsche (!!), Mimco and Country Road, to name a few. Her work always has a bold, unexpected edge, and I’m sure that comes partly from her training in sculpture and fine art. She has a unique way of seeing the world.
Inquisitive, observant, immensely talented and ever humble, this girl is heading for BIG things. You heard it here first, people.
Tell us a little about your background. What path led you to styling and the other creative projects you are doing today?
I have been creative since I was young. In high school I started sewing pencil cases and fabric bags; I think I sold almost 500 of them to students, staff, and family members! I went on to study Sculpture and Spatial Practice at Victorian College of the Arts, where I learnt so much about how to develop concepts and bring them to physicality.
During this period I took some time off to head over to New York, where I spent a short stint as an intern at an amazing company called Confetti System who make incredible objects and installations from frayed paper. This was a really creative time for me, but it also taught me a lot about the hard work and passion you need to have for running your own business.
When I finished uni, you (Lucy from The Design Files!) texted me asking if I would consider working with you as an assistant stylist. I had never really thought about styling before, but since then have fallen deeply in love with it. It combines all of my favourite things, and seems like a really natural progression from what I was doing before.
How would you describe your work, and what influences your subject matter?
I would describe my work as playful, crisp and thoughtful. Influences come from everywhere really, I always have my eyes and ears out for interesting things.
Can you give us a little insight into your creative process?
I am often working on a few projects at once, so I like to keep my process quite organised, but without a really rigid plan.
The materials used for each job really depend on the particular project, but I like working with raw materials, wood, stone, Perspex and paper. My accessories label, Witu, is heavily based around the material neoprene, which is best known for its use in wetsuits. This material is constantly surprising me!
What does a typical day at work involve for you?
My days are always changing, but I always try and plan the day ahead the night before. I usually make a detailed list that says exactly what I should do at what time. Some people think this is crazy, but it really works for me. I love working to my own strict time frame!
Which other Australian designers, artists or creative people are you loving at the moment?
Esther Stewart, artist – Esther actually studied Sculpture at VCA a few years ahead of me. I am always in awe of her incredible artwork, her approach to colour and her go-getter attitude.
Amanda Briskin-Rettig, A-ESQUE – I am in awe of how Amanda has grown her businesses with high quality production based in Melbourne. I recently saw her bags in one of my fav shops, Lane Crawford in Hong Kong. It’s so inspiring to see a Melbourne-based brand making it in some of the most prestigious shops across the globe. Makes me hopeful that one day my label could be like that too!
What are some resources that you turn to when you’re in a need of creative inspiration?
Sight Unseen is such a great resource for new designers, interesting concepts and great interiors. The Gourmand is also one of my favourite magazines celebrating food and art. Always incredible content. Then, It’s Nice That has really interesting content covering a lot of graphic design and product design. For Australian content, The Design Files is my fave of course! It’s a great way to find new up-and-coming designers.
Pulling together resources and references for a shoot makes Pinterest an invaluable resource for me. I think it’s super important to know what is happening around you and be aware of the work others are creating, and Pinterest is the holy grail for great visual content.
Your studio is burning down. You have 10 seconds to fill a Witu backpack. What do you save?
My laptop, necessary! My desk chair, I love it! My collection of thin Japanese glassware because life wouldn’t be the same without them, and as many Witu bags as possible.
What has been your proudest career achievement to date?
I think it would have to be creating a capsule collection of bags for NGV as part of the Ai Weiwei x Andy Warhol show. Ai Weiwei apparently loved the bags and took one for his girlfriend! He always posts photos of her with it on his Instagram! I love his work and so this, for me, is pretty special.
What would be your dream creative project?
My dream is for people to hire me because they love what I do. I do have some dream clients though. I would love to do work for Opening Ceremony, Marni, IKEA, The Gourmand, and one day Apple! A girl can dream…
What are you most looking forward to?
2017 is looking like a great year, and I just I launched a new website! I’m looking forward to continuing to work really hard, creating interesting work and collaborating with great people.
What’s your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?
I recently moved house to North Melbourne after four years of living in Brunswick East, but I would have to say that Brunswick East is still my favourite place. I have a really strong connection to the area – my studio is based there, and lots of my favourite restaurants and bars are there. It’s nice to be based somewhere else now, but I still always find myself back there.
Where was the best meal you recently had in Melbourne?
I love Mankoushe, I would say that is definitely one of my favourite restaurants. So yum and such a good vibe in there.
Melbourne’s best kept secret?
Preston market, I love it there! So many amazing stalls and such diversity.