Cleo described her start as “quite accidental. I tried several markets to get a vibe and it just ballooned from there”. Not that it was all smooth sailing; “[at first] you just don’t know much about fashion at all, what goes on behind the scenes. All you know is that you’ve got passion, but passion doesn’t really put food on the table sometimes.” But she persisted and after dipping her toes in the water, she opened her first store in Newtown which was not long after followed up with one in Surry Hills.
The Nu+Nan ethic sits somewhere in between gender, in a sense. “There’s a masculine side in everybody and there’s a feminine side,” Cleo explains. “I love unisex clothes.” Whether you are gay or straight or somewhere in between, Cleo believes that clothing should be shared: “We have women buying men’s shoes, and we applaud that.” That doesn’t mean that you won’t find a feminine patterned dress at Nu+Nan – everyone is celebrated.
Cleo’s inspiration springs from quiet and introspection, which she is then able to reflect on the world around her. “I hibernate quite a bit, then when I go out I look at people, I look at nature and I get influenced by the news around the world, rather than fashion itself,” she explains. “It might be a tree that’s barren of leaves, or even a weed growing out of the ground out of nowhere or… shadows maybe.” Unwittingly, Cleo’s approach to fashion is also influenced by the wicked sense of humour she inherits from her mother. “I love little whimsical, hidden details,” she confesses.
Cleo has no regrets about the challenges she has faced, no desire to do anything differently given what she knows now: “It’s all part of my book of life”, she says. “You fall down and you and pick yourself up or you get broken so… I just decide to keep going forward.” This constant evolution shows in the positive vibe of her store and her designs; every collection builds on those that came before it.
Unlike most fashion stores, Nu+Nan prides itself on being pet-friendly – they’ll always have a jar of Smackos on hand for canine visitors. If you bump into Cleo, one of her many beloved dogs will almost certainly be by her side, wherever she is. Nu+Nan is an avid supporter of RSPCA Million PAWS Walk in May each year and Cleo says, “we hope one day we can sponsor a kennel… we are working towards it.”
words: Kristen Hodges
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