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Courtney Illfield is a talented photographer and founder of modern bridal wear company, Lola Varma. She's one of those enigmatic people who seems capable of anything. We asked about her recent move across the continent and how she managed her small business throughout the challenges of last year. 

Lola Varma

Hi Courtney, thanks for chatting with us! I believe you started your career in photography, so can you tell us a bit about Lola Varma and how you began designing bridal wear?

Hey Kate, thrilled to have a yarn with you! Yes, my photography career was where Lola Varma and this whole new venture started. Through years of shooting fashion and weddings I constantly found myself in conversations with women worldwide regarding their wedding dress shopping and experiences. They were odd conversations really, considering I had never been engaged or had any desire to be married, but I always found myself having these chats, a delightful sign perhaps!

I found that many women struggled to find a dress or an outfit they resonated with aesthetically but also found the whole experience overwhelming and uncomfortable. Fast forward two years from the initial lightbulb moment and Lola Varma launched. And I'm now five and half years deep!

Courtney Illfield

If only Lola Varma was around when I got married! We’re now business neighbours, so welcome to Melbourne. Moving interstate right before a pandemic doesn’t sound easy, particularly when you work in the wedding industry. How did you cope throughout 2020 and what gave you comfort during that long winter in lockdown?

Bringing Lola Varma permanently to Melbourne had been in the pipeline for a year or two before it finally happened. I kept it cheesy and opened the new showroom Valentines Day 2020. And then we closed the store three weeks later due to Covid. Not the best timing obviously, but we trucked on!

We rejigged the business and turned to virtual fittings and I found myself chatting to women all over the world and creating their gowns through Zoom. I feel very lucky the business survived that dark time. The winter in lockdown saw me design and create two new collections plus a new found love of piano. Those Instagram advertisements got me good – I bought a piano (cough cough, keyboard that sounds like a piano) and spent my nights teaching myself piano. It was the best! The ‘piano’ spends most of its days covered in dust, it served its purpose.  

Lola Varma Showroom

I absolutely love your minimal collections and that they aren’t your typical ‘wedding gowns’. Can you describe the process of designing a new collection and where you find inspiration?

Thank you! I'm thrilled that you love the designs. Having never stepped into a bridal store before creating Lola Varma, I had the freedom and the ability to create a business with an untarnished state of mind. That allowed it to feel genuine and an extension of myself and my style. I find inspiration within films, music clips and the fashion world, as well as conversations with friends regarding their favourite garments. My biggest inspiration however are the materials I stumble across. I’m currently working at my desk surrounded by a pile of new material swatches for the next collection. YAY!

Lola Varma

You now have storefronts in Melbourne and Perth but seem to have a really international presence. Can you tell us a bit about how the business is structured and your team?

We run a pretty tight team here – very much still a small business. Our production is all in Perth, and we're passionate about making locally. We have our permanent HQ stores in Perth and Melbourne that stock all collections and then we have other stores and stockists around Australia, Europe and USA, and most recently a new store in New Zealand!

Lola Varma

What would your ideal weekend in Melbourne involve? How do you love to wind down?

Ideally not working, haha! A weekend ideally would involve a bike ride of some sort. I feel a beautiful sense of euphoria riding my bike around this city and it was one of the reasons I was so excited to move here. A yummy breaky in my backyard under the lemon tree. A hint of gardening, and if the sun is shining I am definitely laying in the park with a book or magazine. To top off the day a few wines and delicious food will be devoured with friends. Is it the weekend already? Take me there now please. 

Lola Varma

Learn more about Lola Varma here

Images by Courtney Illfield and Amelia J Dowd

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