Nadia Bartel on moving past controversy and the future of fashion

When it comes to name-calling Nadia Bartel has heard it all,but the description people most frequently forget to use before ‘WAG’ and ‘influencer’ is ‘designer’.

With the success of her label Henne’s runway debut at Australian Fashion Week in May,and a cosy new store in Melbourne,it’s the succinct title that fits the former model best as she looks in the change room mirror.

But go ahead and call her what you like because Bartel is rather select about whom she listens to – now.

Nadia Bartel is back to business with her label Henne,opening her first Melbourne store in Prahran.

Nadia Bartel is back to business with her label Henne,opening her first Melbourne store in Prahran.Simon Schluter

“Anyone can have their own perception of me,though I can tell you that most of the ones in the media are false,” Bartel,37,says. “Over time I would love for people to see how hard I work,but I’m not going to tell them what to think.

“You can’t change other people’s opinions. Your friends and family know who you are.”

Hard work has helped Bartel traverse a difficult period,including her high-profile divorce from former AFL Geelong footballer Jimmy Bartel and an infamous appearance alongside a Kmart plate withwhite powder in a social media video last year.

Putting the controversy behind her,Bartel’s admirable work ethic is now paying off. Who needs a revenge dress? What’s better than an entire revenge brand filled with clinging knits,vegan leather trench coats that take powder blue from pretty to powerful and ribbed dresses in butter shades that flirt with modesty?

Bartel started Henne three years ago with her sister Michelle Ring and former Witchery buyer Laura Broque,having cut her ultra-white teeth developing the e-boutique The Connection,which stocked Australian brands such as Camilla And Marc and PE Nation. After quietly launching Henne on The Connection,the clothing’s success encouraged them to shut the website down and focus solely on their own elevated basics.

“I am very involved in every single piece that we create,” Bartel says. “It was only a few months ago that we hired our first designer. Laura’s commercial background,my sister being sophisticated and classic and me being somewhere in between keeps us on track.”

That track remains straight,with Bartel focusing on timeless investment pieces that won’t be resold on Depop or Facebook Marketplace at the end of the season. Clothing from the first range,such as a $119 rib top that falls off the shoulder,continue to be top sellers.

With more than 540,000 social media followers and a strong media presence in Melbourne,customers in the southern capital were quick to support Bartel’s latest enterprise but following Australian Fashion Week her label has attracted independent attention.

The intimate Australian Fashion Week runway show for Henne was the first event for the three-year-old brand.

The intimate Australian Fashion Week runway show for Henne was the first event for the three-year-old brand.Getty

“It’s certainly not just another influencer brand. A lot of people who follow Henne on social media don’t even follow me,” she says. “Melbourne is our core but 30 per cent of our customers are now in Sydney and we are developing support in Brisbane.”

“After Australian Fashion Week we saw a huge growth in visitors to our website and an increase in social media followers. That’s not because of me,it’s because of the product. Now with the store,I am meeting customers face to face and its professional women,university students and working mums. They’re the Henne woman.”

With that growing audience,Bartel is pushing the brand into increasingly adventurous territory,with shiny vegan leather coats and pants part of Henne’s evolution.

“The coats are $379 which,we thought,might deter customers,but the first lot sold out. People are hungry for more.”

Encouraged by the support she found in the local fashion industry following the label’s runway debut,Bartel is ready to pursue the overseas market. With this in mind she is keeping her head down.

“I am a bit of a perfectionist. I have worked hard to get to this point,” she says. “It’s hard when there’s an image of you and when people have perceptions. You just have to keep in your lane and work hard.”

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Damien Woolnough is the acting National Fashion Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age

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