Stories

A MOTHER’S DAY TALE OF LOVE AND SURVIVAL

 

CAMILLA AND LUNA FRANKS

 

I have circled Camilla in this industry, first as a fellow Australian fashion designer and then as a stylist and now as a creative. We never really connected even though I had worked with her brand and team before. Not that she wasn’t someone you could connect with but she's Camilla Franks!! A busy, strong and formidable business woman. Our brief encounters were very farrrrrrrshion, lovely but passing, surface, not deep, which is to be expected in crowded rooms where one of us was in demand and that person wasn't me. My impression of her had been one of slight awe. I knew how tough it was to make it in this game and yet here she was; unstoppable, building an empire and tribe that included the likes of Oprah and Beyonce.

Fast forward four years later and my time with Camilla Franks is starkly different. As we draw close to Mother’s Day, most of us are thinking about time with loved ones, breakfast in bed and perhaps getting spoilt with a day off from domestic bliss. For Camilla it marks the one year anniversary of her breast cancer diagnosis. A diagnosis that came three months after giving birth to her daughter Luna and a few days before she was due to close Australian fashion week. What should have been a celebration of a dream come true (Camilla fell pregnant unexpectedly at the age of 41 to her long term partner, musician and artist, JP) became one of her darkest hours. My time with Camilla during this shoot showed me a woman that possesses that rare quality found in great female leaders. A vulnerability and strength sitting quietly side by side. Her team surround her (oh what a team) making sure her time is efficiently used but there is a stillness in her. She is completely present and respectful of all that surround her. At the risk of sounding corny, she has an aura, something that someone more spiritual than me might be able to describe better, but it’s there. I can feel it. Luna is at the age of cute overload. When I arrived she wasn’t fazed, just curious and happy. More like a 'what are you doing in my house?' kind of thing. At twelve months she is edible with big blue eyes, dolly curls and a button nose. Instantly you can see they have a connection that is true and deep, each others saviour in this crazy unpredictable world.

This shoot is a celebration, not only of one woman's courageous fight against cancer but a celebration of a mothers love and how it can shine so bright and so fierce that darkness, in it’s most awful and threatening form, cannot diminish it’s incredible power to survive.

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Camilla wears CAMILLA coat and Dolly Up Vintage gown. Luna wears CAMILLA bloomers.

“I was pregnant, I gave birth, I danced with the devil that was cancer-it was light and darkness all in one.” This quote from you so beautifully describes what must have been a devastating and surreal time in your life. Can you share what it was like to go from the joyous heights of becoming a first-time mother to hearing the news of your diagnosis? 

The arrival of our Luna bear was wild and incredible, and I found I loved in a whole new way I couldn’t fathom beforehand. She has brought unparalleled happiness and new meaning and way of being into my world. My world is complete and whole and full of the purest of love.

The news that I had breast cancer was delivered so soon after and I felt as though precious moments and time have been stolen from us. But I’ve come accept that and move on and also to appreciate that absolutely nothing, not even a cancer diagnosis, was going to take away our bond and the blessing she signifies. I felt helpless, powerless, sick to the core, consumed with total fear I’ve never felt in my lifetime.

It wasn’t so much “why me” but just this can’t be happening. Why is this happening? I was a new mother - why now?  It felt like an endless darkness fell over me with no way out. I felt a loss of control - that life will never be the same. In many ways, this is still true.

Once I started on the path of acceptance and following a plan that was going to arm me with the best weapons, I felt motivated but so scared.  Looking at Luna just constantly reminded me that even though I was about to face down a fight for my life, that I was still very blessed and so privileged. She and my man have been my saving grace.

How has motherhood changed you? 

I’m rarely short of words but it’s nearly impossible to articulate. She has deepened the love between soulmates, brought out a fierce lioness I didn’t know lay within me and been the truest guiding light in moments that seemed impossible to overcome.

We’re told as little girls, and even as women – that girls rule the world! While it sounds really awesome, it’s simply not true, it’s bullshit – we’re far from it. There is still such a small comparison percentage of women in politics and in leadership roles. Many women are still so oppressed or being told what they can and can’t do with their bodies. This has to change. We’re on our way, but we still have a little bit to go.

Since becoming a mum, my mission in life is to not only be the best mother I can be, but to dedicate my role in the world to making a world that is brighter for both girls and women through my work at CAMILLA. One where they are in greater leadership capacities, to be agents of change and have full ownership of their bodies and future pathways. I don’t foresee Luna being Prime Minister, but I do love the idea of her ability to do so! 

How has cancer changed you?  

If anything, I learnt from it.  I haven’t stopped learning from dancing with the devil, it’s a constant exploration.

When I was first diagnosed, I kept asking myself “What is this lesson? Is there actually one? What is this happening for? What am I to take from this?” I learnt how resilient and powerful the body and mind is. You don’t realise what your limits are until you’re forced to explore them.

The biggest learning was that we all have two lives… the second one begins when we realise we only have one. But above all, you learn that when everything is taken away from you, love is really all we have and truly need. 

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Camilla wears CAMILLA kimono and skirt, Ryan Storer earring. Luna wears CAMILLA jardin onesie.

We spoke briefly about how our long hair had defined us to a degree, something we also hide behind. Can you share with us the experience of shaving your hair for the first time and how that made you feel? 

We did this at home in beautiful sacred ceremony surrounded by my three favorite men and my little girl. While it was confronting and scary, I felt a sense of empowerment. It was something I actually had control over (if not the only thing).

If it wasn’t for what it represented, I would have loved it. Actually, I secretly did love it. I’d always wanted to shave my head. It’s like I stripped everything back to the most raw and authentic. That’s what cancer does to you. It strips you back to your most vulnerable self and in that there is so much beauty. It forces you to go deep within and ask all the questions, as your life is questioned. How do I want to live? Work, play and relationships, you question the lot.

I know that it is important for you to give back to the people and places that inspire you, can you share what The Butterfly Effect is and why it is so important to you? 

Owning business comes with accountability and responsibility. If you don’t have a social responsibility to give back to a community or cause, no matter how big or small, your business has no heart. There, I said it! From my early days, I’ve been active in local charities and fundraisers. Even if at the time all I could donate was an old sample for small raffle prize, it was still so important for me. Community is everything.

Our vision for CAMILLA is bigger than fashion. It’s a vision with full heart – one that aims to empower and improve the lives of others. My dream is to rehabilitate women in third world countries, and provide them with health, education and a safe community. After witnessing first-hand the mistreatment of both women and girls in my second home of India - you can’t help but feel triggered and driven to do something.

The girls and women we take a stand for reach far beyond the walls of CAMILLA. We believe that every female is entitled to education, protection and empowerment to be their free self.  Empowerment starts with education, which is why in 2018 we partnered with The Hunger Project to educate women and girls on what their rights are.

We created a program call the Butterfly Effect, and are working with 1000 girls living in Bihar, North India. So far, we have seen incredible results, we’ve seen girls going back to school, we are seeing girls saying no to childhood marriage. What would it feel like for you too be forced into marriage at the age of 12 or 13? Where would you be right now if you weren’t educated and what would that look like? None of us have any concept of what this could look or feel like, but these girls do.

Our dream and hope for the Butterfly Effect, is what the name states.  It creates a chain reaction in what these girls learn they then hand down to their peers and their daughters, and their daughters take these learning and pass them on to their daughters, and so on and so on - so they become powerful agents for change for future generations

What fills your cup? What makes your heart sing? 

I love meeting different walks of life, those who are unapologetically authentic to themselves and have a story to tell. I love change makers – those who are fearless in their pursuit.  When I travel for inspiration the adventure is found in the diverse people you meet.  I travel off the beaten track; and immerse myself into the world of the unknown and the unexpected. We often don’t speak the same language but share we a common language through textile, sound, food, colour and music.  It connects us.

I also love women who embrace their beautiful flaws – that accept that they are imperfectly human, and that everyone on this big ball of dirt and water are just trying to figure it all out as much as they are. These people are ground and make life that extra bit colourful.

You once said that cancer is now a part of your story, what does Camilla Franks story look like in twenty years? 

With cancer, I feel like it never truly leaves you. It becomes a part of your story, and only those who have endured this raw fear and threat, will understand what I mean by this. While the worst of the storm has passed - there is a still a long journey ahead, and I am still very much a student. The road has been very long, the days have often felt like months, but I’m still standing and beginning to find my dancing shoes once more.

In twenty years, I will still be a creator, student, a lover and a mother.

Last year was the darkest and most uncertain time of my life. But strangely, it was my most beautiful yet. It was a year filled with so much love and kindness.  The next twenty filled with the same will do me just fine.

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Camilla wears (left) CAMILLA pants, hoodie and coat. (Right) Camilla wears CATGK Vintage dress, Luna wears Mamapapa romper

We were talking about how hard it is to do everything well and you mentioned sometimes you feel like you are not being a good mother to Luna, the business or yourself. How hard has it been for you to give into the glorious chaos of being a working mother? 

Honestly, this last year has been a total beautifully chaotic circus.

It’s always hard to find the balance of being a great mother to Luna, a great mother to the brand, and a great mother to myself too whilst also trying to sustain a healthy relationship with my partner. I received some advice right before Luna was born – you’re not joining the child’s life, they’re joining yours. This advice reaffirmed for me that Luna was definitely going to be brought along on this crazy CAMILLA ride. For a long time, and still to this day, my brand was my baby, and she is still my biggest achievement alongside Luna.

Now that I am a mother, I have an immense amount of respect for working mums. You really don’t understand this task until you’re in it yourself.  It’s important for me (and my need for control!) to be across everything. I find it oddly therapeutic and know what’s happening in every corner of my brand so I can continue to build her whilst keeping her visions and values in check.  Luna often comes into the office - I was having board meeting and design sessions whilst breastfeeding. My staff have called me the Boardroom Bohemian and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

I’ve found beauty in surrendering and allowing myself to swim with the tide and not against it. There is great power in accepting that I’m not superhuman. And that if I don’t take the time to fully nurture myself, I am ultimately not giving the best version of myself to my daughter, my partner and my work family. I owe this to both myself and to them.

My support network in and out of the office have been imperative for me to master the chaos.

They are the ones who kept the wheels of my colourful CAMILLA circus turning when I couldn’t and helped raise Luna in moments I momentarily felt too worn down. They cheered me on through every single hurdle and held me up to be the best mother and leader I could be during my treatment. They are my angels, my people.

This year CAMILLA the business celebrates 15 years in the biz of fashion and what is now a global empire. What will Camilla the person be celebrating this Mother’s Day? 

I will be celebrating the gift – one that is so simple and fulfilling – of being a mother and the little moments that goes by. Every single one is just so special. My diagnosis was made a few weeks before Mother’s Day last year, so this year I will be also celebrating the love and support that has surrounded me during this time.

What role has the business and the people that work for you played over the last year?

I’ve spoken a lot about my CAMILLA Tribe in many interviews over the years. And I’ll say it again - my tribe at CAMILLA are the best in the business. They’ve been right by my side from the beginning of my journey with cancer and have been an incredible support network to ensure that the CAMILLA flag still flies while I checked out for moments here and there.

We all worked closely together to ensure all areas of the business were firing on all cylinders and continued driving the brand forward with the very ambitious plans we have in the works. Timing wasn’t on my side, but my team were.

I didn’t step away from the business though. I’ve continued in my role of Creative Director, and was still very much involved during my early motherhood days and treatment.  It’s my happy place and my playground, so throughout last year I was in there no matter how awful I felt at times as it gave me joy just being and working with my team throughout the madness. It was truly a sanctuary of tender love, unity and patience. Saying this, I also have complete trust in my brand guardians to make the decisions when I can’t.

There is a lot of careful planning and hard work that goes into preparing the business for anyone’s absence, but my work family came through and together we have been able to balance it out. Throughout it all, the very good and the very bad, we have designed two really strong collections, opened new Australian stores, designed two USA stores that will both be open by the end of May. We’ve also shot two of our most ambitious campaigns to date and all in the last six months. I can’t wait to bring all of this to the world.

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In the Sac linen sheets

You are an incredibly positive and focussed. How deep did you have to reach to get to this place or has this always been part of who you are?

I haven’t always been strong, although I’ve experienced pain, loss and trauma that I felt that hard experiences equipped me for this battle in many ways. A couple of years back, I had a health scare. It forced me to do a 360 analysis of my life. Everything from my work life balance, my diet, my exercise regime, relationships and behaviours. It was a huge overhaul that was both confronting and painful.

I had to come to terms with events that I never properly confronted out of fear, like my brother Ben passing away, and stare these painful events right in the face and make peace with them. It was a bitter sweet experience. Falling down is hard, but the journey to picking things up is harder but so rewarding. I had turned my back on things and perhaps hid behind the brand for so long. But the reward was clarity, forgiveness, inner peace and a fountain of self-worth that I had disconnected with somewhere along the way.

For cancer, it was in the vulnerability and the letting go and accepting that the healing truly began. But what got me through it was my love and my light, JP & Luna.

Also, my amazing tribe of warrior women and men who stood by my side. The ones who cried with me, who held my hand when I was so terrified I couldn’t speak, the ones who came to the appointments and wrote down notes and asked the questions I couldn’t, who held me together when I was the most raw and vulnerable self. The ones who kept the wheels of my colourful CAMILLA circus turning when I couldn’t. The ones who cheered me on through every single hurdle.

With each big challenge, I am learning a lesson in self-preservation. I fought hard last year and my body is still recovering from the battle. But each day I feel my body regaining its energy. Meditation, yoga, long walks, strength training, good humans, and good nutrition have become even more important than ever before.

I always feel that my children are a constant reminder that I have to be a better person, a better human. What has Luna taught you about life or yourself?

I am a student of Luna’s every day.  She has taught me to be more present and she brings me a special kind of joy through her innocence. My days are full on in the office and everything surrounding it seems so loud and chaotic some days. But when I come home to Luna, the noises drifts away. It’s so peaceful - nothing else really matters when I am with her.

With that, she makes me want to be a better person. When your child enters the world, you take on the role of influencing and shaping them into who they will be. In that moment, and every day since her arrival there has been such an overwhelming and beautiful drive to be the best I can be for her.

What are your hopes and dreams for Luna? 

That she is boundless in opportunity. My girl will be free to be vulnerable and who she wants to be. Nothing will stop my little girl - she will roar.  We will support her with full hearts with whatever path she chooses to undertake. That is our role as parents, especially as ones to a girl.

My biggest hope for her is that she learns that you have to get uncomfortable to get comfortable. It’s been in my darkest and most challenging of moments in life that the best change and growth actually happens. It’s when we are pushed to our limits, we get to explore what our limits actually are and grow into a new way of comfort.  And no matter what life has planned, or whatever she takes a chance on - she will have me to hold, protect, support and feel completely loved through it all. She we know what true love is.

SHOP CAMILLA

Dolly Up Vintage | Ryan Storer
Dinosaur Designs | Mamapapa
In The SacCATGK Vintage

TEAM

Creative and Styling | Sheree Commerford 
Photographer | Sam Elsom
Assistant Photographer | Kenyon Batterson
HMU | Noni Smith 
Stylist Assistant | Sharee Gray