Zam Studio: behind the brand

More than a brand, Zam Studio invites you to go beyond aesthetics and delve into matters of the heart.

By Rachael Evans

Zamorano sits in front of her home studio, built by her father. Photo: Rachael Evans (2021)

It’s a quiet May morning when I arrive at the suburban family home of multi-disciplinary artist, Paulina Zamorano. Her father is in the driveway, loading things into a car. He stops and looks at me curiously. After introducing myself, we get to talking. He is going fishing for the day, and while he is hopeful about the day’s prospects, he says that lately, he often hasn’t returned with a large catch. He speaks about it without disappointment, merely as a matter of fact. I find it interesting that he seems relatively at peace with the fact that at worst, he might return home empty handed. I would come to learn that every member of the Zamorano family treats even their hobbies like a craft, approaching them with consistency, dedication, and patience – often surrendering the outcome in the process.

Zamorano appears sporting a wide grin, and we soon make our way to the backyard where her studio resides. Her studio is a labour of love, and a feat to admire. As we approach the entrance, the space almost seems to loom over us. The facade has been constructed with white wooden panels that sit vertically, and the windows and door frames are painted a light blue. She tells me that the studio was a collaboration between her and her father; he designed the exterior and built the studio, and Zamorano designed the interior layout. It is where she spends most of her days – her primary space to work and create.   

It is here that I enter the world of Paulina Zamorano – a Chilean-Australian multi-disciplinary artist, and the owner of Zam Studio. Zam Studio is both her artistic practice and business, and she describes it as a “creative house with multiple genres.” Those genres primarily consist of wearable art, visual art, and graphic design – although more recently she has also added web design into her mix.

Zamorano wears the ‘Expired Bustier’ for a Zam Studio shoot.
Photos: Paulina Zamorano (2020)

Zamorano completed her first degree in 2019, graduating with a Bachelor of Visual Arts and Design. A clear overachiever, she tells me almost sheepishly that she decided to commence a Bachelor of Fashion Design in 2021. When asked why she decided to pursue a second bachelor degree, Zamorano attributes her decision to wanting to refine her skills in garment making. As the day draws on, I come to realise that Zamorano works to refine her skills in all the mediums she works across ad nauseam. She is a scrupulous perfectionist, and her attention to detail is second to none.

For an artist early in her career, Zamorano has already amassed notable achievements. Thus far, she has exhibited in multiple galleries, been commissioned for various murals, won the Associate Vice-Chancellor’s Award for outstanding major project in her undergraduate degree, and has a calendar full of freelance graphic and web design work that leaves her with little breathing room. More recently, she also became a member of the Converse All Stars team. Granted, her successes stem from her immense drive and consistent work ethic. However, I also notice that when talking about her ideas and concepts, she rarely falters. She seems to carry a robust sense of confidence that is infused into her speech, particularly when talking about her work. It appears to be so innate that I wonder if it’s something she’s always possessed.

When I ask her, she talks about confidence as a skill rather than a quality, and something she initially learnt from her brother, a musician. She tells the story of her brother, who began uploading videos to YouTube when they were teenagers. “The fact that he would go, record these songs, these raps, these lyrics…and really started getting into it, I was like ‘wow, that’s confidence.’”

Her brother’s videos began amassing a lot of attention – attention that included the varied opinions of family and friends. When it came to her brother exploring his craft in front of an online audience, she says her family held reservations. “I don’t know if it’s just an ethnic mindset, but it’s just like, you shouldn’t be doing this.” In light of what she describes as her family’s mixed emotions, “my brother still went and posted, and kept posting.”

At one point her brother stopped posting to YouTube, taking all his posts down. She attributes his decision to him wanting to invest further in his craft and depart from posting content on an ad-hoc basis. “It was going to be more established than just releasing whenever he felt like releasing,” she says. For her, this was a seminal principle that she went on to apply to her own practice. Indeed, her approach to releasing work is one that is planned and executed with immaculate precision. However, her brother’s choice was also a lesson in believing in oneself enough to invest in their artistic practice, unashamedly and wholeheartedly. 

It appears that for Zamorano, her brother’s confidence in his own craft rubbed off on her, helping her push past initial criticism and pushback from those around her. Similarly, his willingness early on to fully acknowledge and honour his own talents, gave her a sense of permission to explore her own. “If my brother hadn’t worked the way he did initially, towards his own goals and career – I wouldn’t be here, I wouldn’t have the drive and confidence I do now.”

She updates me on the position of her parents with regards to their children’s respective creative paths – they’ve come full circle. She laughs, telling me that her dad eventually asked her to relocate her bedroom to another room in the house, so that her brother had space to set up his own in-house music studio. In her case, he built her the studio that the interview now takes place in. Her laughter settles, and she tells me, “even if there is resistance, when push comes to shove and we’re really like we want to do this, our parents are really there for us. They’re not gonna be like no you can’t do that. They’re going to be like, okay, let’s figure out a way.”

Zamorano and her brother at her graduation. Photo: Paulina Zamorano (2021)

When we discuss the direction of Zam Studio, Zamorano hopes that it will eventually morph into a space where the creation of wearable art collections will occupy the forefront of the brand. I ask how her interest in wearable art developed; she tells me it was in her previous degree. “I think one day I was in a painting class or something, and I was just like, I don’t know why, but I feel like a garment would communicate this way better than I could paint it ever.”

Wearable art, sometimes known as artwear or ‘art to wear’, is a term that refers to “individually designed pieces of clothing or jewellery created as fine or expressive art.” Rather than wearable art being distinct from fashion, the two worlds collide brilliantly and often. Oftentimes, wearable art’s presence in fashion is made explicit. Luxury fashion house Victor & Rolf is one such example, a brand known for its highly conceptual collections that fall within the wearable art realm. Famed collaborations have also forged pieces of wearable art, such as Elsa Schiaparelli and Salvador Dali’s ‘Tear Dress’ from 1938. However, wearable art in the realm of fashion, or at least elements of it, can also often present in more inconspicuous ways. A recent example being Pyer Moss’ Fall 2021 Haute Couture collection, centred around black inventors. 

For Zamorano, her slant on wearable art is perhaps most distinct from fashion in that she does not create with the intention of making pieces that are aesthetically pleasing or trendy. For her, wearable art is principally about the relationship that exists between the garment and the wearer. She says, “it’s about the experience of the garment on the body. How does that piece correlate to a narrative? How is that making you feel as an individual rather than personifying your identity? It’s a concept that goes beyond just aesthetics.”

“It’s about the experience of the garment on the body. How does that piece correlate to a narrative? How is that making you feel as an individual rather than personifying your identity? It’s a concept that goes beyond just aesthetics.”

Zamorano ironing the ‘Humilde Jacket’ for an exhibition.
Photo: Paulina Zamorano (2021)
The ‘Humilde Jacket’ on display at Honey Bones Gallery.
Photo: Paulina Zamorano (2021)

We move to talking about the things that inspire her, a sometimes pedestrian topic, although her answer surprises me. “You know I’ve thought about that question…however my inspiration doesn’t come from things, like ever – it has never come from things,” she says. I look at her quizzically. She elaborates, pointing to the house, “my inspirations, they’re living, they’re in the house. Those are my inspirations – they’re not things.”

Indeed, her family, and their collective values and experiences, are intimately entwined into her work. Perhaps the most salient example of this is her graduate collection from 2019, a body of work that contains some of Zamorano’s most meaningful work to date.

Her graduate collection, ‘Tu Y Yo, Somos Iguales’ (‘You And I Are The Same’), was an exploration of Zamorano’s early beginnings, and namely her family’s experience emigrating to Australia. The collection was centred around workers’ wear, and each piece was intricately constructed with the exclusive use of recycled denim. She relates the collection back to one of her earliest memories, around the time when she was in kindergarten. Her parents were juggling multiple odd jobs, one of which was house cleaning. Recalling one particular weekend she says, “I just remember my mum, cleaning the last house of the day, and the distinct smell of window cleaner in the air, and she was in a pair of three-quarter jeans and a white t-shirt.” Elaborating on her choice of fabric she says, “with denim, it’s such a sturdy fabric, it reminds me of the strength they have as individuals. They worked so hard then, they still work so hard now – their strength and perseverance as individuals, it’s created the skin I’m in.”

“With denim, it’s such a sturdy fabric, it reminds me of the strength they have as individuals. They worked so hard then, they still work so hard now – their strength and perseverance as individuals, it’s created the skin I’m in.”

While her graduate collection was an ode to her family, at one point, Zamorano wasn’t sure if they’d be able to make it to the exhibition. She tells me that her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer around the time of her graduate exhibition. Throughout the interview she’s been mostly reticent with her emotions, but it’s at this point that she fully leans into them, becoming lachrymose. In the end, her parents and aunty were able to make it to the exhibition, and her brother who was in America Facetimed in. “I’m so happy they got to see it because it was for them. To initially not have their support because they didn’t know what to expect in the creative industries, to having it wholeheartedly. There’s just so much to be grateful for.”

Models wear a vest and pants from Zamorano’s 2019 graduate exhibition, ‘Tu Y Yo, Somos Iguales’.
Photos: Paulina Zamorano (2019)

Later in the day, we touch on inspiration again – except this time the topic bleeds into an answer she gives to a question about her hopes for Zam Studio. She tells me she wants to be like Frida Kahlo. Again, I look at her, slightly puzzled and ask her to elaborate. She laughs, “yeah, it sounds so silly…but she left this world with so much knowledge and purpose in every single piece that she did.”

I have a Eureka moment of sorts. An appreciation of the meaning behind each piece, the experience she is conveying through it, and the values embedded in it – is ultimately what Zamorano hopes to impart upon the world through the wearable art she creates for Zam Studio. She continues, “I want people to use the knowledge from my work…taking my art into their own hands, and actually implementing it in their everyday.”

“I want people to use the knowledge from my work…taking my art into their own hands, and actually implementing it in their everyday.”

I ask Zamorano about her biggest achievements thus far. She doesn’t any cite any of her notable milestones – leaving her 9-5 to run a business and artistic practice, brand partnerships, or external recognition she’s received. Instead, she circles back to her values. Growing in confidence is at the top of her list. Confidence, it becomes clear, is not only something she learnt vicariously through her brother, but also a product of many trials, fails and false starts. In the early days of Zam Studio she tells me, “I started with clay earrings, and that flopped, and then tote bags, and that flopped.” There were others that followed, but she explains that each time she failed, she would reflect on why, apply the lesson, and try again. For her, both successes and failures along the way seem to represent what is merely a perennial process of learning – she is not one to wallow in her failures nor rest on her laurels. Her confidence, it seems, is also rooted in the fact that she stands stoic and somewhat comfortably in the possibilities of failure.

Towards the end of the day, I meet her mother who is an avid gardener. She takes me into her garden to show me an impressive myriad of fruits and vegetables that are spread out across the entire backyard. She explains to me that creating the garden is a feat that has taken her 20 years, and that even now it’s not yet complete. She also tells me it’s the only thing she would be sad about leaving behind if they ever moved houses. A particular plant catches my eye, she says it’s an avocado tree. I ask if the avocados it yields taste any good – she laughs. While she tends to it regularly, she tells me the plant will take close to eight years before it bears any fruit. I joke that I’d never have the patience. For much of the day, I’ve wondered how Paulina remains so committed to her practice. She is steadfast, showing up at her studio each day to refine and nurture her work. I forget to ask her, but perhaps this is because it isn’t something I ever felt the need to ask. The answer is right at home.

You can find Paulina Zamorano over on instagram @PaulinaZamorano_.

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