Queensland fashion designer started career as a scarf model
CHERYL Creed was taken aback when her sister asked if she'd like to do some modelling six years ago.
"I was size 20, a grandma and 49. I didn't exactly fit the usual 'look' for a model. But they wanted local women, regardless of size, age or experience, so I said I'd give it a go."
Cheryl's catwalk debut was the Regional indigenous Fashion and Textiles Showcase (RIFTS) in Cairns, which provides local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, designers and models the chance to show their work and potentially launch a career.
Cheryl says she was nervous as she stepped out at the Pacific Hotel in 2014.
"I was a bit embarrassed, modelling alongside tiny, young models. I felt out of my depth, but excited at the same time.
"I was modelling scarfs and I thought I'm going to model the heck out of this scarf," says the now 54-year-old founder of Cairns-based label Murrii Quu Couture.
"Stepping on to the stage for the first time, I was super nervous, but needn't have worried because I got the biggest applause and had fun."
In 2016, Cheryl was back for more.
"I was full of confidence this time.
"I realised modelling for RIFTS wasn't about size or age. After the show, the organisers congratulated us and said 'well, who wants to be a designer next year?'"
Cheryl dived straight in.
"I had no experience, no qualifications. I just bought a sewing machine and an overlocker and taught myself how to sew."
A portrait artist with a BA (Honours) in Visual Communications and a Masters of Education from Deakin University, Cheryl was pursuing a PhD in political science at the University of Queensland at the time.
Fashion changed all that.
"I went from working with canvas to chiffon, satin and rich velvets.
"I didn't end up finishing the PhD. I might one day. Instead, I threw myself into fashion and put together a collection."
When she returned to the RIFTS runway in 2017, it was as a designer.
"I had 22 designs and 21 made it on the runway. One missed out because they didn't have enough models," Cheryl says.
"It was terrifying because my sewing skills weren't up to scratch. I had a little help from seamstresses, but most of my designs were just for show. I don't know how serious I was, but that was the beginning of it and I haven't looked back."
Unlike other designers, Cheryl doesn't design from a pattern. Her inspiration comes from second-hand shops.
"I come from an Aboriginal mission in southeast Queensland called Cherbourg.
"When my family relocated to Brisbane in the 1970s, mum got our clothes from the second-hand shops."
Those visits left Cheryl with a love of op shops and a keen eye for spotting treasures.
"You find lots of goodies there and I really fell in love with fabrics like velvet. I'd find existing garments and pull them apart to make something else. One of my gowns can use parts from three separate outfits."
While each gown is exclusive, they all have one thing in common.
"I only design black evening gowns. The black is representative of my heritage as an Aboriginal woman. I don't do prints like a lot of other indigenous designers.
"Black is my signature style. Everyone can wear black. It's classy, timeless and you can accessorise to add a splash of colour."
By 2018, Cheryl was taking her designs to the Townsville Fashion Festival, Black Bold & Beautiful in Brisbane and the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Festival Brisbane.
"Making it into Mercedes-Benz blew me away. It was at Old Government House in Brisbane. I felt like a superstar, mingling with all the designers and fashion elite. It was a Hollywood moment with champagne, canapes and amazing six-foot models."
Mercedes-Benz Festival founder Lindsay Bennett was glowing in his praise of the Murrii Quu Couture label.
"He said 'Cheryl you exceeded my imagination with your designs'.
"I couldn't believe it," she says.
In Brisbane, Cheryl took to the op shops, hunting out black garments to deconstruct and refashion into gowns. Surprisingly, she came away empty-handed.
But in Cairns, she has her favourites. Lifeline at Earlville and in Bunda St, a small op shop in town and Spotlight at Westcourt.
"If I see a skirt and top, I can sew them together. I may remove the sleeves from the top or add sleeves from another garment.
"I'm doing my bit for the planet. I'm a conscious label, a semi-sustainable label.
"And no two designs are the same."
Last year, Murrii Quu Couture featured at Cairns indigenous Art Fair and returned to Brisbane for the Mercedes-Benz festival.
"In both years, I was the only Aboriginal designer to showcase at Mercedes-Benz.
"I felt extremely proud, but we need more indigenous designers and models on these leading runways."
This month, she joined designers from around the Pacific at the Global indigenous Runway in Melbourne. She and fellow Cairns designer Briana Enoch of Jarawee also dressed Runway founder Tina Waru.
Other invitations have been coming her way, most recently from supermodel and fashion producer Jessica Minh Anh, known for transforming the world's most visited landmarks into spectacular catwalks.
Cheryl says her Murrii Quu creations are dramatic and edgy, while also being modest, elegant and sophisticated.
"I like high-end glamour, accessorised with long black gloves and the influence of the Audrey Hepburns, Sophia Lorens and Rita Hayworths of Hollywood."
But they are also a reflection of Australia's checkered indigenous past.
"I look at my work as 'assimilated fashion'. Aboriginal people struggled to survive under the Assimilation Policy. Like my designs, my people had to evolve. The process of assimilation signified change, yet we remained the same people, echoing our torn history in modern Australia.
"I incorporate this when designing, creating change, without removing the foundation, so each gown has a story."
Self-taught and self-funded, Cheryl says her fashion dream hasn't been easy.
"But I'm so passionate about this I can't stop now. I'd love to take Murrii Quu international. I think international fashion runways need to see Murrii Quu Couture. They need my designs on their runway."
Visit murriiquucouture.wixsite.com/murriiquucouture online or Murrii Quu Couture on Facebook.
Originally published as No experience, no qualifications: How 'unlikely' model made it big