Monday, June 4, 2012

ODC Inspiration; Alexandra Nea Graham Fashion Designer & Illustrator

One of the best things the blog world has given me, is access to the stories & work of so many inspirational creative & entrepenurial women. Nothing gives me the warm fuzzes more than reading the stories of other women in creative fields or who own their own small (or medium...or large!) business and hearing about where they started & how they got to where they are. Not just the fun, glamourous stuff (because usually there really isn't a lot of that!), but the hard stuff, the difficulties & challenges, what an average day looks like for them & some of the behind the scenes details! So starting from today, for the next few weeks, every Monday i am going to feature an interview with one of these women! I hope you will enjoy reading their stories as much as i have - maybe you'll get the inspirational warm fuzzies too :) 

I am really excited to introduce the first lovely lady who let me ask her a few questions. I first came across Alexandrea Nea Graham when i saw one of her bridal illustrations - in the past 12 months they have featured in many magazines including Harpers Bazaar. Paper is the traditional first anniversary gift - what a nice idea it would be to have an illustration created of your wedding day for your first anniversary! On her blog, The Art Of Afternoon Tea, she showcases her bridal illustrations but also gorgeous afternoon tea illustrations with recipes to match! By 'day' Alexandra is a senior designer for Little Joe Woman!


Name: Alexandra Nea Graham

Age: 30

Job description/ Role: By day I am the Senior Fashion Designer at Sydney based label Little Joe Woman. By night and weekends I am the writer and illustrator of blog The Art of Afternoon Tea 

Educational background:
East Sydney Technical College; Advanced Diploma of Fashion Design.

Does what you studied at university relate to what you currently do?
Yes it does relate though a lot of what I do now in my day job I have learnt ‘on the job’ so to speak. My three years spent studying were a wonderful experience, we were encouraged to push our creative boundaries to the extreme, which resulted in some fabulous work.
However not a lot of these ultra creative skills learnt are utilised to their full potential in the day-to-day workings of the Australian Fashion Industry. This is probably the reason why I try to push myself in my own hobbies

If not how did you lean the skills required to do what you do?!
I had already started my development in a lot of the areas required for my industry before I started my training This is largely thanks to my Mum who taught me to sew at a very early age. I also attended art classes after school from when I was about eight which I adored so you could say I have been honing my illustration and sewing skills for most of my life.

My love of baking I can also attribute to my Mum who was a design and technology (hence the sewing) as well as a hospitality teacher. Our family was always spoilt with the best cooking and I like to think this has rubbed off on me somewhat. I am a happy amateur in this field, no professional training here just trial and error.

What was your first job out of university? did you work in the industry during your degree?
I undertook a months worth of work experience at an atelier in Paris during the second year of my training. This was certainly an eye opener for a naive, inexperienced young thing. 
But non the less an experience I am incredibly grateful for.

My first job was one I created for myself. I was invited to participate in Mercedes Australia Fashion Week as part of the graduate show. From that, my label, Alexandra Nea, was picked up by International boutique Elizabeth Charles. Next season it was local Melbourne boutique Cactus Jam as well as London boutique Coco Ribbon and department store Selfridges. I hit the ground running and continued working solely on my label for three years.

The industry during this time was crazy for the next big young thing, the dollar was attractive to international buyers and Australian design was in high demand. It was good times. I worked crazy hours and perhaps due to my perfectionist nature or maybe because of my thrifty ways I did absolutely everything myself. I designed, undertook all the patternmaking and sample sewing, did all my own marketing and PR and often, if they were small runs, graded, cut and hand stitched the production myself too. Quite mad when I think about it now. In fact, if anyone out there owns an Alexandra Nea piece you can probably guarantee that I created it personally from scratch. Really, quite mad!

                            Alex on her wedding day in the gown she designed & sewed herself. 

 And below the illustration she created to capture the day 


What advice would you give others wanting to get into the fashion industry?

I would say go in with your eyes and ears open. Be true to who you are and your aesthetics. Study and learn as much as you can, traditional skills are a dying art in this industry but that knowledge will set you apart from the rest of the pack. Be inquisitive and prepared to work hard and save the prima donna act, the industry is already full to the brim of that!

Also be practical, if you want to stay and work in Australia know that the commercial industry is unglamorous and can be tough work. I am a big advocate of having your own side projects, it will keep you sane and the creative juices flowing!
How has your work evolved since you started?

I used to be very insular with my inspirations. I was not really aware that there were other designers, locally and internationally, creating and driving trends. As I started working for other companies, Ted Baker in London, Collette Dinnigan in Sydney I became aware that there would be global trends that would often drive a collection. I developed the skills to adapt my designs to suit the label I was working for. It was no longer about me and what I wanted to wear but what the woman buying the label I was designing for aspires to wear.

Who are you clients & how do you find them?
I began my blog The Art of Afternoon Tea in January of 2011 as a way to showcase my illustration work. I was in a bit of a work rut and wanted a creative release. The blogosphere proved to be the perfect platform for me, somewhere I can showcase my afternoon tea illustrations, fashion bridal caricature and fashion illustrations.

My clients tend to be my readers, though anyone can contact me through the blog to enquire about a private commission illustration. I create anything from fashion bridal caricatures from your wedding pictures to illustrations capturing your Mum’s favourite tea set and sweet treat for a special birthday present.

How did you find starting your own business?
My blog did not start off life as a business but it has evolved happily into one. In this day of facebook, pinterest and twitter people love nothing more than to discover and share a new idea. I have benefitted very well from this mass sharing of information and blog love!

Did you start off doing this ‘on this side’ while you worked full time?
Yes and I still am!

How have you marketed yourself & your work?
I have developed lots of contacts having worked in the industry for the past ten years. Since the conception of The Art of Afternoon Tea I have been pestering all the magazines, blogs, writers and anyone else I can think of with little blast-outs about my work. To the point where I am sure they include a little piece about my work to make me go away!

I find the most important point when marketing your work is to make it personal and relevant to the person or publication you are targeting. As my blog is diverse in it’s offerings I have a larger field I can cover, from bridal blogs and mags to my favourite foodie and lifestyle publications and sites to the uber-cool and geeky chic mags like Yen and Frankie (yet to publish but still hounding them!)

What is your favorite part about running your own business
Being legitimately able to indulge in my love of illustrating, baking (and eating) and collecting antique bits and pieces. To be able to say ‘That tea cup is a work expense..’

What is the hardest  part?
Finding the time required to dedicate to my work

What does your schedule in a typical day at work look like?
Up at 5:30am to walk our crazy chocolate lab, Maggie.
Quick breakfast then 7am morning meeting at the construction site that used to be our home and hopefully will be again one day.
Little Joe Woman office by 9am where my day involves designing and managing the production of the collections from concept through to sampling, fittings, alterations, final approvals and deliveries. Home by 6:30pm. Evenings are then spent on my own projects, experimenting with new baking recipes, emailing clients, working on commissions and my own illustrations and writing up future posts for The Art of Afternoon Tea.

For a wedding illustration, what is the process on completing it and how long does it take?
My clients initially email me with their ideas and then they send me through images of the details I require which varies depending on what they want to feature in their illustrations. Once all the details are sorted an illustration takes between one to two weeks to complete.

Who or what inspires you?
 I find inspiration in the strangest of places. It could be a smell of the first wood fires in the crisp autumn air or the detail or an antique lace trim on a christening dress found tucked away in a musty market. I do tend to get overly excited by such moments!

Any favorite websites/blogs/magazines?
Oh! Too many to count really. I am a newbie on pinterest and I must say it is rather fabulous finding likeminded people’s boards and going, ‘oh! I love that, oh yes and that too!’

Where would you like to see yourself in 10 years?
Working full time on my illustrations, perhaps with an illustrated cookbook or two under my belt, maybe working on my first children’s book.

Tea or coffee?!
Tea please!

And outside of work what do you love to do in your downtime?
My downtime is really my time for my blog and illustration work. But if I wasn’t doing that you could find me fossicking at the nearest antique market or hunched over the sewing machine whipping up a little something to wear to a friends wedding or failing that at a little place in The Snowy called Towong, curled up by the fire with a block of Cadbury Dairy Milk’s finest and good book.

A big thank you to Alexandra for taking the time to answer my questions in such detail! 
If anyone is interested in having Alexandra create an illustration for you, you can contact her on


  1. Amazing illustrations and a fab new blog to read. Thanks for the introduction Sal xx



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