Little Village Theatre in Palmwoods has come together with fashion designer Cassandra Pennisi to encourage women to feel special every day.

by Victoria McGuin

Palmwoods is home to many things: popular eateries, a welcoming bookstore, a top-quality butchers, one of the best bakeries on the coast, a lively hotel/pub, loads of sports facilities, and various clubs and community groups. 

One such group, Little Village Theatre (LVT), is busy rehearsing for their new show, An Evening with Irving, to be held on October 30 and 31 at Buderim War Memorial Hall. 

To raise funds for the group, they have organised a fashion parade on September 4, 2pm, at Millwell Road Community Centre, Maroochydore, with talented young fashion designer, Cassandra Pennisi.

Muriel, Cassandra’s mother, was the linchpin for this collaboration, as she is involved with LVT and immediately suggested Cassandra for the fundraiser when the idea materialised.

Cassandra herself is enthusiastic about design. One can safely say she loves it with a passion that became evident early on in her life.

“When I was in high school, I created a figurative sculpture in a ballet pose; my visual art teacher advised it was out of the ordinary to think and create in 3D, whereas for me it was normal. I translate what I see into designs.”

Cassandra won the art award, and realised she was able to think “differently” from a lot of her peers when it came to visualising. The creative seed was sown…

“I was that child who would sit and draw, while others watched TV,” she smiles.

The family lived in Rockhampton and after Cassandra finished high school she attended a week-long design course in Sydney, and was awarded a scholarship when it finished, with the choice to study in Sydney or Melbourne. She chose Whitehouse Institute of Design in Melbourne. 

“My fashion degree was quite intense, with around 26 contact hours a week, including a day-and-a-half of technical classes. We created a capsule collection each semester.

“We had some amazing experiences. Project Runway was filmed at the university, and I was fortunate on occasions to be involved in back-of-house.

“During Fashion Week in Melbourne, I was involved in fittings, rehearsals and shows. I learnt so much being back-of-house! I garnered the courage to ask Australian designer Toni Matičevski if there were any opportunities to work within his studio to gain experience and knowledge. I was fortunate he gave me the opportunity to intern with him.

“He tested me, giving me a challenge to decipher how a particular skirt he had previously made was put together and create a replica of it – it had minute French seams along with pin tucks throughout; I managed and was welcomed as an intern.”

Cassandra’s eyes light up as she shares her stories of working in high-pressure, creative environments.

“In the final semester of my degree I was getting five or six hours of sleep a night, max! But it was worth it, as I received high distinctions for my work.”

After brief internships for a few Australian fashion labels, Cassandra realised she wanted to branch out on her own. “As much as I am grateful for the experiences, I found it was time to take on more, so I decided to wing it and start my own label!

“When launching my label in Melbourne, I teamed up with a local jewellery designer and put on an event at an art gallery to show my debut collection.”

Cassandra believes her designs are ‘high’ day wear and are designed with a confident woman in mind, finding her designs have been snapped up by women of all ages.

“I believe we shouldn’t keep our ‘best’ tucked in the wardrobe for special occasions, every day is a special occasion! Clothing is an extension of yourself, it’s part of how you choose to present yourself and it’s empowering to feel confident in your own skin.”

Much of Cassandra’s work is inspired by nature, using natural fibre fabrics. “Hiking, the beach, mountains, forests; nature presents patterns which I use in fabrics, design elements and prints. Ideas are always swirling in my head, it’s like having a million tabs open in my mind!”

In addition to designing clothes, Cassandra is also a milliner, with a collection of unique head pieces. She also has a background in jewellery, working for Hardy Brothers Jewellers, Georg Jensen and since moving to the coast, Diamonds of Distinction.

Cassandra credits her parents for the path her life has taken. “My mum and dad always said, ‘you can be and do whatever you want’ and encouraged me to forge my own path. Having that freedom was integral to my career.”

Cassandra shows me a selection of her designs, from elegant dresses to colourful shirts, to shaped jackets, and trousers with unusual prints. Most of these will be on display at the upcoming fashion parade, and Cassandra can customise and make new pieces for clients.

“I love my work,” she smiles. “I want women to feel special. I am designing for the woman who is unapologetically herself.”

Bookings for the fashion parade available at trybooking.com/BSYDT, for further details contact Ronda Vijsma on 0411 115786. To contact Cassandra, email cassandrapennisi@live.com.au or call 0437 219 948.