Petrova Hammond in her fashion shop Lady Petrova. Photo: Ken Irwin
DESIGNER Petrova Hammond's tiny Scott Alley shop, Lady Petrova, resembles a little piece of fashion fairyland. A counter shaped like a doll's house, imported marbled floorboards, hand-painted lampshades and wall art and a pretty flower box filled with perfect blooms create an atmosphere just right for Hammond's floaty, feminine, vintage-inspired clothes.
It's a look that's popular with girls searching for their first formal dresses, dancers who love her petite sizes and Lady Petrova loyalists who wouldn't think of wearing anything else. Since her most recent tour, Hammond can add pop performer Lana Del Rey to her growing fan base.
''[Lana] and her stylist are really very into supporting young designers,'' Hammond says. Del Rey was shown Hammond's most recent look-book by a friend of the designer, and the performer came into the Flinders Lane shop the day of her Melbourne concert. ''The day that all happened was my busiest day for the winter collection - I was in my studio sewing and trying to get things done so I told my manager she might come in. Twenty minutes later she was at the door. She played dress-ups in the shop for an hour-and-a-half and wore one of my flower crowns on stage that night.
A look from Lady Petrova.
''It was a pretty surreal moment. I really do love her style. I had listened to her music when I designed the collection, so for her to wear my stuff is pretty amazing.''
The flower crowns are among Lady Petrova's biggest sellers. Made by Hammond's mum, a former head seamstress, they circle the head with a mass of flowers and can be customised to suit a flower or colour theme.
While they may seem a perfect match for spring racing, Hammond says, the headpieces sell all year. ''Flower crowns are for every day as long as you have the right attitude and wear them in the right kind of way. I have girls come in every few weeks to get a new one to wear out on the weekend. I love that. There's different ways to wear them and different sizes. I've had five-year-olds buy them and 50-year-olds buy them. I'm older than most of my customers and like to wear mine often, although I do dress like I'm going to the races pretty much every day,'' she says.
An RMIT fashion design graduate, Hammond has always been drawn to the ultra-feminine. ''I struggled at RMIT because they wanted us to be more typical Melbourne - black, constructed - but I just want to make really fabulous party dresses. Things that make me feel beautiful and pretty. I've always had that as my aesthetic. I love silks and vintage fabrics.
''I'm always looking for vintage-style fabrics, like curtain fabrics. It's the colours and the prints I love.''
After working in fashion retail, then as the designer for Rosemin, all the while running an online vintage shop, Hammond eventually decided to go out on her own, opening her first shop in Armadale in 2007 before moving to the city in 2008.
Hammond loves the transformative power of clothes and has often watched women spend hours in her shop, fascinated by the new persona her designs can create.
''You have a girl that has never really put on a formal dress and they come out in something beautiful. I love it. I've had mums cry. You put a flower crown on them and a pair of heels and you dress them up and they're amazed by the transformation.
''I'm quite bossy because I'm the designer, not just the sales assistant, so I construct a whole look for them. Afterwards they send me photos of the whole outfit. It's beautiful. I love that.''
Hammond's bubbly personality, unique fashion sense and formal training made her an obvious choice for Project Runway Australia, the MasterChef -style reality TV show that offered designers a chance to show what they could do. She came third in the 2008 program and four years on is philosophical about the show's impact.
''I'm still recognised by some people who come into the shop, but my best customers don't even know I was on the show. Maybe if I lived in Sydney it might have had more impact because a lot of the PR was Sydney-based.''
Opportunities for mentoring and making contacts were also limited. ''We weren't allowed to talk to the judges, they weren't allowed to have favourites. I really would have liked to have had more mentoring and speak to the designers and find out what they really thought.''
Hammond admits to having succumbed to the curse of the reality TV program, becoming unexpectedly emotional. ''I never cry in the real world but in Project Runway I bawled my eyes out - mostly because I was hungry and tired. It becomes your whole world and everything you do is the show.
''In the end, [career-wise] I didn't really get anything out of it but I really loved all the contestants, and luckily we're still all friends.''
Project Runway took her away from the Lady Petrova shop for close to six months, only a few months after she opened in the city. Since then she has focused on establishing a customer base, finding like-minded designers' work to stock and successfully building a Lady Petrova community through Facebook and tumblr.
''Now my plan is to be in the store less and design more. Although I know it happens, I'm not really worried about people copying ideas because I have so many of them. I'm interested in making garments you can wear in lots of different ways. Yes, darling,'' she laughs. ''That's my Saturday night, draping a dress and making it reversible.''
■Lady Petrova is at shop 3, 237 Flinders Lane (down Scott Alley), city, 9650 6285. Open Mon-Thurs 10am-6pm; Fri 10am-7pm; Sat 10am-5pm; Sun 11am-5pm. Flower crowns $69 or $89 for a custom design.