Poppy Lissiman – of the namesake accessories label she founded in 2008 – is not one to walk a well-worn path. The Perth-raised, Sydney-based designer’s trend-bucking accessories, in outrageous shapes and loud colours, slingshot her to cult status at the tender age of 19. Putting her kaleidoscope of embellished bags, clutches, key chains, jewellery and iPhone covers aside, it was her kooky sunglasses, most notably the Le Skinny style, which set social media alight after debuting in May 2017 – (literally) reshaping the eyewear market overnight. She’s since amassed more than 160,000 Instagram followers.
“I had no idea it would become as big as it is”, says Lissiman in earnest. “We certainly had a stream of [clutch] orders coming from overseas prior to this in 2013 and 2014, which was fairly steady until the spike of Le Skinnys last year.”
The angular sunglasses perched atop the noses of every Kardashian, Hadid and high-flying influencer known to Instagram exude a futuristic “Matrix” attitude and come in mandarin, lilac and clear hues. Alongside fellow Australian label Le Specs (whose team she fondly describes as being “such lovely people”), Lissiman had the fortuitous timing of tapping into the ’90s-inflected shock-factor fashion zeitgeist.
Accessory design runs in her blood. Lissiman’s mum Suzi was an accessory buyer and taught her to sew at 10 years old. But while privy to the rag trade growing up, Lissiman had other ideas as a teenager. “The interest in fashion was always there. I remember having these expensive subscriptions to international magazines such as Collezione and saving up all summer for Louis Vuitton hair bobbles – but back then, all I really wanted was to be a doctor.” But when she didn’t get the marks to study medicine, a six-month graphic design course followed, trailed by a two-week fashion course at Curtin University in Perth. But it took a retail role managing a Zomp Shoes store for something to click. “It was the first time I met people like me, other fashion nerds. Put it this way, when Alexander McQueen died we all cried.”
Zomp Shoes also proved seminal in Lissiman’s love and understanding of retail and the customer experience. It was these lessons she later applied to founding Poppy Lissiman Addition (a boutique in Perth’s Claremont) where she stocked her own line of ball gowns beside international labels including Mara Hoffman, L’America and Opening Ceremony. When she couldn’t find the right accessories to complement her zany, whimsical aesthetic, she decided to design her own.
“In the beginning I designed a lot for myself. It was very much a ‘I want this, so I’ll make this’ mentality,” she says. Ironically, it was this very instinct that almost derailed some serious sales.
“I must admit my first sunglasses collection went terribly, even my friends didn’t buy them,” she says. “I almost didn’t do another one.” Lucky for us, she did. “I had the sample for Le Skinny on my kitchen counter and, having tried them on, they didn’t suit me at all. And so I decided against putting them into production. It wasn’t until a stylist friend, Thom Townsend, came over, saw them lying there, tried them on and told me I just had to make them.” With the help of social media, the Le Skinny heralded a new attitude in accessories and the rest is street-style history.
Flash forward to today and it’s not surprising the home of pop culture, the USA, is her biggest market. But her line of pop-inspired vegan-leather bags perform best on home turf (led by the best-selling South Beach Shell Shoulder Bag, which involves gold shell embellishments moulded from a scallop shell Lissiman found out the front of her parent’s house on South Beach in Perth’s Fremantle).
Lissiman hints she is keen to keep surprising her customers. “I think once you do one thing, you tend to want to swing the other way,” she says.
In full-throttle design mode as she works towards the looming production deadline of glitter wallets and nylon camera bags, which are slated to arrive before Christmas, the designer admits inspiration is as unconventional as her designs. “I get my best ideas when I’m having a massage, not that I have them all the time. Just the other day I was stuck in traffic and the tail lights of the car in front had an interesting shape. I literally just took a photo of their bumper as inspiration for a shape so, yeah, inspiration can come from absolutely anywhere.”
The designer also realised it was difficult to find eyewear made from premium materials at the right price point (her sunglasses retail between $125 and $145). “We wanted a price point that’s open to everyone. We felt we could still be a fashion-y brand without feeling the need to exclude people from the trend just to make an extra buck,” she says.
When asked how she handled the recent upshot in demand, Lissiman credits her “tight ship” team, which includes her parents Suzi and Skip Lissiman and marketing manager, Candy Wood. Lissiman also notes while everyone has their individual roles, the label is run very much like a start-up with many hats being swapped one day to the next. In addition to designing, Lissiman also oversees the label’s social-media accounts, graphic design and some of the customer service, too. And it was only earlier this year the PR was outsourced for the first time.
Thanks to Lissiman’s intimate involvement and her distinctly electric aesthetic, what was once a start-up sunglasses label has brazenly cut through the noise to be embraced by the mainstream. Keeping pace with its international appeal, Lissiman’s sights are set on expanding the label’s global footprint by strengthening relationships with wholesalers including Net-a-Porter and Galeries Lafayette, Kith and Lissiman-approved boutiques dotted across Cannes, Nice and Paris.
Between toying with the idea to return to designing wearable ball gowns, costume jewellery in the works and a range of vegan wallets launching early next year, the future looks fittingly technicolour for Poppy Lissiman. Wherever the path may lead one thing you can expect from her is the unexpected. “Every time I design, I think, ‘Have I seen this yet?’”