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HELEN NICOLA

FOUNDER OF AEGEANBLUE & DIRECTOR OF CARLA SWIMWEAR

For nearly six decades Carla Swimwear h as remained an institution for lovers of the sun in Newcastle. So if anyone knows swimwear, it’s Helen Nicola. She’s lived and breathed it since she was a girl and took over the helm of her family’s four stores from her mother in 2003. Today, as we chat to her in her Mediterranean-inspired home she shares with her husband, Leo, and daughters, Anastasia, Sophia and Christina, she speaks to us about her latest venture, Aegeanblue, and the inspiration behind her new collection.

Q & A

You’re the queen of swim and now you’re moving into jewellery design and resort wear. Can you tell us a bit about this new project and why you took the leap of faith from business woman to designer?

It all started with an amazing Greek island holiday and my love of creativity. For years I’ve sampled up styles for my own range, but just never taken the plunge. At Carla Swimwear I make sure our swimmers are amazing quality, fit and style, so to complement our swim range, I wanted to design clothing, resort-wear pieces and jewellery that are absolute summer favourites – easy to wear, simple to pack, and look and feel amazing in the long term. Each season I sit with the designers of major Australian brands and give them feedback on how their ranges can improve and evolve so it’s just a natural progression that after almost two decades of helping others grow their ranges, I work on my own. The range also includes beautiful patterned Turkish towels, woven in Turkey and with handy features like a sewn-in pocket to hold your phone and keys, as well as beach bags, visors and hats that all feature our signature Greek eye hardware – the Greek eye symbol is a protector and I love featuring it on each and every piece in the collection.

Your jewellery line is really unique and we’ve already spotted quite a few stylish women wearing your collection. Who do you have in mind when designing your pieces and what is your jewellery collection inspired by?

My Aegeanblue jewellery is all handmade in Europe from 925 sterling silver and coated in gold or rose gold. It’s really unique styling with inspiration taken from the beautiful cultures and lives lived on the shores of the Aegean Sea with features like the Greek eye, turquoise stones, high- polished crystals and cultural symbolism. The range is so beautifully unusual but affordable, with the most expensive piece in the collection at $99. The woman who wears my jewellery is confident in herself and represents her style. She appreciates beauty and buys quality because if she loves it enough to buy it, she wants it to last. She is not trend driven, she is timeless and guided by her own individual style.

Your home has a really Mediterranean vibe going. We love it. Have you taken reference from a particular time and place in your life?

I love beautiful surroundings and I’m sure my style stems from both my upbringing and my Greek island travels – bright pink bougainvillea, whitewashed columns, artisan-made tiles and texture everywhere. My mother’s parents came to Australia in the 1920s and 1940s from Greece and as a young girl I learnt their beautiful village ways of propagating plants, growing their own food, cooking the most amazing dishes and hearing the stories of life in the village. Australia is the most amazing country in the world to live, but I feel like Greece is a part of my story too.

Speaking of travel, your husband springs a last-minute resort holiday on you. What’s in your suitcase?

This actually just happened! We just got back from a couple of weeks overseas and he kept it a surprise from me until the week we left! Wherever I go, my bag is full of kaftans – you can wear them in so many different ways and for different occasions. Perfect for throwing over swimmers for the day or with a slip underneath for cocktails and effortless nights out. Along with kaftans, I always pack three or four sets of swimmers – different styles for different activities and days – one of our gorgeous packable hats, my beautiful Savant Apothecary
moisturising cream, Sun Bum sunscreen and Sun Bum hair leave-in conditioner, Jean Paul Gaultier Scandal perfume – and always a few pairs of blingy slides, perfect footwear for day or night!

We love resort wear that can take us from the beach or poolside to that cool rooftop bar overlooking the ocean. Any tips or tricks on how to look fresh and stylish after taking a little dip?

Aegeanblue kaftans are all designed to take you from beach to bar with that cool Greek island vibe, so team them up with some unique embellished or unusual slides or heels. You can also tuck or tie your kaftans up in different ways to give it your own unique touch – I am always changing the way I wear my kaftans to keep the look fresh and different. Get in front of a mirror and be inventive! Choose pieces in natural fibres – silk, cotton or silk blends, they flow and drape nicely. Embrace your salty beach hair and spritz it with leave-in conditioner (I love Sun Bum 3 in 1) and give it a scrunch up for volume. A pair of gorgeous earrings, an anklet or a wrist adorned with a bracelet will finish off the look.

You must have picked up some amazing treasures in your travels. What is your most cherished item and why?

I only ever buy pieces overseas if I fall in love with them – they have to be completely unique and something I wouldn’t see again back home. I love homewares and most recently bought back a small gold and bronze handmade olive tree in Athens to add to my collection. On our last trip to Cyprus my husband bought me a stunning ring that I’ll treasure forever. My favourite things are the ones that make me remember the beautiful moments even the gorgeous rocks I keep on my sideboard were all collected on an amazing day at Aphrodite’s Rock on our way to the Blue Lagoon in Cyprus.

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