She’s best known for her Lady Gaga moment but there’s more to Gympie-based fashion designer and stylist, Cindy Vogels. She’s as passionate about advocating for female, regional and diverse young artists as she is about fashion.
She also knows how to pivot: turning low points in life into high points.
She did this almost ten years ago when her marriage to a high profile sportsman ended suddenly (after 18 years and four children together). Cindy decided to bring years of design ideas to life and launch her career.
Now in her fiftieth year, a birthday that freaks some women out, Cindy is as busy elevating young creatives in Gympie as she is planning a fabulous birthday party. She’s also dressing her music clientele across Australia, from her production studio in Gympie.
Changing the face of Gympie
In September, Cindy collaborated with Gympie-based photographer, Brea Martin, on a fashion photoshoot of Gympie’s diverse young people. The models are dressed in clothes designed and made in Gympie by Racy & Lucky, Cindy’s fashion label.
‘We wanted to showcase how young people in Gympie are fighting for diversity, inclusion and visibility in regional Queensland,’ says Cindy.
‘We did the shoot in Mary Street, the main street, because we wanted the photo backdrops recognisable as Gympie.’
‘We wanted to represent Gympie and its young people in a way that’s never been done before.’
The resulting shots feature in the October edition of avant-garde French fashion magazine Moevir Paris.
Cindy and photographer Brea Martin generously volunteer their time for projects like the diverse fashion shoot. Cindy says projects like this one are important to her because she’s dedicated to supporting artists to work where they live and putting Gympie’s vibrant arts scene on the map.
‘It used to be that anyone creative had to commute or move to the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast or Brisbane. Gympie is a country town with diverse, creative and progressive young people so why not activate their creativity right here?’
Commuting is something Cindy knows a lot about.
Early modelling and acting career
As a teenager who grew up on a farm in Nambour, Cindy modelled and acted in national advertising campaigns for Coke and other big brands.
‘Modelling wasn’t a long term career choice for me but it was valuable experience being the talent on the other side of the camera,’ she says.
Modelling jobs meant constant long commutes to Brisbane and the Gold Coast.
‘It’s heartbreaking with the current cost of living that Gympie’s young creatives have to travel away from their support and community networks to succeed.
‘I’m aiming to give young people in Gympie that metro experience right here.’
Talking with Cindy, it’s clear that Gympie itself is also a passion.
It’s where her marriage ended and it’s where she pulled off her biggest pivot from struggling single Mum to internationally recognised designer.
Ten years ago, after travelling the world to support her (then) husband’s career, Cindy was back in Gympie where her parents have settled acreage.
Reeling from the separation, with no super, car or income, she decided to stay and bravely start a creative business.
‘Gympie is a regional utopia and it’s where my creativity really bloomed,’ she says.
‘I was armed only with my wild creativity and the sewing skills instilled in me by my mother.’
Cindy’s Mum was a dressmaker, designing bridal wear and sportswear including costumes for synchronised swimming in the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane.
Sewing since childhood
Taught to stitch since she was eight years old, Cindy helped sew sequins on the swimming costumes.
She got an Associate Diploma in fashion design from TAFE, was a finalist in the RAQ Fashion Design Awards and worked in fashion for a while but the mainstream fashion industry wasn’t for her.
Cindy married, had children and put her career on hold, while keeping her design ideas in a diary.
‘It wasn’t until my world fell apart that I cranked my designing into fifth gear,’ says Cindy.
The ‘Gympie to Gaga’ story is fairly well known but for people (like this writer) who hadn’t heard it, here’s how the whole whirlwind went down.
It started with hats
Cindy built a bespoke hat-making business, The Devoted Milliner, catering mainly to Gympie Turf Club events. Gympie’s race-going community is quite stylish and Cindy’s business took off from the start.
A few months later she posted a photo of one of her designs on Instagram and went to bed.
‘The next morning there was an email from Lady Gaga’s design team, Brandon Maxwell Studios in New York, asking me to contribute to Gaga’s designs for her Cheek to Cheek tour with Tony Bennett.
‘I tried to stay calm. I went to fit a client and said I don’t know if this is real. My client stopped the fitting, called the phone number on the email and handed the phone to me.
A member of Brandon Maxwell’s team was on the phone and said ‘What are you doing? We want you to work for us.’
Cindy became one of 26 designers contracted to submit designs in several shipments over a five month period prior to the tour. There was no payment because sadly, often the deal with famous people is designers work for exposure. There was no guarantee Gaga would wear anything Cindy designed.
‘I went into sixth gear, working around the clock. I did six shipments of 8-10 hats. I was stressed, poor and working long hours. My kids were worried. I told them it will be worth it.’
Lady Gaga hat made from Gympie client’s offcuts
‘One night I scooped up the offcuts of black Sinemay (mouldable mesh used to make hats) from a Gympie client’s racetrack hat and fashioned them into a crown with black duck feathers and velvet ribbon.
‘This was the hat Gaga chose to wear. She published a photo on her social media where she’s wearing the feathered hat with Tony Bennett.
‘I did a lot of national media but it didn’t lead to work at first. I lost clients in Gympie who assumed I’d be busy and expensive. The Gaga moment almost wiped out my business.’
Cindy pivoted again.
She came up with the slogan ‘We dress the music’ and decided to grow her millenary business to a custom garment design business for musicians.
She posted the Gaga photo with #wedressthemusic on her socials and inquiries starting coming in from musicians.
‘Gaga’s team were also showing interest in my garments and on their two week deadline for the tour, I developed my fashion brand Racy & Lucky.’
The business thrived.
Now she dresses the stars
Cindy’s client list includes Regurgitator, Jaguar Jonze, Emily Wurramara, Flowerkid, Dune Rats, country star Kirsty Lee Akers, Tia Gostelow, Lime Cordiale and Idris Elba. She’s worked for the major record labels, London Fashion Week and Eurovision.
Last year she won her most treasured accolade: The Australian Women in Music Award for Excellence in Image Making, where she was described as a trailblazer changing the face of music.
‘The award meant a lot to me because it’s so hard for women musicians and the creatives who support them to make it in the music industry,’ says Cindy.
These days Cindy is recognised as an avant-garde designer and an influential voice for artists in Gympie and Queensland.
Her design business is sustainable, using pre-loved garments and fabrics where possible and she offers artists the chance to rent, rather than buy, from her collection.
‘Musicians need to show the world who they are and costumery that’s bespoke, that they’ve had a hand in, is a great way to do that. It feels like really beautiful work.’
Musicians love her
Cindy has worked on two album covers with Jaguar Jonze who thanked her with a handwritten note on the albums reading:
‘Dear Cindy, thank you so much for all of your hard work, talents, generosity, kindness, patience & belief in this project. What a wild ride it was to get this out there. I’m so proud of what we created together (as always !) Deena 2021 xxoo ANTIHERO’
Regurgitator frontman Quan Yeomans told musicfeeds.com their 2019 Quarter Pounder tour was extra fun because ‘We have this cool fashion designer named Cindy Vogels on board and we are doing ridiculous, extravagant costume changes.’
One of Cindy’s current clients, up and coming moody pop artist Ayla, says ‘I admired Cindy and saw many of her amazing pieces on musicians I follow. She’s a beautiful person who goes above and beyond to create magic.’
Next year, Cindy will celebrate her tenth anniversary of launching Racy & Lucky and the Lady Gaga moment with a solo exhibition and event.
Beyond 2024, she’s excited about the future.
‘My children have always been my top priority. They will be more independent soon which means I’ll be freer for international travel. I would love to dress some of the rising stars in the US, the UK, Europe and anywhere in the world.’
In the meantime, Cindy will continue producing her ‘wildly creative’ designs while generously giving big chunks of time supporting both young and creative folk in Gympie and surrounds.
‘For me, it’s always been about what am I going to do with the big moments of fame I’ve had to create legacy and make a difference.’
‘I worked really hard to turn the Lady Gaga moment into a successful business and brand.
‘I use my business and brand and creativity to support artists in Gympie, Queensland and beyond.
‘Otherwise it was all just a feathered hat’.
FEATURE PHOTO of Cindy Vogels in pom poms by Jody Haines