For most of us, Hollywood is a make-believe world that only comes to life on the big screen with buttered popcorn in one hand and a melting choc-top in the other. For Naomi Terblanche,encountering world-famous actors in Oscar-winning films wasn’t limited to the cinema – it was, in fact, her day job.
words simone short photos warren reed
The world of films and fashion started out as distant as Los Angeles itself for the born-and-bred Foster girl. As a child, she kept herself entertained with a miniature sewing machine, creating outfits for her Barbies … and that’s where she thought her career in fashion would end.
“I never thought I was going to get into fashion; it wasn’t something I ever contemplated in high school,” says Naomi, who describes her teenage self as shy and somewhat insecure. “I was really good at tailoring and sewing, and drafting and making patterns, but I wasn’t great at designing, so I never thought fashion was going to be my career.”
Nonetheless, Naomi applied and was accepted into a fashion course in Geelong, where, as a student, she found herself backstage at runway shows for Morrissey and Edmiston, Cue and Witchery.
Following a work-experience stint at Channel 9, Naomi’s future in film still wasn’t obvious – despite the fact that it seemed to be written in the stars. “I simply didn’t contemplate it, even though everything was telling me that’s where I was going to end up,” Naomi says. “I thought I was going to have to draft patterns for the rest of my life!”
At 21 years old, Naomi moved to Sydney and had settled into a job for fashion retailer Portmans when she heard through a friend that the newly-constructed Fox Studios was recruiting. “I didn’t think I would get in … because it’s Fox Studios after all!” Naomi laughs, with hints of that shy teenager peeking through two decades later. “But the opportunity came up and I applied.” Two weeks later, the aspiring seamstress got the call. “You’re in,” they said. “You’re the first one we want in our wardrobe department.”
Dedicated to her craft, Naomi’s confidence doesn’t falter when she tells you she was good at her job. Looking back, she thinks it was these attributes that sent her headfirst into Hollywood – or the Australian version of it. “I would just buckle down and do it. I was always taken along by the designers to see how things were being made, but I’d just stand in the background, take notes and do the work. I think that’s what basically got me into Fox; I could sew, and I could fix sewing equipment if I needed to.”
When she first arrived, Naomi worked on the Backlot, where visitors gain an insight into how films are made, and are entertained with street performances, which she created costumes for.Then the Titanic Experience arrived at Fox. Labelled one of the best walk-through attractions of all time, it included hundreds of props from the blockbuster movie, all shipped
to Sydney. Highlights were a 65-foot replica of the ill-fated ship, and the Renault car from Rose and Jack’s famous love scene – complete with Rose’s handprint on the back window. With a flair for early 1900s fashion, Naomi was in charge of creating costumes for the attraction, eventually running the whole wardrobe department; a job she describes as her “crowning moment”.
But the real magic was happening in a neighbouring studio, as Naomi was soon to discover. “It just so happened that when I was there, they were filming movies like Star Wars, Moulin Rouge, The Matrix and Mission Impossible,” Naomi says, casually listing some of the biggest blockbusters to grace our screens.
“Every now and then they’d say they were short someone for the day, so I’d stay back until 5 o’clock in the morning sewing – for example – hundreds of pantaloons for Moulin Rouge, or fixing a costume for one of the big stars.” Who they were for, Naomi says, she never knew. “I wouldn’t have a clue who I was sewing for,” she admits. “I’d watch the movie when it was finished and that’s when I’d go, ‘Oh, I remember that!’”
Did she ever focus on the fact that she was a part of something millions of people around the world would go on to watch? “Absolutely not!” she laughs.
“The craziness was that I’d sit down at the end of a production day on a table where Keanu Reeves was having a beer, and I’d barely realise it was him. Or I’d walk in the same gate that Ewan McGregor would ride through on his motorbike and say,‘How are you?’ He even got to know my name. None of that sunk into my head. It was just like talking to anyone else. It’s not like today – I’ve run into the Hemsworth brothers down the street and gotten all gooey, but back then, to me, it was just a job.”
Naomi says the glitz and glamour of fashion and films wasn’t all it’s made out to be. “You didn’t want to make a mistake, because you were working with really expensive fabrics – but then at the end of production they’d just throw it all out! It’s not all precise, either. An outfit might look amazing from a distance, but in reality it’s probably gaffer-taped from the back, or glued or stapled on! Half the time it’s been ripped or torn and you just have to quickly fix it. I remember a fashion show where the crotches on men’s pants didn’t fit and we had to gaffer-tape them up the middle and just send them down the runway. I remember doing that on set too. It’s crazy stuff.”
If there’s one thing that was genuine, it was Naomi’s passion for her job. “As soon as you walked through the doors each day, it was like playing make-believe … like walking into a magical land. I loved getting up and going to work, even on my days off. And then one day it all just ended. I came in and they said: “We’re closing. That’s it. We’re done.”
Feeling a little lost, Naomi packed up her whole life and moved to London, where she combined working in fashion and hospitality with backpacking in Europe. On returning to Australia, she started her own children’s clothing line, which was sold in many European countries.
Her career in fashion, however, was put on hold when her son Aiden was born at only 24 weeks. Referring to him as her “million dollar baby”, Naomi says she gave up fashion to look after him and her daughter Madeline for the next four years.
Now settled back in South Gippsland, her love for sewing has come full circle, with Naomi getting back behind the machine and selling some of her creations in her Wonthaggi cafe, House of Blanche.
Having recently overcome depression, Naomi says sewing is her therapy. Raising two happy and healthy children and running her beautiful cafe, the world is truly her oyster. And you can tell she’s itching to embark on the next adventure. “What I’d really love to do is have a big shed where people can come and create. That would be my ultimate dream.”
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