Who are you?
My name is Биљана Божићкович but I go by the moniker of Billie Bossanova – it’s so much easier for skips to pronounce. I meet lots of elderly Billie’s around (I’m always chatting to the oldies) and we get a kick out of talking about our common interests and nickname. I’m very proud of my real name and my heritage so the moniker isn’t about removing my self from that, more a convenience thing. Plus I quite like having an alter ego.
My parents immigrated from Yugoslavia to Australia with my sister and I when we were little in 1970. While they worked I spent the days watching endless amounts of midday movies (Fred, Ginger, Gene, Elvis, Humphrey, Lauren, Katherine and Marilyn became my family), teaching myself how to sew on the old Singer that was left in the house we lived in and designing outfits for my paper dolls. In the first few years in Australia my mother would buy clothes from the charity shops, which to her was quite shameful, but I loved them. I clearly remember buying my first pair of 50’s stiletto’s when I was about 6 and willing myself to grow faster to be able to fit into them, which happened when I was about 12 and I wore those shoes for the next 30 years, painting them a variety of colours to match outfits I made.
When I was 13 I went to my first high school dance in a 50’s prom dress with matching shoes and handbag. That was in 1979 and everybody thought I was just REALLY into Grease, which had been released the year before. Thankfully not long after that I met other like minded people and I didn’t feel like such an alien. I started socializing with people who also felt like outsiders, punks, skins, rockabilly’s, new romantics, gays and that has been a constant in my life. I’m drawn to the theatre of life and those that take it all the way.
My love of charity shops and vintage clothes has never ever waned, and I find it very very hard to pass one without having a ‘quick look’. In fact, when I moved back to Brisbane a decade a go I bought my house mostly because it was walking distance to 2 antique centers and a dozen charity shops! I swear it’s an illness, but I just can’t help but want to save everything old and beautiful. I am getting better, mostly because I fear I’m about to be featured on some hoarders television show.
Describe your style?
This is hard because I have different looks to suit my many moods, but they are all still very much me. I never dress for anyone but myself. I go from very simple with minimal accessories to wearing hats with whole birds on them and my body weight in costume jewelry. Whilst my base wardrobe is early 40’s-mid 50’s, I have favorite pieces from the 60’s - 80’s too. I especially love 70’s does 30’s and 40’s – not the polyester stuff, but the printed cottons and silks of the Ossie Clark & Celia Birtwell collaborations. In fact it’s my love of this era that makes me want to become a textile designer one day, when I grow up.
I spent my first 40 years wearing mostly 50’s vintage and 50’s style pieces. This last decade I’ve retrograded and wear far more 40’s and 30’s. This is mostly due to finally learning how to swing dance after watching others dancing most of my life! Wearing the original clothing while dancing to swing music is the closest thing to reliving all my childhood fantasies watching those midday movies.
Who is your favourite style icon and why?
My icons tend to be the designers as much as the wearers – Edith Head, Gilbert Adrian, Walter Plunkett, Travis Banton, Christian Dior.
I would wear pretty much anything worn by Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck, Rita Hayworth, Marlene Dietrich and Marilyn Monroe on and off screen.
Modern day designers I adore are John Galliano (even though his personal views are NOT something I admire), the late great Alexander McQueen (and his muse Isabella Blow) and more recently Ulyana Sergeenko – her avant garde take on vintage is totally up my alley, if only I had the legs and budget!
In everyday life, the people I admire the most are not necessarily wearing what I would, but they are so true to themselves that they can do no wrong style wise. That’s what I find most attractive, when people know who they are and they own it in every way. They don’t dress for the compliments of others or just for the sake of what’s currently fashionable or what they think they should be wearing.
Name your 5 essential fashion pieces.
I am the QUEEN of light packing when I travel – I rarely ever take more than a handbag and hand luggage.
The 5 essential pieces for me would be
1. Well tailored, high waisted trousers – either cigarette or wide legged.
2. A flattering skirt – for me it’s either a 40’s A line or 50’s pencil skirt.
3. Comfortable mid heel shoes – either babydoll or peep toe so I can style myself either 40’s or 50’s with one pair of shoes. You have to be able to walk all day and dance all night in them.
4. A lovely coat/jacket to complete a look.
5. A bag of accessories that can turn your outfit from day to night – a beautiful belt, scarf that can be made into a turban or just wrapped around your neck, a brooch and any other bling that makes you feel special.
Do you have a special prized fashion piece in your wardrobe?
Despite losing over 20 years’ worth of collection about a decade ago, I have re-accumulated a lot of special things, each with its own reason for being in my wardrobe (if I get my hands on something with a back story it always becomes special).
But my most precious item is a 20’s/very early 30’s bias cut gown that is too big for my midget frame, and sadly also too delicate to be worn. It is the most amazing rich royal blue colour silk crepe and the detail in it makes me want to cry.
I often take her from her acid free wrapping and box and just look at her imaging who wore it and where too – and how the hell she ended up in a little vintage store in Brisbane.
What is something surprising about you?
Most people are amused at my taste in music. I think because of the way I look and my age they expect me to just listen to sweet swing songs and pretty little 50’s ditties.
My preference is for post punk/industrial/goth. I love a huge variety of other styles including Northern Soul and underground Australiana and British from the 70’s and 80’s.
And of course I do love swing, soul and jazz (though not white man jazz), and I prefer my 50’s sounds to be dark and dirty rather than Doris Day with the exception of country classics like Dolly Parton and Patsy Cline.
I think my love of fashion from 20’s-80’s is matched by my love of the music from those decades too.
Do you have a favourite sewing pattern? What is it?
I have a HUGE stash of 40’s and 50’s sewing and knitting patterns, fabric and yarn ready to be created into masterpieces – but I’ve not had the time or mental state to make much for myself the past decade.
I’m hoping that that will change in the very near future and that I’ll be boring everyone with my posts of my creating adventures.
Until then I live vicariously through other people’s creations – I’m really enjoying the resurgence of people making clothes for themselves. I hate waste and throwaway culture so this sits well with both my ethical standpoint and my aesthetic.