American landscape looks a little bland to Linda Jackson. "It's sort of beige and olivy," says the 36-year-old Australian, adorned with countless beads, red-threaded corncob braids, opals on every finger and a bright print dress she labels "bush couture."
Down Under fashion, you may conclude, is not synonymous with subtle. And as a central figure in the Australian design movement, Jackson takes extroverted dressing to its limit, concocting hand-printed dresses that echo the wildflowers and Outback earth tones of her country.
"And the birds here aren't flocks of colorful parrots, as in Australia," she adds, her wide, blue eyes painted in black and gold.
Ten years ago, she says, people "couldn't deal with" her sense of color. "To be selling in this country, it was too soon."
But now the raucous hues and primitive lines of what she calls "recognizably Australian" fashion have become a "selling point" for Jackson in the United States.
She recently brought her spring collection, priced about $400 to $3,000, to Neiman-Marcus, Beverly Hills. Jackson prefers to see her clothes modeled barefoot, but in deference to local tastes, they weren't.
Jackson tends to wear her own designs layered, pattern on pattern.
"I've always loved (Henri) Matisse, (Claude) Monet and (Paul) Gauguin. What you see is my way of painting," she says. The subject is nearly always Australia: "Not the culture," she says, "but the land."
"It's where I live and come from. If I'd been an Australian living in New York, my clothes would have looked completely different."
Gum tree leaves, desert stones and abstract aboriginal art all find their way into her hand-printed fabrics. Jackson also turns to the fluorescent colors of Australian opals for her hand-printed silks, and to the New Zealand paua shell for the purple, blues and greens of her fabrics.
In contrast, she swears her apartment on a beach near Sydney is totally plain and patternless: "It's high-tech in the bush."
Jackson studied design and photography and designed briefly in Paris before going to work for Australian designer Jenny Kee in 1973. She has since opened a Bush Couture shop in Sydney, expanded into furniture textiles and has pieces of her work appearing in museums in Melbourne and Canberra.
She believes the Australian design movement, which includes Stuart Membery, Prue Acton and Ken Done, became a force when it stopped looking to Europe or the United States--and started printing its own fabrics for "fresh, colorful clothes."
"Australian fashion can't add anything to American or Parisian," she says.
"It's got to be something else."