It wasn’t until two years ago that Nicole Warne—the power blogger, street style star, model and social media extraordinaire otherwise known as Gary Pepper Girl—started wearing black.
“I used to think that black was… common,” she confesses to Harper’s BAZAAR, interestingly, while clad in a black lace dress herself. Face stripped bare of any makeup, a constellation of freckles dotting her sun-kissed cheeks, the 26-year-old stares at her own outfit and smiles sheepishly at the irony of the situation: “When I was younger, I tried to be as different as I could be. People find their confidence and then embrace colour, but for me, I did everything the opposite way. I embraced black only after I felt like I didn’t need to prove myself anymore.”
Warne should know first-hand how fortunes can easily change with an Instagram post, let alone the difference a couple of years can bring. After all, her trajectory to the top of fashion’s hierarchy is often described as nothing short of remarkable. Alongside the likes of Chiara Ferragni of The Blonde Salad and Aimee Song of Song of Style, the Australian beauty’s meteoric rise to fame in the digital wave has also become the textbook example of how entrepreneurial bloggers have become fashion’s new power players.
The half-Japanese and half-Korean Warne’s unique surname comes from her adoptive Australian parents who took her in when she was just three months old. “My family lives in Tasmania and there’s, like, solar power, a rainwater tank and 18 chickens there,” she says fondly of the pillars in her life. “My parents had nothing, but everything. They are just the happiest people in the world and worked for themselves.”
The hardworking ethics of the older Warnes rubbed off on their precocious daughter, who by age eight was expressing herself through clothes in ways her peers never would. “I remember going to this caravan park called Busselton in Western Australia for holidays and I always couldn’t decide what I should wear,” Warne says. That meant multiple outfit changes at the expense of missing out on mini fishing excursions to the lake with her cousins, for example. “At the end of it all, I’d step out in some hideous two-piece rainbow outfit!”
Throughout high school, Warne harboured dreams of being a fashion designer. And like many before her, clothes were Warne’s armour. “Everyone has a bit of a tough time in school. I didn’t go to a multi-cultural high school. I was the odd one out, so I thought, if I’m going to be bullied for the way I look, I might as well be as different as I can be,” Warne adds matter-of-factly. Fashion quickly became an escape. “One day, I found vintage and simply fell in love. It allowed me to be unique.”
In 2009, while interning at the Australian editions of Grazia and Harper’s BAZAAR, Warne realised that the climb to the top of fashion’s food chain would be a long process. “It was an incredible experience, but I wanted things to move faster. And then, I had an epiphany. Why not try my own thing? If it doesn’t work out, I can always go back and start from somewhere again,” she says.
So she decided to peddle her, by then, sizeable collection of vintage clothes through an eBay store and blog named Gary Pepper Vintage. Six months later, it became a registered company and Warne was selling her carefully curated finds to women all over the world. The enterprising Warne quickly capitalised on her soaring popularity and shifted her focus away from selling clothes to building the Gary Pepper Girl persona. Brands such as Chanel, Valentino and Chopard quickly took notice. In 2013, Warne bagged the honour of becoming the first blogger in the world to be signed to IMG.
Since then, there’s been no stopping Warne’s ascent to prominence. All the milestones in her life—from the time she made her front-row debut at fashion week, to her photographer fiancé’s romantic proposal amidst cherry blossom trees in Tokyo—are made available to the tens of thousands of visitors to her website and over 1.6 million followers on her Instagram account to see.
“A lot of people said to me in the beginning: “If you want, just ask for help.” But I’m a very proud person and I didn’t want to call on favours,” Warne recalls on doing things her own way. “I realise now that there are people who’d go all out to guide you, bringing with them 20 years of experience. Don’t be afraid to seek help.” Today, Warne is backed by an intimate team of three whom she trusts wholeheartedly to take her brand to greater heights.
Without a doubt, Warne is a beneficiary of the digital revolution’s impact on fashion. The proliferation of the smartphone in our daily lives has, in some ways, led to the crumbling of fashion’s high and mighty walls. But Warne insists that fashion’s aspirational value has never decreased despite it being more accessible to the masses. And in her books, social media is a beat that’s going to get bigger and louder. How brands will harness the power of this ever-evolving tool with infinite possibilities is what keeps Warne excited about the future. “We live in times that are experimental and inspiring. But I don’t think people know what’s right or wrong for digital. Ultimately, I think it’s about expressing yourself in the most creative ways,” Warne observes.
At the end of the day, one of Warne’s main aims with her social media platforms is to create a safe and positive haven for girls who look up to her. The Gary Pepper Girl, she offers, will always be someone who finds beauty in every situation. “It doesn’t have to be the way a caption is written or the way a photo is edited,” she says. Whether she’s captivating the audience with her insightful prose or breath-taking photos, Warne is also learning the importance of living in the present instead of always seeking the next.
Only then can she truly call it a picture-perfect moment.
By Gerald Tan
Photographed by Yu Tsai
Styled by Windy Aulia
Model: Nicole Warne/IMG
Makeup: Nigel Stanislaus using YSL Beauty
Hair: Marc Teng using Kevin Murphy
Digital Imaging: Luis Jaime/88 Phases
Photographer’s assistants: Melvin Leong, Vincent Ng
Assistant stylist: Debby Kwong
Styling assistant: Syed Zulfadhli
Fashion intern: Gaby Aw
Videography: Anue Management