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Women of Influence – Rachael Fry


Continuing our series celebrating Women of Influence in Architecture and Interior Design, Australian Design Review spotlights the diverse career of leading curator Rachael Fry.

CRITERIA founder and creative director Rachael Fry’s curatorial approach is anchored in a deep understanding of the métier. Fry launched C. Gallery in 2021 during the depths of the pandemic – operating as a sister arm of the main CRITERIA brand which offers a bespoke collection of eclectic furniture, lighting and objects from around the globe with a particular emphasis on pieces crafted in New York and Europe.

Through CRITERIA, Fry sought to offer artists a “space to explore the blend between collectible design and three-dimensional visual arts practises”.

Fry boasts a unique ability to identify specialists in their craft, even those at the far ends of the world. “We find them and we bring them here where we can showcase their extreme talent,” Fry says. CRITERIA is launching the first Australian exhibition of acclaimed French designer Pierre Yovanovitch on March 15 2024.

The Mindy Sofa by Pierre Yovanovitch
Mindy Sofa by Pierre Yovanovitch

Fry earned her training at New York’s prestigious Parsons School of Design. With a rigorous program underpinned by the core concepts of originality and singularity, Fry was taught the importance of designing for sustainability, particularly with a focus on heirlooms and the creation of works that will be maintained for generations.

Crediting both Parsons and her graphic design background as the building blocks for her career, Fry details the rich heartbeat and talent on offer in New York that exposed her to new innovations and an incredible wealth of resources and inspiration.

Not compromising on your dreams

When starting a family, Fry and her Australian-born husband Amon Carson settled on Melbourne as the place they wanted to raise their daughter Freya. “I just adored having a little baby, but the relocation in 2013 was definitely a challenging time,” explains Fry. In a far too common expectation of new mothers to decide between their family and career, Fry had to learn how to balance the needs of her daughter and her passion for hands-on creativity. 

“For the first year of CRITERIA in 2014, I was the only one in the gallery. I didn’t have any friends here. I didn’t have a mother’s group. I know a lot of mums struggle with a loss of purpose and the development and launch of CRITERIA gave me an outlet to use my creative brain.” 

CRITERIA Collection's gallery space
CRITERIA’s gallery space

Fry says her key motivation was to show her daughter that women can be mothers while simultaneously “following their dreams”.

“I was incredibly lucky to have a partner who has always supported me and my ambitions, but that’s not to say that it doesn’t take a village,” she says. Now parents of three children, Fry explains how she and her husband still aim to carve out time in their busy schedules to reconnect. “Ultimately, we’re sharing a life path and we need to ensure that we grow in the same direction as each other,” she says.

The success of the gallery

In speaking about the balance of work and family, Fry shares insight into her businesses and how they continue to provide her with personal motivation and drive. Fry defines CRITERIA as a design gallery – a contrast to C. Gallery which has a similar focus but with a closer lens on visual arts and collectible design.

Fry attributes the success of CRITERIA to its uncompromised commitment to design.

While she acknowledges the utmost importance of producing sales, the products themselves first need to meet the intricate criteria of CRITERIA. “People know and trust us to deliver a particular kind of aesthetic, quality, craftsmanship and service,” Fry says.

A statement furniture piece on offer through CRITERIA Collection
Statement pieces on offer through CRITERIA

A uniquely rigorous sales process ensures that all of the gallery’s sales and operations consultants are informed by the fine details of each and every product and material. This allows them to convey crucial but often disregarded information to the client, such as optimal temperature environments and storage locations to really ensure that the product is fit for their specific purpose.

Channelling rejection into motivation

Entrepreneurs often have a particular vision for a space or a product, but the relationship between a designer or supplier and the gallery must be symbiotic. In striving constantly for success, a ‘no’ from a potential manufacturer can often feel like defeat.

Fry so openly details her “healthy relationship with failure”, making reference back to her education at Parsons School of Design in which her first application was rejected. “I didn’t come from an artistic background,” she says. “I didn’t know how to draw and I wasn’t accepted.” She tells her kids often: “If someone slams a door in your face, you find a way in through the backdoor or the window. If you really want something, you make it happen. It’s about will and perseverance, it’s not just about talent.”

“In finding out what I needed to do to improve at Parsons, I worked and worked to better my skills,” Fry says. This ultimately led to her being accepted into the school during the next round of inductions. “I actually kept and framed my rejection letter, as it constantly reminds me to take rejection and channel it into motivation.” Fry aims to emphasise the importance of commitment in pursuing a passion. Rejection is common but it’s how you react that will shape the whole experience.

The Australian debut of an acclaimed artist

Fry jokes she has been courting Pierre Yovanovitch for a long time. “I’ve just loved what he’s done in the interior space and his bespoke hand-made pieces,” she says. Bringing his work to Australia for his debut has been a three-year-long process with a large investment on both sides. Fry views Yovanovitch as “a genius with a very rare talent for combining comfort and the avant-garde,” making her incredibly excited to introduce him to the Australian design community.

Headshot of acclaimed French designer Pierre Yovanovitch
Pierre Yovanovitch

The installation is located in a heritage-listed space within South Yarra, co-designed by Yovanovitch and the team at CRITERIA. Fry aims to give each member of her experienced team the opportunity and breathing room to cross-pollinate across various departments and find their niche offering. Many elements of the new installation have been designed and conceptualised by her staff, and Fry seeks to celebrate this. 

Fry defines success as being respected for “doing what others aren’t.” Her words of wisdom to the 2024 30UNDER30 cohort, are to “think about your success in a holistic and lateral way.”

“While rejection is disappointing, perseverance and communication about your dedication as an artist or designer will always get you to where you want to go. You must not give up,” she says.

Fry’s exceptional career has spread across years and continents. In pushing for innovation in the world of design Fry has not only furthered the industry as a whole but she has also pioneered an inspiring path for others to follow in her footsteps.

The Roze dining table crafted by Pierre Yovanovitch
Yovanovitch’s Roze Dining Table

CRITERIA x Pierre Yovanovitch: an exclusive interior installation presenting design works by internationally acclaimed French designer Pierre Yovanovitch will launch on 15 March and run until 2 May.

The curated selection of Yovanovitch’s iconic designs will be presented for the first time in Australia at CRITERIA’s new South Yarra showroom, set within an interior custom designed by Yovanovitch exclusively for the installation.

Lead image photographed by Sean Fennessy.
Pierre Yovanovitch photography by Jean-Pierre Vaillancourt.
Gallery photography supplied by CRITERA.

For the month of March, in recognition of International Women’s day, Australian Design Review will be shining a spotlight on women of influence in architecture and interior design. While we pride ourselves on championing women and people from underrepresented groups at all times, we believe it’s necessary to recognise the achievements of individuals who have risen to the top, despite social- or industry-related imbalances. As well as bringing you profiles and project features that celebrate the work of game-changing, innovative women, we’ll also lean into the very real, yet rarely discussed realities of working in an industry that still holds onto traditional modes of working that aren’t always inclusive or supportive. It’s our privilege this month to bring you profiles and features that celebrate the unique perspectives and talents that women bring to the architecture and interior design industry.


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