https://www.smh.com.au-By Melissa Singer
Camilla Franks: “Had I known I had the [BRCA2] gene all those years ago, I could have had [a preventative] double mastectomy, I could have frozen eggs.”Credit:Kate Geraghty
Designer Camilla Franks, at home in Sydney, has spoken about her fertility history after having her ovaries removed to prevent further cancers. Credit:Kate Geraghty
Camilla Franks, the high-profile fashion designer dubbed Australia’s “kaftan queen”, doesn’t really “do” regrets.
Still, reflecting on her three-year health struggle, which began with a breast cancer diagnosis in 2018 and this month required the removal of her ovaries, Franks, 45, wishes she had frozen her eggs years earlier.
“I went to the meetings, and then didn’t do it [egg freezing] because I was busy with work,” she says. “If I had my time again, I would have prioritised that – [it was a] big mistake, I really regret it now.”
Launched in 2004, Franks’ brand, Camilla, has become one of Australia’s most successful fashion exports through its bold, printed resort pieces that are also loved by celebrity fans including Beyonce and Oprah Winfrey. But amid her commercial acclaim and fame, Franks always yearned for a child.
In January 2018, Franks gave birth to her daughter, Luna, now three, who she shares with her fiance, Welsh musician JP Jones. But in April that year, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and found to carry a harmful variant of the breast cancer gene BRCA2, putting her at high risk of developing ovarian cancer, fallopian tube cancer, and other diseases. And while egg-freezing carries no guarantees, Franks says it could have at least raised her odds of having more children.
“Had I known I had the [BRCA2] gene all those years ago, I could have had [a preventative] double mastectomy, I could have frozen eggs, I could have done those things to make my life a little less challenging,” she says.
After a double mastectomy in late 2018, Franks was determined to try for a second baby. But after five unsuccessful rounds of IVF, in late 2020 she had her fallopian tubes removed and, three weeks ago, her ovaries, effectively forcing her body into early menopause.
“I kept putting off this lifesaving surgery in the hope I could pull off another little miracle,” she told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.
“My doctors said, ‘You fought to live, and we can’t afford to lose you.’ I wanted to carry another baby and have a tribe but I have to accept I will have the one biological child, and I am so blessed to have her.”
Franks and Jones are now investigating adoption or surrogacy, either in Australia or the UK – both countries only allow “altruistic” surrogacy, meaning the surrogate cannot be paid.
Seeing supermodel and humanitarian activist Naomi Campbell, 50, having her first child, reportedly via a surrogate though Campbell is yet to speak publicly on the matter, has inspired Franks in recent weeks.
“More women need to talk about [surrogacy] because it’s becoming more common,” she says. “It needs to be more accessible for women in this country.”
As she and Jones explore the options for expanding their family, Franks remains committed to spreading cancer awareness beyond her customer base, which is what led her to sign on to appear on the reality series, Celebrity Apprentice, which is currently on Nine, owner of this masthead.
Fashion week: five events to watch
Monday: The late Carla Zampatti will be honoured with a space at Carriageworks to bear her name.
Tuesday: Sydney-based Bassike is one of the brands holding a consumer show this year, a new initiative to throw the once industry-only event open to the public somewhat.
Wednesday: Several brands including Beare Park, Rumer and Auteur make their fashion week debut in 2021.
Thursday: On the anniversary of the Mabo native title decision, an Indigenous fashion showcase, presented by David Jones, will have an all First Nations line-up of models, too.
Friday: The week will close with a consumer-facing group show to mark 25 years of Australian Fashion Week. The show will feature Cue, Camilla and Marc and more.
Fashion week runs from May 31-June 4. australianfashionweek.com
After all, the show’s filming last October couldn’t have come at a worse time. Franks was midway through IVF, “solo mum-ing” while Jones was in the UK (after returning for the Australian summer, he is back there, awaiting Franks and Luna to join him in June). The day before shooting began, she had a cluster of eggs harvested, only to find out a few days later they hadn’t survived.
“After going through breast cancer and [seeing] people you love die … you’ll do anything it takes … to drive change to make sure no one has to go through this hideous journey,” says Franks, whose prizemoney on the show is supporting the National Breast Cancer Foundation.
She says appearing on the show, in which she has clashed with fellow contestants including comedian Ross Noble, was “terrifying”.
“All my weaknesses were so exposed,” she says. “It was a crazy circus. Do I want to do it again? Probably not. Am I proud of doing it at one of my most vulnerable times? Absolutely.”
Before Franks has the Pfizer vaccine and departs for the UK, where she will work for the next six months, she will speak at next week’s Afterpay Australian Fashion Week in Sydney, where she last appeared on the runway just weeks after her initial diagnosis. Her designs will also close the Future of Fashion finale runway on June 4.
Health wise, Franks is 18 months from the pivotal five-year mark since her cancer went into remission, at which point her long-term survival climbs substantially. “There’s always that fear that the devil’s going to come back,” she says. “Every cancer survivor feels that … but you try not to pay attention to it – you don’t want to live your life like that.”
Melissa Singer is National Fashion Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.