Four Melbourne fashion labels are pushing the industry’s boundaries with radical new approaches to design, fabric and retail. By Michelle Bateman. Photography by Adrian Lander.
In 2012, founder Jade Sarita Arnott was running Arnsdorf from New York and feeling a growing sense of disillusionment with the fashion industry. From the relentless sales cycles to the manufacturing practices, it was no longer a world in which she wished to participate. So she put the label on hold and began exploring new ways of working. “It was this exciting time of feeling you don’t need to follow the rules of what's always been done. You can just do things your own way,” Arnott recalls.
Five years later, in May 2017, Arnsdorf was back. The timeless elegance that had earned it so many admirers – from Garance Doré to Cate Blanchett – was still apparent, but this time Arnott had created a company based on sustainability and transparency. With the exception of denim, every piece is made in her Melbourne factory by a small team who are personally credited on each garment’s production. On the ecommerce site, every product’s price is broken down to expose its components, and the brand is also exploring blockchain technology as a way to further its transparency.
“We have more control over little things as well. The industry standard is still to put a plastic sleeve over every garment in the factory. Because we have our own factory, we never do that.”
In its boutique and pop-up stores, Arnsdorf is also experimenting with new retail models to minimise wastage, keeping bestsellers in stock and offering a made-to-order service on seasonal items. Customers can try their size and the finished order is shipped within a week. It requires a little more patience, but is worth waiting for.
As Arnott notes: “There’s a bit of a stigma around fast food now – you’re not always proud that you had it. And I think that’s starting to happen with fast fashion.”
Picture the type of man you think might order a beautifully tailored, custom-made suit. He might be slightly older, perhaps he’s planning for a special occasion or he works in finance and has a traditional air of Savile Row about him. At MNDATORY, this imaginary customer couldn’t be further from reality.
“Generally our customers are younger urban males, aged 18 to 34,” says the label’s founder Brian Huynh.
“They’re well read, they travel, and they already know a lot about fashion.” These are men who know what they like, and MNDATORY’s rigorous tailoring with edgier details – drop crotches, higher waistlines, adventurous fabrics – fits the bill.
Having started the brand just two years ago, Huynh has grown it through a mix of made-to-order tailoring coupled with a small, seasonal ready-to-wear collection. He’s quick to trial new ideas and often uses the tailoring service as a way to test designs. Selling direct to his customers also gives him the freedom to buck the industry norm and actually deliver collections in-season, rather than months ahead of time. “Our customers are not thinking about their winter wardrobes in February; guys are more likely to step outside and say, ‘Oh, it’s cold today, I need a new coat.’”
The ASILIO girl has never been afraid to stand out from the crowd, thanks to the brand’s directional shapes and strong colour palette. But as of this season, she’ll be standing out for other reasons as well. Under the guidance of creative consultant Kate Wallace, ASILIO is undergoing a shake-up, with new fabrications and a stronger commitment to quality.
“The ASILIO customer loves the brand because it’s got that edge to it, but we want to make it so the goods are beautifully made, too,” Wallace notes. “We’re really putting a lot of emphasis on quality again.”
In particular, she’s spent time exploring sustainable fabric options, such as recycled wool and a fibre made from pineapple leaves. “We’ve just sourced a tweed for next winter that’s made from recycled materials, and it looks amazing – just like a Harris tweed.” Leather is out, as the brand becomes completely vegan-friendly. “I've found amazing PUs [polyurethanes] that have that ‘tanned’ feel of leather.”
ASILIO’s new-look resort collection is being unveiled at Melbourne Fashion Week, and the brand will then roll out year-round product drops at its newly openly Chapel Street boutique. After all, the ASILIO girl has a full social calendar and the wardrobe to match.
Lois McGruer-Fraser has never been intimidated by the idea of creating sustainable fashion. It’s just what she does. When she launched Lois Hazel in 2015, having interned overseas with high-profile labels including Marchesa and Iris van Herpen, she always planned to use ethical practices. Now the brand also offers its customers information on materials and production for each element of the garments to ensure the process is transparent.
Her collections – they now number eight – of elegant, understated classics are the antithesis to disposable fashion. Carefully considered, they are designed to last, both in terms of design and manufacture.
“If I am going to do something, I want to do it the way I want to do it, which is to focus on ethics and sustainability,” says McGruer-Fraser.
The arrival of each collection sees sustainability and transparency taken a little further. The new spring/summer 2018 line uses only dead stock textiles (excess fabrics from manufacturers) to ensure the brand minimises waste while also offering exclusive and small-run pieces.
“There is so much more I want to do, such as using more sustainable fibres and getting more insight into where the fabric was actually grown,” she adds. “But it’s exciting to be able to achieve those goals as the brand grows bigger.”
All four labels featured here will appear during Melbourne Fashion Week, taking place at various venues around the city until 7 September.
Michelle Bateman ( @michelle_bateman) is an Australian journalist and editor specialising in fashion and beauty. A sizeable shoe collection and too many lipsticks are hazards of the job.
Video: FilmByAlf Productions
Styling: Sarah Banger
Hair and make-up: Karen Burton
Models: Abbie and Boni at Giant Management