Adrian Norris, Aje's Chief Executive Officer in his Sydney office. Photography by Jordan Turner.
The Aje Resort 2023 runway show at Afterpay Australian Fashion Week (AAFW) was a journey of the senses. Held at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, the set was covered in soft total textures, as if carved out of stone, cocooning guests between art and earth. Symbolic of a cave-like space with music designed to instil nostalgia, one could imagine it being presented underground in Paris or New York, or a time and place that could exist anywhere.
A few days before the show, T Australia caught up with the co-founders of Aje, Adrian Norris and Edwina Forest, to talk about their love for artistry and how they express this through their new collection titled “Sculptura”. We meet at their Surry Hills headquarters and sit on a boucle couch in a sunlit room, surrounded by the Resort ‘23 collection, accessories, model casting boards, and textiles.
The idea of sculpture as an art form is to create realistic or abstract forms, initially using stone, ceramics, wood and other hard materials. The concept of structure coming from the earth, how the form interacts with natural elements, and the sculptors’ philosophies have influenced the Aje Resort 2023 collection. “We’re really inspired by the established and emerging sculptors. We’ve always done a lot with volume, and it was just about finding different ways to interpret that and different ways to create shapes,” says Adrian Norris, the brand’s Chief Executive Officer.
“We continually returned to the way in which [sculptors] use the earth as both the inspiration and subject of their art. During the design process, we were particularly drawn to the vivid hues found in the vast landscape art installations of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, the undulating hills of Maya Lin’s ‘Storm King Wavefield’, as well as Marlene Knudsen’s sinuous stoneware, and the modern florals seen in Simone Bodmer-Turner and Emma Kohlmann’s collaborative creations,” adds Creative Director, Edwina Forest.
It may feel like translating the idea and philosophy of sculpture into fabric and fashion don’t correlate, but Forest is a veteran at taking inspiration from artistic presences. In the past, Aje has created an immersive experience with fashion and art being created simultaneously alongside Sydney artist Chanel Tobler. The influence appears in the sculpturesque silhouettes, from draping, beading and asymmetrical accents as well as voluminous sleeves and bodices to create structure.
“There’s so much detail in our garments. When we have something as big an inspiration as sculpture, it allows us to go and really play with all those details and get so much stuff onto all the pieces, which I think is what makes them special,” says Norris.
Against the tonality of the runway, the Resort ‘23 prints in florals and freeform brushstrokes brought life, but it was the blue hues and pink statements that claimed us. It is a deepening of Aje’s perennial reverence for nature and art. “As we mark our return to Afterpay Australian Fashion Week, it feels especially poignant to be finding inspiration in places so true to our core, but in a way that feels honest for where we are today and where we hope to be in the future,” says Forest.
Like art itself, fashion is all about old becoming new again. For longtime Aje followers, their original, signature sequinned mini skirt has had a reinvention and return in the collection. The details in Aje make it different, with sleeves pulled and puffed and tucked. “We’re known for, like, big sleeves and extravagance. But how do we kind of pare that back a little bit? And so there are definitely elements of that in the clothing. We wanted this set to really kind of resonate with that as well,” says Norris.
Aje’s collections are ideated more than a year before they reach us. It is a creative process that Forest describes as “a constant flow between the different worlds we create each season. The creative process can be sparked by something as simple as a vase, a stone, a fabric technique, a feeling, a song playing on the sidewalk.” With that idea setting a limitless boundary, one can only wonder what world Aje will take us next.
New Zealand designer Wynn Crawshaw of Wynn Hamlyn in his Auckland atelier. Photography by Nicole Brannen.
When the time comes to start the creative process of a new collection, Wynn Crawshaw of Wynn Hamlyn likes his studio to be completely clean. It is his key to opening any kind of innovative door. “To be able to start, it takes a meditative clarity in your head. And I can’t have that if I have any kind of mess in the studio, and it’s almost psychotic. When that time comes around, my team know that, and they’re like, ‘Oh, we better clean up'”, says Crawshaw.
The New Zealand designer brings his eponymous label to Afterpay Australian Fashion Week (AAFW) for the very first time in 2022. “Over the last few years, Australia has become a second home with the brand in the sense that there’s a lot of stores that have bought into the brand and a lot of awareness now. We just felt like it was a great time to come over here and have a party,” says Crawshaw.
T Australia caught up with Crawshaw in Sydney and in his studio in Auckland to chat about his design processes and the vision for his Resort ‘23 collection. Crawshaw knocks back a cold-pressed green juice during the interview before he gets ready for model castings.
One could compare the clamour of comings and goings surrounding fashion week to that of an airport; the new collection is inspired by and is called Departure Lounge. “It’s about when you get to the departure lounge, and you see all these different looks that are collages of what people have been doing and where they’ve come from and where they’re going.
“It’s about the looks that you see where people are wearing their holiday shirt, with their business shoes that they couldn’t fit in their carry on. Or people wearing the puffer jacket, even though it’s 30 degrees because they’re on their way to Nepal,” says Crawshaw, pointing out print elements from the new collection hanging on portable racks nearby.
There are two pieces still being made overseas that will tie the story together. It is here that Crawshaw mentions he will be visiting a departure lounge himself to fly to Bali four days before the runway show. Nothing says Fashion Week like last-minute changes.
Crawshaw uses a highly-skilled group in Bali to hand-make the brand’s signature macrame pieces. In this collection, there is an extra element of beading involved. “The beads were made in India, which ran overtime and only arrived in Bali about ten days ago, with quite a small hole through the middle of the bead. It’s a lot even just to thread the cord through the bead once, and I want to give them time to finish. I’m going to fly back with the pieces from Bali on Sunday,” says Crawshaw.
The brand’s AAFW runway took place in a long, underground tunnel below Sydney’s Central Station late at night. Visually, it’s a tribute to the power of contrasting colours, looks, and possible destinations. Much like everything Wynn Hamlyn does, it is different, and the buzz amongst buyers, editors and the fashion industry alike cements this as one of the shows of the week.
Amongst the tailoring, denim, and macrame, there is a particular piece that is sentimental to Crawshaw, a silhouette inspired by his right hand at work, Tandi. “She got married a year ago and it was an amazing day. Lots of emotions, her dad had passed away, and many things were involved with her wedding. We did her dress. And we’ve got a piece in this show that’s essentially her wedding dress,” says Crawshaw.
Nostalgia exists in the fabric of the Resort ’23 collection. The Hawaiian print shirts and bubble pleated popcorn tops play to the pieces we’d buy at overseas markets to create the quintessential resort look. Now it is shared through the colourful, contrasted and unique lens that is Wynn Hamlyn.
In a quiet seaside town in Portugal, where ticket stubs are still used for the train, sweetness can be found in manual actions. Fishers drop their anchors from small boats in the Atlantic to cast a line as the sun rises. The town’s port bustles with the arrival of glamorous vacationers ready for their Slim Aarons postcard holiday, and families live in little homes plastered with vintage tiles that metropolitan designers pay exuberant amounts of money to replicate in their city homes.
It’s this visual landscape that Sophie Holt, Oroton’s Creative Director, wanted to bring to their Resort 2023 collection this year. T Australia met with Holt on a sunny morning at Oroton’s head office in North Sydney to get an early preview of the new collection. It’s a story that progresses as each look makes its way down the runway and becomes a tome for the long-awaited European holiday.
Inside Oroton’s workroom, the story of the collection becomes clear. There are new season accessories and bags covering all surfaces, fabrics and mood boards in one corner, and the collection wraps its way around the room. The colours flow, and the story of Resort ’23 becomes crystal clear.
You would be wrong to assume that starting a collection for a legacy brand, like Oroton, would begin with sketches. Holt and her team have a tactile approach by focusing on colour and textures. Something that Oroton has believed in since its debut in 1938. “We have a pile of colours and fabrics on the ground, and we pick up the little swatches of the colour, and we outfit the collection from the swatches on the ground before a single sketch has even happened. It all works together because you’ve started right at the beginning,” says Holt.
Oroton’s Resort ‘23 collection begins at the seaside as a memento of Portugal. It explores shades of blue as a new neutral. It then opens into an exploration of travels inspired by Holt’s grandmother Dame Zara, founder of the Melbourne boutique Magg and wife of former Prime Minister Harold Holt. “Her style was quite brave, strong, and simple. She never had a handbag. She always had a cane basket,” says Holt.
The details and strength in her grandmother’s work, the heavy thread and proportions, stayed with Holt. One of the standout fabrics from the collection comes from a bodice of Dame Zara’s, which had the Magg label patchworked around it in an array of colours. “It talks to the charm and sweetness that we have as part of our collection. We combine this vintage, sweet charm and this utility, slightly androgynous vibe, and we combine the two to create this sort of charming utility. And that’s been our handwriting of the apparel,” says Holt.
The vintage inspiration continues as the collection finishes in a burst of colour with garden and botanical prints, scalloped edges, rickrack trims and flat bows. It is here, in the grand finale, that we meet a dress Holt has reinterpreted from one of her grandmother’s old sketches. Although the final dress has been modernised, it is the idea that everything in this collection has an underlying theme of vintage inspiration, travel and exploration. “We’re an Australian brand. So to me, it’s about freshness and joy and simplicity and not being fussy. And there’s a sweetness to it that I feel,” says Holt.
Now, at the Oroton show at Australian Fashion Week, on a white runway with a monochrome nod to walking under trees in the garden, the colours tell the story. One might picture themselves walking off a private chartered boat, through a seaside village port, into the town for lunch before finishing with a garden stroll; the sweetness of escapism.
Sophie Holt is renowned for interpreting the times, yet it isn’t only Oroton’s resort collection that holds the memories and candour of Dame Zara. It is Holt herself, who notes, “I like breaking a few rules, I like being brave. You got to have an opinion. Otherwise, you’re just going to look the same as everyone else. And I’m not about doing that. And I don’t think our customers want that either.”