Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Dossier in conversation with Dress Up

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Inspired by the way dressing up can alter our persona, Melbourne-based Australian designer Stephanie Downey creates effortlessly graceful womenswear that instills an unassuming confidence in the wearer. Her label, Dress Up, has quickly become an Australian favorite for its relaxed silhouettes and quiet elegance.

Jean Kemshal-Bell: How would you describe your style?

Stephanie Downey: I design in quite a natural way. It’s usually what I can imagine being really easy on the body. I’m always looking to have something that’s flattering and comfortable—effortlessly stylish, I guess, with a strong emphasis on really great color combinations. I like to have a few strong elements in an outfit, but not too much, like a little bit of an emphasis on a beautiful drape detail or an interesting pocket detail.

Jean: Who taught you to sew?

Stephanie: I learned to sew before I studied. My mum always sewed clothes. She’s a teacher, but she is really interested in art and always encouraged me and my brothers to be really creative. I didn’t think about that too much when I was young, but it probably was a big influence.

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Jean: When did you realize you wanted to be a fashion designer?

Stephanie: It wasn’t until I was 18 or so. It wasn’t something I always wanted to do, and I’m still not really that interested in fashion. I always wanted to do art. I was always drawing as a kid. That’s what I was sure I wanted to do—be an illustrator or an artist. It wasn’t until I started making things for myself, when I was a late teenager, that I started finding it really satisfying.

Jean: So would it be fair to say you take more of an artistic approach with your work?

Stephanie: Definitely. I research from what I’m seeing in my everyday life. I watch a lot of films and my boyfriend makes video and films, so we’re both really interested in that. I look at a lot of art and photography, so that’s where I get my inspiration from. It’s usually got nothing to do with fashion, but I am inspired by clothing, the emotions to do with dressing up and the personal message that you send with what you wear.

Jean: You seem to be very interested in the transition a person makes when they dress up…

Stephanie: I think that most of us aren’t always completely confident in ourselves as we are, and I think that clothing can give you another element to your personality and can add a lot to how people perceive you. That goes for everybody. Even people who wear jeans and a t-shirt everyday… It’s still sending a strong message. I’m really interested in that vulnerability of trying to be something else, but as a really positive thing—like when you catch a glimpse of how an outfit makes somebody feel really confident. I find that to be quite inspiring for me. It’s something that keeps renewing; I see people wearing my things and if I feel like it makes them feel really good or special, that inspires me further.

Jean: What does elegance mean to you?

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Looks from F/W10

Stephanie: I think simplicity comes into it, but it’s an emotional thing as well. I think it’s something somebody gives off just by being really comfortable in themselves but at the same time quietly confident. [It’s] not trying too hard, like having put together colors and fabrics that really complement each other. And [it’s] imperfections. A few interesting imperfections are really nice in a person.

Jean: Your S/S10 collection is inspired by interiors. How would you describe the interior of your home?

Stephanie: We’re actually in a bit of a transition stage. I don’t have as much time for my home as I would like, so it’s not my ideal home at the moment. But, I like to be surrounded by things that make you feel warm and comfortable. Furniture that feels nostalgic, that has a sense of a story behind it or reminds me of something from another home that I’ve lived in—or another person.

Jean: So that’s what you were trying to bring to the collection…this idea of nostalgia and how you feel in your home?

Stephanie: Yes, I was just really taken by a few images of late ‘70s interiors and especially the movie Interiors by Woody Allen. The colors and the perfect austere settings were really inspiring. In terms of composition, I just started thinking about the asymmetry of homes and the idea of homes being tidy and untidy, and things being undone and done up, and trying to translate that idea to clothing design.

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Jean: What fabrics do you like to work with?

Stephanie: I mostly choose my fabrics based on how they feel. Often natural fibers are more pleasing to wear on the skin. They’ll have a nice quality in terms of drape, handle and finish. I use a lot of silk. I have a bit of a love affair with linen; I use it quite a lot. And I find it’s trans-seasonal because it’s quite heavy, but cool at the same time because it breathes really well. It also has a really nice drape and I really like the crunchiness, the fact it looks un-ironed.

Jean: How do you think your aesthetic has evolved since you started?

Stephanie: I look back at the collections I did and I don’t hate them, but I definitely think I’ve grown in terms of just making a collection more thorough. I’m doing more pieces now than I was when I started, and I’m also just making everything tie in together a bit better and exploring cuts, fabrics and color. I really wasn’t confident with color when I started out; I did a lot of black and white… I still like black and white.

Jean: What are you working on at the moment?

Stephanie: My job at the moment is all about production, so I’m trying to get that out of the way. I’m thinking of ideas in my head for next season. It will be S/S11 overseas and here it will be F/W11.

Jean: Do you do separate collections?

Stephanie: No, I haven’t been yet. I’ve only done a couple of seasons selling overseas, and [the collections] been a little trans-seasonal. I don’t feel capable just yet of doing two collections. It’s just a matter of adding heavier pieces to a summer collection and a few lighter pieces to a winter one. There will be a few different things but the majority of the collection will be the same concept, the same fabric and everything.

Jean: Would you consider moving overseas?

Stephanie: I’m quite open to whatever unfolds. My partner is really interested in working overseas because the industry for him is a lot bigger over there. It’s something I’ve always been interested in as well, so it could be that we relocate. It sounds really daunting to do that, but it would be a good adventure. I feel that, in a way, the industry in Europe and America is bigger and maybe easier to navigate.

Jean: Finally, where would you like to be in five years time?

Stephanie: I’d like to be a bit more advanced in the business sense. I’d like to be doing bigger collections and to perhaps have a team of people, whether it just be an assistant or a few people working with me on design and production. And perhaps [I’ll] be working somewhere else in the world, but not necessarily. I’ve always been about building slowly and just letting growth happen—judging by how it’s received. I haven’t done any shows yet. I’d like to do a show or an event to launch collections in the near future, so [I’ll be] working on those types of things.

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Looks from F/W10

Original published in Dossier Journal

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