f you’re someone with great fashion sentimentality, chances are you’ll probably remember what you were wearing during your life’s momentous occasions: your first date; scoring your dream job; your wedding day. Some people even remember moments by what they were wearing at the time. For one of my personal highlights – meeting famous fashion journalist Tim Blanks – I will always remember wearing a chanteuse velvet dress by Melbourne label Dress Up. Mr Blanks remarked to me that it was a perfect day to be wearing velvet, cementing the dress with a special place in my wardrobe’s rotation. As it turns out my romantic feelings and Tim Blanks’ flattering towards the dress were far from co-incidence. Dress Up, and its evolving repertoire of understated and graceful clothing, is a label close the hearts of many design devotees.
Subtle familiarity, flattering cuts and luxurious fabrics are just a few of the reasons the label has such a loyal fan base. Another is the designer behind the label, Stephanie Downey, who continually channels unique yet heartfelt concepts into a design style she describes as “classicism and a simplistic aesthetic”.
Last summer ‘Everything in it’s Right Place,’ her biggest collection yet, took nostalgic references from 1970s interiors and transformed them into a sentimental range of asymmetrical dresses, relaxed rompers and cuffed shorts. The collection didn’t just give her existing customers the warm and fuzzies, but found Stephanie a whole new fan base in L'Oréal Melbourne Fashion Festival (LMFF).
Dress Up was nominated for 2011 LMFF Designer award, which was won by Sydney label Song for the Mute. Previous recipients of the award include Friedrich Gray, Josh Goot, Romance Was Born and last year’s winner Dion Lee, all of whom have witnessed sky-rocketing success ever since.
“I was more excited than I expected to be,” says Stephanie of the nomination. “It feels nice to be recognised, and as I work on my own it sometimes feels like the media and the rest of the industry are very separate and far away. This feels like being welcomed into the industry in a more serious way.”
Serious is also a word that can be associated with Dress Up’s success. Stephanie’s clothes may be a vision of serenity, but her work from behind the scenes is incredibly thoughtful, precise and detailed. This professional approach can be seen in the billowy drape of a double-breasted crepe silk jacket or the sharp pleats found on a slim-waisted stretch pant. Such pieces can be found in Dress Up’s winter range entitled ‘Wait A Moment,’ a collection largely influenced by film director Andrei Tarkovsky’s Polaroid photographers and the character Maria from his film Mirror.
“I intended for the collection to have a feeling of calm, portrayed through the cool colour palette – heavy with green and pale grey – and the long, loose silhouettes,” describes Stephanie of the range. “It was also about conveying a personal need to slow down my own life, to appreciate each moment, as it’s difficult not to let the stress of work overwhelm me.”
With a trip to Paris alongside her sales agent pending, there’s little chance that Stephanie will be slowing down any time soon. Despite the stress that comes with success, there’s no doubt she will continue to use her designs as a calm form of escapism, and hopefully she will get to make a few significant Dress Up memories of her own along the way.