“It’s the only thing I ever wanted to do,” says fashion designer Cristina Tridente. “When I was five years old, I used to make dresses for my Barbie dolls, and staple them together.
“Thank God the craftsmanship has [improved].”
The designs may be more sophisticated, but her label, Couture+Love+Madness, carries all the whimsy and excitement of Tridente’s youth – and enough elegant gowns to make Barbie jealous.
It’s hard to imagine someone more passionate about fashion. “We did science projects in primary school about the weather, and I ended up designing outfits for weather girls on TV,” says Tridente. “In Year 12 I wrote an entire essay about Manolo [Blahnik].”
After making dolls’ clothes as a child and designing her own jewellery as a teen, Tridente enrolled in an advanced diploma of Applied Fashion Design at TAFE SA. Following the graduate show she did work experience with major labels and took a job at Adelaide Fashion Festival.
“At [age] 21 I was running a festival, [and] very much thrown in the deep end,” says Tridente. She launched Couture+Love+Madness at the same time, and positioned herself as a major player in Adelaide’s fashion scene.
Tridente was one of five local designers to grace the runway at Austin Fashion Week last month, along with Solomon Street’s Lauren Crago, Autark’s Sophia McMahon, Keepsake’s Tarek Kourhani and Stephanie Chehade.
But until recently, Tridente’s business was run out of her family home in West Lakes. As the label grew, the living areas became overrun by fabrics, sewing machines and dresses. “My cat would be walking around with sequins on its paws, and chasing pieces of organza everywhere. We had people coming in and out all the time.”
Her new Norwood studio and shopfront is a welcome step forward, “Not only for ease and accessibility for my clients,” says Tridente. “But also to cement myself in the local fashion industry with a local, solid presence.”
The shop is warm and bright, with dappled light filtering through the leafy green trees that line The Parade. The walls are clean white and there are gold accents on the custom-built racks, dusty-pink change room curtains and luxurious vintage lounge chairs.
The first thing you see when you walk in is the Rose dress – a show-stopping peachy pink gown crafted with hundreds of hand-cut organza petals. The Olivia gown is made with hand-cut and dyed feather flowers encrusted with crystals and pearls. The Helena has voluminous avocado tulle.
They’re all part of the La Vie en Rose 19 collection, tailor-made dresses for formalwear, red carpet and bridal. It’s the first official bridal collection from Couture+Love+Madness.
“[La Vie en Rose] means to see the world through rose-coloured glasses. For me, it means to see bridal in a different light,” says Tridente. “I thought that everyone wanted to get married in white, but we’ve had a really great response to introducing some of these softer colours.”
Increasingly, modern brides are looking for dresses that are different but still have romance or drama – like gowns in peach, avocado, silver and soft natural white.
For the next collection, we can expect polka dots and interesting veils. With bridal collections starting at $3000 and up, the price range is comparable to what you’d find at some of Adelaide’s major bridal stores – with all the benefits of tailoring and design.
“The clients, I find, just want something that fits well,” says Tridente. “The majority of [clothes] these days are made in a factory in China, and a lot of them are still quite expensive.”
“Why go to Myer and get something off the rack that anyone else can have? You can spend the same amount of money – come in, I’ll take your measurements, and make a toile, which is the first draft. It’s a very collaborative process.”
Everything is made on-site by Tridente and her assistant Helen Roufos. Tridente’s 83-year-old nonna, Maria Visconti, helps out too.
The shop also stocks her new, eponymous label, Tridente, which was born out of her 2017 studies at London design school Central Saint Martin’s (whose alumni include Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen). The label recently featured in Vogue Australia's March issue, worn by British singer-songwriter Charli XCX.
"It's a completely different label,” says Tridente. "It's very architectural, sculptural and organic. There's not a lot of traditional patternmaking. I start with a shape, I sew it together, and see where it goes.
“Looking to the future, it's going to become ready-to-wear for purchase online or in-store."
258 The Parade, Norwood
Fri & Sat 10am–5pm