Brisbane designer Sally Edwards’ graduate collection, Men in Uniform, is a menswear line that mixes militaristic tailoring with a soft pastel palette and luxurious fabrics.
Her designs are one-offs – such as a pastel-pink PVC and Merino jacket – so you can’t rush out to the shops to buy these pieces, but for Edwards this line is more about making a strong statement. She subverts the uniform of masculinity and makes new spaces in menswear.
Broadsheet: When you were designing the collection, did you think about how people might react to it?
Sally Edwards: Doing a grad collection gives you a lot of freedom because you don’t have to think about how you’re going to make it commercial, so I really went all out. I got really interested in the commerciality of masculinity. I started thinking about uniforms and how they symbolise masculinity, and how I could take elements of that and subvert it.
J W Anderson said you want people to either love or hate your clothes, because there’s no point in making anything that doesn’t make people have a reaction to it. This collection was really angled at people who are conceptually or fashion-minded. It’s definitely not a literal interpretation of uniform.
BS: How did you find the process of designing the collection, and do you think there’s a big creative difference between designing clothes and actually making them?
SE: I was pretty lucky this year to get a lot of help from the uni – they paid for studio techs to help me, but I’ve always made a lot myself. It was a challenging process to approach it from an academic perspective – in a graduate collection there’s still a lot of coursework and it just got to this point where I’d been writing and writing about my practice, but I hadn’t even made anything yet – I hadn’t started the practice. So I had to shut all that out and get to the making, which was really a relief.
BS: What drew you to designing menswear?
SE: I feel like womenswear designers have covered so much ground already, and to me it seems like there’s not a lot of room to be challenging in the same way. Menswear is so special and interesting because it’s detail-based. Fabrics and colours can say so much more in a menswear context than in womenswear.
While I was designing this collection I was thinking about other designers who challenged masculinity, people like J W Anderson and Raf Simons and Hedi Slimane. In the mid-‘90s Raf Simons started doing really slim tailoring and hiring really skinny boy models – because at that point all the fashion models were really buff dudes.
So using weedy boys and doing sharp tailoring was kind of a throwback to the mod scene: harnessing subcultural references to make new silhouettes. And now designers like J W Anderson can really go all out. His collection with boys wearing boob-tubes and frills is just mind blowing. He’s inspiring because he’s really pushed the boundaries but still has critical and commercial success.
BS: Do you think there’s room for more experimental stuff in Brisbane?
SE: There’s a lot of cool stuff happening in Brisbane that people maybe aren’t aware of. I was having a really interesting conversation about this with my housemate. He’d watched a documentary about all these rock dudes moving to New York in the ‘80s and finding that nothing really was happening; all these people were moving there and just doing nothing.
I think a lot of the time there’s more stuff going on in places like Brisbane where you have to work a lot harder to get any recognition. Brisbane’s art scene is pumping. I’m starting to appreciate Brisbane more for its potential. I feel like the show was a really good example – fashion events don’t really happen here, and there were, like, 150 people at that show in a gallery space with a capacity of about 30. If you show art or fashion in a way that’s accessible people do want to come and see it and be involved.
BS: Is the next step starting to make stuff on your own label that people can buy?
SE: Up until about a week ago I was thinking I need to move overseas and get a job over there – but then I had this conversation with my housemate and I had a bit of an epiphany and I think maybe I will start a label. I feel like I’ve got a bit of momentum going now and it would be fun to call my own shots – though I would have to start small. I could never put the Men in Uniform collection into production because so many of the fabrics were one-offs.
Soon I’m going to collaborate with another designer, Anna Langdon, on something pretty conceptual that we could display in a gallery space, but we want to have a commercial aspect to it as well – T-shirts or illustrations or something, so people have something to take away other than just doing it for art.