Sally Tabart and Savannah Anand-Sobti, the duo behind the wildly popular Ladies of Leisure zine, are self-described “creative soulmates”.
They met at a fashion show six years ago and hit it off – personally, then professionally. Anand-Sobti was 21 and studying textile design. She’d collected a backlog of original work by her friends but had nowhere to put it. Tabart, a year older and a freelance writer, was able to fill in the gaps.
“It was a pretty ad hoc situation,” Tabart says. “[The first zine] really went off and we didn't expect it to be so popular … but as we were doing it, it seemed to have legs and wanted to be created.”
Her words and ideas facilitated Anand-Sobti’s vision, and vice versa, and Ladies of Leisure emerged as a platform for Melbourne’s budding artists, writers and fashion designers to connect, canvas ideas and showcase their projects. For readers, it was a gateway into new, colourful worlds.
Multiple editions followed, then a digital arm, covetable merch, and outings for its creators at galleries such as the NGV and ACCA, and at the Emerging Writers’ Festival and Melbourne Book Fair. As the zine grew in scale and ambition, so did the talented community appearing on, and flicking through, its pages. (And wearing a uniform of azure branded tees.)
“I think a big reason it's prevailed is … there's a very tangible sense of connection,” says Tabart. “Sav and I try to imbue ourselves into it as much as we can because we figure if we want something, or we're interested in something, it's probably going to be interesting to other people.”
In February, Tabart and Anand-Sobti opened a co-working space and workshop in Fitzroy, called LOL Space. The teal room acts as a shared studio during the day and the pink room – playfully dubbed “the womb room” – is a plush, welcoming gathering place. Tabart says the “super bold” aesthetic comes courtesy of Anand-Sobti and interiors curator Pip Newell of Curated Spaces, and most of the furnishings are second-hand.
“We wanted to create a safe space where people felt comfortable talking about vulnerable things, or talking about their dreams and hopes and aspirations and fears,” Tabart says. “I don't think it would have had the same impact if it wasn't so much of a statement place … it's about the feeling that you get.”
That feeling is bolstered by thoughtfully chosen music, lighting and other simple touches such as making sure everyone's introduced to each other at the start of each meet-up.
Regular Friendship Speed Dating events are designed to foster creative partnerships and connect like-minded people hunting for new pals.
The Working It Out sessions cover creative processes and career pathways. So far, Lindsay magazine founder Beth Wilkinson; Sister Studios’ Emma Cutri and Alice McIntosh, who turned their friendship into a fashion label; and poet and writer Bel Hawkins have all swung by to share their industry missteps and masterstrokes.
In June, sexologist Vanessa Muradian will run a three-part sex series on communication, confidence and pleasure. There’s also a mental-health series in the pipeline, plus money-management classes and more.
“The little tagline we have for LOL is celebrating strength, weakness, success and process,” Tabart says. “That's how we approached all our editorial content.”
At present, Ladies of Leisure in print remains on hiatus, but the website – a hub of personal essays, creative inspiration and career Q&As – is back online.
“When we started the publication we didn't have a community; it was just us putting out publications into the world and it was lucky that people liked them and wanted to read them,” Tabart says. “But as time has gone on we’ve built a community. It made sense to harness that.”
LOL Space is upstairs at 451 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy. Follow LOL Space on Facebook for details of workshops and events.