When a designer launches a new collection, inevitably they are posed the question ‘what was your inspiration?’ Typical responses include periods in time, movies, celebrities, artists and even other designers. Rarely does a designer list their own label as their source of inspiration. Melbourne label Above is one of these rarities.
“It's about looking back through our own history as a label,” Kerry Findlow explains of the design process. “There's always an element from a previous season that informs the overall design basis for the next collection.”
Having established the label only two years ago, you would assume that Kerry and her design partner Nyssa Narrow have little to draw from. On the contrary. By cunningly tying their collections together the two have effectively managed to build a strong brand identity, in a reasonably short amount of time.
Familiarity is another aspect that has helped Above weave its way into Australian and international wardrobes. Basing collections on the ‘basic western wardrobe’ of shirts, shift dresses and cardigans, Kerry and Nyssa re-imagine and re-interpret wearable pieces from a structural point of view. Fad trend pieces and loud prints are shunned for intelligent design that focuses on cut and complementing the body.
“We never want the clothes to overshadow the wearer, and we hope that because we are fitting into familiar categories of clothes our customers will already know how they can fit them in to their lives and make them favourites.”
Editing is another feature of the label’s DNA. You won’t find numerous and repeated pieces in Above’s collections. According to Kerry, the reason for such concise collections is to not only make sure each piece has a valuable place within the range, but to also benefit logistics and make sure each design is of the highest standard. “We're trying to ensure that the ideas are the best articulations of the structural ideas of the season. Since the label is built on a history, it's amazing how in a new season, with a new set of structural ideas, those previous ideas get refined and can become highlights.”
Above’s current summer collection, ‘A study in Adaption’, focuses on the relationship between the wearer and their clothes and the various ways we adapt our wardrobe to fit within our lives. The range includes breezing fabrics that twist, roll and weave around the body to form a relaxed silhouette. The unique colour combination of steal grey, smoky blue and ecru orange used in the collection adds a fresh and unexpected aspect – another trademark the label has become known for.
“We've always seen the colours as another opportunity to give that familiarity to the clothes,” says Kerry. “Since we started dyeing our own fabrics it's also given us more freedom to design the palette to our own needs.”
The label’s close relationship with a screen printer (they share a studio) has also proved invaluable to Kerry and Nyssa’s alibility to explore unusual methods of cutting and dying to achieve unexpected results.
“The paste is traditionally used on velvets to etch patterns into the fabric but by doing it on cotton it dissolves the entire fibre and creates the holes,” says Kerry of the burnout paste technique used to create the lattice effect found on a crisp white pair of shorts, blouse and tailored blazer. “It took a bit of testing but when we finally cracked it that was such a good day!”
The days of production may have worked out well but the label’s good luck diminished when rain hit on the day of shooting the spring look book at Melbourne’s Botanical Gardens. Working with photographer Jo Duck, stylist Jade Leung, Chadwick model Melody and hair and makeup artist Megan Harrison, the team made the most of the wet weather to produce the series of dream-like images.
“I think working with the same team has allowed us to give the shoots a consistency while still moving it forward, and at this point the girls know us and our label really well and are able to really collaborate on the outcome,” says Kerry.
From working with the same close team to focussing on their previous collections for inspiration, it’s clear that consistency is one of Above’s strengths. Consistent but by no means dormant. Above is also dedicated to experimenting and evolving their enchanting and wearable style. “The goal is to just keep refining what we do,” confirms Kerry. And that in itself is a rarity within today’s trend-driven marketplace.