When Alice Edgeley summoned the courage to approach Christopher Kane’s London studio in person, she wanted to leave a lasting impression. When a seemingly tipsy gentleman in a dressing gown opened the door and said ‘Oh, this isn’t the studio anymore, it’s now the house’, he was greeted with a sight for sore eyes. “The turban was black with my whole pastel bandana collection tied in bows on the front”, explains Alice. “The dress, which I’d made, was in matching pastel stripes and I was wearing white plimsolls so that I would look a bit practical, useful you know?”
Well, who could possibly turn down the considerable door-knocking virtues of this pastel priestess?
After a three-year stint working as head seamstress for Kane, Alice returned to Melbourne to open Edgeley boutique on Gertrude Street’s sartorial shores. Her autumn/winter range, like the person behind it, is elegant, glamorous and unconventional.
Alice says she’s inspired by women like Diane Pernet (the lauded fashion icon) and it shows. Black prevails and there’s nary a pastel shade in sight. “It’s quite different from what other people are wearing,” she adds. “It’s formal, not frilly at all.” There’s a beguiling mix of repression and passion, understatement and Edwardian grandeur at play. From tailored pleats and fang-like, V-shaped collars, to mesh leotards with strategically located love hearts, Edgeley clothes possess a distinctly dramatic quality.
Her collection summons visions from unexpected places: a 1960s catholic schoolgirl breaking out of a strict boarding house, one moment, a Le Crazy-Horse De Paris cabaret dancer, the next. The silk georgette ‘Endora’ gown, named after the beloved Bewitched character, vies for attention and Gloria Swanson from Sunset Boulevard sneaks in via a leopard print turban. It is Alice’s imagination, however, that comes to the fore throughout.
On visiting Alice in the surrounding peachiness of her boutique, she teams her ‘Celia’ wool pleated mini skirt, which she describes as “the sort of skirt you could wear every day of the week”, with a Christopher Kane jumper embellished with vibrantly hued floral appliqués. The jumper is a visual testament to the time she spent working with Kane in London.
“Design-wise, I saw how Christopher Kane was so single-minded in his dedication to doing things differently to other designers,” she recalls. “Not only does he want to be different to what everyone else has done before, he wants to do things differently to what he’s done before.” Alice, likewise, puts her own individual twist on each garment.
Having learned to sew as a child, Alice’s design sensibilities flourished from an early age. “My mum has always worn headdresses. She had this beautiful, big, deep drawer full of scarves. If it was a really hot day we’d have all the curtains drawn and we’d get to hang out in the dark bedroom and make an outfit from hundreds of scarves.”
Alice honed her skills working as a costumier for Rose Chong from the age of 16 (“anything to get out of high school”).
An underlying practicality informs her design approach. “I try to keep things as simple as possible and I want everything to have a function. But I don’t want it to look functional,” she explains. “I’d like it to appear frivolous and to be worn with a glint in the eye.”
Behind the gossamer curtain in the Edgeley boutique is where all the magic happens. It is here that she creates each of her garments, which are often made-to-measure. She employs beautiful fabrics such as wool-crepe to create pieces of lasting beauty and wearability. Each item possesses a certain depth, which seeps through every seam, every meticulous detail of her work.
Alice’s love of history is evident throughout. “I know the history of the whole world through costume,” she says. An important inspiration for her autumn/winter collection was the American Puritans (think Arthur Miller’s The Crucible), whom she finds fascinating. “I’m disturbed by really conservative people. They’re afraid of anything strange and different… but then I want to dress up in nun uniforms.”
The wonderfully stoic ‘Sinead’ dress commands respect, and is perfect, she says with a trace of irony, “for that important meeting with my bank manager.”
“I like that fashion has to be worn every day – its practical side – that it is something you wear to do what you’re doing in,” she says. “Clothing designed for normal life.”
220 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy
(03) 9417 4513