There's something about Dannika Zen's eponymous label that just screams Sydney. Or should that be whispers seductively? Half rock-star leather and half relaxed sportswear, the sporty/sexy hybrid is an aesthetic that couldn't be more suited to the bronzed bodies of Bondi, or the chic Paddington crowd that shopped at her pop-up boutique last month, an experience that Zen describes as “positive and exciting”.
Zen’s designs have long turned heads. It was the reaction she received from self-made leather shearling jacket that convinced her to start her own label. "I kept getting inquiries about [the jacket] from either friends, people who stopped me on the street and also a couple of stores," she recalls.
It inspired her to create a small range of leather jackets in 2010, which were then picked up by reputable boutique Desordre and the rest, as they say, is history.
Zen’s designs have already become instantly recognisable, only a few collections into her career. Her deconstructed leather skirts with zippers are a coveted piece for anyone with legs. In her autumn/winter collection, Outlanders, the skirt of the season is python printed leather – just add black tights and ankle boots for full effect.
Zen’s use of leather isn't just limited to thigh-high hems. Having interned with a leather tailor in 2005 upon graduating from Ultimo Fashion Design Studio, her knack for the material crosses all forms, from masculine jackets to sleek stiletto heels. "Its durability, texture and that it gets more and more beautiful as it wears over time," is what she loves most about leather. Even today, Zen continues to work with the same leather tailor, refining her technique to include it in the quilted form as part of her new collection.
Camouflage print, origami folds and delicate lace knits are also highlights in the Outlanders range, each element cleverly intertwined within a narrative of proportion. From Zen’s point of view, the collection explores the contrasts of freedom and formality, the powerful and the fragile.
"I always draw inspiration from menswear, especially for their shapes. This season I looked at a lot of utility wear and particular items…from the military and air force, [and was] inspired by their beauty…functionality and versatility."
Quality is a clear focus of the label. All pieces from the Outlanders range, bar the knitted items, are constructed in Australia. The collection’s intricately knitted dresses are handcrafted in Bali. Using traditional knitting or crochet techniques, the pieces are particularly labour-intensive, with one dress taking up to four people between four and five days to complete.
"Every country has their strengths for different skills, like India for their beading for example. Bali is the best place for this kind of knit work," she explains.
The results are incredibly involved – a knitted web that, when paired with an oversized leather bomber, makes for a directional yet relaxed contrast. It’s a potent combination that the Paddington crowd will no doubt love again.
Outlanders AW13 drops in stores in February.