At first glance, 26-year-old Ana Diaz, bespectacled with curly black hair and a look that’s part librarian and part zany art teacher, emanates vivacity and kookiness. These are personality traits that have a trickle-down effect in the playful, understated design approach that has placed her at the helm of Vanishing Elephant’s foray into womenswear.
When Vanishing Elephant's Felix Chan and Huw Bennett established a womenswear range they required a designer who could apply the same level of intuitive detail that their menswear had become known for. “That’s where I came in,” says Diaz. “It got to a point where they needed someone to grow and expand it that had a more technical knowledge of womenswear.”
In her first full collection, Diaz does the expected by providing well-fitted, androgynous garments for women, but also goes beyond that to create a persona for the VE girl. “I've spent the time so far absorbing everything and getting to know the brand and slowly building ranges that are a bit more experimental in their approach. I've had the opportunity to introduce lots of new shapes and fabrics and just bring a female eye to everything,” explains Diaz.
After graduating from a double degree in Business and Fashion at the Queensland University of Technology in 2010, Diaz launched her eponymous womenswear label. Now temporarily on hold, it was the label’s polished designs and quirky aesthetic that originally caught the eye of VE designers. “The opportunity to work with VE came at the perfect time, and there was no way I could pass it up. I'm lucky I didn't, because I've learnt so much and the guys give me a lot of flexibility in what I do,” she says.
Diaz’ design approach is strongly influenced by storytelling. “I love the romantic side of designing clothes - the mood boards, the colour stories, the print stories, the inspiration behind a range, the silhouettes and working with ranges as a whole finished product,” says Diaz. This approach is balanced out by Bennet and Chan’s more pragmatic and methodical style. “It's all a balancing act to create something that really works, and I think as a team we've got a pretty good handle on that,” she adds.
Creating synthesis between the menswear and womenswear collections is a key focus of the VE design process. “We work together a fair bit while we're designing, mainly with choosing our favourite prints we want to share, or details and fabrics. Shape-wise we do our own thing, and then come together and do a final run through and cull,” says Diaz.
Diaz describes the SS14 collection as “sportswear for the girl that avoided PE class at all costs.” Checked blazers, cloud printed button-up shirts, painterly florals and sheared denim shorts stay true to Vanishing Elephant’s reputation for offbeat classics, while adding an active edge. “It’s more of an anti sports hero vibe,” explains Diaz, “There's a few hints of mesh, custom drawcords, and little sportswear details, combined with VE's clean cut and feature florals that it's known for.”
“The VE girl is so many different things,” says Diaz at a loss to define a persona that is preppy, brainy, dreamy and boyish all at once. “But at the end of the day she has the confidence to make any of our clothes her own. We like to think we provide a good canvas and we love to see how that's translated in a bunch of different ways.”
Vanishing Elephant’s SS14 collection will be available online and in-store from July.