We Are Handsome is known for its wearable fantasies, reminiscent of halcyon days when the hardest thing to decide was what type of ice cream to buy. Having taken the road less travelled, their swimsuits are destined to become an Australian icon.
Director Jeremy Somers attributes the label’s success to a style of branding that extends from their “instantly recognisable” designs to the blog, website design and campaign photos – the latter being a result of meticulously planned shoots over which Somers exerts creative control.
The other clue to this global success story – which count Colette, Harvey Nichols and Net-a-Porter among its dozens of stockists – is that their swimsuits are not just designed to be worn poolside, then tossed in a drawer at summers end only to be forgotten about until the next heat wave. These are trans-seasonal designs that effortlessly travel from beach to dance floor, from one side of the globe to the other, regardless of climatic conditions.
“Most of our pieces are designed to be worn with clothing,” says Somers. “People don’t look at it as a swimsuit, they look at it as a piece, something you can wear.”
While one-piece swimsuits were the starting point for the label, The Vintage collection shows that their prints sit well on a variety of apparel. Limited edition silk scarves, leggings and mini dresses now take pride of place beside the requisite one-pieces and bikinis. Future collections will expand the range of apparel further, a move that is in keeping, Somers says, with a desire for the label to remain stable in an uncertain global economy. With the help of business partner, Indhra Chagoury, Somers has mastered the art of using an itsy-bitsy bikini as a canvas, with the classic string bikini their biggest seller.
The swimsuits feature strikingly simple cuts that hark back to previous eras, with vintage silhouettes accommodating expansive, colour-saturated prints with relative ease. “The cuts are simple because we need a big canvas to print on,” Somers explains. “You don’t want to have too many tricks. If you look at the most beautiful swimsuits in the world, they’re all very simple. They have one trick and ours is the print.”
We Are Handsome doesn’t possess a distinctively Australian quality, which goes some way in explaining its ubiquitous presence internationally. Somers is quick to point out that imagination is not restricted by one’s nationality. “Your imagination is not Australian. You imagine these fantastical things,” he says.
Their designs have a timeless quality that is immediately familiar, like an unexpected flashback from an airbrushed past; one you want to embrace before it fades forever. While at first glance the prints are singular images inspired by far-flung places, Somers says places in the mind also have a lot to answer for. He points to memories of his Australian childhood in the 1980s as inspiration, when holidays were earth-bound affairs that didn’t usually end on a banana lounge in the Mediterranean.
“Like most kids who I grew up with and most kids in my generation, we didn’t travel to summer vacations, you got in a car, and you went up or down or in. That was it…so the only thing that we knew of faraway places, most of us, was what we read about and saw in movies,“ he says. What results is a kind of nostalgia for imagined worlds. “Fairytales form pictures in your mind and you have all these ideas and what seem like real memories even though you may not have experienced them.”
Designs such as The Hunter – an inquisitive, wide-eyed deer – are conjured from treasured travel memories. Somers recalls one overseas trip he took as a 13-year-old. While visiting his grandparents in Los Angeles, his grandfather took him to Yosemite for four days. “I took a whole bunch of pictures of rocks and trees. From then on I was always about pictures. I constantly remember that trip, always, I have a photo on the fridge of when I was there.”
The Diver’s tropical-hued coral wonderland was inspired by a recent trip Somers took to the Great Barrier Reef. Like all of We Are Handsome’s designs its apparent simplicity is deceiving, with the scene comprised of various images.
The signature prints are achieved by rendering a literal translation of what the mind sees, with Chagoury and Somers being responsible for all aspects of the creative process, ruling out graphic designers and others who might misinterpret their thoughts. Nothing is lost in translation and the original concept survives unaltered.
The compositing process results in a wondrous yet realistic image. “Everything is done on Photoshop and we use a combination of archival photos, illustration and things I’ve photographed – they’re all collaged together into something that looks like an actual photograph,” Somers explains.
The label’s success is founded in a uniquely personal vision and the designs that result are, according to Somers, inimitable. “The label’s tipping point was what we do,” he says simply. “The actual concept is not brand new; they’ve been making the same thing that we do since the 70s but we just did it and it struck a nerve.
“It was different and glamorous, it was something people hadn’t seen before. “