When Melbourne-born Emily Nolan studied fashion design at the prestigious Whitehouse Institute of Design, there was no course for women’s suiting – just for menswear.
Deep-rooted sexism in fashion design became more and more apparent to Nolan, especially in the women’s work wear and suiting categories. She cites stories of female police officers who are forced to wear constricting stab vests that have been designed with the male body in mind. “Even with Apple head phones – they say they’ve been designed for the standard human ear – but I listened to this podcast that explores the fact they’re designed for the standard male ear … it blew my mind.”
“The fastening on jackets for men – it’s left over right,” she continues. “For women it’s right over left because women didn’t dress themselves once upon a time. The person dressing them did it back to front. Historically, it has always been men first, and women second.”
In December 2016, for her graduate Whitehouse collection, Nolan designed an impressive range of deconstructed, masculine tuxedos for women all emblazoned with what has since become her signature blowfly motif. An 18-month stint at custom men’s suit specialist P Johnson Tailors followed, where she worked as the only female tailor under director Tom Riley.
She launched her eponymous custom-suit label tailored to the female silhouette, E Nolan, in March this year.
Now, after several booked-out trunk shows at various locations in Melbourne and Sydney, Nolan has opened a permanent Melbourne space – the E Nolan Dressing Room – in a 18.5-square-metre renovated shipping container located in a “secret garden” in Hawthorn.
“I started looking at transient spaces … anything from art galleries to hotel rooms. Then this storage unit came up on Gumtree. It’s this block of land covered with apple trees and a veggie patch – I’ve hit the jackpot,” Nolan says.
Climbing vines surround the container, and Nolan has planted roses that will bloom in spring.
“The dream is to have it mirror my ideals of The Queen of Hearts wonderland,” she says. The container is peppered with refurbished vintage Alexander Begge Casalino for Casala chairs, vintage Giotto Stoppino for Kartell ’70s tables, an orange Shag rug and designer coffee-table books. “It’s magical what a lick of paint and a bit of spirited hope can do to turn around a steel box,” Nolan says.
“It’s like the old Le Louvre days,” Nolan says, referring to the iconic Melbourne fashion boutique. “Le Louvre was all custom, before off-the-rack existed, and you had a real relationship with your tailor or seamstress – like you would with your butcher.”
As you discuss your dream suit Nolan serves piping-hot Earl Grey tea out of vintage Joe Colombo glassware, which she’s shipped from Russia.
While the marketplace for off-the-rack women’s suiting in Australia has grown in recent years with the arrival of local labels Esse Studios and Arnsdorf, Nolan has filled the gap for custom, made-to-measure suiting. The recently launched P Johnson Femme is the only other competition in Australia.
The E Nolan Dressing Room marries a fitting room with an exhibition space. Each month a different artist’s work will line the walls, starting with Sydney painter Annalisa Ferraris. Nolan has up to 28 appointments available every four to six weeks (the first round of June fittings is already booked out). The one-on-one consultation is the beginning of a process in which Nolan custom designs jackets and trousers made in natural fibres, which are hand-tailored in Melbourne. Two fittings are required for each suit and a turnaround time of two weeks is promised.
“Clothing is a vehicle for making humans to feel more empowered and comfortable,” says Nolan. “That doesn’t [necessarily] involve sitting in offices in heels and tights and uncomfortable Spanx.
“I can just wear something that fits beautifully and that I feel comfortable in.”
During fittings, Nolan has heard many stories from women about not only feeling uncomfortable in their work wear, but also feeling a sense of impostor syndrome. She’s heard similar tales about event wear. Her clients include lawyers, doctors and accountants.
“The E Nolan Dressing Room is an open dialogue about what they want to wear, with a tailor’s knowledge,” Nolan says. “[Seeking] gender equality in and out of the office space, women, I find, are buying more practically with garments that are more comfortable and made to last.”
In October, fittings will be held on Thursday October 3, Friday October 4 and Saturday October 5. E Nolan will be travelling to New York this month for additional appointments. The E Nolan Dressing Room address will be disclosed after you secure an appointment by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or visiting the website.
This article first appeared on Broadsheet on June 18, 2019. Some details may have changed since publication.