It’s been just over a year since iconic Australian label Lover, known for its halter-neck-style lace dresses and delicate bridal gowns, entered voluntary administration.
The Australian fashion industry shook its collective head at the news of this downfall: another beloved local label had fallen victim to the difficult retail climate, and the industry prepared to mourn its loss.
But the period of voluntary administration might turn out to be a temporary setback. Lover’s physical and digital doors have remained open since administrators were appointed in November 2018, and while the label has undergone a financial restructure, it’s been like a duck on water – moving frantically below the surface, but cruising above.
Australian apparel business Hotsprings acquired the label mere weeks after financial advisory firm Ferrier Hodgson was appointed, adding Lover to its suite of partnerships along with Rebecca Vallance and P.E Nation. The Hotsprings team, led by CEO Joanne Goldman, spied an opportunity to revive the label founded by Nic Briand and Susien Chong in 2001, who will be departing in late March to explore other creative opportunities.
“When Lover went into voluntary administration there was a huge amount of media coverage and social commentary that showed there was still an overwhelming love for the brand,” Goldman tells Broadsheet.
It was immediately clear to her that Lover’s financial struggles were not due to a lack of popularity.
Instead, she cites improper store locations, long-term leases in large shopping centres with high rentals, low foot traffic and increased competition due to the accessibility of international labels through e-commerce as causes that led to the label’s struggles.
According to Goldman, these pressures not only impacted the financial resources of Lover, but also had a significant impact on the label’s DNA. Though Lover is now known for its ethereal, ladylike designs, this wasn’t always the designers’ intention. “Lover’s co-founders Nic and Susien created a cult brand with an irresistible blend of romance and rock’n’roll,” says Goldman. “They would take inspiration from the Lady Macbeth quote: ‘Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under it.’” It was this combination that built a cult-like following for the label. Now, it’s where Goldman wants to return.
“Lover has a unique brand essence that plays on dark versus light, innocence versus irreverence … [but] over time and under the duress of financial strain and changing markets, the DNA dissipated,” she says.
When pressed, Goldman notes that designers often deviate from their original vision to react to market conditions in order to generate revenue. “One needs to stay true to one’s vision,” she says. “Our plan is to re-establish the cult following the brand once had.”
It’s a step-by-step process – one that has so far taken the Lover team over 14 months to execute. In that time, Hotsprings worked with Briand and Chong to develop the spring-summer 2019 collection and transition the label. Hotsprings is the final stages of confirming a new designer, set to be announced shortly. For now, the company remains tight-lipped.
For those wondering how the new Lover will look, its first collection without Briand and Chong at the helm has already been released. It launched on Valentine’s Day this year (a play on the “lover” angle) and is inspired by Time’s Up and 1970s activists, including Gloria Steinem. “[She] always dressed in a very feminine way, proving that you don’t have to dress like a man to be powerful,” says Goldman. “This is translated in voluminous silhouettes that float around the body and create space for taking big steps.”
The signature Lover romanticism still holds priority of place, seen in the sheer fabrics printed with small florals (including forget-me-nots and dandelions), lace inserts, and handkerchief styling. As for Goldman’s favourite: “I am particularly excited about the pinstripe suiting. I’m predicting a waiting list for the longline jacket.”
Briand and Chong were unavailable for comment at the time of publication.