After finishing her six-year tenure as womenswear designer for Australian retail giant Country Road, Melbourne-based Alexandra McLeod decided to move in a new direction. Leveraging her design, marketing and public relations background – she did the PR and scouted new designers for Stefan Siegel at Not Just a Label during a brief stint in London – she took the leap and launched her first fashion label, Marianne, late last month.
“When I was at Country Road, I always imagined myself [heading] in a more holistic, creative direction,” says McLeod. “I came to the end of my time [at the company] and decided that I was going to take the opportunity to forge my own path.”
The name and premise behind Marianne came to McLeod after re-watching one of her favourite films. “After a lot of designing and turning over a lot of different [business] ideas, I went back and watched the film that was one of my absolutes favourites – A Bigger Splash by Luca Guadagnino … When I saw Marianne Laine – the main character, played by Tilda Swinton – I thought to myself, ‘This is what I want the [Marianne] woman to be like’.”
The debut collection includes two flawlessly constructed silk shirts: the Classic, which has a relaxed fit and comes in an oversized cut, drawing on traditional men’s tailoring with feminine, clean lines; and the Reverse Tuxe, which features a slimmer fit and a cropped back.
“In the film, Swinton wears a lot of shirts,” says McLeod. “My first range includes two silk shirts – both in prints and bold colour. That’s the direction that I took mainly from the film, and that’s how it all came about.”
Three retro-inspired silk scarves in varying sizes also feature in the collection. McLeod took inspiration from a particular behind-the-scenes image of Swinton between takes. “[The film] is set on an island called Pantelleria off the south-west coast of Sicily. There’s a shot of Tilda wearing a scarf on her head to protect her hair from the sirocco wind,” explains McLeod. “There was just something really beautiful about it … that’s where the scarf came from initially.”
In an effort to combat overproduction and waste in the fashion industry, McLeod is taking a slower approach by bringing out new colours and styles less frequently. “I knew I didn’t want to be doing seasonal ranges. I wanted to take on the new way of creating individual pieces that will fit into the existing wardrobe,” she says. The shirts are designed to be “forever pieces”.
“They’re a classic item, yes, but they’re not your traditional, structured Everlane kind of shirt. They’re definitely more oversized and feminine,” she continues. “I almost see them as a slight uniform. I want the Marianne shirts to be quite versatile. I want the Marianne woman to wear [them] into work and feel empowered, then pack it in her suitcase and bring it out when she’s having a cocktail when she’s in Italy, or a Negroni at the end of the day.”
McLeod takes pride in the intention behind every Marianne item – a very different process to designing for Country Road, where colour palettes and ranges are “directed” and more structured. “In a [Country Road] range where everything has to sit together, sometimes you put a colour in there that just has to complement the range,” she explains. “Sometimes, our customers actually don’t like that colour … [and the pieces] end up going into mark-down (where the unsold items will eventually be thrown out) – because as an individual piece, it isn’t right.”
Although the colours aren’t coordinated, they’re still carefully considered. Shirting comes in a bold pink that riffs off a colour seen on Swinton; there’s an everyday off-white; a bold chocolate-zebra print; and a green stripe inspired by the awnings outside Alimentari in Melbourne’s Collingwood.
“My textiles designer Sarah Nedovic and I were sitting at Alimentari when I said ‘I think I want to do a stripe, and I want to do it in green.’ We looked at the awning outside, which is green-and-white striped and I thought, ‘Let’s do that’,” says McLeod, laughing at the memory.
While silk shirts and scarves are Marianne’s mainstay, McLeod is looking to move into Italian cotton shirting for 2020. “Next year, I’m going to Première Vision in Paris. It’s a huge fabric fair where you meet with all of the European mills and factories,” she says. “I’m looking at getting those shirts done in Portugal or Italy, because they do it really well … Italian cotton is so beautiful.” (For now, everything is designed in Melbourne and made in a factory outside Shanghai.) “[Going to Première Vision] will teach me even more about classic crafting techniques, as well as what I’m picking up from my seamstress here.”
The Marianne collection is available exclusively online at marianneatelier.com