Unless you follow Heidi Middleton on Instagram, you probably haven’t heard of Artclub. “A new model on my own terms” is how the former Sass & Bide owner describes her online concept: a mixture of original art, limited-edition prints, vintage and slow fashion. It’s expected to launch in January next year.
To call Artclub an online store undersells the extent of Middleton’s vision. It will be more of a creative space, extending an invitation to step inside the designer’s world.
“I love to create in many mediums, as well as designing clothes,” says Middleton, who recently returned from four years living in Paris, where she worked in a studio in the city’s north-west so she could “dive back into the art world”. During that time she dabbled in painting, collage, illustration, ceramics and interior design.
Middleton studied graphic design and commercial art at Queensland College of Art before she “stumbled into fashion” – a surprising fact, given Middleton’s extraordinary talent in designing and producing clothes. It was a fortuitous stumble – one that changed the Australian fashion landscape.
It’s now almost five years since Middleton sold her share in Sass & Bide, the fashion label she co-founded with Sarah-Jane Clarke. (Clarke has also gone out on her own this year with a new travel-inspired luxury label).
In recent years, Middleton has worked with the United Nations in the ethical-fashion space and admits Artclub adopts many approaches she wishes she could have brought to Sass & Bide.
“I feel very passionately about protecting the planet and sustainability,” she says. “But when you grow a business to the size we grew Sass & Bide to, it’s quite hard to reverse those processes.”
“Instead of climbing on that treadmill of huge collections and spewing all of this product up to the market – filling a range plan just for the sake of filling a range plan, and creating the jacket to go with the pant and the skirt – and with all that pressure that the existing traditional fashion model brings, I just felt that didn’t feel right this time around.”
Like many new Australian labels, the Artclub model will not adhere to traditional fashion seasons, or produce collections. There will be no fashion shows and no paid PR or marketing.
“I think that existing business model is [under] threat of extinction anyway because it seems to suffocate creative thought,” she says. “It ends up putting so much pressure on the infrastructure that creative directors burn out.”
Alongside Middleton’s own original art works and prints, the fashion component of Artclub will consist of “beautiful, timeless pieces” – the kind that can be worn season after season, and “[passed] onto your children”. Everything will be produced locally, and made with 80 per cent remnant fabrics. Or, as Middleton puts it, “waste”. She laughs at the ridiculousness of this idea – that such lovely textiles have been deemed rubbish. You can see on her Instagram just how beautiful the fabrics are.
Tying the concept of art and fashion together, each garment is individually numbered and signed by the machinist. “There is meaning and purpose behind each piece,” Middleton says. “There is a sense that this is a precious item.”
Middleton will also use the platform to sell high-end vintage pieces she has collected over years of travel.
Finally, Artclub will be a space for collaboration. In the first quarter of next year, Middleton plans to work with likeminded creatives from around the world, such as a ceramicist she admires in France.
The idea is that Artclub will be an ever-evolving, creative space, which will produce various forms of design that are unexpected and singular. A new product will be released every week or two, in an approach that Middleton calls “fast-slow fashion”, referring to the combination of a regularly updated boutique stocked with pieces that adhere to sustainable fashion and manufacturing practices.
“There aren’t too many rules,” she says.
Artclub is launching in January 2019.