Replica Project designer Amanda Nichols explores connections between fashion and costume design. She’s well-placed for the task – before designing her own fashion collections she worked as a costume cutter, maker and buyer for films, including Baz Luhrmann’s Australia and The Great Gatsby, and Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant.

The designer from Melbourne is one to watch. She released her Master of Fashion (Design) graduate collection, Replica Project #1, in 2018 (she studied at RMIT). And now Nichols has unveiled Replica Project #2. It is based on the work of Madeleine Vionnet, a French fashion designer who opened her fashion house in 1912, and who is known for sidelining the stiff and formal clothing of the time, such as corsets that that distorted the body’s natural shape, in favour of flowing silhouettes and floaty shapes.

“With each project I am investigating the fabrications – including colour and embellishments – used by the particular fashion house I’m investigating, as well as the fabrications from that time in history,” Nichols says.

In 2015 she received a Churchill fellowship to study couture garment construction. “I spent a lot of time within archives of museums including the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, Balenciaga Museum in Spain and the Kyoto Costume Museum.” Nichols also studied corsetry with a third-generation corsetiere and worked in a small Parisian atelier, Atelier Caraco, producing couture garments for Givenchy and Schiaparelli.

“Replica Project garments aren’t really designed with a particular occasion in mind,” says Nichols. “They are more so investigations into the tropes of heritage fashion houses combined with contemporary fashion.”

Replica Project pieces are available online, but some garments, like the gowns, are available only by appointment. A silk scarf is the first piece Nichols designed for her second collection. The print is a deconstructed version of the original Madeleine Vionnet logo designed by Ernesto Michahelles in 1922,” Nichols explains. “The Replica Project version of this garment is essentially four silk scarfs joined by their corners at the shoulder and sewn vertically on the bias [cut at a diagonal] to create the form." And her printed T-shirts start at $250.

One of the collection’s pieces is based on a dress Vionnet designed for her winter 1920 collection. The dress was called Robe Quatre Mouchiers or “four-handkerchief dress”. The original was made from ivory crepe cut into four square panels and is held in the archive at Les Arts Decoratifs in Paris.

“With the exception of the knits, all of the garments are completely cut on bias,” Nichols says. This shape accentuates body lines and curves, and allows for the fabric to drape softly.

Most of Replica Project’s fabrics are from local Australian suppliers, and Nichols also uses dead-stock fabrics and some imported textiles. Production is split between Melbourne and Sydney.

Nichols is currently in the research and development phase for Replica Project #3 – an investigation into the work of Italian fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli, a contemporary of Coco Channel who was influenced by, and collaborated with, surrealist artists such as Salvador Dalí and Jean Cocteau, and who was considered one of the most important fashion designers of the interwar period.