Edwina Forest gave birth to her daughter Freïa the day after Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced Australia would close its borders due to Covid-19 – and as she was also readying to open a new store for Aje, the fashion label she founded with Adrian Norris in Queensland in 2008.
“Adrian called my husband Felix while I was in labour and said, ‘Whatever you do, don’t let Edwina look at emails or check her phone’,” says Forest, laughing. “It was such a beautiful thing that he tried to shield me from everything that was going on, then Adrian and the team did an extraordinary job of getting through this.”
The result: a blissful new mum, and a new Aje flagship at Westfield Bondi Junction (bringing the total number of stores in Australia to 18).
“You don’t have a contingency plan for unprecedented situations like Covid, so everyone just had to think quickly and band together,” says Forest. “It’s been quite humbling given the current climate but I’m really proud we’ve been able to work with the team to make this happen.”
The store, which is on level three of the shopping centre’s Australian-designer section, encapsulates Aje’s signature mix of raw beauty and tough femininity. The space is designed to feel warm and inviting, and succeeds by mixing luxurious travertine with tactile finishes and linen curtains.
“Some stores can feel ... like you’re not meant to touch anything when you walk in, so we worked hard to create a sensory experience that feels like you’re in a family space where you can be yourself and be taken care of,” says Forest.
The racks are currently filled with highlights from Aje’s autumn–winter collection (“Youthquake”), including tweed suiting and abstract lace pieces, as well as the brand’s new spring–summer collection (“Impermanence”), which landed last week.
“We based Impermanence on the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi [which finds beauty in imperfection and impermanence],” says Forest. “It’s all about the transient nature of things and life, and as we’ve all seen so recently, the fact that it can all be taken away in a moment.”
This instability is the reality Australia’s fashion and retail sector has been dealing with since March, with a number of stores and designers closing permanently and others going into voluntary administration, including Australian swimwear labels Tigerlily and Seafolly.
But after 12 years in the business, Forest and Norris say Aje isn’t going anywhere. They also recently opened a second store in Auckland and redesigned their e-commerce platform.
“It’d be really sad if everything was doom and gloom through all of this, so with us opening Westfield Bondi Junction and our second New Zealand store, it’s a big sign of hope for the future,” says Forest. “Through adversity comes strength in many ways. You just need not to panic too much or lose the plot and ride the waves to get through it.”
Aje Bondi Junction
Shop 3062, Westfield Bondi Junction
Mon to Fri 10am–5pm