Lara Burnell is a hands-on designer. “I design everything based on personal experience of wearing. That’s how I learn,” she tells Broadsheet. Her label Pantalon reflects this. From nurturing an understanding of the practical steps in design and product development to fostering relationships with a network of local makers, Burnell is navigating the Australian industry one release – which she calls “issues” – at a time.
The terminology around the brand and its collections stems from an adoration of storytelling, particularly in magazines and print media. “I love the combination of words, imagery and art direction on a page – Egoiste, Self Service, Holiday and Sydney-based Swill magazines are all lovely references.” The brand made its debut with the Modern issue late last year, following up with Moonlight as its second instalment. These tight edits (just two or three pieces in each) are made from limited-run fabrics with clean lines and attention to detail.
Pantalon – the Tagalog word for “trousers” – honours Burnell’s childhood memories of her mum’s wardrobe. It also speaks to the way she likes to dress: starting with a good pair of pants and building the outfit from there.
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Why did you launch Pantalon?
My initial motivation to launch the brand stemmed from my interest in trousers, not just as a key wardrobe piece but also how to find the right pair. I wanted to make a
contribution to women’s clothing that was based around this idea.
What is it like to be a newcomer in the Australian fashion industry?
I have to be really hands-on with every step of the production process and at every visit to our local makers – suppliers, patternmakers, cutters, makers and other craftspeople. I love listening to what each artisan has learned in the process of developing their craft. I usually learn something new; often, I’m told funny stories. The manufacturing industry for Australian fashion is quite small. Several of my early contacts were shared generously with me and from there I’ve gone on to meet new people and find the right partners. As a new designer, you just have to keep asking questions and be professional in your approach.
What are the pieces you think everyone should have in their wardrobes?
At least one piece that feels special, that when you first try it on, you get an instinctive feeling that you can really live in this piece and trust it. Clothes and life go hand in hand. It could be anything from a dress with an interesting cut, a quality jacket or really well-made shoes. Don’t be afraid to move on from what no longer works for your life, special pieces often find their way to you.
Can you tell us about your personal style?
My silhouette is minimal. I like to have my jeans, trousers and skirts sit at mid-rise, and my pants to hit the floor with shoes on. I’ll usually start there and keep things interesting with textures such as leather, wool, denim or suede.
I found a vintage camel suede shirt dress and trouser set at the Saint-Ouen markets when I visited Paris earlier this year and paid $200 for a special dry clean service to bring it back to life. It came back a lighter beige colour and the suede had a completely fresh feel and smell – a total restoration. The rack where I found it was full of other vintage designer sets in the same size, and the store owner said a Parisian woman in her sixties left Paris for the country and didn’t need all her beautiful clothes anymore.
I tell that story because it’s an example of how I think about style and clothing, having a sense of real ownership for clothes. I reference vintage and have a particular soft spot for ’60s London and Paris – coats and trousers – as well as the ’90s for simplicity with a bit of grit.
What fabrics do you like working with most?
For trousers I like working with fabrics that drape well, fabrics where wrinkles fall out easily and that aren’t the slightest bit sheer. A little bit of stretch in a blend is often helpful. I’m interested in viscose, wool and crepe blends at the moment, they wear well and aren’t too fussy. [For the end of the year] I’m working with a Japanese crepe blend for summer shirting, which has a nice weight and drape to it. The drape is important in the way the collar sits and the shirt hangs off the body.
What's next for Pantalon?
We just launched the Moonlight issue, which is available now – a trouser and a mini skirt in a silver sparkle wool and lurex blend. They are statement separates that pair effortlessly with white or black wardrobe classics – perfect for end-of-year events. I wore my samples to a friend’s dinner party in London last year and I’m excited to wear them again soon with sandals in Sydney.
We also just launched and hosted the first Sydney-based Pantalon Film Club at Golden Age Cinema in Surry Hills. The chosen film will always be an independent, foreign, classic or cult-style movie in the hopes of provoking inspiration, creativity and great conversation afterwards. It’s a chance to connect and take time out of the week for something mindful and enriching, connecting to the core values of Pantalon.
What are your favourite spots in Sydney?
I love shopping for print at Kinokuniya in The Galeries, Journals in Paddington, the second-hand section of Berkelouw, Title in Surry Hills for their curation, and various second-hand book shops around the Blue Mountains. For museums, I frequent Rose Seidler House, Caroline Simpson Library in the Mint, Elizabeth Bay House and Vaucluse House. You’ll often find me catching a film at Golden Age or The Ritz. And I’ll head to Charcoal Fish in Rose Bay for fish’n’chips by the water and The Carrington in Surry Hills for a local weeknight dinner.