It took a cancer diagnosis during pregnancy to remind Luisa Franco what she really wanted: to start a fashion label.
“I got sick,” says Franco. “It gave me a good kick up the bum to do what I really should have been doing.” That was start Madge, a women’s fashion label with a strong focus on textile design and graphic prints. The style is along the same design lines as Finland’s Marimekko, or Ireland’s Orla Kiely. The name was inspired by Franco’s third daughter, Magenta.
Before Madge, Franco and her partner John Valastro ran a graphic design business. “Instead of using our skills to service other businesses, we decided to see if we could design our own products,” says Valastro. They sold their house and started designing, testing prints and seeking out the right fabric and local makers to start Madge.
The first collection, called The Artist’s Garden, is available in two stages. The first is screen-printed prints (in black and white, lime green and baby pink) and the second is multicoloured, made with a combination of dyeing, digital printing and by-hand screen-printing.
Franco’s background is in fine art, and Valastro’s in branding and symbol design. “There are a lot of prints out there that are really basic, like polka dots and stripes,” says Valastro. “Then there are lot of prints that are illustrative. We’re creating things like symbolic shapes and the sort of motifs you see in brand design.” A symbolic shape might be a bird in flight, deconstructed so it’s just an echo of a bird, and repeated in a medium scale on fabric.
Every Madge garment is printed and constructed locally. Publisher Textiles in Leichhardt hand-screen-prints the two-colour waves, and sewing is done in Marrickville, St Peters and Melbourne.
Base cloths are made from exclusively natural fibres: liquid-y silk, cotton and breathable linen. “[Sourcing fabric] has been a big learning curve. I’m still working on finding good suppliers of natural base cloths. We try to stay away from synthetics.”
Madge’s silhouettes are loose but shapely and complement a variety of body types. “We wanted contemporary fashion to be accessible to all different ages and body shapes,” says Valastro.
Madge’s shop at the King Street end of Australia Street is the first clothing store on the block, and it’s in fine company. It counts Black Star Pastry, Oscillate Wildly and vintage furniture store Drunk on the Moon among its neighbours.
The former office space has been totally reimagined by Franco and Valastro. Walls are white and floorboards dark to offset the racks of bright garments lining the walls.
241 Australia Street, Newtown
(02) 9519 9986
Wed to Sat 11am–5pm