Sitting down with Ingrid Verner, it’s immediately clear that she just wants to have a decent conversation. The designer doesn’t want to talk about mood boards, what she keeps in her purse or how she takes her coffee. She, and her new label Verner, have a lot more to say than that.
Considering Verner is far from an industry freshman, this isn’t too surprising. She followed the Melbourne designer trail, learning the fashion ropes at RMIT before knotting her own as one half of the once loved, now extinct label TV. At the label’s six-year mark in 2011, both designers went their separate ways in favour of a change. But Verner was far from done with fashion, going onto learn about offshore manufacturing while designing for EP by Easton Pearson for a year. She was then ready to launch her own label, inspired by the idea of designing and creating for her own enjoyment.
“I really want to do this on my terms,” she says matter-of-factly. “I want to put my enjoyment of what I do first, before running to certain deadlines and schedules. I just don’t want to feel the pressure.”
With a 15-month-old son, Rudy Fox, this perspective is understandable. But there’s a deeper motive here, rooted in Verner’s frustration with the dinosaur seasonal rotations of our increasingly digitised fashion industry. “If we want young designers to continue bringing us fresh labels, we have to change the systems that are currently making it so difficult to succeed,” she muses.
Unsurprisingly, heavy product placement, an overwhelming list of stockists and the traditional fashion week circuit aren’t platforms the designer will utilise for her new brand. “The clothes should be able to speak for themselves. If people find and like them, that’s wonderful.”
Verner’s attitude isn’t punk or anti-system, just light-hearted. Her debut collection (currently in store) sold late and so fell under the Resort 2013 category. So she dubbed it ‘Brunswick Health Resort’ – “a piss-take on the traditional timing requirements!” The first reference in the title, Brunswick, harps back to Verner’s other focus: Australia. We’re not talking about outback clichés or the Ken Done colour palette, but rather a reflection of our multifaceted community. “Instead of getting bored pushing the pram around Brunswick, I decided to be inspired by it,” she says. Verner admits an undying love for Sydney Road’s $2 shops and revels in the area’s Greek, Italian and Lebanese culture clashes (see her marble prints, relaxed cuts and solid streetwear vibe). “I feel like streetwear is firmly Australian.” Verner also gets involved in the community she raves about, recently guest judging the Miss South Sudan Australia competition with her press confidante and friend John Ibrahim (of Grey Aviary media).
Verner’s core is set in art as much as it is culture. A vivid example is this collection’s hero kaftan, printed with a fabulous portrait of the late Sunshine-born performance artist and all-round extravagant individual Leigh Bowery. References like this are far from token. “Every collection should be based on where you live and where you’re from. We need to support Australian fashion as its own unique entity, just as Leigh’s talent should have been embraced more.”
Translating this homegrown outlook to an worldwide audience is important for Verner too. It’s a modern strategy that respects the global route fashion is taking. We now have Zara and Topshop at our physical and digital front doors – advances that are now making it essential for Australian brands to stop rehashing and create something intelligent, original and as Verner says, “looks within”. Verner’s physical processes are also internationally framed, with manufacturing spanning from India to Hong Kong and London. The designer will also head to Paris this year to show her second collection and hopes to eventually be able to run the business from anywhere in the world. “I’d like to keep it free.”
This worldly outlook ties back to Verner’s incredibly likeable, down to earth irreverence. “These are simply wearable, interesting, out of the ordinary basics – pieces people want to live in,” she says, splitting into an adamant grin. “After all, it’s just fucking clothes! I’m going to make the process as enjoyable as I want it to be.”