First published in 1906, Okakura Kakuzo’s The Book of Tea has proved an eloquent paean to Japanese traditionalism; an ode to the importance of the tea ceremony. For designer Jedda-Daisy Culley of Australian label Desert Designs, the ‘Chanoyu’ ritual has become a life philosophy, a reminder to appreciate small, insignificant actions by bestowing an attitude of profundity upon them. “The significance a tea master places on a single flower, for example, is crazy,” says Culley. “It’s almost a relief, allowing you to worship something so insignificant.”
Respect for the deep, spiritual, specific nature of Kazuko’s ceremonial arrangement is familiar to Culley. Since relaunching her father’s quintessentially Australian label, Desert Designs (with business partner Caroline Sundt- Wels), Culley has honed in on small, memorable details. Garments are realised in simple, precise cuts, covered in prints drawn from the felt-pen drawings of Jimmy Pike – the late Aboriginal artist whose work kick started the brand in the 1980s.
Inside the Siberian Desert store, a collaborative concept space with a two- year lease on Chippendale’s Regent Street, Culley and Sundt-Wels, along with Culley’s boyfriend Dan Stricker, have curated a motley arrangement of beautiful objects. Silky ‘Witch Doctor’ dresses and scarves from recent Desert Designs collections hang beside limited- edition Jimmy Pike prints. There are pieces from Venice Jewellery, books on Aboriginal art and headphones inviting visitors to sit and pause. There are also vinyl pickings from Siberia Records – Stricker’s label representing homegrown artists – including Jonti, Erik Omen and Kirin J Callinan. The space reminds Culley of the ’80s, growing up surrounded by the acid-coloured, heavy-print collection of her artist-come-designer father. “My house was wild. [Dad] was always working with a lot of Indigenous artists and they’d come down from The Kimberley and stay with us. There were always people around ...”
As we discuss the Siberian Desert space – its temporal nature, its foundation in goodwill and community – Culley and Stricker’s first ‘collaboration’, a one year old named Lucien, marches boldly around the store, jumping headfirst into piles of bright cushions and grabbing tufts of fur on a shagpile rug. The couple might aim to channel a Japanese- inspired minimalism, but as Culley explains wryly; “children don’t necessarily have the same approach”.
Culley and Stricker have been together for two years. They are a meeting of two complementary forces, the visual and the sonic. Stricker was drawn to the painter and designer – a pink-haired, gutsy creature – almost immediately. He was drumming for Midnight Juggernauts when they met – and still is. “Jedda was living in this crazy house in Bellevue Hill. I was hanging around there a lot and met her. I kind of became obsessed with her,” he laughs.
Flash forward to today, and the couple are visiting their native Australia for a brief spell, launching the Siberian Desert store (which Sundt-Wels runs day to day), visiting family, and for Stricker, madly organising gigs throughout the summer festival season. After that, it’s back to New York’s East Village with Lucien in tow, a home far removed from sea and sand.
“I really love coming back to Sydney,” says Stricker. “This place is like heaven, you forget that when you’re here all the time. It’s really special. I like the idea of taking something Australian and [exporting that] aesthetic to the rest of the world, but always having it to come back to.”
The couple are in New York to expand their respective labels and see what’s possible in the big smoke while growing the Australian side of things. It’s about connecting strangers with stories of a desert dreamer and tuning new, influential ears into the harsh, gnashing howls of Kirin J Callinan. How does the pair manage it all with child in tow? “You just do it!” smiles Culley – and you do. These two move beyond sleep, beyond moments of leisure, pushing forward with the restless, fervent drive embedded firmly in the young.
“Playing in bands for so long and making records ... it always comes together at the last minute,” says Stricker. “And even then, is it finished? Is it not?” Culley turns to him and smiles. “I’m always surprised at how Dan’s stuff comes together. He always seems like this off- the-planet wizard, and then all of a sudden everything just slots into place ... [He] has to be in the moment, be creative in front of everyone. That’s really brave. I can’t do that.”
Siberian Desert 81 Regent St, Chippendale
Hours Mon to Sat 11am – 5pm