Words by Madeleine Russell
Simplistic, effortless, timeless. There are so many words to describe Stephanie Downey’s designs for Dress Up. Clean cut lines and a colour pallet that sends tingles down your spine. Everything is interchangeable and quite frankly there isn’t one item that we here at PITCH don’t want. We sat down with Stephanie Downey to get her perspective on the pros and cons of studying fashion, the fusion of fashion and art that has become integral to her designs and her creative process.
Tell us a bit about your background in fashion design.
I always thought I would do fine arts, and was always more interested in painting and drawing when I was younger. But I started to make clothes for myself on my mum's sewing machine when I was about 16, and found the design and construction process so satisfying, it indulged all my creative urges, and provided something useful - a garment I could wear. I completed a BA Fashion at RMIT from there I started the venture which has evolved into Dress Up. Looking back this was taking the hard road, as I had no experience at any other fashion company. In the end though I think this protected me from becoming jaded and allowed me to shape the label in my own unique way.
Do you think studying at university (and in your case specifically RMIT) is necessary for making a successful label in Australia? And how did you ‘make it’ once you had graduated from your Bachelor?
It was a slow, experimental exercise, gradually picking up more attention mostly through word of mouth, and I was lucky enough to secure some great stockists early on. I think you can start a fashion label without studying, but it depends how involved you are with the design development and sampling process - you can always outsource pattern cutting, sample machinists, etc. I feel that my pattern cutting and sewing skills are my most valuable asset, it is what forms my design and makes the silhouette, details and fit unique. Most of the time my original designs transform somewhat during the experimental 2D to 3D process. My knowledge of fabrics and fibre content - all this informs my design, so I feel that my education was integral to Dress Up, yes.
How is your label a more artistic take on fashion?
This statement stems from my personal interests and they way they are translated into fashion - my inspiration for design is rarely sourced from fashion references, mostly from film, books, art and photography, novels etc. I really appreciate historical and contemporary fashion design, but I'm more interested in film, photography, art and narratives. Of course once the clothing is in a store it appears as a commercial product, and it's completely up to the customer whether they wish to learn more about the story behind the design. I'm more than happy for the customer to see a beautiful dress and not read any further into it if they are not interested. I don't wish to make it complicated, but I would be bored if I didn't creatively research for each collection - I'd rather be making art.
Is it true that your work is defined as “fashionable without appearing fashionable”?
Ha ha, I think so - I guess it's not really up to me to say though.... I aim for a look that is unpretentious, classic, with subtle and feminine details. That's how I dress, I don't like to feel overly conspicuous, and that translates into my design I think.
Tell us about the title of your latest collection ‘Industriale’ and how you came up with the concept.
Industriale was inspired by imagery of industrial machinery, factories, rubble, debris, and ruins. The film Red Desert was a dominant reference, as well as images from 'The Ruins of Detroit' by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre; their rich, intricate, images of empty abandoned buildings and landscapes. The collection took on the bold colour and robust form of industrial machinery and the streamlined aesthetic of mid 20th century architecture, utilizing a mix of industrial, wintery fabrics reminiscent of factory workers - corduroy, moleskin, bengaline, contrasted by more delicate silk crepes and soft, heavy knitwear. Red Desert's heroine Guiliana's commanding presence, and her austere beauty inspired a powerful, streamlined femininity.
It’s hard not to be completely enthralled in the concept for Downey’s latest collection ‘Industriale” and we just couldn’t end this piece without giving you a little bit more insight to the line and what we love about it. Notable items in the collection are the silvery nude Patch Pocket Blazer, black Pleated Crepe Dress with a mod styled collar and Wool Crepe Boiler. The collection combines nudes, browns, greys and caramels with rich reds, teals and orange. The overall mod based style with a hint of elegant chic makes this collection practically flawless. With stockists all around Australia and a fabulously clean website there is no reason to be without a Dress Up piece this winter.