A new label by two best friends aims to dress chic, curvy women for the boardroom. By GEORGINA SAFE
Curvy label Sestre balances business and pleasure.
When Harper’s BAZAAR calls Ljubenka Milunovic, she’s sitting in a log cabin overlooking Lake Placid, a five-hour drive north of New York City. Is the international plus-size model on holiday? “Wouldn’t that be lovely, but I’m here to work my butt off for the next four days,” she says, laughing. Milunovic’s impending shoot for American curvy brand full beauty is the latest in a catalogue of work modelling for the likes of Chico’s and Talbots, but when it comes to Milunovic’s own wardrobe, she struggles to find the designer clothes she covets in her size. “the mass market is well and truly taken care of with the number of curvy brands out there, but I really wanted to be wearing the quality, style and construction of clothes that my best friend Dijanna was able to access, and unfortunately I didn’t feel I had that option,” she says.
The result is Sestre, a new designer brand by Milunovic and Dijanna Mulhearn aimed at delivering plus-size women luxurious wardrobe options with a fashion edge. Designed by Mulhearn, a former PR at Prada Australia and Harper’s BAZAAR, and author of Wardrobe 101: Creating your Perfect
Core Wardrobe, Sestre is named for the Croatian and Serbian word meaning ‘sisters’ and is focused on fostering a community of likeminded and like-sized women. “Ljubenka is half Serbian and half Croatian, and I’m full Croatian, and we’ve felt like sisters ever since we first met,” Mulhearn says. “plus-size women often feel marginalised when it comes to fashion, so we want to make them feel included and part of a sisterhood.”
With Sestre’s debut collection, the sisterhood can choose from sleek blazers, pencil skirts with bold cascading ruffles, softly tailored blouses and arresting asymmetrical cocktail dresses in sizes 14 to 22, all manufactured in Australia.the brand also offers a bespoke service for all sizes 14 and above. According to an IBISWORLD 2017 study of the Australian retail sector, the plus-size clothing market last year generated $842.7 million in revenue and is forecast to continually increase, with 65 per cent of our population now falling into the category. Milunovic acts as muse to her business partner, who takes in the model’s feedback to craft garments that celebrate rather than shroud the women who wear them. “I’ve done a lot of public speaking about fashion and I’ve always felt helpless when curvy women have asked me where they can find beautiful clothes in their own size,” Mulhearn says. “i’m determined to create a curvy label that challenges straight-size labels, and I’m using my experience at Prada, which was all about intelligent design, to do that.”
Sestre draws its design ethos from architecture and sculpture, and is especially attentive to women in the corporate sector. “the curve market is covered when it comes to casual clothing, so we thought, Who can we help most in a meaningful way? and we came down to career women who felt marginalised in their wardrobe choices because of their size,” Mulhearn says. “it’s a very undervalued market we’re excited to address. ”a panelled coat inspired by the silhouette of the Chrysler Building that draws the eye in at the waist and out at the hip and shoulders, and a structured black dress with a bold cobalt fabric over piece providing a flattering geometrical line are among the standout pieces.
“Of course, you can style our clothes to do anything — weddings, weekends, whatever,” Milunovic clarifies. “but every one of our pieces is designed so that when you walk into the office, somebody says, ‘Wow, I wish I was wearing that.’”
Ljubenka Milunovic (left), wearing Sestre dress, $770, and Dijanna Mulhearn, wearing her own Acne Studios shirt; The Row pants; R.M. Williams belt.
Sestre top, $185, and skirt, $288; Christian Dior sunglasses, price on application; Hunt Leather bag, $895; Christian Louboutin shoes; Gucci watch, both price on application. Above: Sestre dress, $770; bag and shoes as previous; Milunovic’s own earrings, sestrethelabel.com.