SEWN UP

Be­hind the seams with fash­ion de­signer Christo­pher Es­ber.

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­phy BRIANNE MAKIN Words ALICE WASLEY

At a time when most 20-year-olds’ Satur­day nights re­volved firmly around the next pit stop on their so­cial crawl, Christo­pher Es­ber was usu­ally alone, hunched over a sewing ma­chine in­side his par­ents’ garage.

A decade on, Es­ber laughs as he tells Stellar about those early days (and nights) spent in ser­vice of launch­ing his epony­mous la­bel. “I would say I didn’t have a crazy 20s,” says Es­ber over cof­fee at a cafe be­neath his stu­dio in Syd­ney’s Red­fern. “I wasn’t able to! My friends would be out, like, ‘Oh, where are you?’ I’d say, ‘I’m sewing; I’ve got a dead­line.’”

Es­ber grad­u­ated from Syd­ney TAFE’S Fash­ion De­sign Stu­dio in 2007 aged 20; along with three other stu­dents, he was cho­sen to show­case his work at Rose­mount Aus­tralian Fash­ion Week. When his first col­lec­tion de­buted three years later, Vogue Aus­tralia praised the “am­bi­tion” of Es­ber’s sharply tai­lored de­signs and the shrewd­ness of his de­ci­sion to use the work­ing woman’s wardrobe as its nexus. As the re­view ob­served, “Christo­pher Es­ber is only 23, and he’s al­ready set him­self spec­tac­u­larly ex­act­ing stan­dards.”

Since then, the de­signer has en­joyed a steady rise, care­fully pac­ing his brand’s mo­men­tum in the midst of in­dus­try strug­gles and the domino-like top­ple of big la­bels such as Marcs and David Lawrence. In 2014, he was a fi­nal­ist in the In­ter­na­tional Wool­mark Prize; a year later, the re­cip­i­ent of Vogue Italia’s Most Tal­ented De­signer Award for Aus­tralia-pa­cific. In Fe­bru­ary, Es­ber de­buted his A/W ’17 col­lec­tion at New York Fash­ion Week. More pos­i­tive re­views fol­lowed. Lon­don’s Har­vey Ni­chols came on­board as a stock­ist.

Re­flect­ing on his early days, Es­ber, 30, says his child­hood in the outer Syd­ney sub­urb of Auburn was “pretty nor­mal”. There is a nine-year age gap be­tween Es­ber and his older sis­ter, Pa­tri­cia, which he sus­pects fed his cre­ativ­ity. “I grew up an only child in a way,” he ex­plains. “Play­ing on my own and cre­at­ing my own re­al­ity. I wasn’t nec­es­sar­ily very quick to make friends. I’m still that way.”

Given his shy na­ture and the fact he had no con­nec­tions to the in­dus­try, Es­ber cred­its a strong, non-judge­men­tal sup­port net­work of friends and family with help­ing him get from his par­ents’ garage to the run­ways of New York. “Which was sur­pris­ing,” he ad­mits, “[be­cause] they’re a tra­di­tional Le­banese house­hold. I said to my dad once, ‘I want to be a fash­ion de­signer.’ He said, ‘If

that’s what you want to do, then you work hard and make it hap­pen.’”

Es­ber’s par­ents, Ge­orge and Therese, em­i­grated to Aus­tralia in the late ’70s; Ge­orge told his son that dur­ing his own youth, he longed to join an orchestra. “His fa­ther wouldn’t al­low him to do that,” Es­ber says. “It had been one of his big­gest re­grets.”

When he was launch­ing his la­bel and spend­ing long stretches work­ing alone, his mum would “come in with Le­banese cof­fee on a tray with lit­tle snacks and bis­cuits”. Yet even to­day Es­ber sus­pects they were qui­etly du­bi­ous about his prospects. “My mum, dad and sis­ter are teach­ers and my brother’s an ac­coun­tant. In that re­spect, I was def­i­nitely the black sheep. I think in the early days they were like, ‘What is he do­ing? He’s just play­ing around with denim.’”

Still, Ge­orge has fond mem­o­ries of the son who made clothes from what­ever he could find ly­ing around. “He would spend days and nights work­ing on a col­lec­tion,” Ge­orge says. “So many times I’d ask him, ‘Is it worth it?’ and he would say, ‘Some­times I get an­gry and up­set, but at the end of the day I’m hap­pier for it.’ He loves it – he wouldn’t do any­thing else!”

As for his mother, Es­ber nom­i­nates her as his tough­est cus­tomer. “She is very picky,” he laughs. “Even now she can pick apart a col­lec­tion. She’s tra­di­tional and def­i­nitely has her codes of how she wears cloth­ing and what she likes. She hates print, and ac­tu­ally I do, too. Maybe that was a bit of an in­flu­ence…” The but­ter­flies, he ad­mits, have started in earnest. Es­ber col­lab­o­rates with tex­tile spe­cial­ists around the world to turn his vi­sions into re­al­ity. As he points to a “fab­ric board” for the show and a piece of “la­tex lace” he had spe­cially made in Switzer­land, he says the start­ing point for any piece is usu­ally the ma­te­rial. In this in­stance, he ex­plains, “I wanted to take ev­ery­thing we know about sweet pro­por­tion and gar­den dresses – then put a sub­ver­sive twist on it.”

Es­ber plans to show in New York again this Septem­ber, and is set on crack­ing the Amer­i­can mar­ket – even if it takes more than a few tries. “I’m a mod­ern-day Kylie,” he jokes.

“He’s cer­tainly got what it takes,” pre­dicts Vogue Aus­tralia editor-in-chief and Aus­tralian Fash­ion Cham­ber chair Ed­wina Mccann. A long­time sup­porter, she says she’s “watched Es­ber and his brand evolve since his early col­lec­tions. We saw a huge amount of in­ter­est in his brand from buy­ers and me­dia when he took part in the Aus­tralian Fash­ion Cham­ber’s De­sign­ers Abroad pro­gram in Paris last year. He al­ready has a re­peat in­ter­na­tional re­tail cus­tomer base and an orig­i­nal point of view. Peo­ple like him, so they want to in­vest in him.”

Lo­cal fans in­clude Lara Wor­thing­ton, ac­tor and model Phoebe Tonkin and Home And Away’s Pia Miller, who chose Es­ber to de­sign her slinky black gown for the 2015 Lo­gies. “Chris’s de­signs and aes­thetic ap­peal to a woman’s true shape,p, which is why I loved col­lab­o­rat­ing with himh for my cus­tom Lo­gies dress dress,” Miller says. “I nat­u­rally have cu curves and I love the way Chris’s de de­con­structed tai­lor­ing works with my shape. And I ad­mire h his at­ten­tion to so­phis­ti­cated d de­tail­ing.”

For all his ex ex­act­ing fo­cus and tire­less com com­mit­ment to do­ing the hard yards, Es­ber is far from in­fal­li­ble.in­fal­lib There are times, he tells St Stellar, when he’s con­sid­ered the taskst at hand and asked himse him­self, “Am I go­ing to do this? Can IdI do this?”

There is only o one cor­rect an­swer. Es­ber doe does not see him­self walk­ing away, he jokes, un­til he’s “dead on the ground”.

“I want to grow the busi­ness,” he says. “I want tot get stocked here and ther there. You hit those mile­stones anda you’re like, OK, what’s ne next? You just keep push­ing t through.”

``i was def­i­nitely the black sheep´´

MA­TE­RIAL WORLD (from left) Christo­pher Es­ber in his Syd­ney stu­dio; putting the

WHEN STELLAR MEETS with Es­ber, he’s in the fi­nal stages of pre­par­ing to showw his re­sort col­lec­tion at Mercedes-benz edes-benz Fash­ion Week Aus­tralia, stralia, which kicks off tonight. night.

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