Alyx Gor­man on In­grid Verner’s bou­tique la­bel

The Saturday Paper - - Front Page -

Step­ping back from the tra­di­tional model of ever-ex­pand­ing busi­ness has al­lowed Mel­bourne de­signer In­grid Verner to cre­ate a bou­tique la­bel that is a labour of love, writes Alyx Gor­man.

“There’s an in­ter­est­ing new par­a­digm that I think is go­ing to play out in a weird way,” says In­grid Verner, the fash­ion de­signer be­hind Mel­bourne-based la­bel Verner. “We are get­ting to the point where peo­ple are want­ing to buy less. They’re not shop­ping with the same fe­roc­ity. But the thing is, we have more prod­ucts [for those peo­ple] avail­able. It’s fierce! I feel like I see a new well­man­nered, trans­par­ently man­u­fac­tured, eth­i­cal, or­ganic fab­ric brand … ev­ery week.”

Verner’s own eth­i­cally cer­ti­fied cre­ations tick many of those boxes. Though af­ter more than a decade in the in­dus­try, her works aren’t nearly as po­lite as the sim­ple li­nen blouses and or­ganic cot­ton trousers with which she finds her­self shar­ing a niche. Verner’s ca­reer as a nameon-the-la­bel de­signer be­gan straight out of univer­sity, when she launched a la­bel with fel­low RMIT grad­u­ate Monika Ty­wanek. Ty­wanek had con­trib­uted to Verner’s hon­ours-year col­lec­tion, which they en­tered into the de­signer award at Mel­bourne Fash­ion Fes­ti­val in 2006. To their sur­prise, they won, and the $10,000 prize­money un­der­wrote the brand’s first col­lec­tion un­der the name TV. De­spite hav­ing a la­bel name that was ac­tively hos­tile to search en­gines, the brand sur­vived un­til 2011, gar­ner­ing in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion from stock­ists such as Henri Ben­del and Top­shop. Af­ter dis­band­ing TV, Verner spent some time re­com­pos­ing, work­ing for Bris­banebased Eas­ton Pear­son, be­fore launch­ing Verner in 2012.

Five years on, she’s “re­struc­tured my whole set of ex­pec­ta­tions around what I can re­ally achieve with my busi­ness. I’m not … try­ing to grow my busi­ness any­more. I’m happy to just see it as an as­pect of my work­ing life.”

Verner also teaches fash­ion de­sign. In that ca­pac­ity, she en­cour­ages her stu­dents to “re­ally re­flect on who they are … where they’re from, how they see the world, what they’re in­ter­ested in. Not only that, but also what they’re re­ally good at, what they’re not so good at and how they want to live their life.” While a few years ago most fash­ion de­sign stu­dents dreamed of launch­ing their own brand, now most of Verner’s pupils see that path­way for what it is – a hard slog rid­dled with po­ten­tial dead-ends.

“That’s a new way of think­ing. They get that it is a re­ally hard in­dus­try. And that’s why I think that ap­proach to prac­tice – think­ing out­side of the box in terms of what you en­joy and what’s unique to your ap­proach – is re­ally im­por­tant. There’s new brands pop­ping up all the time. The ones that do well are the ones where peo­ple have re­ally worked out what they’re about. That’s heav­ily tied into who they are as peo­ple and their ap­proach to life and life­style.”

Verner is adept at prac­tis­ing what she teaches. In fact, that’s how she refers to her work as a de­signer – as “a prac­tice”. Rather than “range-plan­ning” – a largely ad­min­is­tra­tive process whereby de­sign­ers en­sure they have x amount of sell­able ba­sics to y por­tions of trend­driven dresses, to z quan­tity of avant-garde, im­agedefin­ing run­way looks – Verner is tak­ing things one gar­ment at a time. “It’s just not as fo­cused on the range as a whole, but more on the in­tegrity of the in­di­vid­ual pieces.”

This means she in­vests her fi­nite time in metic­u­lous pat­tern cut­ting and re­al­is­tic in­jec­tions of nov­elty. “If I can find that magic – easy to wear but not con­ser­va­tive, quite in­ter­est­ing and a bit spe­cial, so when peo­ple do see it and when it’s worn out on the streets, an­other per­son is go­ing to say, ‘Oh my God, where did you get that from?’ – that’s just a lit­tle bit of an in.”

Her aim to make a small num­ber of pieces, each so spe­cial strangers will lit­er­ally stop each other in the street for wear­ing them, be­gins with print. The ul­ti­mate ex­am­ple is a cap­sule col­lec­tion Verner de­signed with artist Lisa Waup which was cu­rated by Craft Vic­to­ria’s re­tail, com­mis­sions and de­vel­op­ment man­ager, Sarah We­ston. The col­lab­o­ra­tion first showed on Mel­bourne Fash­ion Fes­ti­val’s Global Indige­nous Run­way, and will soon be avail­able for pur­chase through Craft Vic­to­ria.

Waup is pri­mar­ily known for her weav­ing, but this col­lab­o­ra­tion made use of her print­mak­ing skills. “Most of the draw­ings were only A4 in size,” says Waup, who sup­plied sev­eral sketch­books for Verner to work with. “We talked about how we could mir­ror the de­signs to cre­ate a con­tin­ued pat­tern.”

“We worked to­gether with scale,” says Verner. “I didn’t want to do too much in­ter­nal cut­ting or to splice up those prints, or make them too small or re­peated... it was about show­cas­ing the print and the place­ment of that print on the body, rather than any tricky cut­ting or over-the-top de­sign el­e­ments.”

The re­sult­ing col­lec­tion is strik­ing – giv­ing ab­so­lute pri­macy to the prints, while al­low­ing the body space to breathe within the gar­ment. “The idea of hav­ing an open col­lec­tion was a mas­sive goal for me. I wanted the pieces to have a gender-in­clu­sive na­ture. I thought, why should it be re­stricted to one sex, why not al­low all to cel­e­brate these beau­ti­ful de­signs?” Waup says. “I hope that any­one feels that they can wear this col­lec­tion.”

This pair of de­ci­sions – big prints, gen­er­ous fits – gives the col­lec­tion a fu­tur­is­tic edge. One large print – Homeward Bound­aries – has been placed thought­fully on a vo­lu­mi­nous short-sleeved jump­suit. Its cen­tral, cir­cu­lar mo­tif sits curved around the side of the body, its stri­ated edges ra­di­at­ing out un­til the pat­tern be­gins to re­peat it­self right at the ster­num and in­ner thighs. More than any­thing, the piece re­calls Kan­sai Ya­mamoto’s work with David Bowie in the 1970s, but it is im­bued with Waup’s highly per­sonal in­ves­ti­ga­tions of her own re­cov­ered her­itage.

“I orig­i­nally cre­ated a se­ries of prints in­cor­po­rat­ing doc­u­ments that I had been given through the Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act about fam­ily. Through this came a se­ries of shields that metaphor­i­cally acted as a pro­tec­tion to this in­for­ma­tion. They were lay­ered on top of the doc­u­ments –pro­tect­ing its con­tent, pro­tect­ing the in­for­ma­tion and the sto­ries of the fam­ily in­cluded. The shield de­sign has since grown into sim­ple line draw­ing, go­ing down into the grain of the shield’s wood – yet still hav­ing that pro­tec­tion el­e­ment in­grained.”

The kind of pat­tern-match­ing re­quired of Verner and Waup, to en­sure Waup’s work acted as it was in­tended to – as an en­cas­ing, pro­tec­tive layer – was in­tri­cate. “A great deal of this con­nec­tion came when the sew­ing was done, and was ex­tremely time-con­sum­ing,” Waup says. For­tu­nately, when com­pleted, “it was to­tally flaw­less”.

“What a mo­ment that was, see­ing the fin­ished pieces on the beau­ti­ful Indige­nous models,” Waup re­calls of the run­way show. “I felt that the pieces came alive. For so long I viewed them in 2D – once worn they be­came

3D, al­most an­i­mated as they moved.”

Though the col­lec­tion will be for sale, its com­mis­sion­ing by Craft Vic­to­ria, with fund­ing from Cre­ative Vic­to­ria, was a fi­nan­cial model far more com­mon in art than fash­ion.

“Ev­ery­thing sold goes di­rectly to the artist, which is great,” Verner says. She adds that she’s as scep­ti­cal of so­cial en­ter­prises as she is of the glut of eth­i­cal ba­sics. “It’s like, ‘Great, if you make a profit, then it goes back to the com­mu­nity.’ But we all know how hard it is to ac­tu­ally make a profit. Lisa gets paid whether I make any money or not, which is great for me.”

That ob­ser­va­tion marks an­other dif­fer­ence in the way Verner now ap­proaches fash­ion: an un­will­ing­ness to rely on in­terns. “With TV, we used to op­er­ate on hav­ing a lot of in­terns and that sort of thing. It’s just some­thing I would never do now. To have unpaid labour in my stu­dio ... Big brands still op­er­ate on this level where they’ve got the four or five unpaid in­terns work­ing around the clock be­fore Fash­ion Week. The re­al­ity of the sit­u­a­tion is even if you’re – seem­ingly from the out­side – a highly suc­cess­ful, well-recog­nised young brand in­ter­na­tion­ally, you’re still strug­gling fi­nan­cially. It’s just such a hard game in that way.”

That’s where fash­ion as prac­tice, not en­trepreneur­ship, comes in. “The ap­peal to stay re­ally small is great. I can go into my stu­dio and maybe work with one per­son for a few hours who I pay to do a spe­cific job. I’m not man­ag­ing two or three in­terns ev­ery day. I’ve got space to think and to do my work at my own pace.

Yes, my out­put isn’t pro­lific, but at least I am en­joy­ing the process a lot more.”

Tak­ing the pres­sure off has given Verner the free­dom to be truly in­ti­mate, and cre­ative, in the way she works. Large “col­lec­tions” in the typ­i­cal, plot­ted sense aren’t nec­es­sary. “The way I’m ap­proach­ing my prac­tice as a de­signer, the peo­ple I col­lab­o­rate with, their prints –

• that is, in it­self, the nar­ra­tive now.”

ALYX GOR­MAN is The Satur­day Paper’s fash­ion ed­i­tor.

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