Dream team

Aje’s new col­lec­tion is bring­ing aware­ness to the beauty of Indige­nous cul­ture.

ELLE (Australia) - - Contents -

It’s uni­ver­sally known that art and fash­ion go to­gether like Bey­oncé and Jay Z. And when tech­nol­ogy is thrown into the mix? “So­cial me­dia does pow­er­ful things,” says Adrian Nor­ris, one half of the duo be­hind Aus­tralian la­bel Aje. He and de­sign part­ner Ed­wina Robin­son are stand­ing back­stage be­fore their re­sort 2018 show at the Art Gallery of NSW with Jade Tor­res, founder of Pw­erle Abo­rig­i­nal Art Gallery, an on­line ini­tia­tive spe­cial­is­ing in works by Abo­rig­i­nal artists hail­ing from the Utopia re­gion of the North­ern Ter­ri­tory. Nor­ris, an art-school grad­u­ate, had been fol­low­ing the gallery’s In­sta­gram ac­count closely when Tor­res – daugh­ter of re­spected art dealer Fred Tor­res, grand­daugh­ter to renowned artist Bar­bara Weir and great-grand­daugh­ter to the leg­endary Min­nie Pw­erle – reached out to sug­gest a col­lab­o­ra­tion.

It was the late Pw­erle’s bold and free-flow­ing brush­strokes that in­spired the Aje team. Pw­erle was an Alyawarre woman born in the early 1920s, fa­mous for her art de­spite only be­gin­ning to paint in her eight­ies. While her works draw on an­cient cul­ture and tra­di­tion, their lin­ear na­ture and mod­ern vi­brancy made them ideal for trans­fer­ring onto fab­ric, with three paint­ings trans­lated into prints. “All three are from the same Dream­ing, Awe­lye At­nwengerrp,” says Tor­res. “They tell a story of the tra­di­tional women’s cer­e­mony where the women paint ochre on their bod­ies and sing their Dream­time, which will travel from camp­site to camp­site – it’s their way of com­mu­ni­cat­ing their cul­ture.”

The de­sign­ers were metic­u­lous about stay­ing true to the colour pal­ette and scale of the works they adorned on sculp­tural dresses and shirts, but Pw­erle’s in­flu­ence is ev­i­dent far be­yond the print pieces, from vo­lu­mi­nous shapes to leather bind­ing. “We wanted a strong di­rec­tion in terms of the sil­hou­ettes that had some bear­ing to the art­work and what she was try­ing to con­vey, her love for the land,” says Robin­son.

“My grand­mother, Bar­bara, was in the stolen gen­er­a­tion,” says Tor­res. “She got taken away from Min­nie when she was only 10.” On the run­way, Aje paid trib­ute to Pw­erle’s life story with belted suit­ing and corsetry giv­ing way to free-flow­ing dresses. “It’s al­most a re­flec­tion of be­ing bound and then free­dom when they even­tu­ally re­united.”

For Tor­res, the col­lab­o­ra­tion is a chance to bring an un­der­stand­ing of Indige­nous cul­ture to a new au­di­ence. “There’s a lot of neg­a­tive im­agery on the cul­ture when ac­tu­ally it’s a beau­ti­ful mes­sage... For me, it’s about want­ing to take back that cul­ture and bring it out in a more pos­i­tive way.” It’s also about as­sist­ing the next gen­er­a­tion, which is why a per­cent­age of the sale of each print piece will go to Pw­erle’s fam­ily to help con­tinue the artis­tic tra­di­tion and the com­mu­ni­ca­tion of it.

For Aje, a brand that’s ded­i­cated it­self to “raw beauty” and “tough fem­i­nin­ity” since launch­ing in 2008, the col­lec­tion was an evo­lu­tion of sorts, not to men­tion a chance to visit the land­scape Pw­erle was in­spired by. Meet­ing Weir near Alice Springs while shoot­ing a short film fea­tur­ing the col­lec­tion was a pinch-me mo­ment for the de­sign­ers. “We were a bit wor­ried what she’d think of the col­lab­o­ra­tion but she was re­ally ex­cited,” says Robin­son. “She wanted some of the shirts in the Min­nie Pw­erle prints, which is re­ally, re­ally cool!”

DRAPED IN HIS­TORY From left: Ed­wina Robin­son and Adrian Nor­ris with a model and Jade Tor­res

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