Golden Aje

For one Aus­tralian la­bel work­ing with a cher­ished artist’s legacy, a re­sort col­lec­tion cre­ated more than just clothes, writes Alice Bir­rell.

VOGUE Australia - - Singular Style -

When de­sign­ers are en­cour­aged to fo­cus on the fu­ture, in an age when we throw around words like ‘next’ and ‘vi­sion’ ad in­fini­tum, it takes brav­ery to buck all this and take a wider view. In Aus­tralia, where our past and the telling of it has been fraught and tu­mul­tuous, it is the abil­ity to see sim­i­lar­i­ties pow­er­ful enough to draw us to­gether that united Syd­ney-based la­bel Aje and the fam­ily of revered Indige­nous artist Min­nie Pw­erle.

Art was the link and so­cial me­dia the agent that en­abled the col­lab­o­ra­tion of Pw­erle’s de­scen­dants Jade and Fred Tor­res with Aje’s Ed­wina Robinson and Adrian Nor­ris. “I stud­ied paint­ing at art school and have al­ways been fas­ci­nated by the work of Min­nie and her sis­ter [painter] Emily Kame Kng­war­r­eye,” says Nor­ris. “I started fol­low­ing Pw­erle Gallery on In­sta­gram and then the op­por­tu­nity arose.”

An un­der­stand­ing of Pw­erle’s legacy was cen­tral to taking her gestural work, char­ac­terised by broad de­ci­sive strokes, and trans­lat­ing it with sen­si­tiv­ity to a re­sort col­lec­tion, says Robinson: “It was very im­por­tant to Jade and Fred and the legacy of Min­nie Pw­erle that the col­lab­o­ra­tion cel­e­brated her art­work and brought her work to new au­di­ences.”

With tiered and feath­ered party dresses, sweet broderie-anglaise blouses and lan­guid beaded gowns, the col­lec­tion will have Aje’s loyal younger fol­low­ing dis­cov­er­ing and wear­ing Pw­erle’s work. “It def­i­nitely made us think about de­sign as a form of sto­ry­telling,” adds Robinson, on →

“FASH­ION HAS IM­MEA­SUR­ABLE POWER TO TRANS­FORM PEO­PLE IN A PHYS­I­CAL AND EMO­TIONAL SENSE”

whom the sig­nif­i­cance of choos­ing three Pw­erle prints from the archive was not lost. “Fash­ion has im­mea­sur­able power to trans­form peo­ple in a phys­i­cal and emo­tional sense.” The ex­u­ber­ant sleeves, the abun­dance of dresses and the blush, white and ecru pal­ette was a cel­e­bra­tion of free­dom and fem­i­nin­ity, a cen­tral fo­cus in­spired by Pw­erle’s in­volve­ment with women’s cer­e­monies, paint­ing the bod­ies of her tribe mem­bers to pay re­spect to coun­try and to their re­spon­si­bil­ity safe­guard­ing the well­be­ing of the com­mu­nity.

But there was dark­ness, too. “Min­nie’s daugh­ter Bar­bara Weir was part of the Stolen Gen­er­a­tion,” says Robinson, ac­knowl­edg­ing the tale of sep­a­ra­tion that saw Min­nie suf­fer the in­con­ceiv­able loss of her daugh­ter and Bar­bara her mother at the hands of wel­fare au­thor­i­ties, both spend­ing decades think­ing the other had passed away. “Min­nie, Bar­bara and their fam­i­lies have had to en­dure many heartaches and hard­ships. It was im­por­tant to us that this was in­cor­po­rated into the de­signs in some ca­pac­ity,” says Robinson. This el­e­ment of their story is re­flected in leather belts and strap­ping around waists, as well as fit-and-flare sleeves bound by ties, and bon­ing in gar­ments meant to com­mu­ni­cate sup­pres­sion.

Free­dom came in the 1960s, when they discovered the truth and were re­united, some­thing flow­ing floor-length tea dresses streaked with the ex­u­ber­ant and vis­ceral brush­strokes of Pw­erle’s seem to evoke. Op­ti­mism be­came the over­ar­ch­ing mes­sage. “It’s im­por­tant there are peo­ple at the fore­front who are very re­spect­ful of the his­tory and essence while not be­ing afraid to move the legacy for­ward,” says Robinson.

What sparked the ini­tial union has bound them to­gether for the fu­ture. “Jade had long been a fan of our brand and loved that, un­like other brands that try to es­cape their Aus­tralian ori­gins, we have al­ways been very proud to be Aus­tralian and to present a quin­tes­sen­tial Aus­tralian sense of style,” re­flects Robinson. Proof that pride in our past is one of the most com­pelling paths for­ward.

AJE RE­SORT ’17/’18 AT STANDLEY CHASM IN THE NORTH­ERN TER­RI­TORY, A SA­CRED TRIBAL AREA WHERE THE LA­BEL CHOSE TO SHOOTP ARTO F A FILM PAY­ING TRIBUTE TO ARTIST MIN­NIE PW­ERLE.

THE CREW AND MODEL JEET PAVLOVIC AT STANDLEY CHASM.

SHOOT­ING AT THE OCHRE PITS WHERE TRIBAL MEM­BERS USE THE VI­BRANT COLOURS OF THE STONES MIXED WITH WA­TER TO MAKE BODY PAINT FOR TRIBAL CER­E­MONIES.

REDBANK GORGE IN THE NORTH­ERN TER­RI­TORY.

NOR­RIS AND ROBINSON SIT­TING WITH BAR­BARA WEIR, WHO IN­VITED THE PAIR TO HER HOME IN ALICE SPRINGS

NIGHT-TIME AT THE OCHRE PITS, REDBANK GORGE.

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