New York-based “non-Aus­tralian Aus­tralian” de­signer Matthew Adams Dolan talks about get­ting the at­ten­tion of su­per­stars, his new all-Amer­i­can col­lec­tion and why he’s kick­ing tra­di­tional streetwear to the curb. By Zara Wong.

VOGUE Australia - - CONTENTS -

New York-based “non-Aus­tralian Aus­tralian” de­signer Matthew Adams Dolan on why he’s kick­ing tra­di­tional streetwear to the curb.

Each year at Thanks­giv­ing, Amer­i­can flags would go up out­side the Adams Dolan house­hold in Syd­ney’s Cas­tle Hill, an af­flu­ent sub­urb about 30 kilo­me­tres north-west of the CBD. Matthew Adams Dolan’s mother – an avid quilter and sewer – would en­sure the dec­o­ra­tions were in place and that a tra­di­tional Amer­i­can Thanks­giv­ing would be cel­e­brated. For Christ­mas, his rel­a­tives in Amer­ica would send him OshKosh and L.L. Bean clothes that he would wear for the next year.

“I have al­ways felt quite Amer­i­can,” says de­signer Adams Dolan in an Aus­tralian ac­cent. Born in a small town out­side of Bos­ton, he grew up pri­mar­ily in Aus­tralia, save for stints in high school in coun­try­side Ja­pan and in Switzer­land on univer­sity ex­change. His par­ents were meant to be in Aus­tralia for only a few years, but they en­joyed it so much that it was pro­longed – and they still live in Syd­ney, his fa­ther is an agron­o­mist and his mother a nar­cotics in­ves­ti­ga­tor. But he con­firmed his outsider sta­tus ear­lier, con­scious of his iden­tity as a “non-Aus­tralian Aus­tralian”, as he puts it, liv­ing in Aus­tralia, “or when I was in Switzer­land or in Ja­pan, where I was ob­vi­ously not Ja­panese, so you’re al­ways dis­tanced im­me­di­ately from ev­ery­one be­cause of that”, he says. “When you’re an outsider, you’re able to take a step back and look at ev­ery­one and ev­ery­thing else around you.”

Tall and limby, there is no miss­ing Adams Dolan – his height would have en­sured sec­ond glances back in ru­ral Ja­pan. There’s a com­fort­able gait that is in tune with the pit­ter-pat­ter of his Lake­land ter­rier, Maisie, who he’s walk­ing to­day. Weav­ing through the streets from his loft apart­ment-cum-stu­dio at the south­ern wharves of Man­hat­tan to Chelsea, Maisie’s best char­ac­ter­is­tic is to make sure that Adams Dolan leaves his apart­ment, where the 30-year-old reg­u­larly works till the early hours sew­ing or plan­ning new col­lec­tions.

The new liv­ing quar­ters is an up­grade from his Wil­liams­burg flat share – com­plete with a sew­ing ma­chine and a loom in the cor­ner – where they Airbnbed the spare room to help with bills. Now his de­sign equip­ment sprawls through­out his liv­ing space. Cur­rent and past sea­son mood­boards with early-90s fashion ed­i­to­ri­als (pas­tel suit­ing, Christy Turling­ton in bold gold jew­ellery and a white blazer) and pho­to­graphs of John F. Kennedy Jr with Carolyn Bes­sette (red car­pet and pa­parazzi shots) lean against the walls. “We’re all so con­cerned with pol­i­tics now; it’s in­escapable, so it’s in­ter­est­ing to look at the past,” he says. “Amer­i­cans are al­ways go­ing to be ob­sessed with the Kennedys, be­cause it was such a big part of the cul­ture. What Jackie Kennedy wore shaped how women dressed, and how they did their hair.”

The lure of hav­ing an in­de­pen­dent la­bel was never a temp­ta­tion for Adams Dolan, who feels – hon­estly – that it hap­pened by kismet. He was in­ter­ested in tex­tiles, hav­ing writ­ten the­ses about weav­ing in Amer­ica. “I al­ways wanted to work in a big com­pany in tex­tile de­vel­op­ment, and when I fin­ished school, I was go­ing to amaz­ing in­ter­views and they would say: ‘Ah, we don’t have any­thing at the mo­ment’ or: ‘We don’t know if this is the right po­si­tion for you,’” he says in a quiet voice of the time when he was fin­ish­ing his com­pet­i­tive masters de­gree at Par­sons School of De­sign in Green­wich Vil­lage. He had also com­pleted his un­der­grad­u­ate dou­ble de­gree at Syd­ney’s Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy in de­sign as well as French and Swiss lit­er­a­ture – he has an in­tel­lec­tual cu­rios­ity that ex­tends far be­yond the worlds of fashion and de­sign. But in the mean­time, the grad­u­ate col­lec­tion he did as part of his Par­sons masters de­gree was gain­ing trac­tion, re­quested for shoot af­ter shoot. Stylist Alas­tair McKimm cot­toned on early and en­listed him to work with his team to sew gar­ments as re­quired for a slew of his projects.

If there is a sin­gu­lar mo­ment that de­fines the young de­signer – the one that can­not go un­men­tioned in any story about him – is the Ri­hanna mo­ment. Rewind, go back – he had re­ceived a last-minute re­quest for a sam­ple that he didn’t have on hand. But, the sam­ple was for a shoot with the singer and he stayed up all night to re-sew the par­tic­u­lar look. The rest, as they would say, was fashion his­tory – Ri­hanna loved the piece so much that she wore it out and was promptly pho­tographed in it, caus­ing a furore as to who the main­stream-wise un­known de­signer was be­hind her over­sized denim jacket. “She wore it the next day, the next day, and the next. It was a lot of at­ten­tion in one week!” Dolan beams.

The re­ac­tion was un­prece­dented. (Lady Gaga had worn his pieces be­fore and the re­sponse was no­tice­ably qui­eter.) His in­box ex­ploded: Ri­hanna’s fans wanted to buy it, re­tail­ers in Ja­pan and Open­ing Cer­e­mony in New York were in­ter­ested, even though whole­sal­ing his grad­u­ate col­lec­tion was not part of his orig­i­nal plan. “It was a mat­ter of tim­ing and cir­cum­stances,” he shrugs, in be­tween passers-by stop­ping to pat Maisie. “And I have sewn many of that jacket since then,” he says with a laugh (most prob­a­bly late into the night).

Ri­hanna’s in­ter­est in his work cul­mi­nated in him work­ing with her and her cre­ative team on Fenty for Puma. While he tells me about how in­volved she was, and how there wasn’t a de­tail that she missed, he was more ex­cited about the ex­pe­ri­ence of work­ing within a larger team. “I’d in­terned, but I hadn’t worked in a com­pany out of school and es­pe­cially a com­pany at that scale,” he says earnestly. “I learnt so much about tech­nol­ogy and cost­ing, and know­ing that if you’re go­ing to make some­thing, it needs to sell for X amount, and you’re go­ing to make 2,000 units, and it was work­ing in­tel­li­gently with price bound­aries,” he ex­plains. He had stints work­ing in re­tail, too, while study­ing: Ralph Lau­ren, Incu and Acne in Syd­ney and at Alexan­der Wang in New York, where he re­calls how Scan­di­na­vian tourists would come in look­ing for stud­ded hand­bags. “When you work in re­tail, you learn how to read peo­ple, don’t you think?” he pro­poses. “It’s im­por­tant to know what peo­ple want to buy.”

Delv­ing into the finer points of what sells for his la­bel has fas­ci­nated him. Denim might have been his launch pad and his per­sonal choice for what he wears him­self day to day, but the la­bel is also do­ing a roar­ing trade in knits and shirt­ing, and he is a fi­nal­ist for the tra­jec­tory-boost­ing CFDA/ Vogue Fashion Fund. His au­tumn/win­ter ’18/’19 took this a step fur­ther by play­ing with suit­ing, pro­por­tions and cuts to im­prove de­sign, rather than for the sake of change. “I’m chal­leng­ing shape and pro­por­tion,” he says. “From the front they look quite nor­mal, but they have all these big curved sleeves or a very tightly nipped waist. It’s not just about it be­ing over­sized, but con­sid­er­ing com­fort, so mov­ing the arm­holes for­ward, or hav­ing the shoul­ders curved. Be­cause oth­er­wise, what makes you want to buy a suit from me or some­one else?”

Ad­vanc­ing com­fort and ease is what gov­erns how Adams Dolan de­signs, and it comes from his sense of iden­tity and place. “Amer­i­can iconog­ra­phy has so many lay­ers: when you think about some­thing like jeans, they’re worn by teenagers in the 1950s and it was the first time that gen­er­a­tion were even iden­ti­fied as teenagers, and then you look at punk and ripped denim, hip-hop, West­ern, work­wear – they’ve moved through all these dif­fer­ent strato­spheres,” he says, touch­ing upon his masters work for Par­sons. The strictly streetwear world is one that Adams Dolan has evolved be­yond. “There’s so much hype about streetwear, but who needs to buy an­other hoodie? How many hood­ies do peo­ple want to see in store?” he asks with a laugh. “I like the idea of young peo­ple dress­ing up.” In his de­signs, he’s “ad­dress­ing what it means to be Amer­i­can and not nec­es­sar­ily WASP-y, or Gos­sip Girl, or Ralph Lau­ren ads in the Hamp­tons. Look­ing at the Amer­i­can iden­tity feels more au­then­tic when you’re walk­ing around,” he says, ges­tur­ing to stu­dents cel­e­brat­ing grad­u­a­tion in Wash­ing­ton Park, peo­ple eat­ing lunch, skaters – dif­fer­ent ages and eth­nic­i­ties. “And it’s re­flected in our show cast­ing as well – we want our cast­ing to look like the New York you see walk­ing down the street.”

With a self-con­fessed ob­ses­sion with the legacy and her­itage of Amer­i­can fashion, he rolls off in­spi­ra­tion points that run the gamut from in­flu­en­tial de­signer Claire McCardell, Dolly Par­ton to Aaliyah to the Lo-Lifes, a gang who would steal and wear Ralph Lau­ren. “Ralph Lau­ren is all about as­pi­ra­tion and elitism – it’s very WASP-y and not de­signed for them, but they reap­pro­pri­ated it,” he says of the Lo-Lifes. Of McCardell: “She was about hav­ing clothes that women could wear to work.” The com­bi­na­tion of the two, sprin­kled with pop cul­ture ref­er­ences, is an oddly con­cise sum­mary of Adams Dolan’s lat­est col­lec­tion, with its shirts with elon­gated sleeves and en­larged col­lars worn with blue jeans, fuzzy cable-knit long cardi­gans for men in fuch­sia and cobalt, and Clue­less- style blazer and pleated skirt sets in grey suit­ing fab­ric or plaids. Re­worked, re­con­tex­tu­alised lex­i­cons of Amer­i­can style as ob­served when grow­ing abroad. They’re the clothes to wear, to get out and about in, the prep, the Amer­i­can sports­wear, the denim, the street wear that is re-ex­am­ined and re-made.


Ri­hanna in Matthew Adams Dolan at a Par­sons School of De­sign ben­e­fit (left), and in that over­sized denim jacket in New York.

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