The Age – Boys on brink, 21 November 2005, Pg. the November 21, 2005, Pg 1 & 2
Creative & Media
Boys on the brink
An increasing drive for individual style is fuelling a local men’s wear revolution. Janice Breen Burns meets the young designers leading the pack.
SELLING frocks to women is hard enough but try flogging skinny green jeans and dropped-crotch sweatpants or embroidered shirts to a market that takes three seasons to calm down after switching its necktie stripes from diagonal to vertical.
That’s men’s wear. And, that’s the Everest being tackled by a new species of designers more adventurous and optimistic, if not more talented, than any that’s risen before in Melbourne fashion.
They are passionate fashion consumers themselves but most also have a vague sense of something momentous impending in men’s wear. “It’s a gut feeling and it’s international,” says designer Shandor Gancs, 31. He started his high-fashion anti-streetwear men’s label, Leopold, barely a year ago with partner Boyd Parry, 27, and a simple plan: “To give men more diversity within that (rigid) concept of masculinity; more that they could get away with.”
With a prayer and spare cash from their Element design consultancy, they introduced Leopold from a tiny stand in the Source exhibition at Australian Fashion Week in Melbourne.
They snagged enough media and stylists to whip up a minor frenzy, picked up a dozen stockists, were asked to design a range of sunglasses by Polaroid (which sold like hotcakes) and, by a stroke of luck, also lured the director of London’s College of Fashion to the buzz. He chose Leopold to be one of six world-class new labels for his own new business, “In pursuit of luxury”. In just a few months, Leopold’s world was transformed.
Gancs and Parry still prop up their income with consulting work but right now they are also snug in the knowledge that Mongolian cashmere versions of their knitwear are in production at the same Scottish factory used by Chanel and in a month will be racked in prestige stores in London, Tokyo and Stockholm with $2500 price tags – each. (Local versions in lamb’s wool will sell for a more realistic $400.)
The extraordinary Leopold scenario didn’t quite happen for another sharp young Melbourne designer, Oscar Calvo. But he is convinced it will – eventually. In the meantime, he washes dishes part-time to keep his self-named label of slick sportswear afloat, refine his supply chain systems, and pay for double-page ads in the right magazines.
He has already had department store buyers liken his label to Paul Smith, Polo Ralph Lauren and Hugo Boss but that’s not enough. “For price point and quality, my label’s with Boss, my fabrics and workmanship, my details, buttons, zips – everything’s top end. But, I don’t have strong enough branding yet.”
Some of the canniest small-store buyers have picked up the Calvo collection but what he really needs now is a big breakthrough order.
“There’s been a great build up,” says Calvo of his first year on retail racks. “A lot of noise and racket; some great editorials in fashion journals and street magazines.”
His optimism is relentless, despite setbacks such as a $10,000 Sydney order that soured and after a quick flick through his smart striped cotton polo tops and picky-finished casuals, you can understand why.
“I know the product can sell, is selling but it’s got to be branded better,” he says.
It’s a common obstacle for new manufacturers. Men shop for clothes less often and more cautiously than women. And they respond to obvious signals, such as a recognisable logo, to assure them a garment will give them status and that they got a good deal. It’s a rare bloke who will pay top dollar for clothes by a label he doesn’t know.
But between men who stick to corporate suits or jeans-and-T-shirt combinations, there’s a market that’s changing. “More men are becoming alternative and open-minded,” says Mario-Luca Carlucci, 21, an industrial design graduate and partner in one of Melbourne’s star labels, Trimapee.
With Peter Strateas, also 21 and a communications design graduate, he built the label from a hand-printed T-shirt business that helped fund their studies, into a sophisticated range of high-end shirts and tailored separates.
In the tough times, Carlucci says, they drew inspiration from labels such as Kwamee by Francis, a Melbourne-based label of peerless quality high-end fashion tailoring and sportswear with classic undertones, and Mjolk, also a slick high-end local with a distinct, European bent. Mjolk’s Swedish partners, Fredrik Jonsson and Lars Stoten, chose Melbourne as a springboard into Asia. They split their company time and production between Australia and Europe and sell around the world.
Carlucci and Strateas have a similar trajectory in mind. They design their collections using a computer-aided drafting program, are sticklers for fit and quality, and base their collections on a different theatrical theme each season.
Currently, a vampire theme is lending an artful, offbeat, slightly wicked bent to the brand. It’s a complicated, clever ploy, and, Carlucci says, it’s getting their name out there: “We’ve made a lot of sacrifices and we still work part-time and do freelance design work to support (Trimapee) but we’re slowly cutting back on that.”
Carlucci says he and Strateas began designing for themselves but wound up attracting an older market in their 20s and 30s as well: “Architects, designers, musicians but also trades people, plumbers . . .”
‘The will to express something more creative than membership of a corporate army is increasingly common.’
It does appear, according to the new men’s wear designers here, that no particular demographic has a monopoly on high-end men’s fashion. Work boots and corporate suits enter some of Melbourne’s most adventurous shops: Husk, Fat, Cyberia, Urban Identity, Cactus Jam, Sandonista and David Jones’ designer floors.
The will to express something more creative and personal than membership of a corporate army is, apparently, increasingly common. Designers Stephen Ristefsky, 31, and Vincent Macheda, 27, of the RistefskyMacheda label, hope that it doesn’t end at a bloke’s front door.
“We figured that if you’re wearing a beautiful suit all day, you don’t want to wear just an old tracksuit or jeans when you come home,” Ristefsky says. The pair’s idea, to fill a niche market for men’s “loungewear”, found instant rapport with a David Jones buyer, and all they had to do was work out where it should go on the store floor. “We agonised over that and thought in the end, with pyjamas and dressing gowns,” Ristefsky says. “There’s that fluidity and freedom, even though it’s more fashion.”
Ristefskymacheda’s dream run over the highest hurdle for fashion fledglings, the department store order, came at a cost: a full year to prepare their management systems before they even sketched the first sample.
They now supply four David Jones stores with soft ruched pants, detailed tops and jackets that are as comfortable as pyjamas but also fitted for a range of body types and presentable and fashionable enough for entertaining casually at home or mixing with a Sunday cafe crowd.
“We’re feeling very enthusiastic and positive now,” Ristefsky says. “We’re defining our niche,” Macheda adds. “We also know that people will follow us into this and we have no problem with people copying us; we’re already developing a cult following and our market knows we were here first.”
KINGS OF THE CATWALK HOT LOOKS FOR COOL MEN
Established: 2004, by Oscar Calvo, 27, in Richmond. Self-named label of Kangan Batman TAFE fashion graduate and former area manager for Barbara Wilson, Oscar Calvo. High-end, fresh-coloured sportswear in exclusive European fabrics including fine wool and cotton. Casual combed cotton, raw-edged polo tops, retro cotton polo knits with nautical stripes, quirky printed tees with contrasting panels. Trousers range from classic soft Italian wool to straight-leg cotton drill versions with intricate stitch detail.
Manufactured: Current range is split evenly between Australia and Hong Kong. Winter 2006 will be made locally.
Targets: Young men, 16-35 years. Price range: $150-$500. Twelve stockists including Husk, Loft, Bolis, Urban Identity, Exentrix, Village Idiom and Browse.
Future plans: For now, the first Oscar Calvo flagship store.
Established: 2003, by RMIT industrial design graduate Mario-Luca Carlucci, 21, and partner Peter Strateas, 21, RMIT communications design graduate, in Ivanhoe. Alternative, high-quality original designs and artwork for a broad market. Flamboyant and eccentric, based around a different theatrical theme each season but within the bounds of good design. Spring/summer inspired by the circus. A vivid palette, unexpected patterns and fabrics, intricate linings, detailed embroidery, darted collars, large cuffs, pleat detailing. Trousers are cut low, T-shirts hand-printed and feature unexpected necklines. Blazers are re-invented in explosive colour.
Targets: Men, 20-40 years. Price range: $99-$495. Thirteen stockists including Husk, Rich, Shuba, Oska, Jorj, Alchimia, Bolis, Charlie & Co, Sammy T, Toyah.
Future plans: Local consolidation, then export.
Established: 2004, in Prahran by partners Boyd Parry, 27, La Trobe University arts/business graduate and designer of Mank women’s wear label and Shandor Gancs, 31, Swinburne University design graduate, director of Element design collective, and veteran of commissions for Liberty of London, AG men’s wear, Roy and Aesop. Bright, lightweight fitted cotton knits for summer, and for winter 2006, chunky hand knits. Investment fashion.
Manufactured: 90 per cent made locally.
Targets: Men, 20-45 years. Price range: $90-$600. Nineteen stockists including Husk, Sandonista, Charlie and Co, Urban Identity.
Future plans: Local market consolidation, then “global domination”.
Established: 2003 in Carlton. Partners Stephen Ristefsky, 31, commerce graduate, and designer Vincent Macheda, 27, employ a full-time press officer, John Ibrahim, and pattern-maker, Jo Grima. Casual, soft and easy innovative lounge-wear including woven cardigans, low-cut V-neck tops, ruched pants, athletic shorts and underwear.
Manufactured: 80 per cent locally and 20 per cent overseas.
Targets: Men, 18-38 years. Prices range from $40-$65 for underwear and $140-$220 for lounge-wear. Stockists include David Jones in the city and Chadstone.
Future plans: Local market consolidation then export to New York and London.