is menswear the future of australian fashion?
The world is paying more attention to menswear than ever before, providing a wave of opportunity for Australian labels.
Photography Beau Grealy
In the past the fashion industry has often overlooked menswear, with it seen as more of a sideshow than a main event. But as menswear growth continues to outpace womenswear the industry is beginning to pay more attention. These days interest in menswear designs comes from all customers, not just those identifying as men, and has created a surge of opportunity for designers. In Australia, both established and younger labels making menswear have felt the effect of the menswear wave, with many taking up the opportunity for growth. Below we shot and spoke with some of the labels who are using their moment in the spotlight to capture the world's attention.
A lot’s changed for Ex Infinitas and its founder Lukas Vincent since we last checked in with the label in 2016. After eight years of living with his mother on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula while starting the label, he’s since relocated to somewhere with a touch more glitz: Paris. The move made sense for Lukas who had been travelling back and forth frequently, but it also comes with its challenges. "You're like one little voice trying to be heard in a sea of so many other designers," he says, acknowledging the double-edged nature of basing a label in the fashion capital of the world. The move though is a realisation Lukas's goal since he conceived the label years ago after returning to Australia from a stint in New York. With fresh eyes on Australia and its culture he began tinkering with concepts that would play internationally and settled on deconstructing the surf culture that he grew up around, "It was, you know, wearing Rip Curl cords, and Quiksilver t-shirts and Mambo… that really was my uniform when I was young." Lukas's intellectual approach to surf sees him incorporate elements in less expected and more exciting ways, channeling colour and exploring fabrics associated with surf, "I mean, I don't have to put the model in a straw hat and flip flops for it to be surf."
Created by lifelong friends Melvin Tanaya and Lyna Tyna in 2010, Song For The Mute is coming close to their tenth anniversary on the Australian and international fashion scene. It’s naturally lead them to think about how the label has grown and what they want it to be in the future. "We felt like, we knew that our voice has changed since the beginning and the clothing has matured. And the quality of the clothes is something that we're more focused on than ever — we know we can go up against the brands that we are positioned next to," says Melvin. The brands they’re positioned next to happen to be some of the world’s most successful and lauded, thanks to Song For The Mute’s swag of influential international stockists like Dover Street Market, Browns, SSENSE and Farfetch.
The duo were perhaps one of the first Australian labels to take the opportunity of growth in international menswear seriously, focusing on the luxury end of the men’s market since they first conceive the brand. Their textile-centric approach sees them meticulously work with artisanal fabric mills throughout Italy and Japan, "And I think that's what sets us apart. The ethos is still there, the ambition and the energy of why we started this brand in the first place, still fuels the brand," says Melvin. It’s an energy that is felt by Song For The Mute’s diehard fans. Just last year they discovered WeChat group called The Song For The Mute Appreciation Group filled with over 60 fans from around the globe. Melvin explains, "they talk about the collection, the concept behind it, the fabric that we create, styling tips. They even share if they wanted to buy something online on SSENSE or something to share the shipping costs.”
The son of a dressmaker who immigrated to Australia from China at age 18, Chris Ran Lin briefly flirted with biology before deciding to pursue design. After graduating from RMIT, it was showcasing his pieces in China that first helped launch the Chris Ran Lin label. His innovative and intricate knitwear in particular caught everyone’s attention and he walked away from that trip with a number of private clients. Before you know it he was making a collaboration range with famed Hong Kong luxury department store Lane Crawford. It was so successful they soon began stocking his individual label as well. Being independent, private clients are still an important part of Chris Ran Lin’s business. His clients might not be who you expect though, "I think it's a bit funny, for my label I call it menswear, but in terms of my private clients it's 80% women," he explains. His comments echo the majority of the labels featured in this story — that female-identifying customers are increasingly buying menswear for their wardrobes. Regardless of gender identity, Chris’s clothing has found its audience — one that looks sure to grow as he develops plans to expand stockists throughout Asia this year.
For a label that was born just over two years ago Commas certainly found its feet quickly. At one point the luxury swimwear label was just a daydream and distraction for founder Richard Jarman who was studying property development at the time. These days the label’s offering has evolved beyond just swimwear and into resortwear like linen trousers, robes and wool pants that are sold internationally. But it’s easily Commas’ range of shirts that have become the label's most lusted after pieces and seen them garner fans like The Internet’s Steve Lacy. The lightweight button downs are created with a focus on fabrics (luscious silks and cottons) and have an effortless air about them — the kind of shirt you’re excited to wear on the first day of your summer holiday. Or to wear to work as you try to at least manifest that beachside getaway you always talk about.
The name Commas comes from the punctuation mark — a pause or breath in a sentence, Richard explains, “It’s almost like a reminder to drop by the beach on the way home from work, or wake up earlier to see the sunrise, as corny as it sounds.” And although he’s right, it might sound corny to those of us who take our casual lifestyle for granted, it’s a breath of fresh, beachside air for many international customers.
Ten Pieces splashed onto the Australian fashion scene in 2015 by emptying out Sydney's iconic Icebergs pool to create a makeshift runway for their Australian fashion week debut. Years later it still remains one of the most talked about moments in recent Australian fashion history and a hallmark of the big ideas to expect from the label’s founders Lucy Hinckfuss and Maurice Terzini. In the years since Ten Pieces has quickly cemented itself and gone from strength to strength, picked up by Browns in London and collaborating with The Woolmark Company. Their unisex offering comes in drops not tied to seasons, and is designed in a mix-and-match fashion with each piece working individually and collectively. It means that customers can enjoy the brand whether they buy one piece or ten (get it?). "There’s a lot of freedom because we don’t have these big fashion labels in Australia running the scene. There’s a bit of ability to make an impact with a small brand. You can see and be heard a little more," says Lucy of the brand’s success so far.
There’s little introduction needed for Bassike who since 2006 have been creating wearable and luxurious everyday pieces that speak to the effortless nature of Australian style. What sets the label apart is their focus on high-quality construction and local, sustainable manufacturing (95% is sourced locally with Australian production) — long before those conversations were front and centre in the industry. When it comes to menswear, founders Deborah Sams and Mary Lou Ryan were early to notice its potential and have been working in the space since Bassike began. "Because we came out with it all at the same time, it sort of gave us a bit more credibility in that we’re a unisex brand. Some guys buy the women’s pants, some women buy the menswear pants or the jerseys," says Mary Lou. The fluid nature of their offering has since seen the establish itself as a global success story with 60 stockists and 11 of their own stores, including one in California. Menswear is set to play a key role in they label’s overseas expansion explains Mary Lou, "We’ve got a store on Venice Beach which runs a very different percentage in terms of mens and womenswear whereby the menswear business can be stronger than the women’s. One store is very small but when you see little moments like that, and moments like in NYC where the feedback from the first drop of menswear in the US has been very positive, then there’s so much opportunity over there to grow our men’s business. And I think that’s probably where we’re going to really see the growth in our retail stores internationally."
Photography Beau Grealy @ M.A.P.
Photography assistant Toby Peet
Stylist Charlotte Agnew
Hair Alan White @ M.A.P. using R+Co
Make-up Gillian Campbell @ The Artist Group
Fashion assistants Hetty Cutler and Luca Ward
Models Atty Mitchell @ Priscillas, and Luca Ward
Studio Pix On Location