chaps, leather, and cowboy hats: strateas carlucci has arrived
Designer Mario-Luca Carlucci tells i-D about the label's surprising, sexy reinvention.
Designers Peter Strateas and Mario-Luca Carlucci have that thing which stops so many other promising labels before they've even started: business sense. They have it in spades. As Strateas Carlucci, the pair nails everything that falls between an initial great sketch and the execution of a beautiful garment. Over the years, they've fostered an effective, clever PR team, and direct relationships with local manufactures. In the process, the brand has earned industry fans abroad. But while things were running more than smoothly, the five-year-old label was navigating an internal, more intangible battle — how to get its clothes to really catch.
For years, Strateas Carlucci excelled at smart, elegant suiting. The pair was met with impressive accolades. They became first Australian menswear designers invited onto the official PFW calendar; were invited by the late, great by Vogue Italia Editor-in-Chief, Franca Sozzani, to show in Milan; and traveled to London for the International Woolmark Prize. Most designers work their whole lives for that sort of reception, and of course Mario and Peter were proud, but they wanted more. Strateas Carlucci was lacking — and the designers wouldn't mind this description — a little fun.
The duo's latest mens and womenswear collections takes a sharp turn: they've taken a step down in price point, incorporated more affordable basics into the line, and indulged in a liberal use of sexier fabrics with nod at BDSM. Trading glossy digital imagery for grainy analogue visuals, it all suddenly clicks. This season is sexy, memorable, but unpretentious. The corsetry, the latex, and the heavy metal detailing — it's very now.
Working more collaboratively, and letting go a little, the brand has hit its stride. Here, we debut its newest womenswear imagery, shot by Gadir Radjab, and meet with Mario-Luca, one half of the design team, to learn more about the chapter ahead.
Tell me about how you and Peter first met.
Believe it or not, we were actually friends from high school. We also studied at university together, doing Industrial Design and Fine Arts Communications. That was when we first collaborated, and back then, we worked with a third person who studied art, so we were really like a little collective with all these different skill sets. I've always been, and I think Peter has as well, very entrepreneurial, so it just evolved and grew. We literally went from that to making t-shirts, then to doing denim, and then doing a ready-to-wear line.
So many young designers struggle with manufacturing, but it feels like those background elements came more easily to you.
I mean, it wasn't all smooth sailing, but it comes from a place of being hard-working, and really immersing ourselves in it. We found a factory in Melbourne that let us a sublet a space inside, so we worked from there every day with the cutters. It was literally like an apprenticeship. That gave us the knowledge of garment construction, and coming from industrial design, there's some similar principles, but we did come into it with a different kind of perception of fashion. We have some very different design methodologies — a lot of our interns are a little surprised at first.
Today's emerging fashion scene feels quite crowded. Social media has certainly made people feel more empowered to start their own labels. It's interesting that amidst all that, as a relatively a young label, you're quite formed and mature.
I think that's just been the type of people we are, all guns blazing. Over the last four years, we've had a lot of major milestones and with that comes a lot of, I guess you could say, failures. They always say the first five years of business are always the hardest, and rightfully so. Like you said, it's so overcrowded and to reach through that — to have your voice heard — is certainly a challenge in the industry. What we've found is to always have key supporters that believe in your brand. I think otherwise, and you can get lost in caring what everyone thinks, and end up overthinking everything. When we've tuned that out and stayed true to who we are as designers, that's when we've seen the best results come through — like with this season.
This collection is fantastic. It's a departure from your previous work. Obviously you've brought in some of those S&M elements, but you still have all of that beautiful tailoring.
I think that's set us up well: our knowledge of fabrics and structure and tailoring. Keeping that as the core of the business but adding those other elements, I think, sets us apart from other DIY brands that are popping up. It gives us some substance, and gives us some credit as a brand too.
I have to ask, is there any pull for you to move to the northern hemisphere?
Yeah, it's one of those double-edged sword situations. I mean, we love Melbourne; Peter and I were born and raised here and we've got our family here. As a city, it's incredible. When we're always in areas like Paris, it's great for inspiration but it can be a little bit overwhelming too. Generally I think it's nice to take that inspiration and come home to really refine that in your own bubble. Then on the other hand, when you're there, there's just so much opportunity. You could be walking down the street and meet this incredible person, or meet someone at a party, whatever the case may be. There's always that temptation. We've talked about it, but for the moment we're happy here.
It's one of those things isn't it, it just has to be the right time. And the distance certainly works better than it would have ten years ago, you really don't have to live in those cities to have a presence there.
Exactly. In the past we were in the mindset that being based in Melbourne was a disadvantage, but this season we kind of flipped that idea on its head. We thought, "Okay, rather than it being a negative, let's use what being Australian is to us." Obviously being in Melbourne, there's a multi-cultural aspect to that too, so we injected a bit of Australiana into our collection, like in the menswear with the cowboy hats. And I think overseas, people are actually drawn to us being from Australia, they kind of dream of this place. We took that and played on it, and it worked really well for us.
What's in your mind as the next step?
Going down the path of collaboration is exciting, it opens up a door for so many things; from visual artists to filmmakers and so forth. For the most recent collection, we worked with Gadir [Radjab] which was really fun and we hadn't really worked that way before. We're really looking forward to working closely with more people like that. I think that's our natural progression. It's funny because we've kind of gone from very high fashion to something more accessible. We've almost stepped down a little bit, which is not the usual way, but it's allowed us the scope to do a lot more.
When your product becomes more accessible, it brings in younger people, and I think that's really exciting.
We've always worked with the best fabric mills and the best tailors to make high quality garments, and question for us now is, "how do we maintain that at a price point for a young person?" Changing the garment elements by piercing them and adding other details too, that's been really fun. We're looking forward to doing more things like printed t-shirts, because that's a good entry level item that really allows anyone to buy into the brand. Obviously we can't appeal to everyone, but at the same time, we can make the effort with a particular younger clientele that we would love to see wearing the brand. And we're doing fashion week in Australia this year, which we haven't done in a while. We're changing it up because it's on our home turf, we're going to experiment a little more and be a little more playful as opposed to our limitations in Paris, because we have a team here. Hopefully that's going to help open us up to a different demographic to. It really is just so fun.
Text Isabelle Hellyer
Photography Gadir Radjab