costume drama: self perform are bringing club fantasies into the daylight
Inspired by performers, party monsters, fashion nerds and eccentrics, this Melbourne label is throwing away notions of “appropriate” dressing and taking costumes out of the dress up box.
Kitty Lakshmi has been making costumes for years. Club kids, artists and performers have all called on her to christen them in glitter and sequins. The transformational process of slipping on a new skin made her sensitive to the power of getting dressed, and increasingly she wondered why anyone needed to change out of her creations when the sun came up.
She saw her clothes offering people not only excitement, but a second language to express themselves in — she didn't want them to worn in clubs, she wanted them worn all the time. Partnering with her friend Alana Capitanio, the two women set out to coax that fantasy into the everyday. Their label Self Perform is a curious mix of costume and ready to wear. It's a blurry divide they're still trying to navigate by creating pieces that are at once wearable and totally unique. Together they want to break down the rigidity around dress codes and "appropriate" attire, and bring costumes out of the dress up box and into our daily rotation.
Self Perform isn't a traditional label, how do you guys define it?
Kitty Lakshmi: I see it as a label that explores the boundaries between fashion and costume, pieces that could be worn on and off stage, to events as well as in everyday life. We live in a time where we are all expressing ourselves quite vibrantly and it's beautiful to be a part of a community that's creative with expression and sees the importance in that.
Costumes can be a tricky world to experiment in, childhood ballet memories haunt a lot of people.
Kitty: I feel like the word costumes has a funny stigma because of that association, they're seen as being a bit naff. When people talk to us about the label and describe it as costume they kind of correct themselves and say, "Oh sorry, fashion. I don't want to put you in the costume box." We're really interested in re-defining that word and making it something a little more endearing or a little more glamorous.
Alana: Definitely glamorous. Costume is a very limited word, what is a costume to you or I? It can be completely different.
That's interesting, because you guys started making more traditional costumes, but are now blurring those lines with this label. How did that shift come about?
Kitty: I've initially been doing freelance [costuming] for years and making things for people purely by word-of-mouth. Through doing that I developed some techniques and refined cuts and styles that I really like and a body of work started to emerge. I recently asked Alana to join me because I knew a label was coming, but it took a long time for me to really commit to the idea of doing it. I still had to redefine that body of work to create a signature.
Costuming is really personal, most of the time you're working directly with artists to elevate their existing vision. How has it been going from that, to creating garments that can be worn by multiple people, most of whom you don't know?
Kitty: The vision is to have different branches of the label, of what Self Perform is. There would still be custom designed pieces for artists, as well as simplified products that can be more wearable for everyday but still has the essence of the artisanal. Obviously we will still be artisanal because everything is made to order.
Alana: The way we communicate with customers is also very open. If they want something adjusted or changed we're happy to do that. It's a way to still make it feel different for that one person.
It's a nice way to bring that intimacy into a wider brand. As we've mentioned, you're very much creating a new space between costume and fashion. You describe Self Perform as Fashion Theatre, is that your way of defining the bubble you exist in?
Kitty: I guess so. It's finding a way to merge all of the things we're passionate about. We're passionate about making something customised and personal, but also readily available. It's a way for us to have our finger in each one of those pies. We'll see how it works — it's good in theory!
Alana: We're very hands on and want to do all of these things and give everyone what they want. That's what we're like as people as well.
It seems like you guys work across a lot of different communities in Melbourne — club kids, ravers, performers, trippers and fashion nerds all wear your stuff. Who do you personally feel inspired by?
Kitty: There are a lot of really interesting communities and sub-communities in Melbourne. We've been particularly involved with Pleasure Planet and Beaut Club — which is a new trans, fluid gender party basically open for all. It's really exciting that those places exist and have been so supportive of this word. Beaut helped us host our launch night, without that support we wouldn't have been able to do it.
Alana: I don't go clubbing that much anymore, but it's interesting to see how that scene is funnelling out into everyday life.
Fashion is a way to still engage with the expression and freedom of the club without staying out all night.
Alana: True, I haven't really changed the way I dress. I wear the stuff I used to wear to the club in my everyday life. I used to think, "Oh I need to save this for the weekend." Now I just feel this stuff is a part of me and I want to wear it all the time. That's a big part of Self Perform, we want it to be for the everyday world.
So Self Perform is bringing the best parts of the club into the daylight.
Kitty: I think a lot of people are moving back to nature too with the festival aspect. People want to combining the kind of music that's generally played in a club with an open air environment, especially in the Australian landscape, there's just something about that that's really transformational. There's a back to nature philosophy happening with a lot of people that would normally club.
Alana: Because these communities are about more than partying, they're about bringing something to share amongst friends.
So in this moment of flux, what do you see the message of your Self Perform being today?
Kitty: Have fun! It's about authentic self-expression and activating the multiple characters or the multiple energies that are latent within us all. I want to design pieces that activate and reflecting the brilliance of human nature.
Alana: We want to make you feel comfortable, amazing and ready.
Text Wendy Syfret