di$count universe is the smart australian label dressing the stars in statement sequins
As a go-to label for celebrities around the world, Nadia Napreychikov and Cami James continue to be surprised by where their designs end up.
Di$count Universe at NYFW
No Australian label has become so naturally synonymous with youth and celebrity culture as Di$count Universe. From Kylie Jenner's recent Coachella selfies in an Evil Eye two piece through to the tacit support of icons like Rihanna, Beyonce and Miley Cyrus, their colourful sequined pieces and witty references, pop up in all the right places. And while a fan base consisting of people with enormous social media followings is useful for a brand, there's a definite sense that the love for Di$count Universe is entirely genuine. Fashion kids, performers and models all wear it like a bright badge of honour.
Designers Nadia Napreychikov and Cami James met during their honours year of Fashion Design at RMIT in 2009 and have never looked back. They began the label with a fresh outlook and an innate understanding of what would work for them. Right from the beginning they rejected long held rules around labels being built on basics. Early believers in the power of e-commerce, the pair run a popular blog and online store and predicted the 'shop the runway' preference for selling while they were still at school. They've maintained their hands on approach and still control almost every aspect of the business themselves, running their embellished empire, for the time being, from an office in Melbourne.
i-D: Di$count Universe is such a unique Australian label and we're excited to see where it goes from here. Can you take us back to how it all started.
Nadia and Cami: After we met at fashion school, we had a conversation about how there weren't many independent fashion labels selling online. Around that time we came up with the name Di$count as a kind of a black lash against the luxury industry. At the time we were very conscious of the process: a luxury item would be shown on the runway, then everyone would blog about it and Topshop would copy it before it was even available. It seemed strange to us. Our idea was to create a brand that was available to buy as soon as photos were released. Obviously this seems natural now, and it's something the industry is moving towards, but back then it seemed like such an abstract concept.
You guys were trailblazers in that sense.
After we graduated everything just naturally came together and the label took off really quickly. Even before we had our first garment ready, we were being interviewed about the label and convinced everyone we had a brand without having a product.
You successfully manipulated the media.
Well, we were running our blog for so long that by the time our online shop officially launched everything just sold out straight away. Through our blog we had so much reach - we were sending all over the world immediately.
Who was buying your first pieces?
It was largely an international audience from the outset because they were our readers. We come across people who have crazy collections including our earliest pieces - we have some really obsessive Di$count fans who buy everything.
How would you say your style or aesthetic has changed since then?
It was a little more bespoke in the beginning because we used to make everything ourselves. We'd make these epic, studded, 90 hour jackets with hand-quilted lining. We'd sell them for $6,000 at Miss Louise and that would be enough to fund the next couple of months. Since then we've been completely self-funded so we haven't needed an investor.
Does that provide you with a level of freedom?
People ask us how we have a brand that doesn't sell any basic styles at all. Our collections are all highlight pieces. You learn that highlight pieces are meant to be 10 percent of the collection but we are able to be independent and do what we like because we don't have anyone above our heads telling us what to do.
That's awesome. Can we talk about all the celebrity love on social media?
We woke up the other day and someone had posted a picture on our Facebook of Liam Hemsworth wearing one of our t-shirts, which confused us at first and then we realized Miley Cyrus had owned it and he must have put it on when he was leaving her house. Our clothes end up in the craziest places and it's always a surprise because we sell from our site and ship directly from where it's made to the customer. It can go to anyone and we really have no idea.
I imagine you have a lot of requests from artists. Is it important to be selective?
Yes, we don't want it to be oversaturated. So many pop stars have worn our stuff and we are mindful that we need to be careful that it doesn't veer too far from fashion towards the realm of costume. Our signature aesthetic is so severe and we're tagged all over the world because our stuff is so identifiable, which is great but can also be dangerous because we don't want to be pigeonholed as a costume brand solely for celebrities.
What do you see as something really distinctive to your label?
I think the humour is the most important component. The intelligent aspect of our work is easily overshadowed by the colour and sparkle, but there is a lot of tongue-in-cheek innuendo going on which separates us I think.
You are showing at Sydney Fashion Week next month. What is the next collection like?
Our next collection is actually quite different and we're exploring some new avenues and techniques. We really want to push ourselves. That said, the overall aesthetic is still the same. It's a beast - when we start designing the work takes over and we have no control. There's quite a refined Di$count look and as much as we try to deviate from it, it ends up back there.
It has a mind of its own. Congrats on your involvement in 200 Years of Fashion Exhibition too. Did the gallery buy some of your pieces?
Yes, they bought three pieces - one was the poodle dress from the New York show last year and the other two were commissions. The one you see in the exhibition was a commission based on a piece we did in our first year. We actually have the original hanging in our office but it's not in great condition. We're big on archiving our work, we've sold a few originals and have regretted it afterwards. I think in 20 years we'll be happy we archived.
And we hear you're moving to New York?
Yeah, we're moving at the end of the year. That said we'd still love to have a good presence in Australia. America just seems like a logical next step and now we have Australian representation we feel more confident to take that step.
Text Briony Wright