Who knew that a swimwear label would be one of the highlights of MBFWA? I'm aware that that comes off sounding all hoity-toity about swimwear but at the same time, it feels like Australian Fashion Week has come so far along, away from simply doing good beach clothes, that to turn around and give props to a swimwear label seems a little odd. That said, we're talking about We Are Handsome, who has made their lycra bikinis, bodysuits, short-shorts and one-pieces, the primary vehicles for their can't-take-my-eyes-off prints. Since 2009 Jeremy Somers and Indhra Chagoury have made it their business to take what's good about the devastatingly bright light in Australia and place their highly saturated prints onto well-placed, well-designed, well-made swimwear and bodywear and they're currently on a stockist roll with colette, Net-a-Porter and The Corner all getting a bit of WAH action. I've experienced that quality, depth of print and expert cutting firsthand in the early days of WAH but I've now come to know a different side to the brand, one that makes WAH admirable, not just for aesthetic reasons but for their thought process too.
A week before their show, dropped by their Surry Hills studio, from which they'll be moving to a much bigger space, testament to We Are Handsome's growth. This one-off couch featuring every one of their prints that they've done on their pieces is most definitely coming with them...
A nearby armchair prompted the question as to whether they'll be going into homewares. Jeremy doesn't discount the idea but for now they'll be experimenting with limited run products such as iPhone cases on their online We are Handsome LAB space, where they can try different things out to see where their prints can go beyond their trademark swimwear. Indhra did say that they weren't keen on expanding too fast, rushing to put photographic prints on everything but the bathroom sink (although the thought does seem inviting) but instead, they want to make We are Handsome known for and singularly focused on swimwear for the time being.
The print design and selection process was the part that intrigued me the most. Copyrights access to imagery was the first thought that crossed my mind. Jeremy was a graphic designer and photographer by trade before We are Handsome took off and so he's more than familiar with the ins and outs of image usage. They mostly buy the images and then once they're altered several degrees through Jeremy's Photoshop skills - be it through the colours or the composition of the image - then it is deemed legal to use the image for commercial purpose. Sometimes for clients such as Rihanna, where they used an image of Bob Marley for a suit, they may not have the rights to the image but since the suit is like a one-off art piece, solely meant for Rihanna, then they keep themselves in the clear. It's interesting how in a short period of time, WAH's print vocabulary has become so established that every season, they have to include motifs such as a big cat print, a bird or a floral print as essential WAH components.
I also discovered a wholly new side to WAH's work that I didn't know about which was their dedication to producing all their pieces in Australia - in fact, they're made just fifteen minutes away from their studio in Sydney. This tangible and controllable mode of production is something that should be admired seeing as so many Australian designers have opted for doing production abroad in nearby South East Asia. It was through sheer accident that Jeremy and Indhra decided to work with pattern cutters, printers and machinists from Sydney as when they first started, they were such a small operation. Even with the considerable numbers now though, the duo have developed good relationships with their production workers that ultimately makes for a better made swimsuit just simply because they can try out new things, tweak and refine.
An amendment bill in Australia under the Fair Work Act has just passed, which means that home-based sub-contractors in the textiles, clothing and footwear industry cannot work without adhering to the new guidelines. Essentially this is a new law to try and prevent exploitations of workers in the textiles industry in Australia but on the flipside, it compromises the garment manufacturing industry in Australia and as a result, affects how Jeremy and Indhra run their business. It's a complicated issue, which definitely has two compelling sides to the story. I've read about it for two days and I still don't quite understand the full ins and outs but speaking to people in the industry here in Australia has helped me clarify things a little. One of the downsides is that it means that businesses like We are Handsome, who deal with businesses that contract work out to home pattern cutters and machinists may be negatively affected. What I gather is that the amendment bill doesn't account for exceptions where the workers are indeed treated correctly and responsiby and don't seem to take into consideration the number of possible job losses that could occur because of the regulations imposed. The short of it is that as Australian production and jobs within the textiles, clothing and footwear industry are already dwindling, this amendment bill may be a double-edged sword, which gives further food for thought when looking at the Australian fashion landscape.
The fruit of WAH's dedication to being able to work with factories they can easily see in person can be seen in the suits themselves. For their MBFWA debut, they sort of put together a combo of collections that summed up the spirit of the label - if the sun ain't shining, then it's not worth going out sort of attitude. Prints from the Matriarch, the Enchanted and the Streets collections were used include a sexy palm tree or two, a kitschy rose and kitten, a sunset-tinted skyline, a faded beach scene and of course a few very big cats - a lion and tiger roared their way in to bookend the show. Ice lollies, bright gemstone jewellery and two-tone lips were the only accessories required for this lycra trip. A mesh-sleeved bodysuit, a pair of wide-legged chiffon trousers and a floor length dress were the few exceptions in a collection that largely spoke of WAH's ambition in directional swimwear but of course the tempting thing about the presence of things like a short sleeve, a legging and mesh panelling, is the desire to want to wear them beyond the beach and indeed, that is also WAH's trump card. Hot days and hot nights may not flourish where I come from but Jeremy and Indhra definitely wants to ensure that everyone can amp up the sunshine somehow.