Monday, December 20, 2010

Material By Product

Peach silk with shadows of chandeliers, a ceremonial union of hand stitches follows from collarbone to wrist. I cannot help but imagine myself in a low lit bar listening to jazz, playing with my long string of pearls.

It’s definitely not the era of dapper flappers. And I am not listening to jazz, I am listening to Chantal Kirby and Susan Dimasi explaining their latest collection and the unique production techniques of their fashion house Material By Product, showing that responsible practice can still be luxurious.

Chantal, a draper and Susan, a tailor started collaborating after studying fashion together at RMIT, Melbourne.

‘The process came naturally, we share common heroes that have strong languages -design houses like Chanel and (Marten) Margiela are our heroes, what defines them is a deeper commitment to fashion and a commitment to the community, maybe not how we live now but for how we live in the future.’

Material By Product came about after much deliberation on the existing structure of contemporary fashion production. Refusing to subscribe to the norm of impersonal mass production by using cheap fabrics and producing garments of poor quality, they devised an innovative system of cloth- making that encourages and supports fine craftsmanship. The label has established itself on collections of gracefully hand-crafted, practical and conceptual garments.

By creating a fashion house that dyes, prints and produces everything under the one roof, they have created a sustainable workroom. The pair have also re-invented traditional dress making, developing their own language. Cutting, marking and making are the three main grammatical points to their system. Their adaptation of a temporary tailor stitch and binding of silk-trimmed edges reminds the wearer and on looker that quality and luxury is not dead.

Before picking up the scissors there is a relentless interrogation of how to cut the garment. Emphasis is first put on the positive - what will become the main garment such as a dress or skirt and secondly, the negative -what will become an extension of the garment or the accessory such as their ‘Anti-scarf’. The Anti scarf is a unique item of adornment reliant on the style of dress. The result is not only a piece of clothing but an illustration of a defining aspect of their language. Susan describes the ‘The positive as traditional and the negative as an opportunity. This process of artisan production does two things at once creating rich outcomes and decorative cladding.’

A clue to their inspiration for their ‘decorative cladding’ habitually lies in their prints. Their textiles are often reinterpreted references of objects from different eras. The aforementioned chandeliers of a 1940’s ballroom play a key part in their Spring/Summer 10/11 collection. Each collection features a signature print design that is strategically placed or manipulated differently for each garment.

For me, what makes Dimasi and Kirby masters of their field are their complex garments made of one continuous piece of fabric. The dresses fit the body perfectly, molding and folding around the contours of the human landscape. Darts and draping a sign of gratitude to their heroes, the fashion house would be tough competition to its predecessors. Elaborate, yet logical once explained the mystery why this system is not still common practice prevails.

With many fashion houses turning to diversion ranges in home wares and the like, Material By Product have twisted the notion with creations commonly flowing into other objects such as their infamous Curtain Dress that can be worn conventionally or utilized as a blanket, screen and curtain. Conceptualisation continues with their refreshing fashion shows. Attempting to demonstrate the creative process, the model goes through the ritual of dressing in front of an audience in the exact same house the garments have been made in. In a world where the average T-shirt travels once around the globe before reaching us as consumers, for me the in-house show has a more pure and humble meaning.

Although very modest when it comes to making ethical claims, their meticulous process insures that ethical considerations are ingrained in their practices. Minimal waste just occurs naturally and so does the upmost respect to their employees. Their trading influences the nature of Material By Products’ production; the designers coin this as a part of their ‘strict economy’. Cutting to order, one garment at a time and trading through limited wholesale means minimal waste. Dimasi mentions the unimportance of ethical branding in her label, however, their construction ‘pursues zero waste’.

When questioned on their aim for their fashion house they did not focus on being ethical or green but hoped to be a responsible business, engendered with quality and ‘making damn good clothes’.

After leaving our first meeting, I am almost startled once I get back onto the ferociously loud and busy modern street. Although my preferred existence is not full of wistful eves in peaches and cream, I can’t help but wish I had the lifestyle of a lady who could don a Material By Product garment every day of the week.

Endangered, craftsmanship and quality is fading and it is refreshing to see such a naturally defiant label.

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