Label debut: the Australian designers you need to know

What would you suggest to someone starting a new fashion label, given the hardships currently facing both the industry and economy? Perhaps you’d suggest they be clever, careful and innovative. See if they can explore a page of the fashion books, one that everyone is acquainted with, but that has so far been left uncomprehended.

When Sydney designers, Beth and Tess Macgraw, imagined a high-fashion label on the terrace of their SoHo apartment in Manhattan, the aforementioned concerns hovered over their dream.

However, two years later, this New York dream became a tangible reality, when the sisters designed their first collection and saw eponymous ‘macgraw’ come to life.

Fashion labels are created everyday, however. So the question is, what makes macgraw different? What makes them worthy of your wardrobe? For a start they offer up a model for Australia’s fashion industry to save itself, designing and making their clothes in the country (something that is sadly rare). Equally as important, though, they offer up an inimitable and aesthetically sharp collection sure to make them an international hit.

Firmly in love with their first collection, sat down with the label’s two designers and asked them to lead us into the world of ‘macgraw’.

Battling against the odds of the industry, it took two years for the macgraw girl to come alive from the sketchbook to the clothing rack. The question is, who is she?

Simple, classic, confident and slyly sexy; this macgraw girl isn’t too naughty, but she knows exactly how to project her body. She is not your average high street, fast-fashion variety.

Macgraw’s spring / summer 2012 / 2013 collection, titled Wallflower, is distinctively classic. The creamy and camel hues highlight the laser-cuts and embroidery on the garments, and the silhouette sculpts the body in a refined and sharp manner.

The minimalist sophistication of high necklines flirts with the subtle sensuality of sheer fabrics, but it’s done in a nonconventional manner, something we’re not tired of seeing. That’s the standout point of macgraw – there’s no repetition or plagiarism, and you’ll also be spared from the now-common ‘homage to whatever-era’ talk.

Its modernistic approach aims to reach out to a preppy girl-next-door who is au fait with the norms of the curated wardrobe.

As Beth Macgraw puts it, “our macgraw girl appreciates quality. She is a lady who often finds herself in the luxe to less situation… do you eat or do you buy that jacket? This girl would spend that little extra money to ensure she doesn’t have a clone at the café”.

The Macgraw sisters want to keep the vision for their label fresh and unique, what might seem like an obvious aspiration from designers of a new label, but truth be told, contemporaries are in for some serious competition.

So how would they get past this industry cliché? By steering away from ongoing industry trends and creating a niche in the market, that’s how.

Beth says, “You can’t keep up with the Zaras and Topshops of the world; that’s not our market. We’re doing what we like, [and] we are putting quality back in the market”.

It’s a muse world

Speaking of quality, the designers have created several versions of their ideal macgraw girl. One sits in Parisian shoes, imagined by way of their admiration for French fashion houses Chloe and Paul and Joe, and the other hopes to rule the world of street-style akin to Alexa Chung.

“We love shirting and the art of a structured trench – it’s so English – having British muses is a given. I’d die if Alexa or Kate Moss walked the streets of London in a macgraw outfit,” adds Tess Macgraw.

New York diaries

Regardless of citing London and Paris on their inspiration board, macgraw traces back to New York, the city where it all began.

Abiding by the Australian tradition of escaping away to another part of the world for months-at-time, Beth and Tess rented an apartment in Manhattan for 2010. What started as a holiday, ended up being a yearlong business brainstorm for the sisters. It was at this time that the drawing of the flower pattern seen in their debut collection came about.

Made in Australia

Even after mapping out every minute detail amongst the skyscrapers, the one thing that was very close to the designers’ heart was “selling a 100 percent Australia-made brand”.

Macgraw’s starting point for each of their collection is quality. The sisters pride themselves on taking no shortcuts during the process of design and manufacturing. From fabric sourcing to garment manufacturing, macgraw’s life and soul is based in Sydney and its surrounds.

“It’s a harder route, no doubt,” says Tess. “It would be cheaper and easier for us if we didn’t manufacture [in Australia] and took it all overseas. But that’s not what macgraw is about; we want to support local talent and Australian fashion.”

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2009, the country’s clothing imports rose 17%, pouring the Australian market with 1.2 billion units of clothing a year, three quarters of which came from China. While another figure from TFIA (the Council of Textile and Fashion Industries of Australia) shows that in 2010, 95% of Australian fashion production was done overseas.

Considering these gloomy figures, entering the tough arena of local manufacturing would be measured as a brave move, but Macgraw sisters are up for the challenge. Tess says they’re aware of what the market needs. “Stores need to be able to sell the stock, so we know what we’re doing is difficult. But we’re also not putting a price tag of some hundred thousand dollars on our clothes. For what you’re getting, macgraw is pretty affordable,” she says.

For this collection, the price tags range from $185 through to $1,000 for a trench coat, but its justification goes back to the authenticity of the threads and its craftsmanship.

While you’ll undoubtedly find the label stocked online soon enough, it’s the touch and feel of fabric is vital. You need to let the garment hold you, and that’s how you’ll qualify as a macgraw girl.

Where to next for macgraw?

“A spot on level five of Bloomingdales would be nice, but for now, envisioning a stand-alone show at MBFWA [Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia] is where we’re at. You might not see us doing cartwheels like Betsey Johnson, though,” say the Macgraw sisters in harmony.

You can see all of the debut macgraw spring 2012 collection by clicking on the thumbnails and browsing through the gallery.