Top Melbourne Fashion Designers Share Their Stories and Aspirations

In a new series of exclusive interviews with some of Melbourne’s fashion designers making waves in Australia and featured in DesignInspire virtual fair, we delve into the city’s diverse and vibrant creative scene.

As the second stop of our journey, we talk to Jill Humphries of luxury headwear brand Millinery Jill and Brian Huynh of independent menswear label MNDATORY.

Millinery Jill

Melbourne Fashion Designers
Jill Humphries
Tell us about you work and how you started your career in design.

My work is really not like work at all as I love creating. I fell in love with the art of millinery about ten years ago after attending the Melbourne Cup. I had always worn hats and a conversation with another milliner had me investigate learning the skill part time while I worked.

What are your daily inspirations?

I draw ideas from everywhere. One piece was inspired by the shape of a leaf when I was walking. And other by a bird. When you design you see the potential in all shapes and start to view things in 3D.

What does the concept “Design for Good” mean to you?

For me it’s trying to create pieces that people will have in their lives for a long time and are not disposable like so many fashion items these days. Also, it is continuing to find new but old products to use within your work, like recycled silks that have been saved from landfill.

Do you think that design – and more in general art and culture – can be useful tools to better societies?

I think that any creative space can help people to look at the world around them and the society they live in. Melbourne is the heart of art and culture from its laneways to fashion and it is respected by everyone who lives here. Melbourne invests a lot in its artists to keep the city scape changing and evolving.

A creation by Millinery Jill
2020 has been a tough year for pretty much every sector. According to many, the creative industries were not given enough support and importance. Would you agree?

2020 has been tough. I had to close my physical atelier in March due to the uncertainty. But I do look forward to the market reviving and coming back again. Creative industries were particularly hard hit. For me, it’s been weddings being cancelled and retailers closing doors, but everyone was in the same boat. We will come through stronger.

How did you cope with the pandemic’s challenges? What helped you?

Coping with the pandemic while in lockdown was tough. No one could deny that. I was lucky, however, to spend the time with my daughters and homeschool them. It was nice to pause for a while and make lunches, sit with them and chat more, watch family movies. We actually connected as a family way more and talked more.

What’s next for you as a designer in 2021?

I’m working on new styles and techniques. I am definitely ready to come back in 2021 with a vengeance and push the boundaries with my millinery.

Is there any particular trend that you see becoming relevant next year?

I think people will be wanting strong statement millinery. Sleek and unfussy that can stand the test of time with style. Think slightly toned down editorial millinery – every woman will want to look her best after being cooped up for almost a year. So let’s embrace it and enjoy fashion.

MNDATORY

Melbourne Fashion Designers
A look from MNDATORY
Tell us about you work and how you started your career in design.

MNDATORY is an independent Australian designer menswear brand. Inspired by the design philosophies of architect Louis Kahn, our aim is to build on wardrobe fundamentals through a transformative design approach. Specialising in men’s outerwear and tailoring, MNDATORY releases two RTW collections per year, alongside a permanent made-to-measure tailoring service for Australian customers.

After completing a Bachelor of Design, Majoring in Fashion at the Whitehouse Institute of Design, I balanced my time working in menswear tailoring and styling; where I worked on prominent runway events, most notably for MYER and at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia for designers like Toni Maticevski and By Johnny.

After recognising a market need for innovative menswear, I made the decision to start the MNDATORY label; launching it in 2016.

What are your daily inspirations?

With our store situated in Melbourne’s CBD, I can’t help but constantly be inspired by our city – particularly its people. Melbourne’s population is so diverse and rich in subculture, it makes people watching one of my favourite past times.

What does the concept “Design for Good” mean to you?

To me, “Design for Good” is a practice of consciousness. It’s all about presence. It’s all of one’s energy, consciousness and time directed towards a clear goal or task. The result, I think, leads to the ability to make design decisions that are sustainable and practical.

Do you think that design – and more in general art and culture – can be useful tools to better societies?

Absolutely. Design, art and culture, whether we chose it or not, form the fabric of how we live our functioning lives. For instance, Melbourne has such a strong café and coffee culture. This naturally informs how Melbournians live, socialise and ultimately communicate – which is where fashion comes in. To me, it’s a very symbiotic relationship.

How do you think the design and art scene differs in Melbourne compared to Hong Kong?

Hong Kong is definitely a more international hub. A melting pot, which is reflected in both its design and art scenes. But, I suppose, with Melbourne being a bit further away from the rest of the world, it allows the city to develop a subculture or “brand” in itself – which I find really cool and fascinating.

A campaign shot of MNDATORY
2020 has been a tough year for pretty much every sector. According to many, the creative industries were not given enough support and importance. Would you agree?

Yes and no. But from our own experience, we were very fortunate as we received lots of support from our Federal government, State government and local council – with all them extremely proactive in helping SMEs (small or medium-sized enterprises) via grants and various other initiatives. In our state of Victoria, we’re also extremely privileged to have wonderful government agencies like Creative Victoria and Global Victoria, who are both great supporters of the local Melbourne fashion scene.

How did you cope with the pandemic’s challenges? What helped you?

As a SME, MNDATORY definitely had the advantage of being agile and nimble in what has proven to be a fast changing retail environment. We were able to move the majority of our sales online and keep in touch with our regular clients through social media channels. This was a key strategy for us and we’re starting to see the benefits of that now as trading returns to a COVID-normal. Also, given that MNDATORY adopts a just-in-time inventory strategy, it means we don’t hold a large amount of stock, which gave us flexibility (even during the pandemic) to continue to regularly release new product offerings.

What’s next for you as a designer in 2021?

Next to our menswear, MNDATORY will further develop its release of womenswear and denim offerings in 2021.

Is there any particular trend that you see becoming relevant next year or, are we saying goodbye to any trend you can’t wait to get rid of?

Over the last year or so, menswear has seen a real resurgence in tailoring after being so heavily influenced by streetwear in more recent times. As a result, I think we’ll start to see men dress in a form that’s an amalgamation of the two. I see it as traditional tailoring, but in a modern context – a subversion of traditional proportion and silhouettes and deconstructed just enough for when the concept of ‘9 to 5’ no longer exists.

If I had to say goodbye to one item, from a comfort perspective, it would be face masks. But I have a feeling they are here to stay!

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