I hate pants. I’m not necessarily against them on principle; I’m just not particularly a 50 Shades Of Denim kind of girl. While sartorially there’s nothing I want more than to exercise the rights my soul sisters fought for by working a smart pant or a comfy yet practical drop crotch, I’ve just never been able to find a pair that haven’t made me want to commit any time I catch a glimpse in a rear view mirror. That all changed when my ass became acquainted with Stephanie Downey, designer/magician/only person to have successfully created a pair of pants I have worn further than my front door of my own free will. Potentially her greatest achievement to date.
Since starting her label, Dress Up, 6 years ago, Stephanie has been a significant force within the Melbourne fashion scene. It’s hard to discern whether her work is inspired by the often subdued, casual elegance of the typical local aesthetic, or vice versa; a pretty amazing feat for someone who set up her business fresh out of university.
After graduating with a fashion degree at Melbourne’s RMIT University in 2004, Stephanie worked on her label whilst juggling a business course and part time retail work.
“I pretty naively started Dress Up after uni”, she explains of those early days, “The only way I got through it was because I was so young, I just accepted that it was hard and that I had to keep trying.” It is perhaps this initial innocence and naivety that has shaped the development of Stephanie’s work, and the way her clothing communicates with the wearer, rather than defines her.
An “ode to vanity”, Dress Up explores the human emotion in “the private aspiration of appearing fashionable”; an extension of the thoughtful subtleties and considered detail in the way that dressing ourselves projects who we are, and who we want to be.
With Stephanie creating and cutting all her own patterns, Dress Up’s accidental elegance draws on beautifully tailored pieces pared back with comfortable basics. Deliciously slouchy sweaters hang loose over slim waisted pants, and oversized soft corduroy shirts are nonchalantly tucked into perfectly fitted culottes; an absent-minded sort of sensuality. While the palette is usually one of muted tones, Summer 12/13 has seen injections of mustard, fuchsia, metallics and splice green, “I had a bit of a freak out about how bright it was”, Steph admits of the collection, “but I like it now. It’s often a reaction against the past season.”
Despite the simple styling and impeccable cuts that are signature to the aesthetic of Dress Up, there’s a quiet element of self conscious sensitivity lingering in the self assured design.
“I think [self image] is quite a vulnerable personality trait, the way we project ourselves through what we wear… usually the people who wear my clothes are quite confident and have an assured kind of style,” Stephanie explains. “But I’m as much about the idea of a not quite right outfit as a good one. I kind of love the idea of someone getting it wrong.” To be honest, it’s hard to imagine how anyone could possibly get it wrong in Dress Up; its subtle simplicity seems foolproof.
While typically “dressing up” evokes mental images of sequins and stilettos, Stephanie is more concerned with the intentions and intimacy involved in the process.
“For me, it’s more about the experience of dressing, and the way we communicate our personalities through what we wear to other people”, she says with regard to her concept of dressing up, “but I really like the idea of pretending, and the way clothing can make you escape yourself a little bit.”
Having firmly established itself as a defining label locally (the shop girls at Melbourne’s iconic Alice Euphemia have been championing the brand for years), Dress Up has also proved its merit internationally, having stocked in Japan and London’s Liberty store. Now with plans to go over to the US next year, it’s clear that the success of Dress Up’s development and expansion has relied upon its solid foundation.
“I’m really glad I’ve grown quite slowly”, Stephanie says, “ it’s at a stage where it’s sustainable. I’m so passionate about it, every season I get excited about creating something new.”
We spoke to Steph about her inspirations and loved them all so darn much we wanted to give you the pleasure of a visual journey through some of film’s most beautiful heroines according to Stephanie, “for their unique beauty, eccentricity, and personal style”. You’re welcome (after the jump).