One recent evening, I made my way to Footscray, to the studio of Aly Peel.
Aly, of the MAIIKE label, works from a large space in a converted wool mill. It has been her studio (and sometimes living quarters) ever since we’ve known Aly but I’d never been before… I pictured her space as a big isolated warehouse; it turned out to be something like a split-level apartment amid a small brick-laned ‘village’ (which reminded me of a film set).
Aly and I had a longish chat about her business, and how it has changed over time. She has always worked with her family – originally with her brothers, Mick and Ged – now, running the gorgeous Maiike store with her sister-in-law Feride, as well as maintaining the wholesale business. Aly has two gorgeous little children with her partner, Thuy.
We mostly talked about the difficulty of maintaining creative output, amid business and family life, and the choices that Aly makes in terms of producing her work in the careful, labour intensive manner that she does. As we agreed afterwards, it was a conversation that could have gone on and on. Many thanks to Aly for the hours that we had...
In her words:
Before I started my business, I worked at a buying office in Daimaru. It was before I started drinking coffee or something - I didn’t really go out on the weekends, and I used to sit home and make things, and I loved it...
I basically built my business (my client-base) by selling at markets [like Magnolia Square].
Especially back then, I used to just always wear my old ripped jeans and this black hoodie with a nasty print on the back… For the markets, I had to dress more colourfully, more happy. And it’s not necessarily fake, it’s just this different part of you that you have to present.
It was great to meet people [although there were] heaps of misconceptions [about me and my work], particularly that I had kids … and then, when I finally did have kids, [people assumed] that they must have the most amazing bedrooms… I made Kiem a cot quilt, and I made it before he was born - the day before the baby shower - ‘cause I was really embarrassed that his room was just still this bare space full of junk!
I rarely... make things for myself now. It feels like work...
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This is always a popular announcement, and we are happy to make it...
Yes! Please, drop in to have a rummage through the entire Milly Sleeping collection ... Our sale now stretches from the front door, right through (our ordinarily private stockroom) to the small back window, and up to the sky. Find pieces for high Summer, for imminent Autumn, a June wedding, or your wintery getaway. Prices on all garments and accessories are well reduced. For example ...
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Lake House cotton Venetian tee by Limedrop, WAS $170 NOW $125
Lake House silk Tail shirt by Limedrop, WAS $275 NOW $165
Over the next few weeks, Milly Sleeping will present a slowly unravelling project, called Nice Work, to coincide with the L'Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival of 2012. The project has attracted submissions from a range of local designers, each aiming to suggest a little of what their work means to them. Their (mostly photographic) responses will be revealed over time at niceworkmilly.com, while a selection will be exhibited in store.
The idea is to prod a little at the notion of 'nice work'... What is it like to be an independent designer in Australia today - is it nice work(?) and, if it is, why is it(?) and is it also hard work, solitary work, etc.(?)
As an extension of the exhibition, Milly Sleeping has arranged a series of interviews with some of the contributors. We are very happy to present the first of these, written by Gracia Haby of Gracia & Louise. Thank you very much to Gracia for her time and thoughts:
(MS) What do you think of the lifestyle that is created by having your own business?
(GH) For us, it is hard to imagine one any other way. It suits us perfectly. It is that well-worn glove, that comfortable shoe to slide the foot into. It suits our way of working, thinking, doing, and we love those flexible hours you can dance to. With its highs and lows, its frantic days and quieter ones, it is little short of great.
Would you ever say that your work is your life?
Pretty much. No, make that, utterly. It is not something ever far from mind, what with those ideas that beg to be caught.
Do you think there are characteristics/personality traits that independent designers/artists share?
A little madness surely must sit on the shoulder, and an adventurous and resourceful spirit is required.
Can you describe how you feel when you are working in your studio?
Focused. In a vacuum seal. Sometimes it is a world through which music filters from classical to Hank Williams. Sometimes it is quiet, but for the sound of pets sleeping atop cushions nearby. Working in the studio, you are made aware of the time only by the changing light that enters the room. And lo! it is dusk! Where did the day escape to?>
As far as ‘favourite places to be’ go, how does your studio rate?
Our studio is at home. It is a domestic space that fits the late nights and early starts. It is comfortable, adaptable, and perfectly suited, at present, to working with paper. Yes, this would make it a favourite space.
Do you find your work solitary?
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Image above: 'Nice Music to tame paper' by Gracia Haby and Louise Jennison, (2012) for Nice Work. Gracia and Louise are well-known makers of beautiful, often two-dimensional papery, pencilly things. They have recently installed an extensive solo show - By This Unwinking Night - at Latrobe Regional Gallery (to run from February 4th until April 1st).
I have a date with my business partner to have a good and proper look at this new exhibition but, for official blog purposes, I made a flying visit to Ian Potter and had a one-eyed glance around at Bush Couture by Linda Jackson. I can't tell you anything about the show, really, except that it seems very wonderful ...
... And, that while the clothes are certainly not misrepresented in being celebrated as something uniquely and iconically Australian, the range of influences and the styles presented are varied, very multi-cultural, and there's not much that I'd call kitsch.
I also picked up the handsome accompanying booklet, which holds an essay by Laura Jocic and a lovely selection of Linda Jackson's personal photographs.
Inspired, I've had a real play with our gorgeous sale pieces, to try to create a Linda Jackson look... taking note of the strong influence of Modernist blockiness and geometric textiles, billowing silhouettes and bush-inspired textures and markings...
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Pictured: Limedrop silk cape-sleeve top (RRP $264 NOW $198) with Limedrop silk blouse, worn as skirt (RRP $299 NOW $224);
Romance Was Born silk cotton box tee (RRP $290 NOW $218) with Romance Was Born Empress print denim skirt (RRP $230 NOW $173);
Mücke shirttop (RRP $154 now $116) with High Tea Wayward Wanderlust skirt (RRP $275 NOW $206) and Jolet Refections shirt jacket (RRP $290 NOW $247);
Limedrop check tail shirt (RRP $242 NOW $177) with Limedrop floral jersey skirt, worn as poncho (RRP $110 NOW $83)
The current major exhibition at NGV International this summer (it is summer, isn't it?) is The Mad Square.
The few people I know of who have seen it agree that it's really excellent, which is why it's such a shame that lots of people don't seem to know that it's on... I've come across very little word of it on the streets other than this one bedraggled postcard that I walked past twice before I finally picked it up from the ground.
Okay, so you can see that it might not be a really PG show, which I suppose accounts for the lack of obvious publicity..? It's a large exhibition and a wide window to a grim and sometimes lewd world: Berlin, pre WWI to pre WW2. The mind certainly reels at 'the events', figures and clashing ideas of the time, and it may well reel at the range of artistic responses - expository, brutal, satirical, witty and even whimsical, or hopeful, radical, revolutionary - and stunningly skillful.
A highlight for me were the strange, funny, gorgeous, ugly collage works by Hannah Höch, who is not pictured above. I hoped to make HH Milly's muse for the week ... but, A/ I had little photographic evidence to work from (I know she had great hair, at least) and B/ it turned out to be quite hard to channel a somewhat androgynous German in the 1930s (given that a lot of our current garments have a more 70s, 90s, today feel) - but I tried:
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Pictured: Secretary at West German Radio in Cologne (1931) by August Sander;
ffiXXed cotton raglan dress shirt (RRP $197 NOW $148) with High Tea Wayward Wanderlust skirt (RRP $275 NOW $206);
Self-Portrait (1927) by Christian Schad;
Kuwaii Cosmic pant (RRP $269 NOW $202) with High Tea Chapter Two top (RRP $264 NOW $198) and Mücke vest cardigan (RRP $220 now $165)
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