Although I can’t stand people dropping in on me when I’m on deadline, this is exactly what I did to Christopher Esber last week when I went by his Redfern studio as he was preparing his collection for the International Woolmark Prize (IWP) final, which will be hosted in Milan during fashion week.
But, as expected from the designer known for his sense of ease, everything was “just so” in Esber ‘s world. His airy new studio is trimmed with fire-hydrant-red accents, an Australian bottlebrush of the same hue nonchalantly leaning against the starkest white walls. At his table sits a girl crocheting with a wreath of roses in her hair.
I love when a designer’s studio is assembled just to their taste and specifications, and the same can be said of the collection he’s showing as one of five finalists next week. With his signature infatuation with fabrics, Esber has played with all sorts of embossing; creating a false rib on the ends of the coats, using a puff print on the reverse of luxurious crepe and printing on drapes. Then there’s the cashmere, which he’s working with a latch-hooking technique he calls “doing fake sweaters” and crocheting the rib on the hem, so once that’s hemmed, it will look like a sweater. Olive is the hero of his palette, complemented by both strong and soft neutrals.
“It is quite masculine and oversize, but there’s a lot of sheer underneath all the coats,” he says of the silhouettes that include a double-neckline bodice dress with drapes, as well as a darted blazer. “And the whole collection is very length specific. Everything is mid-calf—the skirts, the pants, and the coats are all the same length; so that’s going to be fun hemming.”
Although the appeal of a $100,000 (AUD) prize for the winner (plus commercial opportunities), as well as this being Esber’s “first big international thing,” must have put some pressure on the collection and the six looks he’s to present, Esber said he just really wanted to do something he loved.
“You know I love coats. I collect coats for myself as well. Being in Australia, when I’m doing, like, a winter collection, you don’t really need to do so many coats, so I took this whole competition as a way to work on the idea of the coat, really oversize and relaxed, across evening dresses and tops and sweaters. I just wanted everything really easy but luxurious.
“And we are working the olives, which I just love. You know you get a lot of feedback, and everyone’s like, ‘Color, think color,’ but I just wanted to do something that’s really wearable and that I personally love.”
In preparation for the presentation to the panel of judges—which includes Tim Blanks, Frida Giannini, and Franca Sozzani—Esber has taken the time to reflect on his brand. “I feel like my woman is someone who loves design and luxury, but she is very particular,” he says. “There has to be a sense of ease, I think, with everything.”
As for the models who he’ll be hemming like crazy when he gets to Milan?
“I just said beautiful brunettes, and I’ve asked for three girls with green eyes; with all the cashmere and olive, it will just be so nice.”
Brunettes with green eyes—all to Esber’s specifications, just how he likes it.
Photos: Ryan Brabazon