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Threads: Zoe Brown

Threads is a new series profiling emerging designers in Australia. Whether your work is classic, avant-garde or just plain cool, we want to hear about it. Get yourself out there! Send an e-mail to [email protected] We’d love to get to know you and your work.

Zoe Brown (centre) and Models at the Avant Garden Fashion Festival. (Photography: Red Photography )

First in the Threads series is Zoe Brown, a young designer who’s part Alice in Wonderland, part Courtney Love. She describes her own aesthetic as a fusion of ‘sweet as candy’ and distinctly grunge elements. Her garments are emblazoned with pop-culture motifs and sculptural elements that give them a very refreshing sense of fun. ‘I love hard contrasts between Girly and Trash,’ she explains.

Design has always been an important part of Zoe’s life. As a child, she started making her own dance costumes and designing clothing for her Barbie dolls. ‘It became a fascination and I guess I always knew I wanted to work in design some way or another,’ she said.

After receiving a Bachelor of Design from the Canberra Institute of Technology in 2011, Zoe completed an internship with the New Zealand label Stolen Girlfriends Club and later, Lover The Label, before returning to Canberra. Her original work has established her as a key player in the local fashion scene.

On any given day, you might catch Zoe in designer or vintage – and she won’t shy away from a costume either. Largely influenced by tattoo culture and contemporary art, she’s the perfect subcultural pin-up girl.

Zoe’s garments are, quite simply, really cool. They wouldn’t look out of place on a runway, film-set or in an art gallery, but she says she just likes to keep in mind what she herself would like to wear or what her peers are looking for in fashion. When working on new pieces, she envisions ‘a trend setter, influenced by art, culture, youth, and having fun with fashion’ wearing them.

When developing her collections, Zoe draws inspiration from very broad sources – anything from burlesque performers to street art – citing Audrey Kawasaki, Rose Hardy, Miss Van, and Raquel Reed as key influences. This innate grasp of current counter-culture, balanced with her appreciation of cult cinema and different eras in fashion, make for richly inspired, noteworthy collections.

The motifs she uses in her garments surprise us with their playfulness. In her Ornamental Collection she constructed a dress adorned with three-dimensional felt sweets and doilies set in resin – still a personal favourite of hers. These three-dimensional elements have become a hallmark of hers, as she loves ‘to be sculptural and build off the body, incorporating the idea of self-customization. I like the idea of people having the same garment, but the motifs and decorations are customizable.’

Zoe’s Doily Dress. (Photography: Jenna King)

The Collector, Zoe’s 2011 graduate collection, is a texturally rich, futuristic anthology of form and fabric. Think James Dean meets the Power-Puff Girls in 2050. Visually, there’s a lot to explore within each garment. The mixture of fabric, shape and dimension holds the eye, drawing your vision between chiffon, across laser-cut leather, onto flesh and denim. If that all sounds too much; it’s not. She manages to synthesise her vast array of inspiration into one cohesive, ultramodern collection.

Dress from ‘The Collector’.  (Photography: James van der Moezel)

 Looking across collections, one can’t help but be impressed by the considerable artistic range of such a young designer. In her most recent collection (first pictured),  a standout last years at Canberra’s inaugural Avant Garden Fashion festival, Zoe began to explore more ethereal, ephemeral themes, inspired by the Sofia Coppola film The Virgin Suicides. Mesmerised by the innocence and beauty of the group of sisters in the film and the tragedy that ‘they were unable to fully blossom into the women they would have become,’ Zoe played with sheer panelling that exposed the wearer, recalling the fragility of the film’s doomed heroines. Recurring floral imagery referenced youth and the transient nature of beauty as ‘silk roses overflowed onto the garments’. At the collection’s first showing, Models were bedecked in floral wreathes, appearing almost otherworldly as Zoe’s light creations seemed to float upon them. It is a true testament to her versatility as a designer that she can transition from two very different styles without sacrificing her own design hallmarks.

Looking to the future, Zoe has plans to start her own label. If you’re in Canberra, you might just be lucky enough to see her popping up this year as Centenary celebrations begin.

Zoe’s words of fashion advice? ‘Do what you want, wear what you want and don’t care what other people think.’ That’s the thing about Zoe; she’s got her finger on the pulse of youth culture but she still moves to her own beat.

 By Isabelle Hellyer

Check out Zoe’s Website here!

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