MELBOURNE — The humble façade of a single-storey Victorian terrace house, located within Melbourne’s inner-north, cloaks one of the world’s most progressive fashion labels — the Melbourne luxury house MaterialByProduct (MBP).
A home, studio and manufacturing space, the house also acts as a destination for those seeking a different kind of fashion experience. It’s where MBP’s Creative Director and Designer Susan Dimasi takes her clients’ measurements and orders, and makes garments tailored to fit.
Each item in the MBP collection is priced around AUD$1,800-$4,000, a reflection of the meticulous craftsmanship and the quality of the fabric, often made of silk and leather. It speaks to the consumer who prefers to buy into the concept of enduring fashion rather than the industry’s fickle seasons.
MBP designs have also attracted high profile clients such as Björk, who commissioned MBP to make a dress for the 2007 Volta Tour.
Since launching in Australia in 2003 and internationally in 2004, MBP has carved a niche for itself by reinventing the production process, creating new ways of cutting, joining, marking, draping and tailoring, which contribute to minimizing the fabric off-cuts.
The label’s name ‘Material By Product’ plays on the idea that the ‘materialized’ garments are the ‘by-product’ of this system. The garments are often cut, tapered and draped out of a single piece of square cloth, with very few fabric additions.
Within the industry, the label is famed for its unique sizing and cutting system of dots (that Dimasi invented) which replaces the traditional, temporary tailor’s chalk marks. In essence, it mingles technical pattern-making with the act of drawing.
The label’s innovative production techniques have already been acknowledged in two Premier’s Design Awards, one for Cultural Fashion Design and one for Commercial Fashion Design. It’s also earned Dimasi a reputation as a pioneer of sustainable fashion.
Although Dimasi does not mind the eco-title, she’s says that in any industry, sustainability should be a principle not a feature. She also believes that there’s no point in making a garment on ‘ethical’ principles if there is no beauty in the end product.
“You can have zero waste propositions and they look terrible. People are going to wear them on principle but the novelty soon wears off. I’m hoping to create garments that will last two or three generations, not just one,” she says.
“I set out to start my own language and that language is based on the fundamentals of dressmaking which I’ve re-interrogated to make them relevant and sustainable in the 21st century,” she says.
It’s this progressive approach that allows the Melbourne designer to push her ideas without compromising on her craft.
An example of this approach is the MBP’s Bleed Product, a concept which plays on the idea of an accumulative system.
Here, the proposition is to add to the garment over a number of seasons or visits. Rather than buying into three new outfits, the customer has one garment than can evolve and potentially change into three different styles and colours.
There’s also an interactive element at play; the wearer’s body heat acts to transform the garment in a literal sense –- by bleeding the color that appears on the fabric. And in a way, the wearer is also engaging in the fashion making process.
“On a cultural level, it further blurs what is fashion? What is art? On an industrial level, it’s proposing quite a significant paradigm shift, maybe we’re not making new garments, we’re servicing existing ones instead. On a specific fashion cultural level, it’s contemporary approach to the European tradition of creating wonderful couture,” she says.
In the Bleed Project, Dimasi suggests that a garment can accumulate to couture brilliance over time. She explains that pursuing these ideas was a fundamental part of the reason why she made her own garments in-house. When Dimasi started 10 years ago, she had to create her own workroom because there was no way she could realize her designs with existing manufacturers.
“As a fashion designer here, you have an enormous disadvantage right from the very start. Costs are higher here than they are for European based designers…and the manufacturing pool here is so much smaller and, to an extent, quite antiquated,” she says.
Overcoming these local challenges, the Melbourne has created a unique label that’s considered by the fashion and design industry as well ahead of its time.
Though Dimasi may have a deep respect for age-old artisanal practices, it’s clear she’s no traditionalist. As she puts it, “I see no romance about sitting down and sewing garments by hand. I’m prototyping for the future.”
Photos: 3 Deep.