Who: Avant-garde Australian fashion designer, Katie Pye (b. 1952).
What: Independent garment and textiles design label with a number independent boutiques housing both retail and exhibition spaces.
Where: Katie Pye was born and studied in Sydney. She established her boutiques ‘Doesn’t Matter (Duzzn’t Matter)’ in Balmain, Sydney in 1976; ‘Hieroglyphics’ on Sydney’s Crown St in 1981; and ‘Katie Pye Clothing Gallery’ on Given Tce, in Brisbane’s Paddington in 2004.
When: Katie Pye Studio label was established in 1979. The label re-launched in 2004, coinciding with the opening of the Katie Pye Clothing Gallery in Brisbane, which closed in 2009. Her wholesale clothing label Inner Sanctum was established in 2001.
Why: She’s better known as a Sydney designer, but many have embraced Katie Pye as an important identity in Queensland’s design story. She moved to Brisbane mid-career, operating a home-studio in the Brisbane suburb of Yeronga from the early 1990s, and a celebrated boutique in inner-city Paddington in the mid-to-late 2000s. During this time she immersed herself in the local design and art scenes, and was well known as an inspiring figure of Brisbane independent fashion retail.
First and foremost an artist, Pye studied painting at the East Sydney Technical College in the early 1970s. She was interested in the possibilities for performance in fashion, and was influenced by the growing feminist art practices of this period that turned their focus to the body. Pye held her first fashion parade for her own collection in the late 1970s. Her label achieved great critical acclaim and at various stages in the years to follow, it skirted commercial success. She was perhaps most commercially successful in the mid-to-late 1980s, with her designs stocked nationally in high-end boutiques and department stores. However her high-concept boutiques have struggled over the years with the demands of retail overheads. Her 1970s boutique Duzzn’t Matter closed its doors after a few years, but Pye continued to make and sell work in other arenas, such as markets and other boutiques. She was also active in styling and performance art, working on projects of her own as well as collaborations on performing arts productions and music video clips. She established her label Katie Pye Studio in 1979.
Pye’s designs of the 1980s and 1990s were strongly influenced by the wave of Japanese avant-garde fashion at this time. In more recent years her work has focused on handicraft traditions, such as hand-embroidery and block printing, influenced by numerous travels to India, and work with the country’s local artisans. 2004 saw the re-launch of the Katie Pye label, as well as the opening of the Katie Pye Clothing Gallery in Brisbane, which showcased this hand-crafted aesthetic. The Paddington boutique closed its doors in 2009, ending a chapter in Katie Pye’s impressive career as an independent retailer.
Flying the flag of an ‘artist-slash-designer’, Pye has exhibited widely in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. She was in the pivotal exhibition ‘Art Clothes’ at the Art Gallery in New South Wales in 1980 (curated by Jane de Teliga, and featuring the work of other prominent Australian avant-garde designers including Jenny Bannister, Peter Tully, Jenny Kee and Linda Jackson). In 1990 she exhibited in ‘Women Wonder at the Shoe’ at the Queensland Performance Arts Centre (which also travelled to Sydney and Mumbai). She was exhibited in Craft Queensland’s (now artisan) ‘Collectables–Vintage and Contemporary’ alongside other Brisbane-based artists such as Barbara Heath and Ruth Stoneley. A major retrospective of Katie Pye’s work, called ‘Clothes for Modern Lovers’, was held at the National Gallery of Victoria in 2007. This exhibition covered the formative period of the late 1970s to 1990s. A solo exhibition of her recent work, ‘Coquettish Threads’, was shown at Brisbane’s artisan in 2009.
She has also won awards including an Australia Council for the Arts grant in 1982, and a New Wave (1984) and Signet (1985) at the Australian Fashion Industries National Awards.
- Pye, Katie & Whitfield, Danielle & Jocic, Laura & National Gallery of Victoria. Council of Trustees 2007, Katie Pye : clothes for modern lovers, Published by the Council of Trustees of the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Published in Issue 7, on November 19, 2013.