25 Years of Fashion Design
Easton Pearson is the collaboration of Pamela Easton and Lydia Pearson. Established in March, 1989, the label celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.
Since 1996, Easton Pearson have kept an extensive archive of their collections, including garments and related materials, such as swatch-books, illustrations, photographs, press clippings, and invitations.
While rummaging through the Archives, we caught up with one half of the duo, Lydia Pearson, to talk about the garments we found. She also reflected on 25 years of running the label in Brisbane:
“Innately, Queensland has been part of our project, but it was not a conscious thing…it was almost an anti-Queensland thing for a long time. When we first used to go off to sell we didn’t tell people we were from Brisbane. Everyone from Melbourne used to think we were from Sydney, and everyone from Sydney thought we were from Melbourne. If you rang someone up and told them you’ve got a range of clothes and you’re coming down from Brisbane, they’d say, ‘no thanks, we’ve seen those airbrushed hibiscus dresses.’ Now we’re so proud and we tell everyone! In Europe it was just a complete novelty that you were from Australia, it didn’t matter where. People have a fantastic perception of Australia—they think it’s this wild, free, surfing life (which it is), and it’s the kind of life a lot of people can’t imagine having.”
This full length black washed silk taffeta dress was part of Easton Pearson's Spring/Summer 1999 collection. The fabric was sourced from India. The dress features a hand-cut wire-edged hem that allows the wearer to manipulate the way the garment is shaped. While many Easton Pearson garments are loose in their silhouette, this dress features a very tailored bodice that fits closely to the wearer.
Lydia comments on this early piece: “we’ve used wire a lot in hems—sometimes metal wire, sometimes fishing line for a weightless volume. I don’t think the Chatelaine Dress is out of character for us. It’s true that we’ve focused a lot more on cotton and elaborate day wear, rather than evening pieces, but in that collection, we used a lot of similar techniques and tailored silhouettes.”
Their preference for loose silhouettes in subsequent collections has often been attributed to the Queensland climate, but Lydia suggests this isn't strictly the case. "We’ve just always loved baggy clothes. It’s not a response to climate particularly, but maybe more a response to the way a lot of people dress in this climate… how naked people like to be! It’s a bit of an anti-overt sexuality. A lot of the big dresses are just as sensual anyhow. It’s also just both our preferences for lots of fabric.”
Spun, woven, stitched
Khadi is the Sanskrit translation of cotton, but the word is now used to mean hand-spun and hand-woven natural fibres. Khadi cotton is made using the traditional and manually operated Charka, or spinning wheel. The loom used in the weaving process of Khadi interlaces the threads in a manner that creates a more open weave, thus allowing greater air-flow for the wearer. The cotton for this smock was spun and woven by hand in Bengal. The embroidery was done by hand in Mumbai. Like all Easton Pearson garments, it was then hand-cut and assembled in the Easton Pearson workroom in Brisbane.
Lydia says, “in the beginning we only wanted to use natural fibres, and that was limiting in its own way. Initially we couldn’t afford to do our own prints so finding prints we liked was quite a challenge. When we started making our own prints, and when we started working in India (over 20 years ago) so that we could do embellishment, I think that was the biggest watershed in the business.”
Greetings from the Pacific
This dress is made from silk twill that was screen-printed and hand-decorated with diamantes in Mumbai. The print, called 'Isle Pacific', was adapted from a vintage souvenir scarf of Fiji, and is typical of the way the duo source inspiration from op-shops and thrifted garments.
As Lydia recalls, "it was an old scarf that we cut up into pieces and re-laid and turned it into running meterage. We also had all the motifs printed separately to appliqué onto t-shirts for people who couldn’t afford the dress.”
Vintage garments and objects often form the basis for print designs in Easton Pearson's work. In the Spring/Summer and Cruise collections of 2008, vintage postcards found in France were blown-up and transformed into dramatic floral prints.
Finished with gold
Featuring an oversized bow at the back with wire in its hem, this screen-printed cotton dress is trimmed with hand-woven gold gota braid, woven from gold and cotton thread in Surat, Gujarat.
Printed and embellished fabrics are what Easton Pearson are perhaps best known for, however, it wasn't until friends encouraged them to travel to India that they were aware of the creative possibilities.
Lydia explains: “I’d never been to India, so I didn’t know what the resources were there. It was a treasure chest—we really had no idea. It was at a time when no-one was doing embellishment in fashion—apart from the odd beaded dress in couture—so we just went crazy. It changed our world overnight. So we started working quite seriously and evolved the practice. We have now got working with makers in India down to a fine art.”
The artist's hand and the artisan
On the left is the Pays Dress, made of linen and lurex hand-painted to the garment shape, and hand-decorated with cotton ball braid from India. This garment was manufactured in Dubai, with the fabric for each dress hand-painted based on an original design by Brisbane artist Stephen Mok.
Lydia recalls, “that was the first collaboration we had with ‘Mokky’. He had done a painting in a show that had elements of what’s in the dress, with spots and lines, but he doesn’t really do abstract work. We actually just asked him if he’d do an abstract piece for us. We’d already cut out that dress, and told him we wanted the collar to look kind of Egyptian—basically gave him a general outline, and a colour palette, and that’s what he did. He hand-painted across the pleats at the back, and then we came to production and thought, ‘oh dear, how do we do this?’. But in fact, we came across people in India who could do hand-painting, and it worked out really, really well. Since then, we’ve gotten him to paint the first piece and worked with digital printing—it’s not so risky in terms of paint getting dropped on the garments.”
The ensemble on the right was from a collection produced in the following year, which also strongly echoes the mark of the maker's hand. The jacket is made from handwoven striped tussah silk made in India, then hand decorated in Mumbai with stone chip and glass beads. The elaborate buttons were made by hand as a special commission in Mumbai. The jacket is lined in silk and was cut and assembled in Brisbane.
The top has been made from handwoven cotton, hand-embroidered strips of braid (Kachchh, Gujarat) followed by metal sequin hand-decoration in Mumbai. Embroidery was done by women from the Node desert community (Kachchh, Gujarat), facilitated by the Shrujan Women's Co-operative, Kachchh.
Published in Issue 12, on April 8, 2014.