You published an essay in Sweat: The Subtropical Imaginary, which explored culture in subtropical cities such as Brisbane. Can you explain to us what ‘subtropical design’ might look like, and what you think are the effects of climate on culture?
I was researching the relationship between drought and fountains in Brisbane for Sweat, and I was struck by our city’s constant re-negotiation of what ‘sub-tropical’ might mean over time. We have historically bounced between having too little water, or too much! Our subtropical reality keeps changing, and climate change will only exacerbate that, so ideal subtropical design should be able to adapt to that change.
You’re fascinated by women artists, particularly those who’ve been overlooked in the modern canon. Do you agree that historically fashion has offered a level of success to women designers that may not have been paralleled in visual art? Or do you think that male dominance is more or less equivalent in fashion?
If you look at the number of women drawn to the study of fashion and then compare that to the number of high-profile international women designers, it would appear that the dynamic of men succeeding in a greater ratio is similar to the situation in art. Having said that, however, I cannot think of an early twentieth century woman artist who would have been considered as important as Chanel was to fashion, for example.
What is your relationship to fashion; self-loathing, or self-expression?
Conflicted. I am truly ambivalent about fashion. I enjoy the aesthetics, but I am deeply troubled by the politics of the fashion industry.
Where do you look for inspiration on matters of style?
I was a style magazine addict in the 1980s and ‘90s. I have a collection of back issues of magazines like The Face and Stiletto that is a bit like an albatross around my neck to be honest, but my enduring inspiration has been drawn from the pioneers of ‘modern womanhood’—the generation of artists, writers, journalists and activists that helped define the twentieth century.
What is your most treasured dress-related object or memory?
I have a black crepe 1950s evening dress, given to me by my great-aunt, that I wore repeatedly for about fifteen years. Between us, I think my great-aunt and I would have worn that dress in too many nightclubs to list.
Give us three words, people or places you associate with Queensland fashion…
Colourful (from pineapple print shirts to purple hair); Contested (it seems that the arguments over Queensland style never end); and “Carmel’s” (my mother worked in a dress boutique by this name in George Street in the 1960s, and I was always fascinated by her stories of both the frocks and the clients).
Is there such a thing as a distinct Queensland style?
When I was younger, it always appeared to me that Queensland style was about extremes—from stifling conservatism through to the most extreme exhibitionism. Things seem safer and more coherent now, or perhaps I just don’t get out enough!
Published in Issue 12, on April 8, 2014.