Honouring heritage while looking towards the future may be a tough balancing act, but for Australian born-and-bred label Veronika Maine, it’s all part and parcel of cementing its status as a much-loved and trusted fashion staple.
Founded in 1998 under Cue Clothing Co. (where it now sits alongside Cue and Dion Lee), the growth and evolution of the brand has been exponential. And it’s the company’s attention to detail, modern yet classic aesthetic and ahead-of-the-curve creative team that keep the brand striving to reach new fashion heights. “There is such a level of tradition and heritage in regards to how a fashion piece is created,” Veronika Maine’s brand director Gill Vadgama confirms, “but it’s also very much about innovation and creativity combined as well.”
From hand sketches and cardboard cut outs to toile refits and on-the-ground pattern makers, Veronika Maine’s creative team is distinctly design-led. And after recently being welcomed into the Myer family, the brand is readying itself for another resurgence. “It’s an exciting chance for us to talk to a new customer,” says Gill. “At the moment we’re in just over 25 stores, and going into 2017 we’ll be in 50-plus Myer locations.” The new relationship with Myer adds to the brand’s current reach through David Jones stores and the 36 standalone Veronika Maine stores across Australia and New Zealand.
So, with the brand’s profile set to soar, we talk to the people responsible for taking a Veronika Maine piece from a hand-drawn sketch to store floor in a mere matter of weeks, about the real process behind building a collection (and maintaining that creative momentum).
“We look for inspiration everywhere,” says head designer Alexie Thompson, “not only [on] international catwalks but we look at fashion blogs, art shows, travel and what people are wearing on the street… European collections, because they do end up influencing the trends here in Australia – but Australia has its own trends too that are defined by our climate and weather so we do incorporate those as well.”
The new collection is no different, with colour and print especially central to the aesthetic. “We took our inspiration for Summer 2016 from ’90s minimalism. We had a soft femininity for the collection but kind of toughened it up with bomber jackets, so we had that balance. From that ’90s minimalist look we’ve taken this trend of wearing slips as daywear. And also quite a toned-down palate of blush, cream, khaki, black and white.
“Part of that look is lots of layering. We love building outfits… out of layering so that when you break down the pieces they’re actually more wearable everyday pieces but together they can be a more directional look.”
Create fashion sketches
“The sketching process has to be very fast here,” says Alexie, whose team designs over 100 styles per month. “We usually sketch by hand, but sometimes we also [look to create designs] digitally, so we do a combination of both. I do personally find that with hand-drawing you are able to get a more fluid line so you’re able to get a better concept of drape.”
Stop, collaborate and brainstorm
The design team then “all get together with Gill and we explain our sketches and what we feel strongly about, then she selects the ones that she feels are most appropriate for our customer and the seasonality. She approves which ones go through to the pattern room,” says Alexie. “During that meeting we need to make sure we have a balance of styles; we discuss whether we’re missing something that we might need to go back and design. We have to check we have a balance of sleeve lengths, necklines and fits and all of those kinds of things to make sure our collection is fully balanced when it arrives in store.”
“We brainstorm as a team here,” says Gill. “We start with moodboards, colours, fabric, prints. We design more than we want, so we’re quite critical.” The team trusts and knows intuitively when they have a winner.
Find the right fabric
“I work closely with our fabric manager,” says Gill. “So we source [most] of our fabric from Europe and Japan, and we work with very established mills that we have a really good relationship with. Because we are a design-led business, we do get the [mill] agents to come and see us first with the new fabric collections. So we’ll get some fabric in and trial it. We have fabrics that we constantly work with because they’re bestsellers for us.
“We also work very closely with a European print house to [develop] our own prints which are exclusive to us,” says Gill of the brand’s unique prints, which create a crucial point of difference. “If we have time we’ll trial a few fabrics and see how they drape, but the majority are based on fabrics that we know well and we might do a different weave, or a different colour, just so there’s a consistency in store.”
Mock it up
“We’re quite unique because we have an in-house pattern making team,” says Alexie. “The design team work very closely with the pattern makers, which I think is key to our success. We hand over our designs to the pattern makers firstly and explain to them the kind of look and feel we’re wanting to create from our sketch and they’ll make a toile from there. The toile is a mock up of the design in calico fabric, so the main thing we’re looking at is the proportion of the design, the design lines [and] length. Then we are also looking at fit but we have to use our experienced eye to imagine what the garment will look like in the correct fabric.” The team then reviews the toile with the pattern makers before the first sample is made in preparation for review in a design meeting.
It’s go time
“Once the pattern is finished and fit-perfected, it’s on to the production department,” says Alexie. “This is an exciting moment as this is when you see your design transition through the final stages before delivery to store. It is a thrill to see it arrive on the shop floor, but even more so when you see someone wearing one of our designs!”
“[We] definitely listen to our customers and we are always really interested to see what they’re buying and how that changes every season. We review how each style has sold at the end of every week, at the end of every month and at the end of every season. It is like a constant process… so we can react to sales by designing either an updated style or repeating a style or a print or fabric,” says Alexie. “[We look] at what colours [our customers] loved… and we also talk to our stores and visit our stores.” This stage of the process ensures the designers can both continue and evolve Veronika Maine’s signature style.