Eccentric Young Designer Jordan Dalah
Victorian undergarments, leather boxed tops, and bold silhouettes; Dalah’s designs reminisce on a time in which he was yet to exist. Coloured leathers and meticulous details are contemporary and organic, but are not in the slightest way offensive. The Australian expatriate is a recent graduate of Central Saint Martins in London. His first collection, which has been widely praised by fashion critics and audiences alike, sets Dalah up as a newcomer to watch.
A version of this exclusive interview first appeared in the pages of the 15th issue of ODDA Magazine.
“AS A YOUNG BRAND TRYING TO PAVE MY WAY, SOMETIMES TOOLS LIKE INSTAGRAM ARE SO OVERWHELMING” – JORDAN DALAH
One year down, one collection in. What have you learnt about yourself?
I’ve learnt that you have to let a collection evolve over time. I am currently in the process of developing my next collection. It is much larger than my first collection, but is also proving to take much more time to develop. I have also learnt that a collection cannot exist in isolation. With the last one, I tackled problems as they arose. If I liked a fabric I used it, and if a garment needed editing whilst the final sample was being sewn then that wasn’t an issue. With my next collection I have to make sure every pattern is perfect for the machinists and also that the fabrics I use are available in the quantities I need them. I have had so many offers for pieces from the last collection that I cannot remake as I can’t find the fabrics. I have also learnt that virtual success doesn’t necessarily equal actual success. As a young brand trying to pave my way, sometimes tools like Instagram are so overwhelming. You have access to what feels like an extreme overload of designers and ideas, all from the comfort of your bed. Sometimes it feels suffocating and like you are truly one in a million.
There are many Victorian elements in your designs, from lace collars to exaggerated bell sleeves. Can you explain how these influences came to be in your collection?
The Victorian influences came into my collection quite naturally. I decided to refer back to old habits when designing my first collection. Before I was interested in fashion, I painted. I was fascinated by the Victorian and Tudor style of painting and the way that artists of these times were able to manipulate light within their work. It seemed so technologically advanced for the time, to be able to paint in that way all those years ago. The idea that artists were able to create such depth in their work, but the tools they used were so basic, unrefined and unprocessed, made me want to start painting in that same way. For my collection, I decided to hark back to my painting. I wanted to look at the notion of dressing in Tudor times. The idea of layering undergarments and then adding corsetry reminded me of painting. This notion of preparing a canvas and then layering it with rich colours is reflected in my collection through my fabrics and colour palette. Everything is lined with natural-coloured linen similar to that of a canvas, and the body is then adorned with rich-coloured leathers like oxblood, terre verte and raw umber. These are the kinds of colours I would use when I paint a portrait. I also started looking at Victorian and Edwardian dolls. The old ones you can find in markets are usually missing clothes, but their ‘naked’ bodies are equally as interesting. They are usually made of linen and cotton, with porcelain faces. The awkward shapes of these doll bodies inspired my collection. I made torsos much longer, busts much smaller and shoulders higher, which all added to the doll like silhouettes of my garments.
You travel between London and Sydney. Do you feel creatively supported more in either place? What role does each city play in your creative and technical processes?
I have small studio spaces in both cities and I am still getting the hang of balancing my time in both places. Ultimately, I will be at either end of the world and there will always be something that needs my attention in the place I am not currently in. I feel creatively supported in different ways in both cities. Firstly, the ‘fashion scene’ in Sydney is kind of uninspired and, although there have been recent attempts to rejuvenate events like fashion week, it feels so much more about the commercialization of fashion and the external sponsorship schemes than it does about supporting fashion as a beautiful craft. Fashion in Sydney is undeniably third hand. It follows the classic chain of runway to celebrity endorsement, to social media maven regurgitating it for a third time. I don’t make clothing for this reason and I feel that in Sydney, there is a sense that with fashion, you have made it when celebrities and bloggers validate your clothing. That idea makes me quite sad. The fashion industry in Australia is also very small. There is not that many machinists or pattern cutters who work professionally, but the ones that I have come across are very talented and know their trade well. I feel very dissociated from the fashion that exists in Australia. I am not above it, but in many ways I feel like it stands for all the values I disagree with when it comes to fashion. I believe my aesthetic is one that people will value just the way it is. I don’t feel as though many Australian brands have that much of an identity. I feel like it is more about trend forecasting, and that then reflects the mood of a collection. I can’t relate to that. With all that being said, I love Sydney and I feel so inspired here. We have access to great textiles, so many cultures and in the last couple of months I have realized that like me, there are quite a few young designers emerging that don’t quite fit into a mold that dictates your success in the Australian fashion scene. I am currently in the process of collaborating with shoe designers who hand make all their own beautiful leather shoes and bags. It’s the most exciting thing I’ve seen come out of Australian design in a while, and I can’t wait for people to see our work together in my next collection.
Do you feel pressure as a creative? Where do your pressures come from?
I don’t feel pressure to be creative because my role as a designer is to creatively think about clothing.
In any case, I would rather feel the pressure from having to be creative than feel the pressure from having to restrain my creativity in order to make things that people above me deem to be appropriate for selling to the public.
The fabrics in your collection are very unique and bold. Where do you source your fabrics?
Sourcing the right fabric and sustainability is incredibly important to me. I try my best to only use fabrics that have been produced in a sustainable way. All wools and wool jerseys are from Australia, New Zealand or Japan. My leathers are all Italian as the quality is amazing, and all my suppliers’ leather is a by-product from the meat industry. All my linens are Irish, and made in the traditional way, in old linen mills.
I feel like people who are buying high-end fashion want to know where materials are sourced from.
Although the design of a garment is the most important thing, I feel like it is our duty as designers to make sure that customers are not just paying for a name, but also for quality. The fabrics need to be traceable and so does the person who actually sews up the garment.
“LAYERING UNDER-GARMENTS AND ADDING CORSETRY REMINDED ME OF PAINTING” – JORDAN DALAH
Tudor-style undergarments aren’t found in everyone’s wardrobe. What was the moment you thought these undergarments would be interesting to incorporate in your collection?
When I was researching my collection, I came across a lot of interesting images of men’s Tudor undergarments. They were all made of thin linens with soft fastenings and all in slightly different shades of ‘greige’. I couldn’t help but really look at these historic garments and think that the proportions, fabrics and functional nature of them would be incredibly suitable for a woman in the 21st century. They provide the comfort of sportswear, but feel far more classic and sophisticated. The aesthetic caters to function without pandering to the ‘upmarket utilitarian sportswear’ shtick, which is extremely fashionable at the moment.
What is your purpose as a designer?
I don’t think it is a question of what is my purpose as a designer, but more that being a designer feels like my purpose. My purpose, as a designer, is to pave my own way in the industry and work at a pace that is realistic for me as an independent label. I want everything I am involved in to be an honest reflection of my style and taste.
Describe your work ethic.
I hate being stressed, but I am inevitably stressed most of the time, and ironically I produce my best work when I am stressed. I don’t really have a crazy reason to be stressed, I just am. I also worry way too much. I’m not great at balance. I’m either constantly working and not having a social life, or not working at all… but still not really having a social life anyway. For the last two years, I feel as though I have not stopped, but I love every minute of it and would be bored if I weren’t going at full speed. I need to get better at balancing, but this is how I am for now.
What makes you feel empowered?
The post empowering feeling is when a garment you spend loads of time designing, but feel unsure about, finally comes together and is exactly as you imagined when you initially designed it.
Have you had any influential mentors in either London or Sydney?
It sounds strange, but I haven’t had a ridiculous amount of support from mentors in the past. Those people I have been exposed to in mentoring/ influential roles have done their jobs successfully, but not really left me with feelings of deep-rooted support. But they didn’t have to and I didn’t expect them to. I definitely owe thanks to a great tutor of mine, Anna-Nicole Ziesche, who really took the time to understand my work ethic, and the best way for me to be able to produce good work. To be totally honest, I don’t even think she thought that much of me. In fact, I think she just thought I was a bit of a strange character that needed a lot of validation. My best friend May Sutton, who I studied fashion with (her work is amazing), is my biggest supporter. She makes me feel important and trusts the decisions I make, even if she doesn’t totally agree with them. If everyone had a friend like her, they would feel as confident as I do with myself.
What impact does technology have on your work? Do you use Computer Aided Design at all? Have you ever experimented with 3D printing?
Personally, the idea of fashion and technology cringes me. I know it is a thing, and maybe I’m the fool but, to me, the beauty of fashion lies in the tradition of it. The more hands touching a garment, the better. At this rate, we are moving so quickly with technology that it would be nice if fashion could slow down. As for 3D printing, I’ve seen my boyfriend’s 3D prints for architecture and the precise (but virtual) accuracy scares me.
Do you have a philosophy in life?
I would love to say yes, there is one philosophical way of thinking that I apply to my life. But the truth is that, some days, I follow one path and the next day it is another. I’m not really that consistent of a person. Just for the sake of this interview, I will admit that I sometimes repeat the words “feel the fear and do it anyway” when I’m overly anxious or worried.
When can we expect to see your second collection?
You definitely can expect to see a second collection. The date is yet to be confirmed, but it is being made as we speak!
Have your parents influenced your path in the creative field at all? Are they supportive of what you are achieving?
Both my parents are incredibly supportive of the path I have chosen to take. They both have textile backgrounds. My dad used to import and export textiles. My grandma on my mum’s side (who I never met) was also in textiles. She moved to Australia from Hungary after World War II and set up a knitwear factory with her husband. My mum and her two sisters grew up learning how to make knitwear. Sadly, the textile industry has died in Australia and all their machinery was sold off years before I ever got into fashion. Such bad timing!
Four coffees a day keep me going and I love a bit of reality TV. Watching The Real Housewives while I sew keeps me going strong.
What do you do for pleasure? Where do you get your kicks?
For pleasure I love to cook. I also love exploring my natural surroundings wherever I am.
What role does music have in your life?
Music plays quite a large role in my life. Although I am not musical at all, I constantly play music in my studio. I play a bit of everything. I’m eclectic with my taste in music.
Where do you get the funds to continue this venture? Do you work elsewhere?
When I learnt how to sew around eight years ago, I started making basic wallets out of leather. I started selling them and people were buying loads of them. They were literally the simplest design. Soft leather, a curved zip for easy access and a durable lining. My dad and twin brother still think that the wallet was the best idea I ever had…
Do you have a right hand? Who has been with you since the beginning and you know will be there till the end?
My mum has been my biggest supporter. My right-hand woman is my beautiful best friend May Sutton. One day, we will work alongside each other. I’ve only known her since attending Central Saint Martins, and to begin with I don’t think she knew what to make of me. When we eventually got talking about food and restaurants in London, we realized that we were made for each other. We now cook together every other weekend. It’s interesting that it wasn’t fashion that brought us together but rather food, and our love of Hampstead Heath.
Are you in love?
I am! I have been with my boyfriend for almost seven years. He studied architecture but works in construction. He also supports my career in fashion and thinks it is super interesting.
Caitlin is a dynamic Australian writer based in Melbourne. Whilst completing her Bachelor of Arts at Monash University, Caitlin has developed her skills in both journalism and sartorial writing. Experience at Virgin Melbourne Fashion Festival and Whitehouse Institute of Design have promoted her focus on communication in arts and fashion media, and has led to published work in global magazine, ODDA.
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