Strateas & Carlucci, The Australian Avant-Gardists
Isaac Perez Solano,
“There ain’t no replacement, it either is or it ain’t,” sings out Brandy in her song Wildest Dreams. Well, the same sentiment holds true when trying to navigate through the work of designers Peter Strateas and Mario-Luca Carlucci. The Australian duo layers all kind of materials and shapes to cover bodies for their brand Strateas Carlucci. Creating fashion odysseys loaded with words around the body of, say, Kourtney Kardashian in V Magazine, or turning millennial kids into model fantasies in the pages of Vogue Italia. Let’s unpack the power behind this duo’s unique sartorial vision by talking to founder Mario-Luca Carlucci.
What does it mean being an Australian designer in the 21st century?
To be an Australian designer today is refreshing and challenging. Undoubtedly, there are always going to be logistical challenges being based on the other side of the globe.
However, it’s these same challenges that gives Australia its charm and desirability. There are also many stereotypes, which can either hinder or enhance your creative vision. For us, we have learned to embrace these stereotypes, yet deliver them with something new and recognizably our own. Australia is also finding its own feet as a fashion destination. The country has produced many incredible designers, yet we are still very young as a nation and don’t have the traditional design houses in comparison to Europe and other parts of the world. This has created new and exciting opportunities for brands like our own, as there are no preconceived ideas of what you need to be. We can build our business and adapt it to suit our needs of an evolving and ever-changing industry. Fashion, to us, is a means of expression and an art form. Fashion is
also an extension of who we are as people, so it is only natural to react to your environment. A common underlying theme in our work is the idea of binary oppositions colliding to create something truly unique and interesting. Culture also works into this space as not only do we draw inspiration from our own backgrounds, culture and upbringings, but also from others. It’s when you bring these opposing ideas, cultures and origins together, that you can truly create something beautiful and unique. Australia is essentially a very young and new market in a global context. So, being based in an emerging market is exciting as you have the opportunity to showcase the world something unique that they may not know already. I think from a global point of view, the idea of Australia is still very new and unknown, so If we can add our own interpretation of our home in our work, it’s a great advantage for us to have.
For the Resort 2018 collection, Vogue.com has stated that Strateas Carlucci’s DNA is “strange, clever, and singularly Australian.” What can you guys say about this description?
When creating something that is so innate and personal, and has a specific cultural connotation or reference, it can easily be construed or interpreted in an unexpected way. That quote, we believe, does sum up that particular collection, where we were harnessing a very ‘Australian’ message, yet, colliding it with something interesting and new. We remember speaking with the journalist post-show, and she was curious to know why we had emblazoned t-shirts with an 80s synth band DEVO.
In actual fact, the word ‘DEVO’ is a very Australian colloquial saying, short for ‘Devastated’, and used very commonly here, so only once on further enquiry, does this messaging come full-circle and make complete sense. This is the beauty of fashion and art – where it can provoke a conversation and a response.
We also had the word SUSS adorned on garments, which is short for ‘Suspicious’, but when used here in Australia, has a completely different meaning. We love how this ‘Aussie Slang’ (Australian Colloquialism) is embedded into our day to day life, which we take for granted, however can also be celebrated.
I asked this because I read that you stated once [for i-D] that rather than being negative, you have to use what being Australian is to you guys. What can you say about that as creative forces to be reckoned with?
For a time, we were so much focused on the clothes and the collections that we lost sight of where we are based, which is a vital part of who we are as individuals and designers. There are also negative connotations being based in Australia from a commercial perspective selling to a global market, more to do with logistics and tyranny of distance. Based off our brand name and our European heritage, many would assume we were based in Europe. So, to avoid confusion and to enhance our cultural identity, we decided to embrace our home and interpret our version of Australia in our work. Our version of Australia is very different to the surf and beach culture which has been portrayed in the media for such a long time. Many people assume that Australia is either a dry and barren desert or just full of beaches.
Both assumptions are correct to a certain degree, where we do have some of the most amazing beaches in the world, and a large portion of the country (in the middle) is bush and desert. However, that being said, Australia is so very culturally diverse and has major cities, where we hail from. Melbourne is the epicenter of all things cultural, from music, to the arts and fashion to food and wine.
So, as designers, we feel it is our responsibility to educate and help reshape the image of Australia and Australian fashion. We can’t ignore the fact that this is where we live and makes up who we are. However, we like portraying a new, more modern version. In doing so, we have created an alter ego whom we call ‘Techo-Cowboy’. This person has these Australian traits, who drinks beer, has a mullet, wears cowboy boots, rides dirt-bikes and speaks in a thick Aussie accent. By creating this Techo-Cowboy, it has allowed us to embrace our Australian quirks and make them part of who we are as a brand, not to hide from them.
What does it mean to be self-actualized?
Embracing who you are completely and wholly, including your strengths, weaknesses, passions and fears. Peter and myself have been friends for a very long time. We actually went to high school together, and found friendship through our common interests in most things creative.
Even in those early days, we always collaborated on many projects together. Some art-based work, some graphic design work and everything in-between. After graduating high school, we then both went on to study different design disciplines, neither of them were fashion. It was here, in our studies we mostly collaborated on a series of varied projects, both personal and professional. We were mostly experimenting with as many mediums as possible, and garments and clothing somehow got introduced into our work.
As designers, you are forced to be very present in the now (one way or another). What is your sense of where we are as a collective of different people living and affecting in the same world?
Despite being on the opposite ends of the world, we are now able to forge that distance by this amazing ability to connect.
The opportunity for all individuals to connect and collaborate has now become part of our daily, ritualistic behavior, whereby you can just as easily connect with someone via your phone, as easily as you can get your morning coffee.
This ability to connect and collaborate with people as easily as we can now gives us all power to have a voice and reach an audience which was more challenging to reach previously. For us, living on the other side of the world has been an interesting challenge. Certainly a gap has been bridged between like-minded individuals to connect via Internet, which has been great to spread the world and help build our brand. What we feel is still lacking is the ability to physically move product from each end of the globe quickly and, more importantly, cost-effectively. We still believe that the power is in collaboration, where we are all contributing to a larger global conversation.
How does the mind-body connection affect your emotions when you have to create a collection, but also be an individual?
Creating a collection is a very personal process for us. We spend months of our lives pouring out who we are into these collections. We always begin with a concept, which then transforms into a tangible collection, and these concepts sometimes live with us for months or years as there are times where there is a continuation with a particular concept. To remain true to who we are is our ‘default mode’, which is great when being creative. However, a challenge is when thinking commercially, as there needs to be a balance of the two. Each season we work toward a concept, as an example, for FW’17 our collection ORCHIS was inspired by Japanese artist Nobuyoshi Araki. Araki explores pornography, fetishism, and sexualizing non-sexual objects in his work – focusing on a portion of an object or subject, which often looks like something explicit, tricking the viewer. Playing closely to the inspiration of Araki’s explicit imagery, we reinterpret fetishism in own unique way by subtly introducing pierced hardware, oversized phallic zippers positioned in suggestive areas of garments, chains, eyelets and straps. Since this collection, there has been an underlying subversive theme in our work, which we have continued to push. There becomes an emotional attachment to the work, and as fashion is such a fast-paced cyclical system, it feels like some of these ideas don’t have enough time to be developed, or get a real chance to shine or show its full potential.
Which is more important while trying to making it, nature or nurture?
Being creative, we believe is a natural and innate quality one possesses. Of course skills can be harnessed and nurtured, yet without the ability to create, a skill becomes a tool with no direction. We are a creative collaboration, made up of not only Peter and myself, however a whole network of skilled craftsman and creatives. When working in a collaborative nature, the most challenging thing is that everyone has a different opinion, and you need to learn to respect that, as it often differs from your own. The best part is when you are able to find a balance of different ideas and merge them into something special.
What is the key to solving life’s problems? And by “life’s problems” I mean fashion, which is your current field of growth.
First, it’s about identifying the problem with fashion and the industry, and how they relate directly or indirectly to you. There has been much discus- sion and debate on many topics of late, including gender equality, cultural diversity, #metoo movement, fast-fashion, sustainability, plagiarism and how the fashion system has evolved and changed, which has also stirred up many discussions (Fashion Week schedules, etc). Whilst most of these issues concern us, not all of them affect us.
Being an emerging brand, our greatest problem is playing catch-up in an evolving fashion system and issues surrounding sustainability. The need to constantly create something new, and feed a system which is driven by a cyclical seasonal shelf-life and trends. Being an emerging label, you feel pressured to succumb to the expectations of the industry, or alternatively be left behind for someone else to fill your place. It is a super-competitive industry. However, fortunately there are key-industry leaders who are changing the way, paving a new course for brands like ours to follow. We are also conscious of creating collections that remain relevant, and garments that can last the test of time.
We work with local manufacturers here in Melbourne, Australia, and do our best to use 100% natural fibers, such as Australian Merino Wool, which is a biodegradable fiber and will give back to the Earth, opposed to never breaking down, like other man-made fibers. We have a small studio, where we develop our collections and cut our sampling and production fabric in-house to minimize wastage. These are some ways we can contribute to the growing problems in our industry. We have also been at the forefront of promoting individuals and challenging the perception of the static gender norms, by working with and casting diver talent.
Is it easy to get all caught up by bad habits whilst trying to expose your vision?
The most challenging thing is time, money and cash-flow. We are always working to a very tight time-line and schedule, which needs to include time to create and develop new collections, ideas and fabrics, then to balance this with the operational side of the business, from day-to-day ongoings and management, to production schedules and deliveries, to sales and press and everything else in-between. When you’re so busy, you begin to collect bad habits along the way, which affect more your lifestyle choices, like some days you go without eating, or sleeping very little, or trying to do too many things at that moment in time and not focusing on a single task. This is why it’s important for us to really step back at times, look from the outside in and really gain perspective on what we are actually doing and what we really want to achieve. Also, it is easy to become very obsessive and difficult to break this habit. We become so involved and ingrained personally with our concepts and themes that it becomes difficult to break-away after the season is complete. It is like starting a new relationship or friendship, and just when the relationship is about to reach its crescendo, it ends.
It feels like there is so much unfinished business, and feels that you emotionally give so much of yourself to this thing, that it is hard to essentially let it go. As an example, for our SS’18 collection TRANSIT, we were inspired by the late Chinese photographer, Ren Hang, who has always been a true inspiration for us. His imagery had always been up on our moodboard for a long time, and when we heard the devastating news of his death, we really felt the time was right to focus on him as an artist and celebrate his work through our own interpretations. We always look to other creatives as points of inspiration, especially those who are pushing the boundaries within their own fields. Hang’s work certainly connected with us on a personal and creative level. With this collection, we felt we only really scratched the surface, and had so much more to give. Perhaps we may re-visit in the future, however there is this notion within the industry to keep moving forward on new things, and not to dwell too much on what you have done in the past.
There is this constant pressure for newness, that perhaps there may be some kind of backlash if an emerging designer dips back into their own archives so soon.
What is your best personality trait?
For me, I think it is my passion and determination in whatever I do. From work to family and general outlook on life. It could be mistaken for competitiveness, but I believe there is something in me which never wants to give up and always wants to try and find new solutions. I am also a very loyal person, which perhaps is part of my stubborn nature. Peter’s best personality trait is his inquisitive nature and childlike curiosity, always exploring new things, finding interests in the obscure and his willingness to investigate.
You have talked about your personal progression previously. Can you please talk a little bit more about this?
You continue to learn and grow as a human, so these progressions in your life ultimately affect the way you live and work. For me, personally, I have a young family with two children, so this has given me the ability to balance my home and work life and, rather than let them interferer with one-another, I have learned to let them work in harmony. Also, growing as an individual, we have seen a shift in our interest, which also informs the way we approach our work.
There seems to be more of an emotional connection to how we approach work now, and really allowing this to translate into the collections we produce. Our skills have also refined over the years, and we now have learnt to trust our judgement and follow our instincts. In the past, we would question our work constantly which can interfere with the creative process.
Also, with progression comes acceptance, learning how to harness and use the skills you possess, and learn to accept the things you are not so great at. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, and learning how to use them both and understand them has been liberating and rewarding.
But also, with Strateas Carlucci, you both create for a certain woman or man. In this case, what is the quality that you desire in them?
Strateas Carlucci has always been defined by the concept of masculine/feminine duality, so ultimately we are creating for a unified person, despite their gender. It’s people who are elegant and tough, sophisticated and edgy, intellectual and playful.
They possess a certain attitude and understand the concept of modern luxury and are not afraid to try new things. Not driven by trends and hype, but are drawn to quality and craftsmanship and intellectual design and concepts. These are the qualities we desire.
When we design a collection, we design it under one image and driven by a concept, and not by gender or categories. This is the creative side of the brand. However, this industry is also driven by a commercial side, hence why we need to categorize mens and womenswear. We do share many of the same pieces for Men’s and Women’s and we encourage people to see beyond the label of Men’s and Women’s.
Joy Williams, interviewed for the The Paris Review [Summer 2014], stated that what a story is, is devious. Taking into consideration your work, can you define a story, if not its usefulness?
In our line of work, stories are created through a tangible means of garments and supporting imagery and experiential accelerates, like music and other atmospheric elements when creating a show or presentation. So, for us, a story, or storytelling, is a visual experience. We liken this idea to traditional storytelling methods of that of the Australian indigenous community, where storytelling is a large part of the culture and is also a visual journey. For us, a story is a concept that connects the dots and gives a sense of reasoning. Our stories are not conveyed in words and don’t have a beginning, middle and end; our stories are ongoing and conversational and hopefully evoke an emotional response.
How has it been the quest so far to distinguish between them [new and all-time favorite/beloved brands] at all?
Over time, we have been drawn to many brands for many reasons. Some brands we love their methodologies and ability to harness a craft, others it is because of their journey or beliefs, and others it is purely because we are drawn to a certain visual aesthetic and language. The beauty of this industry is that a single idea can be transformed and translated in many different ways, which gives even the simplest of ideas such a personal and unique viewpoint.
In the words of Proust, what is your idea of happiness?
Happiness truly comes from within. If you are accepting yourself first, this will project onto others. As Oscar Wilde once said, “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
Is it better to be prepared with an open-minded heart or with arms wide open?
One is an emotional response, the other is an action. It is said that actions speak louder than words, yet the actions need to come from a pure place. In our opinion you need both.
What do you know about what the future holds for Peter Strateas and Mario-Luca Carlucci?
Nothing is for certain, other than our commitment to continue to push our brand, work hard, continue to challenge ourselves both professionally and personally and remain true to who we are.
We want to share our creative vision to a larger audience and continue to tell compelling stories. In return, all we can hope for is that the people around us come along for the ride.
Isaac Perez Solano
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