The Australian fashion label Easton Pearson has always been a quiet leader, ushering in the return of the dress and of delicate decoration.
Equally suited to creative types not afraid of making a statement and subtle wearers seeking simple clothes that fly below the radar, Lydia Pearson and Pamela Easton's label Easton Pearson has become the quiet success story of feminine luxury labels.
Definition of luxury:
To me, luxury is with whatever I have, whatever I do, knowing that a person has been involved in the process, taking care and time and putting their soul into what they were doing. Luxury is having somebody's personal attention in whatever aspect of your life it is.
If luxury was:
Anything that was created by a hand or created by nature that is almost perfection.
Quiet and serene.
A note of music, a raindrop.
I don't think that could be possible. A spirit, maybe. I don't think it could be a person.
Hidden away down a snaking hallway in the 17th-century mansion that has become the Pavillon de la Reine hotel on Paris's picturesque Place des Vosges, a buzz of activity alerts one to the fact that something is afoot. A room with racks of richly-colored and gently-printed clothes shelters small, huddled groups of people taking notes, asking questions, adding things up on calculators, as girls slip on dresses and coats are hung on rails to work out color stories. This is the Paris Fashion Week showroom of Easton Pearson, an under-the-radar Australian label that, since it was founded, has been disproving today's prevailing notion that to be a success in fashion means producing challenging clothes for 21-year-olds.
Lydia Pearson and Pamela Easton, both with backgrounds in the fashion industry, set up Easton Pearson in their hometown of Brisbane, a city of two million people, in 1989. "In Australia, there wasn't a lot around for the sort of people we liked to dress. It was a funny time in fashion at the end of the '80s, when things were in flux and starting to change," Pearson explains of the period and their motivation. "We got together, and when we first began, we only made dresses for the first couple of seasons, because in those days you could never find dresses."
"And dresses were just becoming important," Easton adds. "There was still a lot of 1980s corporate suiting, and we wore vintage dresses, so we wanted to do dresses." As the pair spent their time gadding about in vintage dresses, people must surely have regarded them as eccentric and weird at the time. "They did!" the two say in chorus, laughing.
Pearson, who, with her hair tied in a burnished scarf and a calm, quiet way of moving and talking, seems like the most centered and at-ease person amid the selling frenzy that is Paris Fashion Week – "It's an Australian thing!" – is the perfect embodiment of the label's strengths, which lie in softly worked shapes raised to another level through specially handled fabrics and thoughtfully placed surface decoration.
The fall collection, the one they were in Paris to sell, is inspired by "the artists of the New York School who worked from the '40s to the '70s," says Pearson. "It was very nebulous, we were listening to a lot of John Coltrane and Thelonius Monk and looking at Jackson Pollock and a lot of the artists who were there. Looking at the association between the music and the art and theater." This translates into brocades and jacquards, velvets cut into shortened artist's smocks, deep colors, and decoration reduced to bronze semi-spheres that bubble along necklines and cuffs like little metallic buds.
It seems as though their line lives in its own universe, away from the pressure of trends, though this is clearly not the case. "You have to be aware of that, most certainly. But there are subtle ways of observing a trend without following slavishly," Easton explains. "I think people who buy our clothes like to have some longevity. And I guess we build our reputation on the detail, whether it be a detail in construction or a detail in complicated decoration. And now at the moment, the construction detail is much more important than the surface decoration."
Easton Pearson's name was made around the world through their pretty prints and surface embellishments, such as ethnic embroideries and intricate traceries of beading. "We design all our prints, and we design all the surface decoration, and often we work with a lot of manufacturers to do special techniques on fabrics, so we like the textile design aspect of it as well," Easton explains. Those handwork artisans are based primarily in India and Vietnam, and, trends aside, the pair remain very faithful to their workers. "Because we established the relationship, it's important to maintain that connection with these people. You also maintain a certain amount of work for them."
They are now sold in some 100 stores worldwide, with about 30 of them in their native Australia. Japan, the EU and the Middle East constitute large markets, but for them, the biggest market outside Australia is in the US. Fittingly, as we were speaking, Bergdorf Goodman arrived to place its order.
In store, they find the label is usually sold next to designer names like Dries Van Noten, Marni and Maurizio Peccoraro. This implies that they attract the same customer as these European brands—but who is that idealized woman? "It's very varied," Easton says. "But mostly people—and this is going to sound really clichéd—people who are interested in the arts, people who work in creative areas, people who are not afraid to be individuals in the way they dress, not necessarily people who follow fashion."
Easton has a bit more difficulty when it comes to defining a recognizable Australian style. "I think Australians have a sense of humor, and I think they're a little irreverent; I don't think they take authority very seriously," she says, before pausing. "Hmm, I think it's hard when you're within it to define it!"
"Each city really has an identity in what people wear," she continues. "In Sydney, the youth culture is quite body-conscious, there's a big gay population there, and there's a huge surf culture. Melbourne's much more corporate. And Queensland (where Brisbane is located) is much more relaxed, like a small resort."
While Easton would consider Easton Pearson to be at the top tier of luxury fashion in Australia, it's hardly alone, nor is it the only native label with as wide a global presence. "There's Akira Isogawa and Colette Dinnigan," she notes. "And their businesses are quite substantial, as well. We all do different things, and we're all friends, which is really nice."