At the risk of stating the obvious, the clothes we wear matter. And not just in the sense of sartorial splendour and self-expression, but for those across the supply chain and beyond working towards a more sustainable fashion future. To celebrate these creatives putting people and planet first, we’re introducing a new digital series called Nice Rack! (… get it) so we can go behind the seams with some of our favourite sustainable brands, together.
This week, we’re venturing into the world of marvellous suits and musicians with Melbourne’s Anna Cordell. With an impressive track record dressing the likes of national treasures Courtney Barnett and Missy Higgins, Anna has recently opened a new bricks-and-mortar – the designer’s vintage-inspired, Melbourne-made designs cementing her as a favourite for the stage and the street alike.
images of anna and shop LAURA MAY GROGAN
Tell us about yourself…
I’m a musician and designer who has weaved my way through both of these industries for the past 15 years while raising my five daughters. I fell into fashion after I quit music school to have my first daughter… making reworked vintage clothing to sell at markets to begin with, but eventually opening my own store in St Kilda while designing upcycled clothing for Sportsgirl and selling my own brand at boutiques around Australia.
By that stage, I had three kids and we wanted to make a tree-change so I stopped everything completely to be home with the kids full time. That’s when the music came back to me in a dramatic way. I then spent the next few years with the kids but working more and more on my music. I released a single and an EP, then just before COVID hit, my first record.
To fund the record, I decided to do a little designing again – and in the first range, I had a corduroy suit that completely took on a life of its own! I began making them for musicians to wear on stage, and over time more and more people wanted their own version so, through word of mouth, the suit became the centrepiece of the label. I decided to see where it would all head and work in my own time –no “seasons”, everything made to order and done with a focus on low waste and slow fashion.
‘Sustainable’ has to incorporate ethically made garments, but to me personally with my brand, it also means sustaining the local industry.
What does sustainable fashion mean to you?
It means creating clothing that has a low impact on the environment and the people in the industry. ‘Sustainable’ has to incorporate ethically made garments, but to me personally with my brand, it also means sustaining the local industry, not letting that die out so we are forced to go offshore.
There are plenty of ethical and sustainable ways to have things made overseas, of course, but I really love the idea of having my clothing made right here. It feels very special and I think that filters through to the clothing.
Sustainable fashion won’t work if it’s lacking flavour. People need to feel enthusiastic about their garments – enough to save up and have a piece that they will love so much that they will be happy to wear and re-wear, care for properly and repair because they want it to last.
When did you know you wanted to get into fashion?
It never felt like a distinct decision to me. It was almost more of a surprise! My interests were music and philosophy at uni, and although I loved clothing and playing around with fashion, I never saw it as my career future.
Once I crept into it, however, I became quite addicted and realised just how much energy I have for this creative industry, and how much it can actually tie into those other areas. I always loved art but wasn’t great at painting or drawing and hated textiles and crafts, so thought it just wasn’t for me. When I began to collaborate with other artists and tailors, I knew that this line of work suited me perfectly. I get very excited with concepts, ideas and creating a mood or a feeling through garments.
Why were you inspired to start your label and what continues to inspire you as a designer?
I was initially inspired because I wanted to fund recording an album and felt fashion was really all I knew. I didn’t have much budget so the first range was modelled and shot by friends and I just shared it up on Instagram pretty casually.
What has continued to inspire me to keep going with it is the fun and play involved in having a label. I love bouncing ideas around and experimenting, then seeing what captures people’s imagination once I put something out there. There is an infinite pool of possibilities with worlds you can create through clothing and I love that. I love to create stories and to bring a bit of childlike lightheartedness to it all. That’s where I will particularly always find inspiration through musicians and other artists.
I love to create stories and to bring a bit of childlike lightheartedness to it all. That’s where I will particularly always find inspiration through musicians and other artists.
Why were you compelled to open your space?
Compelled is the word! I had a small studio at the back of my favourite Thornbury cafe, Little Tienda, which I loved but had to move out of because I was running out of room.
I looked all over town but just couldn’t find a new space that was really calling me. I had been working from home on and off through lockdowns and definitely didn’t want to return to that… then, driving around, I spotted this little dream shop space for lease, right next to the Wesley Anne, where I had played some of my first shows. This beautiful little heritage building with its spiral staircase and the second-story studio was calling my name!
People thought I was mad but I went for it as soon as we were out of lockdown. It was a precarious time but I am so glad I did it! I love this store so much, it really feels like home.
How would you describe it?
The store is inspired by 1970s rock and pre-revolution Iran, something I have become fascinated with recently. My father is from Iran but I really hadn’t learnt a lot about this period and have been enjoying delving into the artistic history of the country. The building was built in the 1800s so it has a very European feel, we like to imagine the store is a ‘Persian in Paris’.
Tell us about some of the treasures that can be found on your shelves…
The shop is a space I have desired to keep as somewhere you get pieces that are exclusively available here and here only. It might be available in one of my shapes elsewhere but made from one-off silk or velvet.
It harks back to my past in vintage clothing – I’ll never lose the love of the hunt for a one-off piece that is completely unique. We have stunning silk scarves by Imogen who owns House of Rolfe. She does all the design work here and has them printed in London.
I’ll never lose the love of the hunt for a one-off piece that is completely unique.
We also stock Hillary Green’s otherworldly candelabras and vases, and Swedish eyewear brand, Chimi. I have a select range of Annie Hamilton clothing sitting with mine as well. Annie is also a musician and artist and our brand aesthetic and ethos really align.
How do you incorporate sustainability and ethical practices within your brand?
Everything is locally made and many of my garments are made from designer deadstock or vintage fabrics. The linens I use are from local wholesalers who source ethically and we recycle every bit of leftover fabric!
We make neckties, scrunchies, and scarves and are currently patchworking remnant silks, laces and velvets to re-work into garments. Anything left goes home with me or to my children’s school for the art room!
Tell us about any standout moments in your career…
The first time I wore the first-ever suit of the brand on stage to test it out was a huge moment. I felt so good in it, so comfortable and so myself.
Opening the store was also a huge moment for me. It was such a sudden jump right in – scary but thrilling! And I am absolutely loving it! I also love dressing artists and musicians; working with the likes of Joan as Policewoman, Marlon Williams, Tim Rogers and Sharon Van Etten has been incredible.
images (CLOCKWISE) COURTNEY BARNETT, HAYLEY MARY (PHOTOS BY IAN LAIDLAW) AND LIME CORDIALE WEARING PIECES BY ANNA CORDELL
What are your favourite pieces to wear?
I am a big mood dresser so I flip between my forest green baggy linen suit and my royal blue velvet Florence dress. I also have the Florence dress in a big bold floral rayon and love that on a warm spring day.
Who are a few of your favourite local designers?
Par Moi, Poms and Rollas are my current favourites.
What do you think needs to change in the Australian fashion landscape?
I would love to see brands take more risks! Design from the heart. Rather than thinking, ‘What do they want from me?’ think, ‘What do I have to offer?’