February 18, 2019
Melbourne-based designer Tallulah Storm’s commitment to detail sets her apart from a trend-heavy climate
In a culture of fashion preoccupied with styling over construction, Melbourne-based designer Tallulah Storm’s commitment to detail sets her apart from a trend-heavy climate, remaining faithful to structure and the cut as the core of her practice. Fresh off the heels of her Honours course at RMIT University, Storm’s graduate collection was a laborious, ride-or-die exercise in reconstructing and reshaping found garments; highlighting or revising certain particularities within each piece, then embedding certain motifs such as luxe velvet strips and buckles or pink patterned duvet material, details reinforced through the varying silhouettes.
Constructed over months of sleepless hours in an unrelenting effort towards perfectionism, Storm’s collection, along with her overarching status as a young designer and multi-practitioner, is defined by the uncompromising autonomy she brings forward in her walk-the-walk endeavours. Outside of fashion school formalities, last October Storm organised a second external runway presentation in the carpark of a friend’s apartment complex; an opportunity that allowed her to present the collection on her own, fully-fledged, conceptual terms. An interesting challenge, she notes, was rerouting a personal and internalised exercise into a leadership role effectively commanding a team of people, a new and invaluable experience nonetheless.
I met with Storm at her Brunswick studio to discuss her creative trajectory, her outlook and values as a designer and to get a close-up look at her work.
" Clothing is such an easy outward method of depicting one’s internal character, and being able to physically construct that for myself felt like something of gravity."
What longstanding elements of your personality and skills do you feel have drawn you to designing clothes?
Perhaps as a young teenager seeing ‘unattainable clothing’ [meaning a certain amount of complexity was employed to create them] and knowing I didn’t possess the skill or means to recreate them propelled me to seek an understanding of making such objects. Clothing is such an easy outward method of depicting one’s internal character, and being able to physically construct that for myself felt like something of gravity. Beginning in a personal and inwardly-looking way can be important, but I think for it to be propelled to something more it can’t simply be about making clothes you like for yourself.
I’ve realised I have a strong tendency towards perfectionism and perhaps a slightly destructive approach to working; gruelling hours and very little sleep seem to be the only way I’m able to produce work I see as having the authenticity and intricacy I want it to. It’s proved to be advantageous; although it’s possibly destructive it’s most often demanded by such an industry.
There’s a lot of intricate detailing in your collection which suggests a rather arduous process constructing it. What was the [collection’s] first step and how did it develop, both conceptually and structurally?
The most notable first step was sourcing reference-garments for the physical composition, which also helped provide insight into the language born from our relationships to clothing. One of the first ready-made garments I sourced was a pair of jeans, chosen specifically because of ‘behaviours’ in them I disliked. I began using the garments in a rudimentary process of positioning them on my body in different configurations, attempting to rupture their stability as archetypal pieces of clothing. Photographing these individual disruptions became an important process, allowing me to become aware of particular nuances and recurring moments in the garments as I began to posit isolated pieces as part of a unified collection. It was important to maintain the tension and ill-fit that was present in these toiles when the final garments met with the physical body. Not losing those elements of the toiles in their translation onto a flat pattern was where much of the difficulty lay in my attempts to sincerely recreate the clothing.
Each garment is built on found clothing that is then deconstructed and reutilised. How did the pre-existing garments inform the design?
Pre-existing garments were almost the sole informant in the process of design. They allowed speed in the early developmental phase, already having a physical form to work with, but of greatest importance to me were the nuances of wear, the moments of erosion and destruction. I wanted to sincerely look at these garments as research means, not feign their intricacies and idiosyncrasies when utilising them in creating something original. The slow reveal of the fold of a hem appears softly along the bottom edge of a corporate wool skirt as it is subject to a relentless cycle of wearing, washing and ironing, as the ribbed band of a t-shirt slowly loses its ability to return to its origins of fit, as it’s continually dragged over the wearers head. The invention of ‘new’ design feels to me to be a fruitless task; the wheel exists already. Original design requires authentic investigation, and so these same cycles must be undertaken to achieve this.
What do you make of fashion school as a working and creative environment in terms of your own output?
Fashion school is an interesting place, and one that I have felt tied to in different ways throughout the past four years. With the understanding of a creative school, particularly at a graduating Honours level, as a certain kind of community of practitioners or network of knowledge and mutual support, I didn’t find myself particularly drawn towards it. Taking a year off before my Honours year meant I was set back a year from many of my long-standing friends in the course, however I think this worked to my advantage as it allowed me to dedicate myself entirely to the work I was producing.
Also having my own studio allowed me to work in whatever way I found best without time restrictions or distractions. This definitely set me up to work in an extremely gruelling and demanding way but I wanted that and understood it as the only possible way for me to produce the work I want to produce.
That being said, I feel really fortunate to have been taught in my final year by some of the most incredibly knowledgeable and dedicated lecturers and fashion practitioners I’ve encountered over the duration of my degree; their level of understanding in fashion played a big part in the development of my graduate-work and practice as a whole. Similarly, the physical school environment in terms of machinery was an incredible resource to have at my disposal, especially at a time when as a student you really aren’t confined to any commercial restraints.
On a similar note, do you think of Melbourne as a relatively stimulating space for your young design?
I’m yet to decipher how my practice does or will exist within the net of Melbourne’s creative output, or how stimulating this would be for me. In a way that contradicts the disconnect I felt within fashion school as a creative or social environment, I’m thankful to be in a position where I’m surrounded by intertwined communities of people my age producing work in fields of fashion, art, curation, writing, music etc. who I not only admire but hold their work of utmost importance. In terms of developing a creative practice not defined by standard cycles of the fashion industry, I think this is supported in Melbourne.
From a perspective of intending to commercialise or initiate some kind of capital driven endeavour, I don’t see it as a particularly stimulating or diverse environment. This is definitely changing, and a testament to this can be seen in more and more young designers initiating projects of small scale production and independent labels. But this still feels like a very difficult task, perhaps because the scale at which the commercial fashion industry exists here, and money which it is subsequently tied to, is not of notable size. This seems to force independent brands to each follow a similar trajectory gradually watering down their output until it becomes a rotation of the same set of staple items each season, quietly re-released as the only way of staying financially afloat. I do know at this moment in time I’m more drawn to opportunities outside of Melbourne and Australia.
You presented your Honours collection both on the official RMIT runway and your own DIY show. Tell me about those experiences, particularly with organising the latter?
The [Melbourne Fashion Week] RMIT runway was an experience where relinquishing control of my work to in accordance to someone else’s aesthetic was essential. The show presented a three-look preview of each designers’ collection, and while the work was respected by the stylist and in minor ways the approach to the showing was collaborative; it being a commercial, large scale and externally funded event meant a certain set of immovable criteria had to be filled and abided by. In my case particularly, the platform of a large scale runway did not allow the work to translate, and perhaps had the opposite effect in that it was reduced down to the immediate aesthetic attraction felt towards the clothing, which there is – and I say this not in a self-deprecating way, but with an understanding that the work wasn’t made to be digested as a pretty image – less of, and perhaps more prominently for that particular audience.
The subsequent decision to organise a show for solely my work was made with the knowledge of how I existed within the social web of the graduating year of my school, and more importantly of not wanting to compromise on any level with how I chose to present the collection. In terms of organising the event, my perfectionist traits dictated my acting as every role in the production of the show, which became an immense task to manage on top of producing the collection itself but consequently allowed me to achieve exactly what I wanted in the final presentation. Held in the parking lot of my good friend’s apartment, the runway itself traversed the columns existing in the space, with floodlights lighting the walk. Showing in such a small space with the models pacing slowly allowed the audience to view the work in a way which ideally allowed intricacies, nuances and subtleties of each garment to have attention drawn to them.
You’re going to be involved in several gallery exhibitions this year – do you see these opportunities as a way to present fashion in a new way within a gallery format or as an outlet to explore other sides of your practice?
Both. I think, especially in the early stages of a young creative practice, skirting multiple genres and not confining oneself just to the presentation of ‘clothing’ or ‘fashion’ in an effort to avoid feeling trapped by the medium of previous works, particularly in the context of a gallery, is something which holds great value. In my case, text, writing and music in particular have been areas used as research in the development of my Honours collection and previous work. As elements which continue to strengthen their place within my practice, perhaps the museological site is a way of expanding these further.
Similarly, I think engaging with the notion of showing garments on a mannequin simply because the body is the most obvious vessel upon which to present the language of clothing is perhaps fatigued. However, it is also interesting to consider the kind of fashion normally championed in a museological context, and understanding it is not usually that of unknown graduate designers. Whilst these exhibits won’t in any sense be on a large commercial scale, perhaps utilising such tropes used in the showing of fashion of notable designers in a differing and small scale context is interesting in itself.